Saturday, September 17, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 914: Neil Young

I’m having a much-needed relaxing Saturday. Sheila and I are just back from town where I stopped in at the book store (buying four Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks) and the music store. At the music store I bought four albums: the new Nick Cave, “Skeleton Tree”, Daniel Romano’s “Sleep Beneath the Willow”, The Drive-By Truckers’ “Brighter Than Creation is Dark” and Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry” (the latter of which I have on vinyl from back in the day).

I’m looking forward to all of them, but for now let’s focus on the last random selection in the CD Odyssey.

Disc 914 is….Everybody’s Rockin’
Artist: Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks

Year of Release: 1983

What’s up with the Cover? Neil strikes his best Elvis pose as he rocks out in a white suit. No sign of the Shocking Pinks on the cover, although the walls speak for them in their absence.

Also, glory in the technological wonders of…the full digital recording!

How I Came To Know It: I remember being intrigued when this album was released, but back then I was pretty much exclusively into heavy metal. Years later I found a used copy at a good price while I was fleshing out my Neil Young collection and snapped it up.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 18 Neil Young albums (having recently parted with two). Of those 18 I put “Everybody’s Rockin’” in at an arbitrary16th spot. I say arbitrary, because there isn’t much separating 11 through 16. They are all solid records.

Ratings: 3 stars

In my last review I talked about Jaymz B and the Royal Jelly Orchestra sending up an old genre of music, and seeing just how far they could paint outside the lines in the process. On “Everybody’s Rockin’” Neil Young shows what you can do when you throw your heart into an old style and approach it without a hint of irony. The results are a lot better.

“Everybody’s Rockin’” is Neil Young’s love letter to the musical stylings of fifties and early sixties rock and roll. It is completely unlike anything else Neil Young has ever done, and yet listening to it you can hear the early influences that have helped to shape his sound over the years.

Don’t expect a lot of Neil’s tortured rock guitar, and don’t expect to hear Neil’s thoughtful folk singing. This record does not stray off the path of old school rock and roll at any point, nor will you want it to.

The songs have a finger-snappin’ swing to them, with Neil channeling Buddy Holly and Dick Dale among others. Behind him his backup singers, the Shocking Pinks, deliver tight harmonic doo-waas and other refrains. The whole album feels like a high school dance filled with poodle skirted gals and boys in white t-shirts with smokes rolled up into the sleeve (this latter trend was still kicking in the seventies when I was a kid, and I hope it comes back one day).

Half the songs are originals and the other half are remakes that preserve the classic feel of the originals, while managing to put Neil’s own unique spin on them.

The album opens with “Betty Lou’s Got a New Pair of Shoes” which is a classic originally performed by Bobby Freeman in 1958. I also have a version by Blue Oyster Cult recorded in 1969. The song is gritty and fun and while the more up-tempo BOC version is my favourite, Neil does a solid job and stays more faithful to the original.

The fifties classics and Neil’s new material blend seamlessly, and I didn’t know which ones were old and which ones were new until I looked them up. Of the Neil Young originals, the best is “Wonderin’,” a classic track about going out for a late night walk and pining for your girl. Neil’s frail warble shouldn’t work for this kind of song but somehow it does. He delivers it with such a straightforward and heartfelt love for the material that he completely draws you in. The song has a delightful amble and as the song fades out Neil repeats “I’m wonderin’” the Shocking Pinks reply with a chorus of “Knowing that I need you to save me”. It is so sublime you wish it could go on forever.

Instead it ends in a tightly wrapped 2:59, leaving you wanting more. The entire album is faithful to the three minute single standard of the original source material. Only two songs exceed three minutes and the longest is 3:09. The album is 10 songs and yet it’s over in a crisp 25 minutes.

The production on the record is a bit tinny, but the effect is only to make it feel a bit more like songs sounded in the fifties. With the exception of “Wonderin’” there aren’t a lot of standouts, but neither are there any songs that fall flat. The whole effect is a wonderful homage to an earlier, simpler time and if it sounds a little dated, that’s because it’s supposed to.

The record peaked in 1983 at #22 on the charts, but deserved a better fate than that. While Neil Young’s full catalogue has plenty of classic albums that are rightfully held in higher regard overall, “Everybody’s Rockin’” is an oft-overlooked gem that deserves a little love of its own.

Best tracks: Betty Lou’s Got a New Pair of Shoes, Wonderin’, Kinda Fonda Wanda, Cry Cry Cry

1 comment:

Sheila said...

I am pretty sure Neil is wearing a pale pink suit there; it's not white.

I remember when "Wonderin'" was a modest hit on the radio.