The Lefsetz Letter: Neil Young On Spotify


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They all come back to the garden.

Let this be a lesson to those holding out, the streaming deniers, this is now, this is happening, get on the gravy train or be left behind.

It always happens. Do you remember when acts wouldn't let their albums be released on CD? Hell, you still can't get that Buckingham/Nicks LP, the one on Polydor, with "Crying In The Night," it's arguably better than anything the duo has done since, although Stevie Nicks's 2011 LP "In Your Dreams" was a complete return to form, eclipsing all of her work except for "Bella Donna," funny how some oldsters can still reach the brass ring, listen to "Secret Love," "New Orleans" and "Wide Sargasso Sea," and now you can, just fire up Spotify, you can get a free account, you can't pick and choose tracks on mobile for free, although you can do this on the desktop, but the point is you now have access, to almost everything.


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

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Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

That's right, no Bob Seger. Explain this to me once again? His old Detroit homey Bob Ritchie, aka "Kid Rock," saw the light. You've got to go where the fans are. It's all about getting people to hear your music, there's a ton of dough in music if fans care, and Bob is doing boffo at the b.o. by lowering concert ticket prices, funny how no one will follow his lead. Everybody's so busy bitching about bread but when someone comes up with a fan-friendly way to make more they avoid it.

Pono was not fan-friendly. Its Toblerone box fit in no pocket and most people could not hear the difference. Hell, I A/B'ed it with Deezer Elite and my friends said the latter sounded better, there you have it. As for me… My house is loaded with stereo equipment but my listening device of choice right now is my cylindrical Amazon Echo speaker. Funny what we'll put up with in the name of convenience. I can't wait until Sonos goes voice-activated and my zones come alive.

I've been demonstrating the power of streaming services and Sonos for years, people didn't believe it existed, that the history of recorded music was at your fingertips. People still don't know how streaming works, seemingly every day someone e-mails me that they don't want to pay for data, what happens if they're out of cell range, when the truth is you can download thousands of tracks to your device and do it via wi-fi, but people don't want solutions, the early adopters start to rave and eventually it trickles down to the stuck in the mud Luddites.

Like those who lined up to embrace Pono.

First and foremost… Neil Young does not have 10,000 hours in device development, he doesn't know how to market electronic equipment. Why does everybody believe they can do everything? The truth is most people heard "Heart Of Gold" on systems so lame the Echo is probably superior in sound quality. Why penalize your fans? And, if you want to embrace higher quality audio, why not laud Deezer Elite? And Tidal? And implore Spotify and Apple and Amazon to offer a higher res option? You make much more progress inside the system, just ask the recently departed Tom Hayden. Then again, he never truly realized compromise was the key to forward movement.

Like Clayton Christensen says… The disruptive service starts off with low quality and then gets good enough to topple the standard. That's how MP3s beat CDs. It's how streaming is beating files. Get on board, it only gets better.

As for Neil… He gets tons of press but no sales, little listenership. What he needs to do is come out with one transformative track and then he could be king once again. Never mind "Ohio," which was written, recorded, pressed and shipped mere days after the Kent State tragedy, but there's the whole "Rust Never Sleeps" LP, which made him a hero amongst the grunge set, gave his career new legs. Neil, forget the albums, forget the concepts, just give us one good track, it's the streaming way, you were the breakout star of Oldchella, let the wind carry your new music into our consciousness.

No one is bigger than the system, you either join in or are left behind.

And speaking of Oldchella, I was stunned how many people didn't know that Neil was still this good, and that he even hit one over the fence in this century, with "Greendale," I loved that, both the album and tour, although the movie is irrelevant.

So, in honor of Neil making the move I'm gonna give you a playlist.

We're gonna start off with "Emperor Of Wyoming," from his solo debut. You won't even know it's him, this is a gem. And from the same record, arguably his best, I'm gonna include "I've Been Waiting For You," FOR SUCH A LONG TIME, it's my favorite of Neil's work, and "The Loner" and "The Last Trip To Tulsa"… The last…if you're under fifty you've probably never heard it, and you should, to see how artists used to test limits.

And from the second album I'm gonna include "Down By The River," its highlight. This was the solo record I bought first, I used to play this song on the guitar. Oh, what the hell, I'll include "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" too.

And from the third LP, the commercial breakthrough, "After The Gold Rush," I'll start with "Southern Man," so you know what Ronnie Van Zant was reacting to. And then my personal favorite, "Don't Let It Bring You Down," the rocking "When You Dance, I Can Really Love," and the two snippets, ""Till The Morning Comes," which I used to play with my freshman roommate, he on trombone, me on guitar, and "Cripple Creek Ferry."

"After The Gold Rush" is better than "Harvest," but the latter was the high point of Neil's career, it made him a dorm room staple. My favorite was "Are You Ready For The Country?," but I'll include "Heart Of Gold," "Old Man," "Alabama" and "A Man Needs A Maid," the last to show you how sensibilities have changed, and to demonstrate the earnestness once evidenced in music.

Unfortunately I don't see "Time Fades Away" on Spotify, the live album wherein Neil went on tour and all those expecting to hear country ditties, soft music, were barraged with rock and roll, previously unreleased material. Neil intentionally destroyed his career, to give himself artistic freedom, can you imagine anyone doing that today?

"Walk On" from "On The Beach," the 1974 album released right after I graduated from college, when Neil was finally free and could do whatever he wanted and only the hard core cared.

And then we come to "Tonight's The Night"…


"Bruce Berry was a working man
He used to load that Econoline van"

He was a roadie, he was Jan Berry's brother, of Jan and Dean fame. Neil had experienced too much death and wrote about it.

"Zuma" is not on Spotify, so you can't hear its highlight "Cortez The Killer," but as a special treat I'm gonna include Gov't Mule's version, which is special in its own way, if you know the original it will put a smile on your face.

But 1977's "American Stars 'N Bars" is up, so I'll include its legendary highlight, "Like A Hurricane."

And that brings us to 1978's "Comes A Time," wherein Neil tried to recapture the magic and go back to that country/"Harvest" sound, even though the looky-loos did not come back to him. I'm including the title cut, "Lotta Love," a hit for the dearly departed Nicolette Larson, and my personal favorite, "Look Out For My Love." Also, I'm going to include the even better cover of "Look Out For My Love" by Linda Ronstadt from her 1980 "New Wave" album "Mad Love."

And then comes "Rust Never Sleeps," with "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" and "Powderfinger." And if you care, and you should, be sure to check out the double live album "Live Rust," the soundtrack to one of the great rock movies of all time, which was distributed with surround sound before that was de rigueur.


I'm gonna skip "Hawks & Doves" and "Re-ac-tor," but I am including "Sample And Hold" from "Trans," am I the only one who liked this album? Then again, I loved Kraftwerk's "Computer World."

Now we're gonna jump to "This Note's For You." Neil had this one right, with his anti-commercialism, the clip won MTV's Video of the Year award, despite getting scant airplay from the music video channel, and to show how little that award means, no one remembers he won it, but people do remember Neil stood up against selling out.

And then Neil tried to recapture the "Harvest" magic with "Harvest Moon," but Don Henley had it right, you can never go back, the tracks were not as magical, but I'm gonna include "You And Me" nonetheless, it's haunting.

And that brings us to "Greendale." Of course I skipped a bunch, not that they're worthless, although they do tend to run together, even though I own them all and played them. Anyway, "Greendale"'s got a story, but I'm gonna put the songs in order of accessibility, "Sun Green," "Double E" and "Devil's Sidewalk."

And there you have it, we're bringing Neil Young's music back alive, most people did not own it, most people didn't own much, but now it's accessible, now his legend can shine on, as it deserves to do.