Neil Young is an artist who has been known to inspire fanaticism and it is clearly these fanatics Young had in mind when he decided to compile Neil Young Archives Series Vol 1: 1963 — 1972 (Gallo).
So, more than 23 years after Young first talked up his archives reissue series that would focus on the unreleased material from his lengthy career, we have volume one.
Although there are a healthy 43 unreleased tracks spread across this 114-song compilation, most of them are in the form of alternate takes or live versions. But there is more than enough to be found on this eight-disc set for hardcore Young fans to sink their teeth into.
The three live albums, which offer a fascinating perspective on the transformation Young went through between 1969 and 1971, are particularly interesting.
The 1969 recording, Live at the Riverboat, is a real treasure, where an insecure Young performs a number of songs from his early repertoire.
This contrasts dramatically with the raunchy 1970 recording of Neil Young and Crazy Horse live at the Fillmore East, where they rip through classics such as Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand.
Then, one year later, we get Young sans the insecurities, with a mesmerising solo performance titled Live at Massey Hall.
Beautiful, intimate performances of See the Sky About to Rain, Down by the River and Helpless make this live concert a must for any serious Young fan.
Then there are the studio recordings. Disc one, titled The Early Years, focuses on Young’s early Canadian pop-rock combo The Squires, whose output sounds derivative today, but is still an insight into the teenage Young.
It also offers up a number of Young’s early solo recordings, pre-Buffalo Springfield, the best of which are a demo recording of Sugar Mountain from 1965 and The Ballad of Peggy Grover, an early version of Don’t Cry No Tears from 1975’s Zuma.
The disc is brought to a close with some of Young’s songs for Buffalo Springfield, such as the gritty MrSoul and the beautiful Expecting to Fly.
The rest of the box set is divided into four discs that cherry-pick what Young feels are the best tracks from his first four solo albums and his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, combining them with alternate recordings or outtakes that have never before seen the light of day.
Disc two, titled Topanga 1, focuses on Young’s first two solo albums, with six songs lifted from his over-produced self-titled debut and three more from his first album with the legendary Crazy Horse, titled Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
Topanga 2 focuses on the transition from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere to his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Topanga3 covers the After the Gold Rush phase and North Country focuses on his hit album Harvest.
Available in three formats — CD, DVD and Blue-Ray — Archives Vol 1 is for obsessive Young fans, and with the man still making great records, I’m sure there are plenty of those around.
Here’s looking forward to the second volume and all those On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night and Zuma outtakes.