This 10 disc compilation was released in November 2020. All 3000 copies quickly sold out and it was re released yesterday. It consists of the best songs and live performances that Neil Young chose not to release between 1972 and 1976. Volume I covered 1963-1972. I didn’t buy this but the completist in me wishes that I had.
In addition to the Archives box sets, over the past 15 years, Neil Young has released 15 albums of live performances. So before I write about the Archives box, here’s an overview of all the live performances he has released as part of his “Archives Performance Series”.
Volume 00 is called “Sugar Mountain Live At Canterbury House” (Ann Arbor) 1968 and was released in 2008.
Volume 01 is called “Live At The Riverboat” (Toronto) 1969 and is only available as part of Archives Volume I released in 2009.
Volume 02 is called “Live At The Fillmore East” (New York) 1970 and was released in 2006.
Volume 02.5 is called “Live At The Cellar Door” (Washington DC) 1970 and was released in 2013.
Volume 03 is called “Live At The Massey Hall” (Toronto) 1971 and was released in 2007 and also available on Archives Volume I
Volume 03.5 is called “Young Shakespeare” (Connecticut) 1971 and is scheduled for release in 2 weeks time.
Volume 04 is called “Tuscaloosa” (Alabama) 1973 and was released in 2019. It is also included in Archives Vol II.
Volume 05 is called “Roxy – Tonight’s The Night” (Los Angeles) 1973 and was released in 2018. It is also included in Archives Vol II.
Volume 06 is called “Odeon Budokan” (Tokyo/London) 1976 and is only available as part of Archives Vol II
Volume 07 is called “Songs For Judy” (various USA locations) 1976 and was released in 2018.
Volume 08 hasn’t been released but may be Boarding House (San Francisco) 1978
Volume 09 is called “A Treasure” (various USA locations) 1984/85 with The International Harvesters and was released in 2011.
Volume 10 hasn’t been released but may be with Crazy Horse in the USA in 1986.
Volume 11 is called “Bluenote Cafe” (various USA location) with The Bluenotes in 1987/88 and was released in 2015.
Volume 11.5 is called “Way Down In The Rust Bucket” (Santa Cruz) 1990 and was released on February 26th.
Volume 12 is called “Dreaming Man” (various USA locations) 1992 and was released in 2009.
Volumes 13,14 and 15 haven’t been released yet. There is no information about the possible content.
Volume 16 is called “Return To Greendale” (various USA locations) 2003 and was released in November 2020.
In addition, Neil Young has a “Special Performance Series” which are releases of whole studio albums that he chose not to release at the time. So far, the only releases have been 02 “Homegrown” from 1975, released in 2020 and also included in Archives Vol II and 05 “Hitchhiker” from 1976 and released in 2017.
Right then. What’s the music like in Archives Vol II? The answer is: sensational. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this period of Neil Young’s career. It’s compelling. By the way, the box set was originally advertised as costing £210 but Amazon are selling it for £120. For 10 discs, that’s reasonable although I do have three of them already. The information booklet is comprehensive but not especially lovely. An opinion piece would have been welcomed; all we get is the detail of the musicians on every track and the date and place of recording.
“Letter From ‘Nam” is the first track and is Neil Young at his most lonesome with just a strummed acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica to accompany his falsetto vocal on a song that was released 16 years later on “Life”.
“Monday Morning” is an acoustic version of the fabulous “Last Dance” that was released on “Time Fades Away”. I have always loved the full band live version but this stripped back version is equally powerful.
Another beautiful song is “The Bridge”. A live version was released on “Time Fades Away”.
“Time Fades Away” was a ragged sprawling opening song when recorded live. On this studio version it also features The Stray Gators (Ben Keith, Jack Nitzsche, Tim Drummond and Kenneth Buttrey). If anything, it sounds more urgent than the live version and Neil Young’s vocals are more determined. I can imagine that 1000 yard state of his while he is playing a loose, emotionally rich guitar solo.
“Come Along And Say You Will” and “Goodbye Christians On The Shore” are two previously unreleased songs and are from the same studio session as the previous track (“Time Fades Away”) in December 1972 with The Stray Gators. It was Gurf Morlix who said that if the sound of a song is a little “wobbly”, it can create tension. “When it’s all perfectly in tune, it sounds too correct and therefore is a little uninteresting”. There’s no danger of these songs being perfectly in tune and maybe that’s why it all sounds so wonderful.
The remainder of this first disc was recorded live in concert on the same tour that produced the whole of the “Time Fades Away” tour. In Tyler Wilcox’s review of Archives Vol II in UNCUT, he writes that Neil Young “could shape great art out of chaos, almost by sheer strength of will” and that sums it up brilliantly.
“The Last Trip To Tulsa” was a long rambling, surreal and over produced song at the end of Neil Young’s eponymous first album. Here it is transformed into a wild, sprawling, wonderfully sloppy song with twin uncoordinated lead guitars that works brilliantly.
“The Loner ” was also on Neil Young’s first album. Whether or not it is autobiographical or a put down of Stephen Stills, the poor production on the original release lessened its impact. This live version from Oklahoma City in March 1973 is dirty, out of tune and remarkable.
On “Sweet Joni”, a previously unreleased song, Neil Young accompanies himself on piano. It’s a tribute to Joni Mitchell, who he met when he was 18. He introduces the song by saying that not even his best friends have heard the song before. “Sweet Joni from Saskatoon, don’t go too soon.” What can he mean?
“Yonder Stands The Sinner” is the same performance as was released on “Time Fades Away”. I wonder why this song is on the disc? Everything else is previously unreleased.
“L.A.” is preceded by a 4 minute rambling introduction from Neil Young accompanied by an acoustic guitar. As he sings about making sure that the gold records that he was carrying in his car were visible to everybody else on the highway, the audience whoop and holler. That’s the only way to describe it. They whoop and holler. He then starts singing “L.A.” at which point the audience clap wildly to show that they appreciate that he is playing one of their favourite songs. The only problem is that it was a previously unheard song, as “Time Fades Away” was not to be released for another 6 months.
“Human Highway” is the name of a song from “Comes A Time” (released in 1978) and is also the name of a comedy film that Neil Young directed in 1982. Obviously, Crosby, Stills and Nash normally provided exquisite harmonies, on this song they are taking the concept of tunelessness right to the edge of acceptability. I love it.
That’s it, then. One disc down, nine discs to go. Brilliant. When the box set arrived yesterday, I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to listening to it all – it felt more like an unwanted task to be completed rather than something to treasure. Now, I’m very keen to hear the next disc.
Neil Young. Systematically attempting to destroy the base of his record buying public. What a complete and utter wonderful genius.