While today's record may seem incongruous from my typical blogpost, in all reality, it's not.
You see, your humble blogger has been a Neil Young fan for over 20 years. And while many of his songs are classic rock anthems, he's not been called the "godfather of grunge" for nothing. He once called Sonic Youth's "Expressway to Yr Skull" the greatest guitar song of all time, he's championed many an indie act via his annual Bridge School Benefit gigs to support the Bridge School (an organization set up by the Youngs in 1986 to help children impaired by severe physical and speech impairments), and he's never seen fit to kowtow to his fans or public.
Case in point is today's featured record, 1973's Time Fades Away.
On the back of the massive blockbuster success of his 1972 acoustic record Harvest ("Heart of Gold" among others), Young put together an all-star band and toured to an audience raptly anticpating recasts of the classic commercial Neil. However.... In his words: "'Heart of Gold' put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch."
Writing an entirely new body of work on the road, the Harvest tour soon saw Neil performing sets of never-before-heard material to audiences expecting "Heart of Gold". And the all-star band backing Young didn't get it - not like Young wanted them to, at least. But Young had an idea, why not make the next record a record of these new songs, played live in front of audiences completely unfamiliar with the material? So he did, releasing the results (assembled from a multitude of live dates) as Time Fades Away.
And he hated it, as did contemporary critics (though you'll not find a critic today who doesn't love the record).
It was a bad period in Neil's career, with the deaths of several musicians in the Young orbit from drugs hanging heavily on his back at the time. The music and the lyrics of this period (the oft-termed "Ditch Trilogy" series of LPs Time Fades Away, Tonight's The Night and On The Beach, recorded in that order from 1973-1974) reflect this entirely.
In an interview from 1987 with the BBC, Young stated that his "least favorite record is Time Fades Away. I think it's the worst record I ever made - but as a documentary of what was happening to me, it was a great record. I was onstage and I was playing all these songs that nobody had heard before, recording them, and I didn't have the right band. It was just an uncomfortable tour. It was supposed to be this big deal - I just had Harvest out, and they booked me into ninety cities. I felt like a product, and I had this band of all-star musicians that couldn't even look at each other. It was a total joke."
And that's the funny thing - it's absolutely NOT a bad record. In fact it's many a fan's favorite Neil LP of all time. Perhaps this is because the record's been out of print for nearly 35 years, and it's the sole remaining "canon" piece from Neil's extensive catalog not to see a CD release (in 2003, 4 of the 6 Neil LPs that up to then had not been on CD were finally issued as HDCD CD's by Reprise, though TFA and 1972's soundtrack LP Journey Through The Past were not).
I think Neil's recollection of this record is colored by the events of the time within his orbit. He's completely dismissing the fantastic songwriting on this record, and while the performances may not be up to par (which is completely fitting with Neil Young records, as any semi-serious fan will know), the record, as a piece, is stunning.
So as mentioned, this record - to this day - has never seen an official CD release anywhere in the world.
That being said........ in 1995, when Reprise Records first seriously considered officially issuing the "Missing 6" mentioned previously on CD, HDCD-encoded "test pressing" CDs of this - and several other at-the-time unavailable Young LPs - circulated. Not test pressings per se, more likely they were review copies or promo releases that escaped Reprise clutches before Young put his official DNR tag on the product. Of course the 1995 campaign ended with no Missing 6 CDs actually being released, but the escaped copies are still out there in the wild, and sound completely gobsmackingly fantastic.
You see, TFA was mixed by computer in 1972, as the songs rolled off the multitrack reels into the mastering house. There was no "master tape" per se, the mixdown was mastered direct to disk. Neil Young collector Jef Michael Piehler of SideStreet Records: "The problem with Time Fades Away is even worse, as it naively stated on LP labels: "This Recording Was Mastered 16-Track Direct To Disc (acetate) by Computer"; the multi-track master tape was recorded/mixed LIVE, leaving little room for remixing the "warts & all" tape hiss, bad notes & crowd noise. To reassemble the album, someone would need to sort through fifty or so ¼" and/or 2" multi-track reels & "a few" cassettes. Finding the right version by date would be easy enough, but at what stage would the mix be at? Raw recording? Truck monitor mix? Mono PA monitor recording? And what about necessary over-dubs ("LA", "Last Dance")? Where are Crosby's vocals? How'd they layer the voices like that? ...impossible."
So how'd they do it in 1995? Well, the record did see release on 8-track and cassette in the 70s, and it's presumed a backup safety reel of the live-as-she-goes computer mixdown was simultaneously made at the same time the LP was mastered, and Young may have used this to master the '95 HDCD encoding. But it's never actually been discussed, so we'll never know until the official release (if that ever comes).
So enjoy. I certainly do, this record, by leaps and bounds, is the most played Neil Young LP in my entire collection (and I've got most of 'em).
1995 tray card inlay:
- - - - -
Time Fades Away
1973, Reprise Records
this version ripped from a 1995 HDCD-encoded mastering, subsequently withdrawn
*still entirely out-of-print*
01 Time Fades Away
02 Journey Through The Past
03 Yonder Stands The Sinner
05 Love In Mind
06 Don't Be Denied
07 The Bridge
08 Last Dance
Get yer FLACs here!