Illustration from an advertisement for Johnson's Baby Oil, 1956
Neil Young's first solo album is famously spotty, but I think that, while acknowledging that the general consensus is true, it may be my favorite Neil Young album (of those I've managed to acquire to date). Four of the album's songs are basically wastes of time - the opening track, "Emperor of Wyoming", is a theme song for a just-okay Western TV show. When I hear its plodding clip-clop melody, I can practically see the fake cowboy shot from the waist up, pretending to ride a fake horse while watching fake scenery go by. The album's other instrumental, Jack Nitzsche's "String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill", is little better but at least is loyal to the album's intro in its overall feel. "The Old Laughing Lady" is okay, but it's a waste of time by virtue of being six minutes long, about twice as long as it should be. And this is infinitely better than the nine-minute album closer "The Last Trip to Tulsa", which should never have been recorded at all. As far as I know, no one likes this song - apart from Neil Young, who was apparently very proud of it at the time, going so far as to print several of the song's absurdly portentous lines on the back of the album sleeve. Something about murdering a dude by dropping a palm tree on him - and it's just one terrible moment in an interminable and immeasurably boring track.
What was I saying? Oh yeah - I was explaining how much I love Neil Young. Those four songs are pretty weak, but the album's other six songs are now among my favorite Neil Young songs ever. "The Loner" is the only one I'm lukewarm about, but "If I Could Have Her Tonight", "What Did You Do To My Life", and the others are just what I want Neil Young songs to sound like. It's probably because this album falls in that window between Buffalo Springfield and CSNY, where my Neil Young fandom started, but each of the songs really hits the mark for me. My favorite is probably "Here We Are in the Years", but it could just as easily by "I've Been Waiting for You" or "I've Loved Her So Long".
"Here We Are in the Years" by Neil Young