Neil Young Archives: Volume 1
DVD + DVD Audio | Box Set
This is the first volume of the Neil Young Archives series of box sets, produced by Neil Young himself. This series is the definitive, comprehensive, chronological survey of his entire body of work. Volume I covers the period from his earliest recordings with the Squires in Winnipeg, 1963, through to his classic 1972 album, Harvest and beyond, including studio and live tracks with the legendary Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Neil Young with Crazy Horse. This DVD edition contains 10 discs, each in its own custom sleeve. 9 of these discs hold a total of 128 tracks (12 hidden), all presented in high resolution 24-bit/96 Khz stereo PCM Audiophile quality sound, and featuring nearly 60 previously unreleased songs, versions, mixes, or rare tracks. Also found on these 9 multimedia discs are 20 special feature videos, film clips, and film trailers, an additional 55 audio tracks of rare interviews, radio spots, and concert raps, and an array of interactive features, including image galleries of archival photos, press, lyric manuscripts, documents, biographies, tour dates, and complete lyrics, as well as an interactive timeline feature which presents an in-depth overview of Young's life and career. Each of the 10 DVDs feature 720X480 standard definition picture quality. In addition, a DVD of Young's acclaimed first film, 'Journey Through The Past', available for the first time since its original theatrical release in 1973, is included, featuring pristine picture transfer, audio presented in both DTS 5.1 surround and stereo 24-bit/48 Khz PCM, plus archival materials. Included in the durable custom display box are a digital download card to access MP3 files of all 128 audio tracks, a lavish 236 page fullcolor hardbound book that features additional archival materials, tapes database, and detailed descriptions of the music and artwork, a foldout Archives poster, a custom keeper for the 10 sleeved discs, and more.
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This month a good BD-Live player did. I bought a Samsung unit, upgraded to a Vizio HDTV, and then finally got this amazing box a few days ago. The wait was worth it. The sound on DBTR and Cowgirl is amazingly great. I have still to do an actual A/B testing with the original vinyl (I might have to buy one of the vinyl NYAS albums for a true test as my original copy, though in decent condition, can't match the new German pressings). But just the SOUND of these blu-ray discs is fantastic. I'm sure the DVD and CD releases are fine. Even the mp3 files that came with this do the trick for loading up your iPod and hitting the road if only for the sheer convenience.
As more than an encyclopedia has been written on everything else in this box, I won't go down that path. I just wanted to concentrate the audio for now. The rest of the box with its multimedia approach is extraordinary for a true fan. If you're a newcomer, go buy his latest 'Greatest Hits' in its best saturated audio version and play it on a good audio system. Or better yet invest in one of the new vinyl releases, which I plan to do soon, and listen to it on a great 'legacy' stereo. You won't be disappointed. If you're lucky, you'll get what all the hype has been about and take that long NY journey through the past all the while enjoying whatever Neil's muse tells him to release in the future.
Happy NY Holidays to you all.
You open it from the top, and it has a strange little magnetic tug to it. At the top of the box set is a 236-page book that is tall and thin, it has a fake leather jacket that is really beautiful that shows some sort of forest-at-sunset scene. While the music covers the 1963-1972 period, the book starts in 1945, when Neil is born (actually, even before that, as it shows pictures of Neil's parents). The book has no text, just lots of pictures, lyrics, doodles, coffee stains and newspaper clippings. It offers a beat-abstract journey through Neil's life focusing on the substance without all of the vanities.
Next up is a slim poster that is presented like a filing cabinet that contains all of the songs in the set.
After that, there's the crazy box of 10 discs numbered from zero to nine with neat little magnetic fasteners. The discs are gatefold CDs that generally have pics all over them, with no booklets. We pop the first one in and we see a nice title screen with the promise of "Play All", "Song Selection", "More" and "Set Up". When you select any of the first one you get the songs, when you select the second one you get the filing cabinet, and depending on what you click on you may get various multi-media, you get into the songs, and you might get photo galleries. "Early Years" is a family album. Selecting a song will get you a title card, with all the vital statistics. When you click on the "play" triangle you get a picture of a turntable with the song playing. If you want, you can watch the turntable spin, there are interesting things nearby like sheet music. The rest of the songs on the first CD are like this, although they change a bit - sometimes they are turntables, but they may also be reel-to-reels of various sorts. All of the other CDs contain various multimedia presentations, it will take ages to explore them.
The final component is a black box/drawer, which contains three items: a notepad from the Whiskey A Go-Go that says "Speaking Pad", which appears to have on it written in pencil the words:
"IF YOU ARE
PAD - WHY DON'T
YOU SAY SOMETHING
?!??!?", followed by the words written in pen in what looks like Neil's handwriting "(Uhh?")"
The box also contains a CD and DVD version of "Sugar Mountain - Live at Canterbury House 1968″, part of the "Neil Young Archives Performance Series". It also comes with a card that contains a code that is supposed to let you download all of the songs on the collection (since most of the music is on DVDs you can't rip them to your iTunes), but my code is defective and wouldn't download - could it be that they aren't allowing downloads over the US Thanksgiving weekend? Maybe.
...well, sure enough, on the Tuesday after the weekend it worked. Downloadable are 125 songs only. The DVDs have easter eggs of a further 12 songs (hidden tracks), and if you own the Blu-ray version you get even more songs available for download when you want them.
There's just so much here. The box itself is gorgeous, made to look like something that is classic, tattered, decaying, yet vibrant and defiant. There is even stuff printed on the bottom of the box. Neil's image is everywhere, as are motifs of his name, down to the name wrapping around the box itself (I guess when there are four boxes you can arrange them together any side you want to form his whole name, giving you a $1,000 Neil Young wall) and the main material is old newspaper clippings. The box top sows a hand of eight cards with pictures of Neil through the years, from a young boy to the Neil Young and After The Gold Rush covers and beyond. Inside the lid is an early ad for a gig starring "Swinging Neil Young and the Squires".
Slotted in the top of the box is space for the 236-page book, the poster, the 10-disc keeper, and the black box that contains the download card/code, the speaking pad and the Sugar Mountain CD+DVD.
The 236-page book is a great document: the first 181 pages are images, there are 34 pages of listings of Neil's catalogued song archive, then 19 pages of credits for the songs, the images in the book, and the box set production. The images portion of the books is without text but full of reproductions of photos, lyrics sheets, newspaper clippings, letters and telexes, souvenirs and other stuff, all with maps of the local region as a background. The catalogue of archived songs is a coffee-stained sheet of all of the songs Neil wrote or recorded (with alternate versions, of course) that indicates which songs went into this project and which didn't (for example, in addition to the six songs by The Squires that are on this release, there's seven other songs listed, which were either not recorded or where the tape is lost). At the very end are the full credits of all the songs, full photo credits and explanation of the photos, box production credits, and all sorts of other groovy stuff. I'm glad that they made the decision to not have an essay running throughout, since these things are often just pap (the essays that accompany the otherwise-fantastic Robert Plant and John Lennon solo career retrospective boxes I bought recently are either nothing new or just a bit too sparkly).
Since there's no essay, the pictures and lyrics sheets tell their own story, the former more than the latter. At the beginning we get a picture of Neil's maternal grandfather taken in 1910 (notes at the end tell what's going on in all of the images for interested parties; anyone else can just enjoy the images for what they looks like), then a portrait of his father as a young man in 1937, pictures of Neil's birth mother, his birth parents' wedding picture, and then four pages in the first pictures of Neil, four years old wearing a cowboy hat, or fishing in a river, or with his brother Bob. There's also a clipping from a newspaper about his town in Ontario called Omemee, which is not too far from Peterborough, that shows him holding up a gigantic fish, a muskie, that is as long as he is tall. There's a school picture that shows a kid with weird eyes and a toothy smile that is distinctly recognisable as the Neil Young we all know and love. There are pics of Neil in school, with his family, on the beach (ha ha), on a dock, fishing, with his dog, with his fellow high school yearbook staffers, or wearing his "Canadian Freeloaders Society" jacket. A picture of his dog by the porch screen door when he is ten years old is particularly compelling for me - my own son is nearly ten himself and the size of the kids is about the same. The first picture of Neil with a guitar is at the time of his junior high school graduation in 1961 when he was 15.
Soon we get music-related pictures, and there's the first-known picture of Neil's band The Squires, from December 1962 when Neil had just turned 17. Then there's the label from their first single, "Aurora", released in 1963, set lists, early reviews, set lists, cord charts, an audiotape cover, gig announcements that include the Squires along with acts like Judy Scott, Phil Sanchez, Chad Allen, Miss Mickey Allen, and Lenny Breau. There's a rare photo of Neil with a girlfriend, Pam Smith, a picture of his famous hearse "Mort" from April, 1965 that The Squires toured in, and a great pic of a 20-year-old Neil standing next to a highway marquee that said "Neil Young to nite" in the summer of 1965. There's a full letter to his mom when he was staying at "Bunny's mother's" in Toronto that includes a message in beautiful handwriting from Bunny herself. From page 42 onwards, Neil is in California, and there's a picture with the Buffalo Springfield from June 1966, with the famous speaking pad and a ticket from the Whisky `A-Go-Go. On page 53 there's a picture of a Buffalo Springfield guitar pick, which the end credits describe as "Buffalo Springfield guitar pick found by Ron Perfit many years ago in Richie Furay's couch in Colorado." There are lyrics for an unfinished Buffalo Springfield song "Scarborough High", other snatches of unpublished lyrics "There's a Girl I That I Knew", clippings of a drug bust that nabbed Neil, Paul Furay, James Messina, as well as Eric Clapton, described as "a guitarist for another rock group known as `The Creams.'" There's articles about the Buffalo Springfield's breakup, then the solo era starts with a picture of his Topanga Canyon house, lyrics sheets for "Birds", "Last Trip To Tulsa", and lyrics and chords for a song called "Here We Are In The Years." The rest of the book is newspaper articles, the odd photo, concert posters or sleeves for singles, and you see Neil's hair getting real long. Then he's in a group with Crosby, Stills and Nash with tons of pictures, sometimes with Joni Mitchell, there are concert programmes, and then the Crazy Horse era begins. Nice pictures of Neil playing with Danny Whitten, covers of Time and Life showing the Kent State murders. There is also a column from Neil's dad Scott Young describing the feeling of seeing his son play Carnegie Hall, along with a concert poster, and an ad showing that season's Carnegie Hall schedule (Neil Diamond played Carnegie Hall a few weeks before him, Pete Seeger and Judy Collins played separately the weeks after). Then there are also pictures from his new Broken Arrow Ranch, one of them together with Louie Grappi, his forman and the inspiration for the song "Old Man". There is a series of photos taken in September 1971 when Neil was recording "Harvest" with the Stray Gators, including a particularly cool one of Neil sitting slumped in a wooden chair in a room with sunlight streaming through the windows, with his long scraggly hair and checked flannel shirt where he looks particularly insane, or like a young Kurt Cobain. There's also a great picture of Neil in a Nashville junkyard on October 2nd 1971 standing next to a mountainous pile of flattened cars (at one point cars are stacked nine high in the cropped picture - don't know how high up it went).
One complaint about the book - it's kind of stinky! It has a weird chemical/onion stench to it. I hope it doesn't give anyone headaches/allergies/cancer. I wonder what it's coming from?
Musically, on the DVDs and the MP3 downloads, the story starts with Neil's first band, the Squires, and two jaunty surf instrumentals that they do, "Aurora" and "The Sultan". There's nothing to suggest Neil Young is in this band, but the third song, "I Wonder", has vocals, and it sounds like an early version of "Don't Cry No Tears" from Zuma. The first disc warms up with six songs by the Squires, all of which are written by Neil Young (in fact, his first co-writing credit comes in 1966, "Kahuna Sunset", which he wrote with Stephen Stills, which is a surf instrumental as well). That's followed by three songs recorded with Comrie Smith (of whom little is known, except that after he played with Neil he also played in the mid-sixties with a Vancouver band called 3's A Crowd), seven solo songs, and then a bit of the Buffalo Springfield era. The Squires songs sound very old, surf jingles, and the ones with vocals sound pleasant and naive. The Comrie Smith songs are a mixed bag: the first one is a blues rap, the second one is country, and the third one is the jangly guitar rock of the day. The set of songs performed by only Neil Young starts off with the first sign of the Neil we know, demos recorded in New York in December of 1965 of "Sugar Mountain" (when he played it at the Canterbury on November 9th and 10th, 1968 he claimed he'd written the song five years earlier but not played for four-and-a-half years) and "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" (which he recorded with The Buffalo Springfield) with just Neil on guitar and vocal. That's followed by four previously unreleased songs. "Runaround Babe" sounds like a very typical Neil Young acoustic jangler, as is "The Ballad Of Peggy Grover", which sounds not too different from "I Wonder"/"Don't Cry No Tears" (it incorporates parts of each song). "The Rent Is Always Due" is "I Am A Child" with different lyrics, but has a bit of a Bob Dylan/protest song element to the lyrics and vocal presentation. "Extra, Extra" is a simple acoustic song that's a bit dull. The entire box has about 16 previously unreleased songs that the public is hearing here for the first time.
Following the early years, there's Buffalo Springfield songs, either in a Neil Young solo version ("Down, Down, Down" is an early version of "Broken Arrow" - the former was recorded in 1966 and the latter released in 1967). Songs from the Buffalo Springfield albums that are not on the archive are included as "hidden songs", which means digging through the DVDs to find the clues and clicking on them. There's a fantastic unreleased song called "Sell Out" that is like a Bob Dylan diss, but has the full-on Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield attack. Not all of Neil's Buffalo Springfield songs are here from the original versions (he had five on the first album, three on the second, two on the third... we could see where that was going), but among the hidden tracks are plenty of Stephen Stills songs. Left off entirely is "It's So Hard To Wait", which he co-wrote with Richie Furay. There's also an instrumental called "Slowly Burning", recorded during the Buffalo Springfield years, but with other musicians. "One More Time" is a Neil Young solo song, mellow, played just on an acoustic guitar, but was included on a Buffalo Springfield box set.
The treatment of Neil Young's proper solo career starts off with "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere", a promotional single released in 1968 around the time of his first solo album that eventually became the title track of his second release. The promo version is recorded without Crazy Horse, who became his band with the second release - it is shorter and a bit thinner. The set contains three versions of the song - the promo single, the album version, and a live release from the Filmore. It also contains three versions of "Birds", a song from "After The Gold Rush" that I never particularly liked because of all the yucky harmonizing. An early version is done with guitar and some busy drumming (so-so), there's the slow B-side of a non-LP single of August, 1969, done as a band number, it is shorter than the eventual version from "After The Gold Rush" (it's getting there); better yet is the solo acoustic version from Live at the Canterbury House, Ann Arbor, Michigan, November 9th and 10th, 1968, which has no annoying elements (harmonizing, busy drumming, etc).
The set contains four live concerts: the Canterbury House show, Live at the Riverboat, Toronto, recorded February 7-9 1969, Live at the Fillmore East in New York March 6-7, 1970 and Live at Massey Hall, Toronto, January 19th 1971. Each of the concerts comes on its own DVD (or in the case of the Canterbury show, on a CD and a DVD). There are a few "straggler" live songs added, such as Neil singing with Crosby, Stills and Nash at Woodstock, a blistering little number called "Sea of Madness". There's also a number that Neil learned in church that he claims he doesn't know who wrote it, a hokey number called "It Might Have Been" that he played with Crazy Horse at the Music Hall in Cincinnati, February 25th, 1970. Then there are two more numbers with Crosby, Stills and Nash - "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", which would be released on "After The Gold Rush" on August 31st 1970, performed at the Fillmore East in New York City on June 5th, 1970, and "Tell Me Why", also from "After The Gold Rush", performed exactly one month later at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. There's also Neil playing "See The Sky About To Rain" solo, with voice and piano, at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC, December 1-2, 1970, and "Heart of Gold" recorded solo with vocal, guitar and harmonica at UCLA on January 30th, 1971.
The concerts are all nice, with plenty of between-song banter. When Neil performs solo (Canterbury House, The Riverboat, Massey Hall) he tends to have spaced-out raps that are either self-pitying or just plain funny, while he tends to also groove with repartee with Crosby, Stills and Nash. With Crazy Horse, like the Fillmore East set, there is nearly no between-song banter at all. And less nonsense - the set is blistering, particularly 12 minutes of "Down By The River" and a 16-minute long concert closer "Cowgirl In The Sand" and (although when the band walks offstage you hear the first snatches of a very anticlimactic "Sweet Baby James" coming over the PA).
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