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Neil Young - Cowgirl In The Sand
I mentioned yesterday that I was digging Neil Young Live at Massey Hall 1971. This is one of the songs he performed that night, and it's a personal favourite. This one goes out to my cowgirl in the sand...
Pete, I don't know if you're reading this, but your bro "borrowed" your copy of Neil Young's Live at Massey Hall 1971 and lent it to me. I've been spinning it all morning, and it's heaven.
Young was 25 and on his game. It sounds brilliant, and his words and tone resonate in a way that confirms what I've suspected for years. Neil Young is god.
It's heaven in audio form.
The older I get, the more I find myself listening to Neil Young. I first really got into Neil Young in 1989 when "Rockin' in the Free World" broke on Q107. Prior to that, I was only familiar with Neil Young's classic hits like "Heart of Gold", "Ohio" and "Old Man". "Rockin' in the Free World" became an instant favourite of mine and I started delving into the Neil Young catalogue.
One of the first things I did was pick up Decade, a couple of CDs that contains thirty-five of Young's songs recorded between 1966 and 1976. That's how I experienced "Cinnamon Girl", "Down by the River", "Cowgirl in the Sand", "After the Gold Rush", "Southern Man", "Helpless", "The Needle and the Damage Done", "Tonight's the Night, Part 1", "Like A Hurricane" and "Long May You Run" for the first time. Needless to say, I liked what I heard.
In 1995 I was blessed when one of my favourite rock bands collided with Neil Young and produced Mirror Ball and Merkin Ball. Both were added to my collection instantly and are still beloved. Prior to this, Pearl Jam and Neil Young blew my mind by collaborating on "Rockin' in the Free World" at the MTV Music Awards in 1993. Pearl Jam continues to cover this tune in concert, much to my delight.
There's a reason I easily named him my favourite Torontonian, consider "Rockin' In The Free World" to be our other anthem, listed two Young songs in my Ten Canadian Tracks and consider this picture the epitomy of photographic zen.
Whenever it's time to debate who is the world's greatest living songwriter, I stand firmly in Neil Young's camp. Sure, I accept the many arguments it might be Bob Dylan, but I believe it's Neil. When was the last time you listened to the tunes on Decade, checked out Rust Never Sleeps, Freedom or Harvest Moon? Revisit these tunes and you'll see why.
Yesterday I wrote about songs that reference Canada. I promised I'd share my ten favourite musical references to my home and native land. Here are my top ten with apologies to Stompin' Tom Connors.
"Bobcaygeon" by The Tragically Hip - I'm starting this list with Bobcaygeon because it's a village of 2500 people, nestled along the Trent-Severn Waterway in the Kawarthas area of east-central Ontario, Canada. Throw in a shout out to Toronto that always gets the loudest cheer during local Hip shows and it can't be left off this list. Did I mention it's also a spectacular song?
"The Spirit of Radio" by Rush - There are two CFNYs... the "Spirit of Radio" CFNY which sort of died in the late 80s and the "Modern Rock" CFNY that my generation knows. This song is about that first CFNY.
"Further Again" by Staggered Crossing - I've always liked this song. It's cut from the same cloth as "Little Bones" and opens with the great lyric "Heading out on the 401, don't it make you nervous". The 401, baby!
"Runnin' Back To Saskatoon" by The Guess Who - This song had to make this list because this tune is home grown. It's all about Saskatchewan and some town where nothing much ever happens.
"The Old Apartment" by Barenaked Ladies - This song broke around the time Taryn and I were moving into our first shitty apartment. I dig the tune and the local setting. They bought an old house on the Danforth for goodness sake.
"Prairie Town" by Randy Bachman and Neil Young - Bachman and Young are jamming about prairie life with that great refrain "Portage and Main fifty below". It doesn't get much more Canadian than this.
"Wheat Kings" by The Tragically Hip - The Hip get a second mention on this list because "Wheat Kings" is so damn pretty. It's one of my all-time favourite Hip songs and that's saying something. It's about David Milgaard and starts with a loon call and even mentions the CBC. It still gives me chills.
"Helpless" by Neil Young - If you put a gun to my head and made me pick one Neil Young song, this might be it. Again, it's stunningly beautiful and opens with "There is a town in north Ontario". Helpless, helpless, helpless.
"Canadian Railroad Trilogy" by Gordon Lightfoot - On the Ask MetaFilter page that sparked this discussion I went on the record by saying "two songs are so drenched in Canadiana your playlist won't be complete without them." This is one...
"Northwest Passage" by Stan Rogers - This is the other essential song that has to conclude this list of songs that reference Canadian places. It's a definite sing-along that opens with "Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage". If you haven't heard this song and would like to, leave a comment below (include your email address, it won't appear on the site) and I'll email it to you. It's the least I can do for my country.
Neil Young - Living With War - Neil Young is streaming his new political disc over the web for free. Very cool.
Throughout the past week, I've been trying to assemble a list of ten songs that collectively epitomize the spirit of Canadian music. Pruning this list to ten hasn't been easy but I was up to the challenge.
Here are ten Canadian tracks that, to me, represent all that is right with Canadian music.
I'm An Adult Now - The Pursuit of Happiness
I don't think there's a more Toronto song than this one. This independent single was spun all the time on CFNY in the late 80s and I thought it was the coolest. Great lyrics, great raw sound and a great story. TPOH got a record deal and put out the awesome Love Junk, a cassette I played over and over again. In addition to a more polished version of "I'm An Adult Now", this album had stellar tracks like "She's So Young" and "Hard to Laugh". Why does this song more than any other remind me of my city? For a couple of years in my early 20s I worked at Dufferin and Dupont and lived near Yonge and Bloor. My route to work was a bike ride along Davenport to Dupont, and more often than not I'd see Moe Berg walking that street. There he was, taking a stroll in his city, and every time I saw him I heard "I'm An Adult Now" in my head.
The Weight - The Band
When Bob Dylan went electric, he called on The Band. I once heard a great quote attributed to Robbie Robertson when Dylan said he was going electric. Robertson wondered if there was any other way to go. "The Weight" is a fantastic single, practically perfect. This single is proof that Canadian artists are second to none.
Cinnamon Girl - Neil Young
Neil Young is the quintessential Canadian artist. He's a master of multiple genres, chock full of integrity, and both a critical and commercial success. "Cinnamon Girl" could be "Heart of Gold", "Down By The River" or "Helpless", but I'm going with "Cinnamon Girl" because it's just grungy enough to earn him the moniker "Godfather of Grunge". It's the impossible blend of raw elegance and it makes Neil Young not only an essential Canadian artist, but essential, period.
Underwhelmed - Sloan
Following the Seattle explosion in the early 90s, partly inspired by Neil Young's rockers, there was the Halifax explosion led by Sloan. These four became instant Cancon favourites with "Underwhelmed", another CFNY staple and a song that perfectly captures the slacker mentality of the early 90s.
Try - Blue Rodeo
"Try" might be the polar opposite of "I'm An Adult Now". They came out at roughly the same time in the late 80s and one was as pretty as the other is raw. I first heard "Try" during a grade school dance when the DJ played it for a slow number. It's a stunning composition that sounds as sharp today as it did then. It was sort of country, but not nearly country enough to repel. It was just a beautiful song about love from a Toronto band with heart. It was the epitome of Canada.
Tom Sawyer - Rush
I'm convinced you either love Rush or you hate Rush. There is no middle ground. My brothers and wife unanimously despise this band while my heart speeds up and I get goosebumps listening to Alex, Neil and Geddy. Like Young's "Cinnamon Girl", this could have been "Closer to the Heart", "Spirit of Radio" or "Fly By Night", but "Tom Sawyer" has those keyboards! Love them or hate them, Rush is the Canadian band that unites us. I once heard a girl on CBC say Rush was equally loved by all essential elements of Canadian living: hockey fans, farmers and computer geeks. 'Nuff said.
New Orleans is Sinking - The Tragically Hip
This song has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, but conduct a poll and you'll learn it's the most popular song from the most Canadian of bands. The Hip sing about Bill Barilko, Bobby Orr, Bobcaygeon and Toronto. They're unabashedly Canadian and "New Orleans is Sinking" is their anthem.
Rockin' in the Free World - Neil Young
The Soviet Union was breaking up and the Berlin Wall was coming down. Meanwhile, Neil Young, a Canadian legend who hadn't made much of a splash since the late 70s, released "Rocking in the Free World". It became an instant radio hit, a sing-along for 16 year old kids like me and gave Neil back his street cred. Best Canadian song of the 80s.
American Woman - The Guess Who
Without The Guess Who, would there be The Tragically Hip? Without The Guess Who, would there be a Rush, a Barenaked Ladies or an Our Lady Peace? These were the groundbreakers, the frontiersmen. When "American Woman" shot to the top of the charts, it represented a whole bunch of firsts. A Canadian band had released a bonafide smash hit that wasn't just awesome because they were from the Prairies but because it rocked. The Guess Who, with this success, paved the way for the success of Canadian bands to come and got many a youngun to pick up a guitar and jam in the garage on cold winter nights.
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
This song is not only infectious with it's catchy melody but it has a social conscious. When I think about Canadian music, I think about this combination. It's appealing to the masses while saying something significant. Another artist who got her start in Toronto, Mitchell took folk to a whole new level and helped the woman voice in rock get heard. If you don't like Joni Mitchell, there truly is something wrong.
The last time I shared a list of this nature, I got hit with a bunch of "what about x" and "how could you put y on there" emails. It's a very subjective list and this is my best crack at it. If you're up for the challenge, Share your ten with me and I'll post them.
I've taken dozens of notes and mulled the options for months but I've finally done it. I've managed to arrive at a list of ten songs that might just be my ten favourite tracks of all-time.
This was no easy feat. I started with a short list of about fifty songs and slowly whittled them down. There was much internal debate with some amazing personal favourites being relegated to the cutting room floor. All the heavy "hard rock" tunes seemed to bite the dust before the top ten with System of a Down's "Chop Suey!" being the last of that genre to go at the bitter end. Shockingly, no song from The Tragically Hip appears on this list, although a few were close. Without a doubt, this list is subject to change and will no doubt change before the month is through. Some days The Five Stairsteps is a slam dunk, some days it's barely a top fifty. Sometimes Radiohead is well represented, this time they're not. Sometimes all ten songs are from Arcade Fire's "Funeral", this time, not a single one.
Without further delay, I present to you my favourite songs of all-time. I call this entry, my ten tracks.
Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World
This one was a no-brainer for me. Its place in the soundtrack of my life was solidified sixteen summers ago when it was played on the Polar Express every night during the CNE after closing. It became the thought provoking anthem of my summer of '89 and I can't hear it without drifting back.
Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
Tragically dead at the age of 30, Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" lives on as a haunting tribute. It's a special song, covered by many artists, but no one did it as well as Buckley. I'm sharing this track tomorrow.
Hayden - Bad As They Seem
I think I was hooked on Hayden immediately following the first time I heard the first three chords of this song. It's a simple and sweet folksy tune about a guy who digs a chick he can't have. I simply can't tire of this one.
Nirvana - All Apologies (Unplugged)
Following Kurt Cobain's suicide, the unplugged version of this song was my mourning anthem. The In Utero version was great, but this stripped down rendition was Cobain's swan song. It was a farewell to a generation that came of age to his poetry. That was my generation, and this was my farewell.
Pearl Jam - Crazy Mary
It's unbelievable that a band that has produced so much brilliant original material would appear on this list twice with two covers. This time, it's Victoria Williams getting the golden treatment by Ed and the gang and it's spectacular. To me, this song is my first year at U of T and riding the subway with my walkman.
Pearl Jam - Throw Your Arms Around Me
Pearl Jam took this song from Hunters and Collectors and made it their own. It's ultra romantic without being sappy and custom-made for weddings. A tasteful love song that truly will echo through the ages.
Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
If things are hectic and I need to chill, I listen to this song and all is well. Enough said.
Dusty Springfield - Son of a Preacher Man
This songs inclusion on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack instantly tattooed this gorgeous tune into my psyche. Lyrically and musically it's a gem.
James Taylor - Sweet Baby James
Always a favourite of mine, "Sweet Baby James" guaranteed itself a spot in my ten tracks when it came time for Taryn and I to name our son. We were having some difficulty finding common ground when I thought of this song. The rest is history and I can't hear this song without thinking about my sweet baby James.
Neil Young - Helpless
He's the godfather of grunge and a Canadian hero. One note from this man and my ears are ecstatic. Is "Helpless" his best? That all depends upon what day you're asking the question. Today, it's one of my ten tracks.
I'm emotionally exhausted from this exercise. With over 13000 songs in my collection, there are hundreds and hundreds that I absolutely love. When I embarked on this quest, I never imagined it would be as difficult as this. If you're up for the challenge, Share your ten with me and I'll post them. G'night all, I'm beat.
Musicians Neil Young and Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip perform Young's "Rockin in the Free World" for the grand finale of the Live 8 concert in Barrie, Ontario July 2, 2005.
It's been an eerie week, dominated by the grim reaper. The Terri Schiavo media and political explosion put everyone on death watch and had us all debating about whether she should be allowed to die or kept alive. Now we're all back on death watch waiting for word from the Vatican as to the state of Pope John Paul II. He's not expected to make it through the night.
In addition to these extremely high profile passings, there was the unexpected death of Johnnie Cochran, the youthful demise of Mitch Hedberg and reports that Jerry Falwell was in critical conditon. Unfortunately, Falwell is still with us. With the foul stench of death hovering about, I didn't like one bit the headline I just read. "Neil Young Recovering From Brain Aneurysm".
Neil Young is a very special musician. My collection is littered with his stuff. He was born in Toronto and first made his mark here and I was quite looking forward to seeing him at this Sunday's Juno Awards. Needless to say, he's no longer attending.
Get better Neil. We need you rockin' in the free world.
They've announced the first two performers for this year's 34th Annual Juno Awards ceremony and they're two of my favourites. The Tragically Hip and Neil Young will perform live and suddenly I'm quite interested. Between the two artists I have 21 discs in my collection.
I'll be watching the Juno Awards live on CTV on Sunday, April 3, from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
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