Out of the blue - Page 2

And into the black -- renaissance via Neil Young's Archives
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Now, I ain't saying ole Neil could come down to my former hood and swing with a Chocolate City go-go outfit (maybe he could trouble the funk?), but on "Go Ahead and Cry," the ringing of his unleashed 1970s guitar sound is already evident. The sublime meeting of Young's thang with "The Sound of Young America" makes one lament how differently (black) rock history might have looked had the Mynah Birds triumphed at Hitsville.

My view is that Young couldn't have written some of his best songs, like "Cinnamon Girl" and "Mr. Soul," plus freakery I dig such as "Sea of Madness," without that brief spell at Motown. (It's interesting to imagine former auto-line worker Berry Gordy and car enthusiast Young rapping by chance). In a weird way, the shades of Young that appeared on the pop stage and relentlessly morphed between "Clancy" and "When You Dance I Can Really Love" seem to coexist with turn-of-the-'70s Motown mavericks who also flirted with polemics, space rock, and soul yodeling: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Kendricks.

The Mynah Birds are sadly absent from volume one of Archives, despite a fleeting citation in its chronological timeline. But a few months before the box set dropped I acquired my grail of Mynah Birds tracks, and the picture of Young as a potential R&B artist who brought some of the Motown sensibility to bear upon the aesthetics of his next band, the Buffalo Springfield, emerged tantalizingly. Alongside it was the turbulent back story of the striving front man Ricky James Matthews (a Mick Jagger acolyte who later renamed himself), who failed to gain support for his hybrid vision of black rock even as his old bandmate soared from the ashes of Woodstock Nation.

Aside from the future Super Freak, Young's key ace boons on the funk express were Bruce Palmer (1946-2004) and Danny Whitten (1943-72) — besides Stephen Stills, the stars of this first set. Palmer, a native of Toronto who shared a deep spiritual bond with Young, had been in an all-black Canadian band led by Billy Clarkson even prior to his membership in the Mynah Birds. He subsequently brought his low-end theories to the Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (before being replaced by young Motown bassist Greg Reeves); and Young's thwarted revolutionary electronic project Trans (Geffen, 1982). Palmer also reunited with Rick James after the Springfield's implosion, producing the beautiful psych-jazz classic The Cycle Is Complete (Verve, 1971), a rival to Skip Spence's Oar (Columbia, 1969).

Columbus, Ga.,-bred Whitten might still be Young's most fabled collaborator. His premature death by heroin overdose inspired "The Needle and the Damage Done" (included amongst other Harvest tracks on disc eight of Vol. 1) and the dark and stark standout of the "Ditch Trilogy," Tonight's the Night (Reprise, 1975), which will feature in the next Archives installment. Even before starting the Laurel Canyon-based Rockets (which became Crazy Horse), Whitten had been a live R&B dancer and seems to have restored some genuine Southern rock 'n' soul flava to the mix of his boy twice-removed from Dixie. Every time I hear the vainglorious funk bomb that is "Cinnamon Girl," I recognize that element is there and regret Whitten's passing even more.

I first and foremost swear fealty to Buffalo Springfield. But for all his seemingly mercurial guises, the plaid-and-denim-clad Young who conjured Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Reprise, 1969) and the songs from the Ditch in company with Crazy Horse and other canyon pickers appears to be the most enduring direct influence on later generations. To try to make sense of Young's legend, I consulted an amen corner: Harry Weinger, VP of A&R at Universal Motown; famed Harvest producer Elliot Mazer; and young J.

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