PCR past banners
Now in our seventh calendar year
PCR #318  (Vol. 7, No. 17) This edition is for the week of April 24--30, 2006.

"United 93"  by Mike Smith
Clash of the Titans  by Mark Terry
Neil Young's Chrome Dreams  by Terence Nuzum
Fantastic Voyage....There's No Need To Fear....When You're Hot You're Hot....Uh, Guys, It's Only A Movie....My Favorite Films -- Part 17: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"  by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Archives 2006
Archives 2005
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
Email PCR
The Audio Philes by Terence Nuzum

Neil Young's Chrome Dreams

Though not an official release, I nevertheless am reviewing Neil Young's lost album from 1976, Chrome Dreams. Recorded at various sessions from 1974-1976, Chrome Dreams could've, should've, would've been Neil's masterwork. That is to say it is an album that single-handedly portrays the entire Neil Young musical palette.

Young began work on Chrome Dreams at the time he had just shelved another lost album, Homegrown (also unreleased to this day, not even bootlegs circulate) and released yet another previously shelved album in its place, Tonight's The Night. Homegrown concerned many downbeat songs mostly in connection with Young's disintegrating marriage to actress Carrie Snodgrass. The last three albums Young had released Time Fades Away, On the Beach, and Tonights the Night were some of his darkest and best work. Then came the return of raw Crazy Horse rock in 1975 with the LP Zuma. Chrome Dreams would have been next and would have been a combination of acoustic and rock numbers. Sort of like Harvest only darker subject matter. For some reason or another Neil shelved the album for good and either recorded different versions of the tracks or released them on other albums. It's sorta like Zappa's Lather saga and, like Lather, it would've read like a greatest hits album since it contained so many tracks in a row that would later appear on other albums separate from the context and go on to be his most beloved tunes. One could logically presume that Neil saw fit to shelve an album with so many good songs and instead spread them out over subsequent albums so he could always ensure he had a hit on each album. Sort of a hit back catalogue that could last him for years. This, of course, is only assumption.

Here then is a track-by-track breakdown of Chrome Dreams:

1. Pocahontas: Apparently, the same take as heard on Rust Never Sleeps, minus the overdubs. Young's sparse acoustic tale of massacred Indians and conquest perhap sheds light on the fact that the radically changed official release of Chrome Dreams, the American Stars N' Bars album, might have included this song up until the last minute when you consider that Dean Stockwell's back cover art depicting an Indian Princess has no context otherwise in the finished album.

2. Will To Love: This innerspace acoustic love song is downright creepy in its atomospherics. From the first song to this track we start to hear what I call the album's "river of song". Meaning that I have never quite heard an album so perfectly sequenced so as to create a drifting logical mood as if it all falls into place naturally. This track was released as is in American Stars N' Bars.

3. Star of Bethelem: Same take and track as on Decade. Calm before the storm.

4. Like A Hurricane: No need for explanation really. The same blistering raw razorsharp guitar heartache as heard on American Stars N' Bars. One of Neil's finest hours.

5. Too Far Gone: This appeared some 11 years later on Neil's 1988 album Freedom. This is a more stripped-down version. It heals you from the previous track.

6. Hold Back the Tears: A more slowed down bluegrass version of the song heard on American Stars N' Bars.

7. Homegrown: Obviously, an outtake from the other unreleased LP Homegrown, this take is the same as the one on American Stars N' Bars but it is a different mix. The guitars crunch more, emphasizing Neil's love of the domestic life.

8. Captain Kennedy: One of Neil's best vocal deliveries evoking Dock Boggs murder ballads styling. This same take eventually was released on the album Hawks and Doves in 1980.

9. Stringman: It has always been Neil's obssession that his best stuff is done live and will somtime release a live version on an album instead of a studio version. He would take this obsession one step further in 1979 with an entire album cut live: Rust Never Sleeps. This is a touching piano ballad caught live about the loss of the old ways taken over by the counterculture.

10. Sedan Delivery: Totally difrerent take than the released version on Rust Never Sleeps. This version is less cow-punk and more slowed down country metal. Even its whole tone is different in that sounds less like the dumb Buford punk rock we know it as and more like a heavy slap from a biker.

11. Powderfinger: Here's the gem. An acoustic version of the song later electrified on Rust Never Sleeps. It's higley likely this is the version that Neil presented to Lynyrd Skynyrd to record. How they turned it down is beyond me. Its story of a young boy shot down as he protects his family and home from invaders on a riverboat with lyrics like "raised my rifle to my eye, never stopped to wonder why, then I saw black and my face splashed in the sky, shelter me from the powder and the finger, cover me from the thought that pulled the trigger..." is just devastating, making it in its own way much more heavy that the hard rock number heard earlier.

12. Look Out For My Love: And so the album ends perfectly with this light rock love lament later heard in the same take on the Comes A Time album.

All in all, Chrome Dreams lives up to its hype. But the real question is if it came out what would have become of albums like Rust Never Sleeps? Arguably, Rust would have happened anyway. "Pocahontas" might have been excluded but "Powderfinger" was a hard rock ballad on Rust and not the acoustic track heard here, so it might have stayed. Rust Never Sleeps was a live album anyway, remixed to sound like a studio one so as a live album Neil might have left repeat songs on it since they sounded different. Rust undoubtedly would have happened in one way or another since it was an experiment of Neil's obssesion with live takes being best. I doubt he could have reisisted putting an album out like it. But as for American Stars N' Bars, it's a different story. The already pefect album would not most likely exist since half of it is made of songs from Chrome Dreams. Chrome Dreams does what no other of Neil's output ever did. That is it sounds unified and not schizophrenic. In other words, he made a Rubber Soul but decided to release a bunch of Let It Be's instead. So, okay, that's kinda harsh considering how much I love his albums. It's just that most lost albums aren't really a treasure trove like this one. The fact that most fans haven't heard it is a shame. Maybe when Neil releases his long-delayed box set, which he claims will not only contain Chrome Dreams but every other unreleased album he has ever recorded plus rare and live tracks, will the public finally hear what they missed. Until then, there's Living With War, Neils new album out in, like, several weeks! With a song like "Impeach the President" it puts Neil back in the limelight for all the good reasons.

Who needs unreleased albums when we got news like this anyway? Oh yeah, did I mention he's plugged in for this one and cranked up old black again?!

"The Audio Philes" is ©2006 by Terence Nuzum.   All graphics (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.