Neil Young – ‘After The Goldrush’

Returning from the States I had most definitely caught a dose of wanderlust. I had no money, so working abroad was my only option. Mi amigo Simon was a Thomson rep, but whilst he was a natural entertainer I was a relative introvert. But I could dabble in French and I knew how to be nice to people, so a job as a rep for Keycamp in France was for me. Those six months turned out to be more fun than should really be allowed, sharing a campsite on Vias Plage with dozens of other reps and hundreds of friendly punters. But best of all I discovered three of my all time favourite albums.

Whilst it was through a girlfriend that I found these albums, I can look and listen back with no attached emotion. We had two seasons in the sun, a winter in Dublin and a month or so in Paris and I can very happily say, thank you for the music. Before we met I spent a few months working hard and partying harder. The most listened to album by far was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik. We loved it and did the socks on cocks thing, because. But then peak season hit, and as the sun was at full strength with it came the start of a near thirty-year love affair with Neil Young. I heard After The Goldrush.

Neil Young has one of those voices. And yes, I loved it. Give me sentiment, give me sincerity, give me honesty and most of all hit my emotions with as much ferocity and ruthlessness as your words and music can muster. With After The Goldrush Neil Young delivered that with beautiful, unmerciful aplomb. Vocally, anguish reigns. That high-pitched, pained and tortured inflection adds huge weight to an album of angst, protest, social comment and fragile, tender love.

Tell Me Why is a great opener, but when the title track starts you know you’re going to be in deep. With Neil Young it’s all about the feel, and instantly it felt like an album to devour, with enough lyrical obscurity to provoke the imagination. But, as was my leaning, the more sombre and sorrowful the song, the more I loved it. There I was, partying my ass of in France and totally obsessing over something so beautifully, incredibly down.

“Someone should call him
And see if he can come out
Try to lose the down that he’s found
But only love can break your heart
Try to be sure right from the start
Yes, only love can break your heart
What if your world should fall apart?”

– Only Love Can Break Your Heart

“Everybody’s going out and having fun
I’m just a fool for staying home and having none
I can’t get over how she set me free
Oh, lonesome me”

– Oh Lonesome Me,

“When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over”

– Birds

With Neil Young living in Topanga Canyon, the nearby Laurel Canyon vibe is everywhere, with an instrumental sparsity bringing the lyrics to the fore. An 18-year old Nils Lofgren was brought in to add guitar and piano, adding magic with little experience but perfect musical smarts, and as with most of Neil Young’s classic early ‘70s work everything feels so loose, so musically free and easy. It’s only Young’s trademark lead guitar that shows signs of strain, no more so than in his castigation of Southern racism and slavery’s disgusting legacy in Southern Man.

If there’s a more sublime and perfectly pained sound than Neil Young’s voice and guitar, I’m yet to hear it, and if there’s a more beautiful album than After The Goldrush, I’m yet to hear that too.

Carole King – ‘Tapestry’

There are albums that define careers, even those as incredible as Carole King’s. One of the most successful songwriters of all time, having written dozens of hits for other artists including the classic (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman for Aretha Franklin and Pleasant Valley Sunday for The Monkees, both in 1967. Tapestry is her masterpiece, a stunningly blissful album, totally alluring for anyone with a heart, and particularly one that’s fragile.

In the early ‘70s the likes of Neil Young, James Taylor, Paul Simon and Randy Newman were writing deeply personal, introspective songs. There was a certain Laurel Canyon vibe in 1971, post-hippy and spiritual, songs capturing real life, acoustic with sparse musical arrangement. Tapestry, with Carole King living there at the time, captured that vibe perfectly. Unlike other troubadours like Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Tapestry’s lyrics were straightforward and unembellished. Carole King had a supreme gift in her ability to use simple phrasing, and the same talent to nail a sentiment, to capture the fragility of romance, relationships and love.

“Stayed in bed all mornin’ just to pass the time
There’s somethin’ wrong here, there can be no denyin’
One of us is changin’, or maybe we’ve just stopped tryin’
And it’s too late, baby now, it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Somethin’ inside has died, and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it, oh, no, no”

– It’s Too Late

From my teens and into my early twenties and largely influenced by the music I’d been listening to, I was becoming more reflective and ruminative, still dealing with shyness despite having a fairly lively social life. Tapestry struck a personal chord. That Laurel Canyon scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was primarily a stoned, laid-back amalgamation of blues, country, psychedelia and folk. It was the original Americana, and with the likes of The Doors, CSNY, Frank Zappa, Mamas and the Papas and Joni Mitchell all doing their thing, it was an era and musical landscape I dived into.

Tapestry is lyrically unguarded, bleeding the warmth and spirit of the early ‘70s, stripping back any fuss to fully expose the intense emotion and vulnerability. Carole King’s ability to write a near perfect album is matched by the overwhelming sincerity in her vocals and the jazz-tinged warmth of the production. For me this was, and still is an album almost impossible not to love.