on June 2, 2009
This is a review of blu-ray set that I received today.
Yes, it was expensive (right now about $279 for the blu-ray version for Archives Vol. 1). But, for the hardcore Neil fans, it just may be worth it.
If some people are confused, the blu-ray set comes with 10 discs. The discs contain songs from 1963-1972 that you can listen to while browsing through the archives: an interactive vault where you can look at photos, lyrics, press releases, letters, etc (while you are still listening). There are lots of video clips throughout the discs as well. The songs are studio tracks, live stuff, alternate mixes, previously unreleased stuff etc. Some songs you may already have, but keep in mind they have never ever sounded this good. Not just a minor upgrade, but this stuff is mind blowing. All in all (without including the downloadable content and easter eggs/hidden stuff), there are 128 songs including 43 unreleased and 13 "never before heard."
The 10 discs:
-Three of those discs are live shows (Live at the Riverboat 1969 which hasn't been released yet, and then Live at the Fillmore East 1970 and Live at Massey Hall 1971 which have previously been released but just on CD in the past few years. But, these discs aren't really the same. They, of course, have the hi-def audio and all the special stuff like photos, press release stuff, bios, and more. For the Massey Hall disc, there is video footage that accompanies the audio, home video stuff of neil and murky but awesome video clips of the show itself).
-Six of the other discs have songs that are either unreleased, previously released in some cases, alternate mixes, or live. With each song, you can browse the archive. There are even more special features too, on each disc is a continuous NY bio and timeline as well.
-The last disc is Neil's old film Journey Through the Past.
The set comes with a 200-something page coffee table book (although not hardcover)with pictures, lyrics, etc as well. A thin but very long (4 feet or more) poster comes with the set as well, it looks like a big file cabinet with the song names written on the folders. Lastly, there is a special box that contains a card to download mp3s of all the songs, a physical copy of the CD version of Cantebury House-Live at Sugar Mountain, and a little note pad thingy.
I don't think anyone can really argue about the quality of the music, but some might be confused about what is in it actually or hesitant to buy, especially the blu-ray version.
There is a cheaper DVD version (you can't listen to the songs while browsing at the same time). Also, with the blu-ray set, you can get updates. Today for example, I put a disc in and was able to download a new (well... very old, of course) song that wasn't included already. As Neil said, as they find more stuff, they will update it and send it to us to download. Very cool. You can't do this with the dvd or CD version. The CD version is just cds of discs 1-8. with the Cds, The early years tracks have been put onto one disc and it doesn't include Joureny to the Past. The dvd version does have it.
There is days worth of stuff on these blu-ray discs. Easter eggs and special features that I haven't even gotten to yet. If you can afford the package, it's worth it.
Lastly, here's some technical stuff from Neil's site about the archives:
"Audio in the Blu-ray edition is presented in ultra-high resolution 24-bit / 192 kHz stereo PCM state-of-the-art master quality sound, while audio in the DVD edition is presented in high resolution 24-bit / 96 kHz stereo PCM audiophile quality sound. The CD edition is presented in standard resolution 16-bit / 44 kHz stereo PCM CD quality sound.
Each of the 10 Blu-ray discs feature 1920x1080 high definition picture quality while the 10 DVD discs have 720x480 standard definition picture quality."
on March 24, 2011
Kindly ignore the other "reviews". This box is fantastic. At this point in time, it is arguably the finest musical release EVER. While it is true that there is the image of a record player or tape player when you play the songs, that isn't the only option. This only happens if you choose to play all of the songs from the menu. If you select the songs INDIVIDUALLY from the file cabinet, you you will have all sorts of nifty bonuses to enjoy. For example, there are concert videos, video and audio interviews with Neil, photographs of Neil and his various bands that were shot around the time the songs were recorded, handwritten song lyrics, typed lyrics, detailed song info, and photos of memorabilia - like 45 sleeve art, concert ticket stubs, letters Neil had written, etc. Plus, there are LOADS of "easter eggs" on each disc. Most of these are really cool. Even hunting for them is a blast. My favorites include hilarious video footage Neil shopping in a record store in the early '70s and finding bootlegs of his music. He gives the store clerk such a hard time and it's a lot of fun to watch. Also, there is nifty footage of Neil visiting the factory at the time the 'Harvest' album covers were printed. Fun stuff. In addition to all of this, there is a clever "timeline" feature where you can see a month by month timeline of Neil's life complete with photos and little pushpins that you can click on to play other songs and videos and if your blu-ray player (like the PS3) is connected to the internet, you will be able to download addition "bonus" content, which appear as blue pushpins on the timeline. Since its release, there have been around 10 bonus songs that can be downloaded at no additional cost (featuring a couple Mynah Birds songs!). The film 'Journey Through the Past' is also included in this box and while it isn't the greatest movie ever made, it's a wonderful treat for any Neil Young fan, as this film was never released before. Best of all, all of the songs in this box have been remastered at the best possible resolution available (linear PCM 24bit/192kHz) and if your equipment is up to speed (high quality speakers and a nice receiver that accepts HDMI connection), you will never hear these songs sounding better. Neil himself says this is as close as you are gonna get to hearing the songs in master tape quality. Finally, with the purchase of this set, you also get a card with a special code that allows you to hop online and download the songs in mp3 format (320kbs). Neil is supposed to release 3 or 4 more of these boxes, each one basically covering a decade of Neil's career. Hopefully the uneducated reviews haven't dissuaded people from buying this first installment. Yes, it is expensive. But I managed to get it for around $240. At $24/disc it is worth it when you consider the tons of stuff you get along with the best audio quality possible. 5 stars.
on June 6, 2009
I feel I have spent enough time with this set now to give a good overview of what this is all about. First of there is a lot more to this than we can gather from the official tracklist and takes a big investment in time and effort to explore and discover the treasures within. For example just looking through the first disc while listening to the music took about 2 or 3 hours The Early Years material I found surprisingly listenable when I thought it would be only interesting from a historical perspective and wouldn't stand up to repeat listening, it will definitely get another outing.
Most of the fun is in discovering for yourselves what is here and I feel I would be spoiling the fun to list everything, but there is a lot of extra video content to discover including a live performance from Fillmore of CSNY doing On the Way Home. Are you disappointed there has been no live Springfield audio released?... Fear not there is about 15 mins worth not in the tracklist. Do you see how this is shaping up? This is a totally different way to experience and appreciate an artist's work. It truly is an ego driven labour of love, an audio-visual autobiography of an artist's life's work and years ahead of his time.
Neil has made it plainly clear in an open letter to fans that the blu-ray set is the way to go, it is the highest possible audio quality currently available and the only one which has the updates and downloads of any new material that is discovered, after you have bought your set. There is one when you first boot up the set, they are free and appear in your timeline when you accept them. You also receive a download of all 128 tracks in 320k digital downloads and the Sugar Mountain CD/DVD set as a free bonus.
Some of my highlights.
Springfield out-takes Sell Out and Slowly Burning
Comrie Smith material, especially Hello Lonely Woman featuring some killer Jaggeresque harmonica playing.
Goldrush era material with CSNY
1969 Sunset Studios Crazy Horse sessions including an alternate Birds and out-take Everybody's Alone.
Royce Hall Heart of Gold.
The alternate versions of released material are significantly different to the well known versions e.g. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere dates from the first album sessions and sounds more Springfield than Crazy Horse. A real surprise was the version of Helpless with harmonica.
Some of the criticisms of the set are valid if some over the top. The well documented inclusion of Massey Hall and Fillmore is less of an issue for the Blu-ray set as they are presented in 24-bit/192 kHz stereo PCM audiophile quality and that goes for every track on the set, none have been released in this resolution. There are omissions that are frustrating though. The Harvest era BBC performance is missing. CSNY studio versions of Sea of Madness and Everybody's Alone are absent as is the acoustic performance of the latter.
We have had 3 tracks from Royce Hall Jan 31st 1971 officially released... Needle and the Damage done on Harvest, Love in Mind on Time Fades Away and Heart of Gold on Archives, why not release the whole show? Also the Springfield material is missing On the Way Home which beggars belief as does the omission of Out on the Weekend from Harvest.
In summary if you have spent a lot of quality time with the 4 official albums from this era there is a lot of interesting material here you will love and treasure as much as those albums. More casual fans who have a few albums or hits collection like Decade there are cheaper ways to discover more about Neil Young. Start with all the 70's albums, plus CSNY déjà vu and 4 Way St plus the 3 Buffalo Springfield albums. This is an expensive set and if you add the cost of a blu-ray player to the mix it's difficult to justify in these recessionary times, but 10 blu-rays at about £17 is not unreasonable value, the value of the material within more than justified the expense for me.
on November 25, 2011
I debated a long, long time before buying this. The expense, and some of the really bad reviews, put me off for awhile. But I've been a Neil Young fan since I was about 15, and that means 36 years now. Ultimately, I couldn't resist this.
I'm very glad I succumbed. :) Volume One of Young's "Archives" is, OBVIOUSLY, for the hardcore fan, but for us, it's just an amazing experience.
Hearing some of Young's more problematic material on Blu-ray is a delight and a revelation. Even after it was remastered and partly remixed just a few months after its initial 1968 release, Young's eponymous debut solo album never sounded quite right. The vocals were tough to hear, and on the songs with more complex instrumentation, the overall sonic picture lacked clarity.
One of the first things I did, then, when I received this box was to cue up "The Old Laughing Lady" from that first album. The multichannel Blu-ray mix astonished me. From Young's vocal to Jack Nitzsche's electric piano to Earl Palmer's drums, the parts were easy to hear -- and, at long, long last, I could hear what Young was aiming for here: A kind of orchestral folk/pop/rock. This always has been one of my favorite Young songs, and he's recorded other versions of it, including live renderings, but it was excellent to hear the original in this brave new setting.
The format also proves beneficial to Young's noisier numbers, including the early stuff recorded with backup band Crazy Horse. "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River," both from "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," are a hoot to hear; the mix allows your ears to distinguish between the guitars of Young and the late Danny Whitten as never before. And despite the Horse's reputation for sloppiness ... well, all I can say is they sound great here, including the rhythm section of drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot.
OK, things I DON'T like about the set: Give me a break with all this "hidden track" stuff, and the Easter Egg approach to finding them. Come on ... first of all, is it REALLY a hidden track when you tell people they're there? Then present them with the challenge of finding them? It almost feels like being baited. Sorry, but with this much material, just present it as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Another gripe: I wish, upon inserting the disc, we'd be prompted to use PCM. Yes, there's a reminder to do so, but on my player, at least, I have to go into the setup menu of the player and select it as the HDMI output. Failing to do so prohibits you from getting the full lossless mix. Because I watch a lot of movies, I prefer my player's default setting to be bitstream, simply so the idiot lights on my receiver do work, letting me know something is in DTS HD Master or whatever.
Finally, to those who complained that the visual element of this set consists of images of tape recorders and albums spinning around: That's only when you select play all. Accessing the tracks individually allows you to view a huge amount of information, from photos to lyric sheets to memorabilia such as original album covers. There's also a timeline function that clearly is going to eat up a lot of my time over the next few months, given its interactive nature.
on June 5, 2009
No artist has ever released what Neil Young released on June 2nd, 2009. This box set (blu-ray version) is the most well put together media package I've ever owned, and I'll tell you why...
The navigation in the menus took me a little while to get used to, but once you know where to go to do what, it is simple and quite clever.
There are bonus songs and videos everywhere, especially in the song selection area (file cabinet) and the timeline. I won't name any because I don't want to spoil anything. Its pretty fun finding different stuff.
You get a card with an access code to download mp3's of all 128 songs on the box set (at the time of this review, the download is still not ready yet, they are saying 7:00 PST tonight, June 5th). This is very nice and most people will appreciate the mp3 downloads.
I received a DVD of Sugar Mountain (Live at the Canterbury House) and a CD of that show as well. This was in addition to the 10 blu-rays.
Neil will be adding songs/videos that you can download to your blu-ray player. (You need your player hooked up to the internet, which everyone should have anyways) When I popped in the first disc, it said "NY has sent you a new song," or something to that effect. The new content shows up as a blue thumbtack on the timeline after you download it.
The feature that really amazes me is that when you play a song from the 'Play All' feature, the song plays with various recording/playing devices: turntables, cassette players, etc. as the background. On my TV, it actually looks like these devices are in my living room. Take a turntable for example...when you play a song, it will have the actual vinyl spinning that the song was pressed on, and the needle is located exactly where that song is on the record, and the vinyl spins and the needle moves along like it were actually playing. That is how much detail and time went into this set. You can also hit 'Pop Up Menu' on your remote and can go over to the 'Information' tab and see who he is playing with, released/unreleased version, where it was recorded, etc. When you play a song from the Song Selection menu tab, you can listen to a song and look at pictures, documents, lyrics and so on. A lot of different ways to look and listen.
Finally, the most important part...the sound. The sound is fantastic, even the really old stuff. As you all probably know, Neil has always had some of the best sounding recordings because he knows what he is doing. This is no exception. While the blu-rays might not offer that warm and wonderful sound that a turntable can create; the sound on these blu-rays is better than I have ever heard digital music sound. (I'm using Klipsch F-2's with a Harman-Kardon AVR-247 and a PS3 that utilizes the 192 khz...nothing too fancy) The sound is stunning and no one should be disappointed.
If you can swing the $280 price tag, go get it. This box set just changed my standards of what a box set should be. I would love to know how long it actually took everyone involved to finally reach the finished product. Job well done Neil, extremely impressive.
on November 23, 2011
Most of the reviews so far do not address the actual reason this set was produced. It would have been released a long time ago if it was intended to be lossy 16/44.1 (CD quality). But the whole point of it is not so much the near-comprehensive compilation of early material or the video content. The emphasis is on the high-resolution audio. Neil Young is an audiophile. So are many of his fans who want to hear his material produced for the best possible sound quality. The archives was many years in coming--material in search of a medium. Finally Blu-ray became an established format and Neil produced his archives. I won't go into a lot of detail on the video content or breadth of material. The remastered material has a holistic or organic quality that is almost always lacking in digital audio. This commitment to quality and detail benefits the entire spectrum of sounds throughout the dynamic range and pays off instruments to their fullest. The reviewers who rated this set poorly obviously did not understand the whole point of the Archives. Yes, it's expensive. Yes, the video content of the studio recordings is incidental--showing a spinning turntable or a reel-to-reel tape--just turn your TV off and feast your ears on the sounds. The 24/192 audio is the main reason to buy the archives. That--along with the painstakingly indexed mountain of material--make the Blu-ray version of the archives Vol 1 an essential purchase for all Neil Young fans who care about audio quality.
on September 1, 2009
Although true to the definition of an archive, I found myself overall disappointed by Volume 1. It may be my expectations were too high, the wait was too long, or the feeling that as a long-time fan I was being ripped off. In any matter and despite the shortcomings, this is still a milestone release.
I purchased the blu-ray set from Amazon in mid-June which means I have had over 2 months to dive deeply into the collection.
Blu-Ray Format - Although expensive, the benefits of the blu-ray set seem reasonable and at the same time diminished - superior audio quality and the promised bonus content that will be downloadable via BD Live. However, I must point out that even though the backgrounds and photos are in HD, most of the video clips are in less than DVD quality resolution. Plus, the early discs have many songs in mono which means no real surround sound benefit from my expensive equipment. On the positive side, I do enjoy hunting through the discs for extra content and the ability to rifle through a song's file while listening to the song. As to the promised bonus content via BD-Live, there have been 2 true downloads so far - Post Informer 1 with 3rd version of "I Wonder" and Post Informer 2 with a newly remixed HD version of "Here We Are In The Years". Oh, and before I forget, with the blu-ray and dvd versions, you are given a card to download all the tracks (not including the hidden tracks) onto your computer in mp3 format (320 kbps). I burned myself an mp3 disc for the car. The mp3 downloads is a real plus. So for sheer entertainment value that is both unique, flexible, and long-lasting, I give the blu-ray format 5 stars.
10/1/09 Update - BD Live - New Material from NY - Live version of "Cinnamon Girl" from the 1970 Fillmore East Show with a Post Informer stating that this song wasn't included because it was out of tune and not as good as the other performances, but since we asked for it anyway, he sent it to us in all its ragged glory. To me, the song sounds great.
Packaging - It comes in a huge box that could have easily been half the size if you consider all the wasted space. Although solidly constructed, the design is flawed. The slot for the book is too deep so that the book falls below the top and becomes very difficult to remove. Speaking of the book, it has a very nice-fake-leather type cover. On the down side, it contains hard copy of the photos, lyric sheets, and clippings, etc. that are also on the discs. So if you have reviewed the book, you have pretty much seen the extra content that you could view while listening to the music. This diminishes the experience. Back to the box, if there are 4 more sets of this size, then I will need to devote a whole corner of the living room to them. As to glue on discs, I only had one disc that was glued to the sleeve and had to force it out. The glue was easily removed from the disc and the disc played fine. The included poster, in my opinion, is worthless - a picture of the file cabinet with all the folders and the names of the songs on them. There is also a drawer in the box where the mp3 card, a "witty" note pad, and the "free" Canterbury CD/DVD is stored. However, the drawer cover has already come unglued which is disappointing for an expensive item. As a final note, the discs are in their own cardboard gate fold sleeve and then crammed into a smaller rectangle box. In order to get the sleeves out of the smaller box, I have to forcibly shake it. So, for the frustration and overblown dimensions, I give the packaging 1 star.
Song Content - This is where I feel the set falls flat. Of the 116 non-hidden tracks, only 80 are unique. Many of the songs are repeated twice, with some having 3 versions. Plus, I already bought and previously experienced Fillmore, Massey Hall, and Canterbury. So, the duplication here has really hindered my overall experience. To add to this, Neil had 4 solo albums in that era totaling a mere 38 songs and he only includes 28 of those remastered songs in Vol 1. If you add in 6 alternate versions, you end up with 4 missing songs. If you want those, then you will need to buy the 4 remastered CDs he released in July 2009. This is where I begin to feel soundly ripped-off for being a fan. Rather than go disc by disc, I will say that the content scores 3 stars mostly for great sound quality and some true gems. On the downside there were missed opportunities here that could have made this a great set.
Here is an analytical breakdown by disc.
Song Time (mins)-----48.25----61.5----70.75------57---51.25
Audio Clips Time--------12------19-------25------24-------9
Video Clips Time---------0-----4.7-----4.75-----0.3----24.5
Total Time (mins)----60.25----85.2----100.5----81.3---84.75
Song Time (mins)------43.5----57.75----67.5-------56------0
Audio Clips Time---------0--------5-----3.5------3.2----8.5
Video Clips Time------11.5-------23----64.5-----64.5-----83
Total Time (mins)-------55----85.75---135.5----123.7---91.5
I do say that although I am not entirely pleased with Volume 1 (thus the 3-star rating), I am anticipating Volume 2. I will be very cautious about purchasing any additional performance series discs that will only detract from my enjoyment when they are also included in volume 2.
on June 15, 2009
Simple fact that on DVD the music stops when you go back to menu to continue browsing special features... I wanted an immersive audio-visual experience with this set and the DVD does not provide anywhere near the freedom of blu-ray for that reason. I would have loved to be able to set one song playing, then continue browsing all the fun letters and photos and reading about other songs...
Also, be appraised that there is not that much video content on the set. At least not that I've discovered yet. And that the audio is outstanding on the DVD set, and that the standard method of operation for presentation of audio on the DVD format here is to create screen-saver like images, often a filmed shot of a reel-to-reel machine playing, with nice posters and things in the background; or a 45 record of the machine, and that this is much better than a blank screen!
Also, be appraised that Sugar Mountain, Live at Canterbury House, has not been included on the set. Some people randomly got a copy of it added to their set in the secret box compartment, but most people, including me, didn't; so if you were interested in hearing that show, which is pretty good, you'll most likely have to get it separately, or perhaps wait till Vol 2, where it may resurface.
Also, be appraised that the Live at the Riverboat show is superb, easily as good as Massey Hall, which has become my favourite live recording of all time since I first heard it a few years ago.
Of course I'm glad I got the DVD set over the CD set. The whole fun in this set is the ability to select songs and view photos and documents and memorabilia relating to them, and occasionally, video, and more often fun audio snippets of radio interviews and interviews of Neil talking about seeing the material for the first time in years. And I'm certainly glad I got an edition that includes the box and the book, which are so beautiful its impossible to explain. The book looks like a big, beautifully illustrated moleskin, and is a great companion when the archives itself won't let me look at memorabilia while I'm listening.
I am, however, glad I'm able to enjoy the archives right now, on my laptop, and my DVD player, without too much extra trouble. It has inspired me to perhaps look at upgrading my system for Vol 2, now I know how good the archives is, and how bad it is to miss out on the extra blu-ray content.
Hope some of this helps in your own format decision.
on November 26, 2008
To those disappointed this release is "not on CD", be patient; it is being released on Blu-Ray & standard DVD first with a CD release to follow. The main reason for Blu-Ray is because Neil believes this format holds the greatest promise for audio. If you've noticed, his recent 'archives' releases were also upsampled (if you paid for the two-disc version) to 24/96 kHZ because, as the sticker on the shrink-wrap stated, "music matters." Neil is a perfectionist who believes that Blu-ray is the first format that challenges vinyl for its sonic qualities. Many of these early demos/recordings undoubtably required many hours of labor to restore - this is no 'cut & paste' job designed to make a quick buck - this is a project Neil has been planning and working on for over two decades. It is a reward for the die-hard collector, not the average 'casual fan'- and is priced as such. You can rest assured the quality of the audio will be as good as modern technology and Neil Young can make it.
on March 13, 2014
*This review pertains to the DVD edition*
Archives 1 is such a massive and sprawling collection that, in effectively reviewing it, one sets oneself a daunting challenge. It utterly transcends any collection of music previously marketed and is a completely unique experience, not only of an artist but also unto itself.: it is essentially a private tour of a virtual Neil Young museum-- still under construction. Indeed, it is difficult to keep in mind at times that this is only volume one and three or four more are supposed to follow it at some point. I feel that Archives 1, being the first to come out, will be on the receiving end of the brunt of the disappointment that inevitably comes for some when they have had twenty years to wait for and hype something up in their minds. There has been a lot of confusion and uncertainty throughout the time of volume one's production as to the exact nature of its contents, and some clearly wanted and expected more on the rarities end. I sympathize to some degree--I'd never say no to Neil pulling something of his vaults. However, the Archives isn't designed to be solely a rarities collection, or solely a retrospective of previously released material, and anyone approaching it from either of those perspectives likely won't be completely satisfied with it. The best summation of the NYA1 is is in fact found on the title page of the 236-page book that comes with the blu-ray and DVD editions:
Neil Young (formerly of Buffalo Springfield) Reprise Recording Artist (1945-1972.)
Archives 1 is a near-exhaustive chronicle of this period of Neil Young's musical career, beginning with his first known recordings from late 1963 with his first band, The Squires, and going straight through up to material recorded for Journey Through the Past and Harvest, released in 1972--hits; album tracks; live recordings; rarities from various side projects; previously unreleased studio outtakes; demos and home tapes--the whole shebang. Spread across ten discs. In a very large box.
In fact, that was my first thought when I opened the package upon its arrival at my house: the box was even bigger than it had looked in all the pictures I'd seen and than I'd expected it to be. It's a rectangular thing that strongly carries the appearance of a home-decorated filing cabinet, covered as it is with reproductions of newspaper cuttings and personal photographs, and the words "Neil Young" scrawled across it huge letters, obviously intended to look hand-painted. It's typical of Neil's preference of late for packaging that looks homemade and it's also quite something to behold on a shelf. But thankfully it's designed for user convenience as well: unlike some other reviewers, I can't say I've had any problems with the packaging. It's sturdy and protects the materials within. In addition, it's split into several compartments, allowing the user to access one part of it at a time without having to hulk the entire thing around: one houses the discs (thankfully assembled in their own box, not unlike a scaled down version of the big one, so you can transport them from one place to another when you don't want to deal with the rest of the box); one the 236-page book; another holds a poster; and the final one carries a small box with some unadvertised bonus goodies. I'll discuss all of these in turn, starting with the most important thing: the music.
The discs are arranged in chronological order, according to when everything was recorded. Each of the first nine discs, when played, automatically displays a main menu. From here, you may click Play All in order to hear all of the tracks on the disc in running order or explore a number of other available options:
The song selection is in the format of a filing cabinet, complete with sound effect as it opens. All of the song titles are listed on tabs attached to portfolios and if you highlight and click one of the tabs, you will open the song's "file." Inside these files, not only can play the track indicated on the tab--to the visual accompaniment of the original record or tape-- there is every variety of memorabilia imaginable (all in virtual format of course): stills; newspaper and other press cuttings; drafts of lyrics and sheet music; letters--anything you can possibly link to the song in question and Neil's life as he was writing it. For the avid fan, there is nothing quite like looking at vintage previously unavailable photographs and original drafts of songs like Heart of Gold, Cowgirl in the Sand, or the Loner. If you are especially fortunate, a file has an audio or videotape log, from which can be accessed very excerpts of Neil and others discussing the various aspects of the song in question and compiling the Archives and old video clips, often including live performances of the songs and footage of Neil and his various backing musicians recording them in the studios. There are some other videos--fairly random things, like Neil finding a bootlegged CSN&Y album in a record store and complains to the manager, which was being covered by a camera crew for no apparent reason but is an entertaining little vignette nonetheless. The other main feature of these discs is the timeline feature, also accessible through the main menu. It's just that-- a timeline of Neil Young's life up to 1972, beginning with his birth (November 12th, 1945) up to Journey Through the past, displayed in front of you on the screen. Various hidden extra features can be found by clicking highlighted thumbtacks along the timeline. These access further rare video and some of the hidden tracks (again, to be brought up in further detail later.) The only exceptions to this format are the two performance series discs released prior to NYA1: they include everything found on the DVDs issued with the original deluxe editions of those releases and retain that format.
There are 128 audio tracks in total. The highlights are numerous and will vary according to your taste. For me, much of the best material is on the first disc, Early Years 1963-65. All of this is rare and most of it previously unreleased. There are tracks recorded with the Squires and very intimate home demos, some featuring Neil alone, some with his friend Comrie Smith backing him up. Highlights include Neil's first released single, from 1963: The Aurora/The Sultan, with the Squires, as well as previously unavailable tracks: I Wonder (two versions), another instrumental, Mustang, Hello Lonely Woman, Ballad of Peggy Grover, The Rent is Always Due, Extra Extra, I'm a Man (and I Can' Cry) and There Goes my Babe. Another interesting number is I'll Love You Forever-- not a particularly brilliant song but nicely produced, especially for the times. All of these are charming old recordings of a great artist in his genesis, as well as some good old-school rock 'n' roll.
Elsewhere, there are delightful Buffalo Springfield rarities: alternate Mr. Soul (including a bonus video clip of a performance), Down Down Down, One More Sign, and Slowly Burning, a really beautiful instrumental not previously available. Other highlights include the 1969 acoustic Riverboat Show, Wonderin' from the After the Goldrush sessions, alternates of various tracks from the Topanga Canyon sessions, such as Birds, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, and an absolutely fantastic alternate mix of I've Been Waiting for You. The North Country disc is a personal favorite of mine (that's my name for Neil's country music now--North Country.) I have always liked the songs on Harvest and this disc gives much additional insight to their creation, as well as releasing for the first time outtakes like the studio versions of Journey Through the Past and Bad Fog of Loneliness. There's also Words (Between the Lines of Age), taken from the Journey Through the Past album. It's not technically previously unreleased but Journey Through the Past, having never been released on CD, is such a rare album these days that it's not too far removed and, as such an excellent rendition of one of my favorite Harvest songs, and a nice glimpse into the recording of that album, I'm glad it was included here. The other thing you'll find lots of on North Country is lots of video: Neil and the Stray Gators recording songs like Alabama and Are You Ready for the Country? in the barn at Broken Arrow ranch; Neil sitting on the lawn outside the barn listening to a recording of Words playing back, offering some colorful commentary on it. All great stuff for the hardcore fan such as myself to see. There are also insightful videos of the recording of A Man Needs a Maid and There's a World with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Truth be known, there's great video all throughout this set: I forget which disc it's on, but there's a great acoustic-guitar only performance of The Loner and Cinnamon Girl in medley and on Topgana 3 (disc six) Neil plays various After the Goldrush era songs (as well as On the Way Home from the last Springfield album) with CSN&Y. There is also video on the first disc of Neil opening the letters he sent to himself to secure copyrights on his first compositions back in 1963. The video itself was taken in 2004, and is one of several embedded throughout the set recorded during the making of the NYA1. These videos offer glimpses into its long production (some dating back to February, 1997) and are as invaluable and worthwhile in their own way as the performance clips. These videos are some of my personal favorite elements of the Archives.
A lot of these things are hidden from the user, though. Neil intended for the Archives to be an interactive experience and it certainly is, so my advice is to do a little exploring: play with the arrow buttons on your remote a lot and try highlighting places even when you don't immediately see anything to click on. You might end up finding something you didn't know was there. I don't really mind this personally; when I find something, I usually commit it to my memory as being there so as not to have to search high and low to see a great clip again. But I can see how it wouldn't be to everyone's taste. One of my favorite hidden things, found through a thumbtack on the timeline, is a selection of audio excerpts from the last Buffalo Springfield concert ever. It's a piece of pure history (and pure rock 'n' roll) and really adds to the worth.
In the case of the hidden tracks, some of these are little gems in their own right as well so try and locate as many as possible. (Hint: look for the aforementioned thumbtacks on the timeline and roach clips attached to either the left or right of individual song files...) Also note that, other than the Massey Hall and Filmore East presentations, when playing the songs, what you see on your screen is the original tape or record spinning around, with various memorabilia strewn around. I sometimes like to keep the book handy for something to look at while playing the DVDs, but in truth some of the visual accompaniments to the songs are atmospheric, evoking the feeling of actually sitting in Neil's studio listening to the original masters, or playing the original reel-to-reel tapes he recorded back in Canada in the mid-'60s. In the case of the Riverboat, you actually see the tapes playing at the venue, which is quite an interesting presentation. It's almost as if Neil is giving you the tapes without actually giving them to you, if that makes any sense. I think, given the file cabinet packaging, this was part of the intent. There are some other touches to the visuals as well, subtle things like the incense lit during Slowly Burning, which is really atmospheric.
Sonically, everything is absolutely superb on DVD and I imagine even more so on blu-ray. This is particularly a breath of fresh air coming off of the 1990 CDs. I've longed to hear tracks like Soldier, Last Trip to Tulsa, and all the Springfield tracks sounding this good for a while. The improvement really does make the repurchasing of previously of previously available tracks worth it. That and the fact that Archives 1 puts them in a completely new perspective, surrounded by memorabilia and other archival materials that relate to them, in a comprehensive anthology of Neil's work from this period.
There is also the repetition of the Filmore East and Massey Hall discs to consider. It's great material nonetheless and in my case, I can only say that I had only previously owned the CD-only versions of these albums so I did get to see all the video anew. Otherwise, I'd probably be a bit irritated as well. Otherwise, the sound is expectedly much improved on DVD and there's a great amount of video on Massey Hall and nice stills on Filmore East. A 16-minute Cowgirl in the Sand live at the Filmore is actually one of the greatest highlights for me of the entire collection.
The last disc (labeled disc nine due to a rather bizarre number sequence that places the first disc as number 0) is Neil's 1974 film Journey Through the Past, reissued apparently as a bonus for DVD and blu-ray buyers. It's strange but I find most if it rather enjoyable in an absurd way. It starts with Neil sitting in with a radio broadcaster listening to his old records being played on the air, reminiscing. That's pretty straightforward, but it gets weirder as it goes. It's a bit like Neil Young's version of the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour-- odd characters and disconnected sequences abound and most of them are somehow entertaining. There's nice footage from CSN&Y concerts, particularly of Southern Man, and the sequence in which Neil sings Soldier could stand on its own as a nice music video. Towards the end, Neil veers towards some message involving Christianity. Exactly what this may be is never made completely clear, but it makes for some entertaining images of black-robed clansmen galloping on horseback across a beach holding up crosses, a somewhat infamous segment seen in advertisements for it. Journey... isn't the greatest highlight of Archives 1 and will likely interest only the biggest fans but it's interesting viewing, especially in the 21st century as it is definitely dated to the early '70s world in which it was produced. Ultimately, though, after so many years of almost complete unavailability, it's nice to have this in fans' grasps again. ( I had never seen it before (though I've loved Soldier for years, having heard it on Decade) and hearing that it was going to be included in Archives 1 excited me greatly at the time and I'm still pleased it's here. Although it's not something I'd expect a lot of people to want to watch too often after seeing it once, it is nonetheless a good addition to this anthology.
The Archives book is also a treasure in and of itself-- it's 236 pages and exclusive to DVD and blu-ray owners and it's very unfortunate that CD owners cannot be privy to it (though I understand a separate book comes with that edition.) I knew it would be something as soon as I opened the box and saw the cover--a rather abstract drawing depicting a tree with the sun beating down it (apparently modeled after one of Neil's own journals.) Essentially, it's a scrapbook. The only form of narrative comes through newspaper and press cuttings and a few quotes of Neil here and there. The rest is all photos; original drafts; sheet music; and just about any other sort of memorabilia you can think of. There are absolutely no liner notes-- so if you require that sort of thing, you won't enjoy the book all that much, but personally, I say "Thank God." They're most often useless junk, designed for purposes of advertising and self-aggrandizement anyway. I don't need the history spoon-fed to me by a smooth-talking "rock journalist". I find it much more effective most of the time to let the artifacts tell their own story, and in this case they do so brilliantly, from Neil's origins in Omemmee, Canada, to the height of his popularity and commercial success with Harvest. Sure, you have to think a bit to follow the story, but--call me weird--I like applying my mind to things. It tends to enrich most experiences. I also feel that the scrapbook memorabilia approach is a lot more direct towards the viewer-- it makes for a better evocation of the period and events than the looking through the historical kaleidoscope I find most liner notes offer. The book also just makes for good accompaniment while playing the DVDs if you want relief from spinning records. You'll notice a lot of artifacts reproduced on the DVDs are also found in the book. I like having them rounded up in one place to study, though. The book also includes charts and listings of information on the all the tracks, including the hidden ones. You also get the basic info in the song files but it's nice to have it one place to look up. It's generally less of a hassle than going to a particular file to get a particular piece of information. Included in this is a "Selected Tracks from the Archives" chart included, which gives you an idea of what Neil has in his personal archives versus what he has chosen to release. If the chart is anywhere near complete, not a lot was left out and blu-ray owners will likely see some of what was excluded via BD live updates at some point.
The remaining materials are more-or-less bonuses, and pleasant ones too. The poster is a picture of the same filing cabinet seen in the song selection option on the DVD, though rather than just the sections you see on each to DVD it's the full thing from 1963-72. It's very long and thin--in fact, it's the longest poster I've ever seen. I like its uniqueness, though, and I'd like to display it, but it's still sitting in its slot in the box as of right now because I'm not sure how to: I certainly have no frame to fit the thing and the expense of having one made to fit the proper dimensions would be entirely too expensive. I'll probably have to laminate and hang it at some point, though I'm not sure where I'd get enough lamination sheet or how expensive that would be. Still, it's a neat poster (and makes for a good collector's item), just difficult to display.
Finally, there's the box of extras I talked about earlier. It's a black cigar box in appearance and is found in the forth and final slot when you lift the lid of the big box. Inside are three things: a free copy of the Live at Canterbury House CD/DVD set issued last autumn (DVD for improved audio; no performance footage), a small reproduction speaking pad from the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, a venue Neil used to play in his very early years, included for no apparent reason other than to share the witty line written on it Neil's reproduced handwriting: "If you're a speaking pad, why don't you say something?"-- kind of lame but funny at the same--and of course there is the free MP3 download card. The CD/DVD, of which I had already owned a copy as I suspect did most buyers, is of little use to me but it was free. I won't waste time and precious energy complaining about a free backup copy of a great album. I guess it was thrown in for completeness' sake, which is appreciable.The speaking pad is a little joke, another good collector's item, and nothing more, though I certainly appreciate Neil sharing his wit with us. The MP3 card has caused enough brouhaha: the download website had some technical problems for the first week or so after the release but as far as I know, that's cleared up and DVD and blu-ray owners can now download the 128 Archives 1 tracks free of charge. It's convenient for the DVD or blu-ray owner in acquiring the Archives tracks (hidden ones not included) for on-the-go listening without paying twice and I think the MP3s sound good for MP3s. But I don't equate the experience to listening to or playing the Archives. The MP3s are simply for listening to tracks from the Archives. For me, listening to or playing the Archives means the isolated and unique experience playing the DVDs, listening to the music, browsing through the rare video and audio clips and all the memorabilia at my leisure. I recommend use of the MP3s for on-the-move listening, as they can easily and conveniently be put on ipods and CDs and I really appreciate the flexibility Neil offers with this option.
Ultimately, the Neil Young Archives experience is a completely unique one. Everything here looks and sounds great, the rarities are wonderful to have and what was previously readily available is set in a new context by the whole Archives presentation. This is really the Neil Young museum--it contains every sort of artifact you could possibly thing of. With additional volumes in the works though, this Neil Young Museum is very much under construction. But all of that will come to us with time and patience. For the moment, I am pleased to just to be able to tour the part that is completed whenever I feel like it. This is not only a brilliant anthology of a great artist but a marvelous technological advancement, setting new standards for music box sets and presenting a completely original way to appreciate an artist. I strongly recommend that all dedicated fans who have not done already done so should purchase either the DVD or blu-ray edition of this as soon as they can. It's a unique experience that cannot possibly be attained with the audio-only presentation of CD. I think most fans would regret missing out on it and it's a fantasy-turned-reality for many of them.
And this is only the first nine years!