Songs About Los Angeles: “LA” by Neil Young

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlHirb8-NyQ&feature=related[/youtube]

Neil Young’s song LA is darkly funny and since I heard it six years before I would ever set foot in Los Angeles (for a visit) it made me think of the city as a hazy, weird, quaking place where guys like Neil Young hung out. In the song, he seems to be trying to talk sense into a town that can’t concentrate on what he’s saying. He spits out a list of real and imagined cataclysmic scenarios to the fault-straddling metropolis, slapping it in the face to no avail.

But when the suppers are planned

And the freeways are crammed

And the mountains erupt

And the valley is sucked

Into cracks in the earth

Will I finally be heard by you, LA?

He sweetly sings, “LA, uptight city in the smog.” And then, with hauteur or maybe mockery, “Don’t you wish that you could be here too?” There’s the city’s duality again, which underlies all it creates and exports.

The record it springs from, Time Fades Away, is one of the great Neil Young albums and regrettably it has fallen through the cracks, unavailable in the digital age. Originally released in 1973, it’s a live recording from the tour he embarked upon after the release of Harvest, the work that catapulted him into the mainstream with songs like “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man.” By all accounts the tour was a nightmare with the heroin overdose-death of guitarist Danny Whitten (soon after Young had fired him at the beginning of the tour) hanging over the band. Already at odds with their leader, Young went on to fire drummer Kenny Buttrey halfway through the tour after he demanded a pay-raise.

He further chronicled the horrors of a second heroin overdose-death during the tour, that of roadie Bruce Berry, on a later album called Tonight’s the Night, which met with great critical acclaim and is considered one of his finest and most harrowing, but Time Fades Away is just as worthy of those divergent accolades.

I remember reading at the time how Warner Bros. Records was none too pleased with Young’s decision to release Time Fades Away, a collection of raggedly performed, bleak, tragic songs, as his follow-up to the lush, bucolic, million-selling Harvest, still his most popular album. I also remember the negative reviews of Time Fades Away; but the crackling, brutal songs (like “Don’t Be Denied” and “Last Dance”) and the quieter ones too (“Love in Mind” and “The Bridge” are two of his finest songs.) were lapped up with zeal by the burgeoning FM rock radio of the early ’70s and pumped out over the airwaves, an inescapable part of my life’s soundtrack during my adolescence. (Seen Dazed and Confused? That’s close to what it was like.)

Although re-released briefly in 1995 on CD, Time Fades Away is currently out-of-print in any form, even as an MP3 downoad. As of this writing, Amazon has several used vinyl versions listed for $35 to $95; and two used CD versions for $199 and $260.

For those prices, you can order Volume 1 of the soon-to-be-released Neil Young Archives, which is priced from $99 for the CDs to $299 for the Blu-Ray DVD edition. Looking through Young’s site, most of it is devoted to promoting NYA, promising music from his earliest recordings “in Winnepeg, 1963… through to his classic 1972 album Harvest and beyond.” Time Fades Away deserves to be included.

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