9/19/70: Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
Today I’m celebrating one of my favorite albums of all time. Albums the caliber of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, released 50 years ago today, are what inspired me to start this blog. Yet ironically with albums such as this I have to overcome the constraints of my “What can I possibly say about it that isn’t already known?” mentality. Then I recall that it’s a mighty big world out there, and not everyone worships at the altar of (insert applicable band or artist name). In this case, it’s Neil Young arguably hovering around his creative peak. And that’s saying something considering the overall quality of his output over the past 55-ish years.
The album was inspired by a Dean Stockwell-Herb Bermann screenplay of an unmade movie of the same title. Neil was going to produce its soundtrack with the title track and Cripple Creek Ferry being written specifically for it. Most of the recording took place in the basement studio of Young’s Topanga Canyon home with the perfect combination of musicians for this particular collection of songs. Jimmy McDonough suggested in his bio of Neil, Shakey, that Young intentionally wanted to combine the folk rock of CSNY with the heavier sound of Crazy Horse, hence an album roster which includes Stephen Stills and Greg Reeves from CSNY, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot, and a fading Danny Whitten from the Horse, and Jack Nitzsche. But to me the most interesting personnel decision was the inclusion of 18 year old Nils Lofgren, mostly on piano – an instrument he didn’t even regularly play. It all worked, and Nils obviously made the most of the opportunity.
Thinking of the various times over the years in which Neil has changed his mind about what musicians to work with (or what album he wanted to work on or release) – sometimes in mid-recording or even mid-tour – After the Gold Rush sounds like the perfect melding of musicians and styles that have helped him create his best music over the years. I don’t know if it was as harmonious as all that, but that’s how I like to think of it. The various styles are evident from the start: Tell Me Why could be a CSNY song, as could Only Love Can Break Your Heart. The title track hearkens back in my mind to his Buffalo Springfield days (think Expecting to Fly or Broken Arrow).
Then we have driving Crazy Horse-sounding rockers When You Dance… and Southern Man, the latter song deserving a post of its own if not a book. And with tracks such as Don’t Let it Bring You Down, Birds, I Believe in You, and his cover of Don Gibson’s Oh, Lonesome Me, we hear a warmth in his music that was a bit sparse during his turbulent-to-dark songwriting which was soon to follow in his “Ditch” years. Yet despite the diverse styles, these songs form a very cohesive album.
Neil Young’s music – especially his singing voice – is not for everyone, that’s understood. But as with his kindred spirit Bob Dylan, for those of us who are touched by his music, it can cut deeply at times. After the Gold Rush is a perfect combination of songs which display his personal and societal angst, along with reminders that things can also be o.k. All in a shade under 35 minutes. And while I’m not an audiophile, this album has always just sounded damn good from a production standpoint, whether it was my first listens on cassette, or later on CD or LP. Perhaps it’s simply one of the better examples of Neil’s “less is more” approach in the studio.
-The album reached number eight on the Billboard Pop Chart. Only Love Can Break Your Heart and When You Dance I Can Really Love were issued as singles, reaching 33 and 93, respectively.
-The original Rolling Stone review referred to the album as dull, but within a short number of years considered it a masterpiece. Numerous magazines now rate After the Gold Rush among the top 100 albums of all time.
-The solarized album cover photo of Neil passing an elderly woman next to the NYU Law School campus originally included Graham Nash, who was cropped.
- Tell Me Why
- After the Gold Rush
- Only Love Can Break Your Heart
- Southern Man
- ‘Til the Morning Comes
- Oh, Lonesome Me
- Don’t Let it Bring You Down
- When You Dance I Can Really Love
- I Believe in You
- Cripple Creek Ferry