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Archives, v. 1 (19631972) – Neil Young

More than two decades after its announcement sent diehard followers into nonstop fantasies of what it would contain, Neil Young finally put out the first installment of his career-encompassing Archives series. Following numerous teases of an impending release, it seemed as if wed all be driving electric cars and teleporting ala Star Trek before the actual box set existed. Even with a firm on sale date I still felt that it was too good to be true, and there would be some last-minute effort by Young to stop Archives from hitting store shelves. (Prior to this, fans had to be satisfied with the bootleg Archives Be Damned, which featured five discs of mostly live material.)
What finally convinced him? His enthusiasm for the Blu-ray formats treatment of sound satisfied him much more than what he heard vibrating through his auditory senses via compact disc. Young originally professed that Archives would be released only on Blu-ray. Someones pleading must have got through to him because the box set chronicling the first decade of his recording career is out in 10 disc Blu-ray and DVD versions with bonus hidden tracks, the Journey Through The Past film and a 236 page hardcover book with additional material and an interactive visual timeline that provides not only a perspective of the artist moving forward, literally and figuratively, but a list of historical events that ultimately changed the course of history and more than likely influenced the musician during his teens and 20s as well as an eight-CD version.
The makers of the set also hit upon inventive ways to visualize each number on the DVD (i.e. original reel-to-reel tapes or a turntable playing a particular track). Like Youngs enigmatic creative self, Archives is engrossing, at times infuriating, but, overall, invaluable for anyone who has latched on to the artist and stuck around for the entire journey of musical twists and turns.
As advertised, the compilation moves from Young’s initial forays as a member of the Squires (yet nothing from his work in the Rick James-led Mynah Birds), followed by home recordings with fellow Canadian Comrie Smith through solo tunes to Buffalo Springfield and various collaborations with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Its a treasure trove of released and unreleased material, demos, live tracks and more. Unfortunately, discs six and eight from the DVD set lean heavily on numbers taken off previously released albums. You would think that anyone who is plunking down $100 to $350 for this already owns those releases. Same goes for the inclusion of the previews that advanced Archives Live at the Fillmore East and Live at Massey Hall. I will admit that the inclusion of such material fills any holes as it moves the musical story along. Still, with the Journey Through the Past soundtrack out of print, a deeper look at that release would have been worthwhile. The sole track, Words (Between the Lines of Age) offers a revelatory look at Young playing with the Stray Gators. Other tracks from that album or those sessions would have been much appreciated. Spoiled by the riches heard on the opening five discs, its not a petulant act of ungratefulness to think that an alternate version or concert document of the same songs couldnt be used instead. (Since the record company did not provide a copy of the hardbound book, its remotely possible that Young explains his reasons why such tracks are here.)
Initially, Archives, v. 1 presents Young as a young musician following in the dance pop steps of the times. But quickly the familiar songwriting and singing persona emerges on the tracks with Smith and unreleased solo material. Even in the early ’60s his folkie side found a way to prosper and reside comfortably with his rock side. Still, whats more striking is that at such a young age he shaped his musical foundation. Other than some of the tangents found during his years at Geffen, he not only maintained a fierce focus on this balancing act but has made it a success commercially and artistically. Listening to the Buffalo Springfield cuts, particularly Out Of My Mind and its pop flavors, and even more so with Kahuna Sunset, one receives a better understanding of why Young needed to cut loose and pursue his own vision. Sandwiched between those tunes is Down Down Down, an unreleased solo track that sounds more typical of the artist.
Three discs cover his time living in Topanga Canyon. In that more relaxed atmosphere, he thrived. The material is precisely the type of treasure one would hope to find a couple versions of Birds, unreleased material (Dance Dance Dance, Wonderin) and different mixes (Helpless, The Last Trip to Tulsa) plus live numbers (It Might Have Been, Nowadays Clancy Cant Even Sing). The (mostly) unreleased numbers on the Live at the Riverboat disc compiles the best from a post-Springfield solo stint in 1969. In this very intimate setting Young moves from the aw shucks shy Canyon dweller to a testy artist when the audience, in awe of the folkie conjurer playing in front of them, can barely muster a response to his between-song banter.

The Young-directed Journey Through The Past mixes concert, backstage and home movie footage with an impressionistic sketch of a storyline meant to represent the youth of America as a beaten entity searching for some greater Truth beyond the options of the military and corporations. In his debut, Young displays a gifted eye for setting up shots, while the cinematography occasionally looks gorgeous, but his hazy storytelling makes Journey as much of a half-baked experiment as it is a historical document. Its as if he came up with the narrative after finishing several joints, when it all made sense at the time, and then had to edit his way around those thoughts once he peered out the smoky fog.
The musical portion of Archives Vol. 1 ends with the rare 45 single War Song, which features Graham Nash and the Stray Gators. The short-but-sweet protest song that was overshadowed by the previously released Ohio, it whets the appetite for Archives Vol. 2, the darker days to come beginning in 1973 and the roller coaster ride that Young will soon give us. Hang on. Things should get bumpy but all things point to it being filled with lasting thrills.

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