Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Heroes of the Hall: Neil Young
He's a veritable Babe Ruth of rock, excelling in both acoustic heartbreakers and full-on rock-your-ass off blasters. He sang "my my, hey hey" and "hey hey, my my" to bookend an album and name-checked Johnny Rotten in the process. He made 90-minute classics like "Cortez The Killer" seem like they were only 15 minutes long. He left a big fat footprint in four straight decades (a Woodstocker in the '60s, a stadium rocker in the '70s, a take-it-to-the-man renegade in the '80s and hip-old-man in the '90s) and is considered the Godfather of Grunge, and whether that's true or completely manufactured because it makes a cool story is besides the point.
At this point, he could basically hock a loogie on tape for 30 minutes, put it out with a white cover and still get four stars from Rolling Stone. And that's OK, because he earned it.
Geffen Records didn't like 1982's "Trans," which featured some synth and robot crap but isn't really as crazy as everyone makes it out to be, and they didn't like the follow-up Young submitted, the all-out country record "Old Ways." They demanded a "rock & roll album," so Young went back to the drawing board.
He came back with his own interpretation of what they wanted: A 10-song pile of junk featuring doo-wop and rockabilly originals and covers from the 1950s. Technically, Young didn't defy Geffen: They didn't specify which era of rock that he had to go back to.
"Highlights" include faithful covers of songs by Jimmy Reed ("Bright Lights, Big City") and Bobby Freeman ("Betty Lou's Got a New Pair of Shoes") and originals like "Cry Cry Cry" (where Young sounds like he's ready to bust up) and the Chuck Berry-esque "Payola Blues," which calls out Alan Freed, features the Pinks chiming in with harmonies of "cash-a-wadda-wadda" and boasts lines like "Listen to me, Mr. DJ, hear what I got to say/ If a man is makin' music they oughta let his records play."
But the crowning achievement, the creme de la creme if you will, is "Wonderin'," a typical Young track written way back in his early days that's given the eff-you treatment, complete with "doo wops" from the Shocking Pinks.
Taking it over the top is the video, which speaks for itself. Thank you, Neil Young, thank you. We'd induct you again if we could.