Neil Young Songs For Judy Released

By Harvey Kubernik © 2018   

Neil Young has just issued Songs For Judy on CD and digitally on November 30. A vinyl edition is out December 14.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros./Shakey Pictures Records

Songs For Judy is the debut release on Shakey Pictures Records, Young’s own imprint distributed by Reprise Records. Songs for Judy is available in hi-res at NYA, Neil Young

Songs For Judy houses live acoustic performances culled from Neil’s November 1976 solo tour and features twenty-two songs recorded at various cities along the tour.  Writer and Cameron Crowe and photographer Joel Bernstein curated this collection.

This song cycle of live recordings is particularly unique. Young had spent much of the year traveling around the world on tour with Crazy Horse.

When touring on his own, he recharged and focused on songs that would not surface in recorded form for several years. Of the albums many treasures, “No One Seems To Know” would not see the light of day until now and it remains unreleased in any other iteration.

The raw versions of the tracks found on Songs For Judy find Young allowing the songs to breath and to find their own shape when performed in a solo performance.

Songs written in that era would come into focus and then seemingly disappear only to re-enter Young’s orbit somewhere down the road. “White Line” and “Give Me Strength” are such examples of finding the light in 1990 and 2017 respectively.

It’s interesting to hear Young revisit early gems such as Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” (’67), “Here We Are In The Years” (’68), and “The Losing End” (’69) from some of his earliest solo recordings which remain as timeless as ever.

Songs For Judy Track List

“Songs For Judy Intro” – Atlanta, GA – Nov 24 (late show)
“Too Far Gone” – Boulder, Colorado – Nov 06
“No One Seems To Know” – Boulder, Colorado – Nov 07
“Heart Of Gold” – Fort Worth, Texas – Nov 10
“White Line” – Fort Worth, Texas – Nov 10
“Love Is A Rose” – Houston – Nov 11
“After The Gold Rush” – Houston – Nov 11
“Human Highway” – Madison, Wisconsin – Nov 14
“Tell Me Why” – Chicago – Nov 15 (late show)
“Mr. Soul” – New York – Nov 20 (early show)
“Mellow My Mind” – New York – Nov 20 (early show)
“Give Me Strength” – New York – Nov 20 (late show)
“A Man Needs A Maid” – New York – Nov 20 (late show)
“Roll Another Number” – Boston – Nov 22 (late show)
“Journey Through The Past” – Boston – Nov 22 (late show)
“Harvest” – Boston – Nov 22 (late show)
“Campaigner” – Boston – Nov 22 (late show)
“Old Laughing Lady” – Atlanta – Nov 24 (early show)
“The Losing End” – Atlanta – Nov 24 (late show)
“Here We Are In The Years” – Atlanta – Nov 24 (late show)
“The Needle And The Damage Done” – Atlanta – Nov 24 (early show)
“Pocahontas” – Atlanta – Nov 24 (late show)
“Sugar Mountain” – Atlanta – Nov 24 (late show)

I’ve seen Neil Young perform many of these selections over the last half century in various group and solo settings.  

I caught the Laurel Canyon-based Buffalo Springfield live twice in Hollywood during 1967, and later Topanga Canyon resident Young’s February 1971 solo debut at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion venue in downtown Los Angeles.  

In 2015 I wrote and assembled a recording study and illustrated history book, Neil Young, Heart of  Gold,  commissioned by Palazzo Editions and subsequently published in November, 2015, by Hal Leonard (US), Omnibus Press (UK), Monte Publishing (Canada) and Hardie Grant (Australia), that coincided with Young’s 70th birthday.  A German edition was also published for May, 2016.

The recording origins of several songs later done as live recordings in Songs For Judy are examined in the book.  

This decade I asked deejay Dr. James Cushing and engineer/record producer Elliot Mazer to comment on the initial studio versions of Young’s “Mr. Soul,” “Old Laughing Lady,” “Sugar Mountain,” “Heart of Gold,” and “A Man Needs A Maid.”     

Dr. James Cushing: ‘Mr. Soul’ is my favorite Rolling Stones cover. Because Neil Young figured out a way to get paid the royalties on it. (Laughs). You change a couple of the notes around and you put the accent of the words in a different place so people don’t realize they’re listening to ‘Satisfaction.’ Our friend Neil is always absorbing.

“‘The Old Laughing Lady’ is a well-written lovely song and very atmospheric. There’s the influence of arranger and keyboardist Jack Nitzsche. A little on the ‘OK. In this corner wearing the white trunks is ’Desolation Row.’ And in this corner in the red trunks is ‘The Old Laughing Lady.’ Round 1!  ‘The Old Laughing Lady’ has the great chorus of female singers, including Merry Clayton and Clydie King.

“Neil Young’s voice does take some getting used to but once you’ve gotten used to it, it will always be a part of the way you hear some certain range of human emotions.

“‘Sugar Mountain,’ initially was the B-side of ‘The Loner’ a single from 1969. It is Neil naked on stage. And this is the great paradox of Neil Young with the more open and naked he is the more powerful he is as an artist.

“As for Neil Young’s voice. That high kind of alto tenor with just enough of that Canadian accent. Especially with words that end in ‘R.’ For example, ‘Sugar Mountain.’”

In February, 1971, Young went to Nashville to appear on The Johnny Cash Show, on ABC-TV.  Guesting with him were James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.

Producer/engineer Elliot Mazer handled the console at Quadrafonic Studios in Nashville where Young laid down the tracks for what would become 1972’s Harvest.      

Elliot Mazer: We get the studio ready and Neil walks in. My role is to guide Neil. He played some songs. Neil’s back was hurting him tremendously during Harvest. And his back pain, and the fact that he sat down a lot was really inhibiting him.

“Neil wanted to be set up near the drums and stand right in the archway between the doors in front of Kenny who was in the middle of the room. ‘OK. Sure.’

“Neil wouldn’t wear ear phones then. He liked to feel the room. ‘I want to stand right in front of the drummer.’ The other musicians to the right. He runs through a song called ‘Bad Fog of Loneliness,’ which is really good Neil song.

“He then came into the control room to hear the playback and said, ‘this in incredible. This is the first time I’ve heard a song in playback that sounded better than what we heard in the studio.’ And that was it.

“We did a few takes of each song. Everything Neil did was done live in the studio. I knew ‘Heart of Gold’ was a hit when Neil played it. He wrote it on piano and performed it on some solo shows.

“His songs are generally an overpowering feeling. Neil plays ‘Heart of Gold’ and I look up and [drummer] Kenny Buttrey and I both at the same time put our fingers up as number one. We knew it.

“From then it was only a matter of time to get the thing done properly and out. Neil’s singing and playing on it was magnificent. His tempo was perfect. It was great. All we had to do was make sure we didn’t mess him up.

  “We did a few days during the ‘Heart of Gold’ sessions and we took a break. Neil and Jack Nitzsche went to London and did ‘A Man Needs a Maid’ and ‘There’s a World’ live with the London Symphony Orchestra.  And then Neil came back a little later and we did some more time.

“For the finished Harvest album, Neil recorded ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ from a solo tour concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall and two orchestral pieces that Glyn Johns engineered in London at Barking Town Hall that I mixed.”     

(Harvey Kubernik is an award winning author of 15 books. His literary music anthology Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Kollection, Vol. 1 was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other World Cottage Industries in February 2018.

During November 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble published Kubernik’s The Story of The Band From Big Pink to the Last Waltz).

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