A dip into Young’s archives for a stunning acoustic set from 1976. Rarities! A new song! The ghost of Judy Garland! Michael Bonner reports
Including: Neil Young, Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Kate Bush, Brian Eno
In keeping with neil Young’s legendarily contrarian reputation, Songs For Judy starts with an argument. It is the late show at the Fox Theatre, Atlanta, Georgia, on november 24, 1976, and Young is trying to introduce a new song, “Too Far Gone”. One rowdy section of audience, however, has other ideas – they keep shouting for him to play “Southern Man”. Predictably, Young is having none of this. “I love it when you ask me for those old songs and everything,” he says. “But it’s funny, ’cos what keeps you alive is what kills you, you know. If you get too much of the old shit, you know… it’s goodnight.”
To an extent, tensions like this between the section of his audience who want him to double down on former glories and those who cheer on his present-day escapades have been ongoing for much of the musician’s career. Largely, though, Young’s mission to bewilder his loyal fanbase has only served to exacerbate these stresses further. In 2018 alone, he cycled through the Paradox film project, tours with Promise Of The Real and a reactivated Crazy Horse as well as a clutch of ‘impromptu’ solo shows.
But despite the quixotic methodology that appears to govern his current activities, recently Young has taken a more focused approach to his back catalogue. Presumably in anticipation of Archives Volume 2, Young has spent the last few years circling back to his storied mid-’70s period. There have been gems like the longdeleted 1973 live album Time Fades Away and the 1979 concert film Rust Never Sleeps alongside ‘new’ sets Roxy – Tonight’s The Night Live 1973 and, late last year, Hitchhiker. Astonishingly, it seems that for once Young’s strategy threatens to make complete sense. It transpires that Hitchhiker was a turning point in Young’s archival plans. Issued as part of Young’s Special Release Series, Hitchhiker was a complete, ‘lost’ album recorded during one session on August 11, 1976. now comes Songs For Judy – a straight-up companion piece, taped that november during Young’s north American tour with Crazy Horse.
Both records are explicitly linked by “Campaigner” – a wry commentary catching the contradictions between political and spiritual faith that felt especially pertinent during 1976 – an election year. The song became a regular fixture during this tour; despite its unfamiliarity, the line “even Richard Nixon has got soul” raises lively, if sardonic, cheers on the take included here. Young himself played the Berkeley Community Theatre on november 2 – the night America went to the polls to vote in Jimmy Carter as 39th President Of The United States. On november 24, meanwhile, he dedicated “Here We Are In The Years” to “our new president”. (Many years later, he bullishly dismissed the Carter administration, telling Melody Maker, “Everybody was walking around with their tails between their legs…