Recorded in late 1974 and early ’75 and long considered one of rock and roll’s most fabled “lost” albums, Neil Young’s Homegrown finally gets its release on June 19. Homegrown was never lost, though – the Neiler knows where his things are. The man’s an archivist.
Since the 2009 release of The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972 (a lavish 10-volume package that includes discs dedicated to shows at Toronto’s Riverboat Coffee House in 1969 and Massey Hall two years later), Young has been cleaning out closets. He’s written a pair of memoirs, auctioned off his model-train collection and released a slew of recordings from the past. All while still putting out new music (including 2019′s Colorado), starring in the genuinely enjoyable rock doc Mountaintop, touring regularly and shooting his mouth off about this and that.
With the current concert lockdown, musicians are filling the void by releasing old performances online. These are excellent times, then, for fans of a legacy artist in full harvest mode. Born in 1945, fusspot Young was built for 2020.
Young had just turned 29 when he made Homegrown, a reflective, often acoustic album that begins with the divorce tune Separate Ways. Was the recording engineer distracted? Young and his accompanying musicians – including The Band’s drummer Levon Helm – had already begun playing by the time the tape started to roll. Strumming in a despondent minor key, Young had accepted the breakdown of his marriage with actress Carrie Snodgress, mother of their son Zeke.
“We go our separate ways, looking for better ways,” Young moans. “Sharing our little boy who grew from joy back then.” The sympathetic steel-guitar accompaniment is comforting, in that shared-misery way.
Homegrown is composed of a dozen songs, of which seven (including Separate Ways) are previously unreleased. In a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone magazine’s Cameron Crowe, Young described it as a “very down album” and the “darker side” to 1972′s Harvest.
“A lot of the songs had to do with me breaking up with my old lady,” Young said, referring to his wife in the patchouli-and-patched-jeans vernacular. “It was a little too personal . . . it scared me.”
Mexico, another of Homegrown’s unheard compositions, sounds like it came from the same piano that produced the poignant chords to A Man Needs a Maid. Less than two minutes long, Mexico is more of a flash of resignation than a song: “Oooh, the feeling’s gone, why is it so hard to hang on to your love?” By the time the downbeat Young decides to escape to the sunny Spanish-speaking nation, the tune is all but over.
The story behind the record’s shelving goes back to an album-listening party at Hollywood’s Château Marmont, where Homegrown was played for guests that included the Band’s Rick Danko. Another unreleased album on the same reel, Tonight’s the Night, was also given an audition.
Danko preferred the rawness of Tonight’s the Night. Young agreed. “No comparison,” he said at the time. The edgy Tonight’s the Night was released in 1975; the country-flavoured Homegrown was set aside.
Different versions of Homegrown songs Little Wing, Love Is A Rose, Star Of Bethlehem, White Line and the upbeat title track (a stoned ode to Little Feat and backyard weed) would appear on future Young releases. On Homegrown, they appear in their original forms.
Of the previously unreleased material, the spoken-word Florida is the strangest track. The hallucinogenic narration sets up the solo-acoustic Kansas – one of three songs I know that use the word “bungalow.” (The others being L.A. Woman by the Doors and The Continuing Story Bungalow Bill by the Beatles.)
Celebrity contributors to the recordings (held at Nashville’s Quadrafonic Studio and L.A.'s Village Recorders) include Robbie Robertson and, adding harmonies to Star Of Bethlehem and Try, Emmylou Harris.
On the saddle-tramp lope of Try, Young rhymes “lookin’ up your old address” with “what a mess.” Homegrown is no mess, but it’s no Harvest either. It’s not even Tonight’s the Night.
Legend has it that there’s a wilder, weirder version of Tonight’s The Night in the vault. Young has described the alternate recording as “drunk and hysterical.” Another lost album waiting to be heard.
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