maandag 13 november 2017

Hitchhiker. Neil Young

Neil Young never seems to stop amazing me and perhaps the world in general. When I started buying Young's records in the second half of the 70s I noticed that songs could have been recorded a few years before the release. I always wondered why that was. A little of that mystery is explained with the release of Hitchhiker.

The story is that Neil Young wanted to record demos of some new songs and so it happenrf that he went into his home studio with producer David Briggs and recorded 10 songs on the evening of 11 August 1976. The artist was so pleased with the result that he wanted to release the tracks as were. His label, Reprise Records at the time (and still), did not think it such a good idea. Demos are demos and not to be released. Hence the songs were shelved, only to be released in, mostly, new versions on albums like 'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977), 'Comes A Time' (1978), 'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979) and 'Hawks And Doves' (1980).

Thinking that Neil Young had toured as a solo artist with just his acoustic guitar, it is amazing to read that his record company did not trust him to release this set of strong songs. He had already proven his strength as a solo performer, as the rest of the world knows now from released live albums in the past years. Hitchhiker should have been an album in 1976 or 1977. So what was keeping them from releasing this body of work? Probably because they expected it could be bettered and some were.

A release would have probably meant that the world would not have known the versions that came out of new sessions with other musicians. The extremely powerful 'Powderfinger' might have been lost or the countryfied 'The Old Countrywaltz', to name two.

Hitchhiker shows me how a typical Neil Young demoing session went. Neil sits down, picks up his guitar (and harmonica) and just starts playing some new songs. Not just any bit of songs, but songs that have found their place in Neil Young's catalogue. Hitchhiker shows how good the man was in 1976.

There is another side. None of these songs have become Neil Young classics, he still calls back on when playing shows. In other words, that may have been what the record company executives were missing on Hitchhiker, a "hit" in the Neil Young sense of the word. If so, in that they were right. There is no killer song in this collection. There's one exception. 'Powderfinger' became one, but, as far as I'm concerned, only in its new incarnation.

Hitchhiker is released in 2017 as a piece of nostalgia, as so many other albums were in the past years. Aimed at people my age, wanting something new from the past. That doesn't mean the album shouldn't have been released. The album shows Neil Young in a great form, relaxed in his own home, recording his t(h)en new songs. For Neil Young fans Hitchhiker is certainly recommended listening. For all others, I'm not so sure.


You can listen to 'Hitchhiker' here:

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