Freedom by Neil Young


Diego Maradona died four days ago. I will remember him for the two goals he scored against England in the World Cup match in 1986. One is often referred to as “The Goal Of The Century” after he ran 60 yards with the ball, dribbling past four players before dummying Peter Shilton and scoring. The other goal was punched in by Maradona’s hand but none of the officials saw this. He later said that “the hand of God” was involved in extracting revenge on Britain’s actions against the Argentinians in The Falklands.

Diego Maradona had an issue with cocaine. Towards the end of his career, in April 1991, he was arrested for possession in Buenos Aires which resulted in a 15 month ban from playing football. In 1994 he was sent home for the World Cup after failing a drugs test. In 2004, he was hospitalised having suffered a heart attack brought on by excessive cocaine use. At one point he weighed 20 stone.

I once taught a drugs awareness lesson to my Year 8 tutor group. We discussed addiction, the harm to physical health and the monetary cost of a drug habit. A lovely boy asked me why people took drugs if it was such a terrible thing to do. I still worry about my reply which was truthful but maybe a little ill advised. I wonder how many of those thirty students embarked on a life of drug dependency having heard their tutor explain that taking drugs made you feel good.

I do understand the appeal of drugs even though I’ve restricted myself to caffeine and alcohol. On the other hand, drug addiction has ended the lives of many of my favourite musicians including Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Al Wilson, Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons, Keith Moon and Robert Quine. And Danny Whitten, the lead guitarist with The Rockets who wrote “I Don’t Want To Talk About It”. He left The Rockets with Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina to form Crazy Horse until Neil Young sacked him for being unreliable due to his heroin habit. He died a few hours after this dismissal due to an overdose of methaqualone.

Neil Young was badly affected by his friend’s death and wrote “The Needle And The Damage Done” to express his sadness. The song was released on “Harvest”. On the sleeve notes for the “Decade” compilation, he wrote “I am not a preacher but drugs killed a lot of great men”.

Seventeen years later, on “Freedom”, Neil Young released another fantastic song which many people consider to be a follow up to “The Needle And The Damage Done”. It’s called “No More” and, to my mind, it’s even better. I contend that the reason it’s not better known is that the version on “Freedom” is a plodding mid-paced country song with an anodyne vocal performance. Luckily, he has performed two superior live versions which are available on YouTube.

There are three verses. The first verse describes the difficulty of breaking an addiction and celebrates coming clean with the statement “No More”. The second verse describes a musician trying to reclaim his muse after getting clean but finds it’s impossible. His former life is “No More”. The third verse appears to be describing the protagonist yielding to temptation and searching for high quality drugs again. The key line is “Searching for quality. Having to have the very best”. Neil Young is quoted as saying “How many times do you have to say ‘No More’ before it means ‘No More’. Because that song doesn’t mean ‘No More’”.

The two versions are outstanding. On September 30th 1989, he performed “The Needle And The Damage Done” and followed it immediately with “No More” on “Saturday Night Live”. The former was just him and a guitar and the latter was with a full electric band. Nevertheless, his vocals are impassioned, emotional and distraught.

Four weeks earlier, he performed two acoustic concerts in New York which were released on a film called “Freedom. A Live Acoustic Concert”. The picture on the front cover of this album is taken from one of these concerts. One of the songs he played was “No More”. Just Neil Young and a loud acoustic guitar. His vocals are as emotional, raw and unsettling as anything he has ever done. It’s all accentuated by his 1000 yard stare which brooks no argument whatsoever. I can never tire of watching this.

Another great song on “Freedom” is “Crime In The City” which is subtitled “Sixty to Zero Part One”. It is nine minutes long and comprises five verses. The reason for the subtitle is that he has occasionally performed a longer version of the song which lasts nearly 20 minutes and has eleven verses. This longer song is called “Sixty To Zero” and catalogues the power and helplessness of different people in urban USA. Sometimes the power and subsequent helplessness is held by the same person, hence “Sixty To Zero”. The video quality of this clip isn’t great but the sound quality is fine. It’s an astonishing song in its abridged form but the full version is one of Neil Young’s very best (and that’s quite a high bar).

Neil Young completists, like myself, were very frustrated earlier in 1989 when he released a five track EP in Japan only called “Eldorado”. Three of the tracks, including the title song, were released on “Freedom” later in the year but two were not. It was possible to spend an extortionate amount of money to import a copy but, luckily for me, common sense prevailed. “Eldorado” has a Spanish feel with the clicking of canastas but they are augmented by some wonderful crisp clean guitar work and lyrics. There’s also an explosion of loud guitar when a bullfighter appears and makes a kill. I would contend that the guitar playing that dominates throughout this track is up there with anything that Neil Young has done and I include “Cortez The Killer” and “Like A Hurricane” in that. I’ve just stumbled across a truly wonderful acoustic version of this song.

“Freedom” is known for two versions of his wonderful song “Rockin’ In The Free World”. One is from the Acoustic concert mentioned above and the other is a barn storming electric version. The album is full of excellent songs, written in different periods of his life, but unified by the idea of freedom. “Too Far Gone” describes a meeting between two people who spent the evening drinking alcohol and ingesting drugs and, in the morning, GeV decided he wanted to get married. They had freedom to do exactly what they wanted. However, she left and he wondered if he was “too far gone for you”. This song was originally intended for an unreleased album called “Chrome Dreams” that was once slated for release in 1977.

If I were a boring, safe, know all I would pontificate about the dangers of exercising freedom without responsibility and point to the tragic deaths of so many people to make my point. If I wasn’t, I would say that this is a brilliant album with some thought provoking songs.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

2 thoughts on “Freedom by Neil Young

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