It was the first record I bought in college.
I’m listening to that copy now.
When Crosby, Stills & Nash broke we all bought Buffalo Springfield’s “Retrospective,” we all wanted more.
And when “Deja Vu” was released some of us bought “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” but at the time you did not hear “Cinnamon Girl” on the radio, it was not yet the staple it was destined to be, but my favorite song on the LP was “Down By The River,” which I learned to play on the guitar and did so at the camp I worked at that summer. It’s always funny when people start singing a song they’ve never heard the recording of based on your rendition thereof. At the time I did not own Neil’s debut. It was a different era, you could not own all the music you wanted, and that you did possess you played over and over again, and knew it by heart, but at this late date Neil’s debut is my favorite, with “The Emperor Of Wyoming,” “The Loner,” “I’ve Been Waiting For You” (for such a LONG time!), and “The Last Trip To Tulsa,” do today’s kids, the latent Neil Young fans, know that almost ten minute number, I don’t think so.
So I’m at college. Feeling out of place and free and connected all at the same time. There are very few times when you’re thrown in with complete unknowns, like a rolling stone, and this was one of them, and my records kept me comfortable, but I was no longer in the land of E.J. Korvette, there were no discount shops in Vermont, but I needed “After The Gold Rush” so badly I paid nearly full price, only a dollar off, and brought it back to my dorm room at Hepburn Hall and broke the shrinkwrap. That confirmed the process, you’d paid your money, now you owned it, and you could see what was inside. Which was a picture of Neil Young on a couch surrounded by guitars. It’s hard to convey how cool rock stars were. They were not pop stars, but a new breed, who marched to the beat of their own drummer, who lived outside of the laws of the universe, we wanted to be them, we just wanted to hang with them.
And then there was the inner sleeve. At this point, 1970, you had to be a superstar to get your own. Otherwise you just got the generic label one. The one containing the Neil Young vinyl lists the artists of Warner/Reprise on one side, and the Loss Leaders on the other. Let’s see, Warner had Sacha Distel, I don’t even know who that is or was, and Jimmy Durante as well as Liberace, the San Sebastian Strings, Glenn Yarbrough and Black Sabbath, the Grateful Dead and Van Morrison. Reprise had Jim Kweskin as well as Jacques Brel, but also Joni Mitchell and the Mothers of Invention and Jethro Tull, actually there were more acts on Reprise than Warner, whereas the last time I checked the only act left on Reprise was Neil Young himself, and of course Frank Sinatra. As for the Loss Leaders they were double album samplers for two bucks. I ended up getting all of them, because I was always turned on to acts, they contained hits by acts whose albums I wouldn’t purchase, and they ultimately made you feel like an insider during an era when music was still scarce and you wanted to know, as opposed to the overbearing overload we’ve got today.
But also included in the pocket of the gatefold cover, which was becoming de rigueur, was a foldout lyric sheet, back when few LPs included these, the words, whether it be a financial consideration or fear of the artists of being revealed to be nitwits. But this insert stated Neil Young was serious, he was laying it all on the line, what he was doing was important.
So I dropped the needle.
That’s the revelation of hooking up my new turntable. Some records will stone you and others you want to take off immediately. Maybe it’s got something to do with the speakers I’m using, Thiel SCS4s, which are far from cheap and are super-accurate, but lack that big 12″ woofer of my JBLs to pound out the rock. We wanted to feel our music. But when the music is quieter, acoustic you almost can’t believe the immediacy and the warmth.
What struck me was J.D. Souther’s “Black Rose.” It was kinda like hip-hop today, you want to hear the tracks of the whole posse. Those who played, those who wrote. Only in this case most of these albums went unheard, they were for you only. I’ve got to put “Black Rose” back on.
This is the LP with J.D.’s renditions of his Ronstadt smashes “Faithless Love,” “Simple Man, Simple Dream” and “Silver Blue.” But my favorite cut on the album is “Your Turn Now.” “The night can make a promise of love, or it can make you a fool.” And one of the things that bonded me with F. was she owned this album too. When you went to someone’s apartment and saw they had the same semi-obscure LP as you felt connected, you bonded. And I play “Your Turn Now” all the time, and I liked hearing the depth, the space of the vinyl version, but I was not prepared for what followed it, first “Faithless Love,” then “Baby Come Home.”
Like a river flows”
When J.D. sings the words they’re melancholy, like he’s been through it and has ended up on the losing end.
And there are those insightful lyrics:
“And every new love
Never turns out like it seems”
Why is that? Someone from afar seems simpatico, then you get close and realize what you had before was far superior, even though you’ve been dissing the person incessantly.
But then came the piece-de-resistance, “Baby Come Home.” The funny thing is you can know songs by heart but it’s not until a life event transpires that they reveal their true meaning. When you broke up with someone, at least in the pre-internet era, you soothed yourself by playing your records, they were your friends, they kept you warm.
“…If you could trust me
Try to believe me
Listen to me when I say
When I say that love
Is a burning fire
And it will not fade away”
Is this true? I’m not sure, but I think so. You can break up with them, not see them for forty years, but you still share something, there’s a thread between you, even if it’s unspoken, you run into them and they start reminiscing and you can’t get back together, but it’s kinda like “Same Old Lang Syne.”
“But deep in the night
When nearly nothing’s going right”
When you can’t sleep, when you keep listening to these records over and over again, you can’t stop thinking of them, all you can do is pray that they come back. And now you’re old enough to know you can’t call, you can’t make contact. And if you wait long enough they always call you, maybe you even get together, but you can’t rekindle the magic, too much time has passed by, you’ve built a new life, you cannot go backwards.
But I was talking about “After The Gold Rush.”
But that was how it was back then. The side ended, you flipped the record over and when that was done you put on a new LP, depending upon your mood, and once you put it on you rarely took it off, you let it play through.
And my favorite song on “After The Gold Rush” is “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” and I never really liked the second side opener, the Don Gibson cover, “Oh Lonesome Me.” But listening to it now I’m envisioning a bar with a small stage and few in attendance and Neil Young pouring out his heart, that’s the way music used to be made, not in your face, but off the radar, you were peeking at it through the hole in your speaker. Sound quality does make a difference, one of the reasons hip-hop rules is it sounds good on the newfangled equipment, earbuds reproducing squashed electronic files.
Whereas there was a warmth to “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” A story told from person to person.
And then after “Birds,” the scorcher, “When You Dance I Can Really Love.”
This was back before I’d had a serious relationship when I was living at a college where almost nobody had a relationship, but we all wanted one so bad.
And over the ensuing months, “After The Gold Rush” became popular on campus. But I was first, but there’s no gold star for that, especially now, in the age of clutter.
And my roommate and I played along to “Till The Morning Comes,” he on trombone, me on guitar.
And I love the other shortcut, “Cripple Creek Ferry.”
And now the legendary cut is “Southern Man,” but this was four years before Ronnie Van Zant sang that southern man didn’t need Neil Young around.
And what I’m saying is our memories are tied up in these songs. And hearing them on the radio is one thing, playing the MP3 or the stream is another, but the religious ritual of playing the vinyl is transcendent.
It’s difficult. I don’t recommend it. And most people don’t have their original records, they sold them when CDs came around, supposedly they were superseded. And to tell you the truth, they have been. But I built my collection LP by LP, I paid for each one, they’re a representation of my life. And when I finger through them it’s like Albert Brooks going through his Rolodex in “Modern Love.” I love my records. They’re the only thing that has stood by me as time has gone by, they’ve outlasted girlfriends, family members, everything changes but they don’t. It’s akin to venturing into a time capsule, going back to where you once were. And the truth is you can never really go back, thank you Don Henley, but when you visit the building blocks of your identity you feel complete.
That’s what original vinyl with first-rate reproduction delivers.