On September 19, 1970, Neil Young's third album, "After the Gold Rush", was released.
We start the review of this exemplary album right at the point where we finished the review of his previous album "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" (click on the link and read).
About a month after the release of "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", Young joins Crosby, Stills and Nash and the quartet start working on the album "Déjà Vu", when two months later the band performs at the legendary Woodstock Festival.
After the release of "Déjà Vu" and the tour designed to promote it, "Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young" split to record solo albums. David Crosby starts working on material for the album "If I Could Only Remember My Name", Graham Nash collects material for his album "Songs for Beginners" and Stephen Stills enters the studio to record his first solo album "Stephen Stills".
Like his three friends, Neil Young is also starting work on his third solo album. While writing the material for the album Young is looking for the perfect balance between the roughness and immaturity that "Crazy Horse" brought to his previous album, and the soft and harmonious sound of "Crosby, Stills & Nash". However, the end result was slightly different from what Young had planned. Young injured his back while trying to lift a heavy wooden board, in a way that made it very difficult for him to stand and play the electric guitar. Under these circumstances, Young abandoned the dirty and rough direction of the electric guitar and focused mostly on acoustic playing.
This limitation of Young's, intentionally or not, created an amazing combination of country, folk, rock and gave birth to a masterpiece that was mostly acoustic, partly electric, which undoubtedly greatly influenced the singer/songwriter of the early seventies, such as James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and more.
Most of the album was recorded in the basement of Young's home in California. To help him find the balance between "Crazy Horse" and "Crosby, Stills & Nash", Young recruits "Crosby, Stills & Nash" bassist Greg Reeves and Ralph Molina, Danny Whitten and Billy Talbot from "Crazy Horse". It will also be Danny Whitten's latest album with Young, on which Young wrote the song "The Needle And The Damage Done" from "Harvest", after he died of a heroin overdose.
(Photo: Joel Bernstein)
The album opens up with "Tell Me Why" a song that was first performed on "Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young" shows during their tour that accompanied the album "Déjà Vu". The acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies produce all together an amazing classic song from Young. Although it is a simple and perfect song, Young stopped playing it live at some point, claiming that it was difficult for him to sing words with a shallow meaning. Young meant the words:
"Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself? When you're old enough to replay but young enough to sell" Immediately after comes the theme song "After the Gold Rush" which got its name from a screenplay by Dean Stockwell-Herb Berman that Young asked to write the music for. Eventually, the idea for the film did not materialize and Young was left with the title for the song and album. This is a beautiful piano ballad by Young. This song has received cover versions of some interesting artists including Thom York from "Radiohead", "Flaming Lips," and "Dave Matthews Band".
The third track "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" is a charming country ballad with pop-waltz elements, ostensibly written in honor of Graham Nash after he broke up with Joni Mitchell. This is Neil Young's first big hit and the first single released from the album. This song was also played in "Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young" performances during the tour that supported the "Déjà Vu" album.
"Southern Man" is an electric and "electrifying" track that is all about "Crazy Horse". Neil Young plays electric guitar and Nils Lofgren who was then only 18, on the piano. It's Young's protest song against the black racism in the southern United States. This song and the song "Alabama" included on Young's 1972 album "Harvest", angered members of the band "Lynyrd Skynyrd", who adored Young and was hurt by them. In response, they wrote their big hit "Sweet Home Alabama" with the following words:
"Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her Well, I heard ol' Neil put her down Well, I hope Neil Young will remember A Southern man don't need him around anyhow" Neil Young responded to the song in an interview from 1976 and said he was proud that his name was mentioned in the Skynyrd's song. He also used to play the song in his live performances.
(Photo: Dick Barnatt)
The track that closes the first side of the vinyl "Till the Morning Comes" is a short 1:17 minute segment that includes only two lines. It is a cheerful French-scented country song, based on piano and featuring a short trumpet solo and choral-style background vocals that also includes Stephen Stills contributing his voice.
The other side of the album opens with "Oh Lonesome Me" the only cover version of Don Gibson's 1957 song. It is a simple country song that gained a foothold many years after it was written, if only because of the many cover versions of artists who performed it.
"Don't Let It Bring You Down" is a slow song with an amazing melody and melancholic atmosphere that also matches the lyrics. The song also appears in an extended version on the excellent "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young" live album "4 Way Street". At the beginning of the song in this live version Young addresses the audience and says, "Here is a new song. It's guaranteed to bring you right down". This song has received cover versions of many good artists, including Sting, Annie Lennox, "Guns N 'Roses" and even Chris Cornell, that performed the song during the "Songbook" tour.
The third track on the second side "Birds" is a slow and minimalist ballad that includes only a piano and the vocals of Neil Young. The song that features beautiful vocal harmonies in the chorus speaks of the loss of love, while Young turns in the song to his loved one whom he is about to leave. It is a track with a special structure, if only because of the fact that the chorus in it has 6 lines.
(Photo: Joel Bernstein)
The next track "When You Dance I Can Really Love" is Young's second single from the album and one of the audience's favorite songs on live gigs. It is played by members of "Crazy Horse" along with Jack Nitzsche who previously played with "the Rolling Stones", on the piano. Nitzsche adds memorable piano touches to the song that add a bit of a light and fresh spirit to this rough and heavy song.
"I Believe in You" is another country ballad featuring complex harmonies, which was released as the third single from the album. It was one of Young's first songs recorded for the album back in 1969, during a session with "Crazy Horse" before Neil Young's injury.
Similar to the first side of the album, the second side also ends with a short song lasting only 1:33 minutes. "Cripple Creek Ferry" is a classic and beautiful country rock song that has a lot of potential and that we think ends too quickly.
With the release of the album, it received mostly mixed reviews from critics, but these reviews changed from end to end over the years, when in the mid-70s the Rolling Stone magazine referred to the album as a masterpiece. Today it can already be clearly said that this is one of the greatest albums in Neil Young's glorious catalog.