|Year of release||2017|
The Unreleased 1976 Solo Album. That’s the way this album was announced. A solo-album by Neil Young recorded on August 11th 1976. That’s right, in one day, in one session.
Neil Young is working on his archives, which has led to multiple impressive releases, like the phenomenal Live At Massey Hall 1971, Dreamin’ Man Live ’92 and A Treasure. beautiful releases containing historic (mostly live) recordings. And now Hitchhiker sees the light of day, an album Young didn’t want to release at the time. Luckily he changed his mind, because even though almost every song has been released previously, they have never been put out in these pure, naked versions.
In his 1994 memoirs, Special Deluxe, Young mentioned the Hitchhiker session:
“I spent the night there with David and recorded nine solo acoustic songs, completing a tape I called Hitchhiker.It was a complete piece, although I was pretty stony on it, and you can hear it in my performances. Dean Stockwell, my friend and a great actor who I later worked on Human Highway as a co-director, was with us that night, sitting in the room with me as I laid down all the songs in a row, pausing only for weed, beer, or coke. Briggs was in the control room, mixing live on his favorite console.”
Young was intensely pleased with the songs themselves, because, during the course of many years, no less than 8 songs found their way to multiple albums.
Hitchhiker was recorded during an extremely fertile period in Young’s career. The recordings took place after the (release of the) albums After The Gold Rush, Harvest, On the Beach, Tonight’s The Night and Zuma, an impressive array of albums that are all equally beautiful. Around these time more albums were recorded, and shelved like Hitchhiker, like Homegrown and Chrome Dreams.
In a recent interview, which was made available on Neil Young’s Facebook page, Young states he wanted to release the sessions, but the execs of Reprise Records weren’t impressed with the material. It was regarded as a collection of demo’s.
Augustus 11th, 1976
Between 1975 and 1977 Young and his producer David Briggs regularly recorded sessions, on nights with a full moon, at the Indigo Ranch Studios, Malibu. These sessions were highly productive and produced many great songs, like the stunning Stringman. David Briggs:
He’d turn to me and go, ‘Guess I’ll turn on the tap’—and then out came ‘Powderfinger,’ ‘Pocahontas,’ ‘Out of the Blue,’ ‘Ride My Llama.’ Two days, a day. I’m not talkin’ about sittin’ down with a pen and paper, I’m talkin’ about pickin’ up a guitar, sittin’ there and lookin’ me in the face and in twenty minutes—’Pocahontas’
The evening/night session of August 11th, 1976 went just like that. Young had some rough ideas for songs. He came into the studio with a guitar and a harmonica (the piano was only used on the last song). After the question “You ready, Briggs?” Young started and kept going until the 10 songs were done. No bells and whistles, just Young and an acoustic guitar, at times accompanied by a harmonica. That’s how simple things can be.
After the session
As stated before, no less than 8 songs of the session were used on other albums:
- The Old Country Waltz was released on American Starts ‘N Bars (1977), in another version;
- Campaigner was released on Decade (1977);
- Human Highway was released on Comes A Time (1978), in another version;
- Pocahontas, Powderfinger en Ride My Llama were released on Rust Never Sleeps (1979), in other versions;
- Captain Kennedy was released on Hawks & Doves (1980)
- Hitchhiker was released on Le Noise (2010), in another version.
Many of the songs were re-recorded, sometimes including a band (among which Crazy Horse). Two songs were never released, but were occasionally played live: Hawaii and Give Me Strength.
I do not agree with Neil Young’s or Reprise Records’ opinion on these recordings. I think it’s an impressive document. It’s hard to grasp that Young, after a long run of near perfect records, comes up with this in the course of just one evening.
All the songs are equally strong, the performances beautiful and intimate. The two previously unreleased songs fit in with the rest and hold up to the high standard of the other songs. Young´s ways are inscrutable, even then. One can only guess what Young’s motivation behind this release is, but is that really relevant, if the result is as beautiful as this? Of course not.
The cover photo is just as beautiful, fitting the era. The brown-ocher glow demonstrates its time and invokes nostalgia. But the album mainly inspires gratitude. Gratitude for another beautiful Neil Young album.
All songs written by Neil Young.
- Captain Kennedy
- Give Me Strength
- Ride My Llama
- Human Highway
- The Old Country Waltz
Do you know this Neil Young album yet? What’s your take on it? Let me know!
Neil Young – Hitchhiker – Banner image: neilyoung.com
Neil Young 1976 image: pinterest.com
Indigo Ranch Studios Malibu image: gloriacavalera.com
Neil Young – Hitchhiker image: neilyoungwarnerbrosrecords.com