Neil Young-Homegrown.

Label: Reprise Records.

Format: CD.

By June 1974, Neil Young was twenty-eight and was preparing to begin work on a new album Homegrown, which would’ve been the sixth album of his career, and the followup to On The Beach which was scheduled for release on the ‘19th’ of July. 

It was the much-anticipated followup to his classic album Harvest, which was released to commercial success and critical acclaim on the ‘1st’ of February 1972. Harvest had topped the US Billboard 200 charts for two weeks and was the best selling album of 1972 in America where it eventually sold in excess of over four million copies. On The Beach had  a lot to live up to.

While Neil Young’s career was going from strength-to-strength, his longterm relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress was deteriorating. They had met after her award-winning role in the 1970 film Diary Of A Mad Housewife. She was the inspiration for A Man Needs A Maid, which Neil Young wrote about contemplating starting a new romantic relationship. This was the first of a number of new songs he wrote about his relationship with Carrie Snodgress.

The next was Motion Pictures which Neil Young wrote for  On The Beach which was recorded between February and April 1974. Two months later, in June 1974, Neil Young began work on Homegrown, which featured a number of songs that were inspired by his relationship with Carrie Snodgress.

The recording of Homegrown began in earnest on the ‘16th’ of June 1974, which was the day before a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young session. They were planning to record a few songs before heading out on a lengthy summer stadium tour. However, with a day free, Neil Young took the opportunity to record a new song he had written.

This was Love Is A Rose, which was essentially a reworking of Dance, Dance, Dance which Crazy Horse had recorded on their 1971 eponymous debut album. Despite being recorded in 1974, Love Is A Rose sounds as if Neil Young was picking up where he left off on Harvest. Linda Ronstadt saw the potential in the song which gave her a country hit in 1975. It would also eventually find its way onto Homegrown.

On The Beach.

Before that, On The Beach was released on the ‘19th’ of July 1974. It was a very different album to Harvest and not what critics and record buyers expected. Some critics were surprised by the underproduced sound and felt that it was an album full of darkness and despair. That wasn’t strictly true. 

On The Beach was recorded after Tonight’s The Night which found Neil Young expressing his grief following the deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. By the time On The Beach was recorded, Neil Young was ridding himself of much of the despair he had been feeling when he recorded Tonight’s The Night. While there’s still darkness and despair there’s also pessimism and hope.

Record buyers didn’t seem to “get” On The Beach, which stalled at sixteen in the US Billboard 200 but was still certified gold. Across the Atlantic, the album was certified silver. On The Beach was nowhere near as successful as Harvest, and it would only be much later that the album received the recognition that it deserved.

Homegrown Continues.

Nearly three months later, on the ‘12th’ of September 1974, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stadium tour were about to play a concert at Wembley Stadium, in London, that evening. The opening act was The Band, and with time on their hands before the concert Neil Young and Robbie Robertson made their way to Ramport Studios to record a track together for Homegrown. That day, they recorded the bittersweet acoustic duet White Line. It was time well spent.

After the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stadium tour was over, the next session for Homegrown began on the ‘11th’ of December and lasted two days. The session included Band drummer Levon Helm and Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar. Both play a crucial part in the sound and success of the album opener Separate Ways, where Neil Young delivers a vocal full of loneliness, hurt and heartbreak. During the same session, he recorded the hopeful sounding Try, which features Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. It’s the polar opposite of Separate Ways which it follows on Homegrown.  

The next day, the ‘13th’ of December the band reassembled and recorded two more tracks. This included Homegrown, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to hemp. Neil Young rerecorded the song with Crazy Horse and it featured on the 1977 album American Stars ‘N’  Bars. So was the other song recored that day, the acoustic ballad Star Of Bethlehem which features beautiful harmonies from Emmylou Harris. It’s one of the highlights of Homegrown and the perfect way to close the album.

There was no rest for the band over the festive season, and on New Year’s Eve they were back in the studio. They sound as if they’re in good spirts on the bluesy vamp We Don’t Smoke It No More. It has a looser sound and is reminiscent of the 1975 album Tonight’s The Night. However, the song which was the last Neil Young recorded during 1974 deserves its place on Homegrown.

Four days later, on the ‘4th’ of January 1975 the band were reunited and Neil Young recorded Vacancy. He switches between guitar and harmonica and delivers an impassioned vocal where he probes and questions: “who are you…what’s your name?” on one of the hidden gems on Homegrown. 

Just seventeen days later, on the ‘21st’ of January 1975, Neil Young and his band entered the Sound Recorders, in LA, and recorded the four other tracks that feature on Homegrown. The piano lead Mexico and Kansas are solo performances by Neil Young and both are best described as short, lysergic sounding songs.

Florida which was recorded the same day, and is a surreal sounding spoken word dream that is akin to a stream of consciousness. 

The other track recorded that day was Little Wing where Neil Young plays harmonica and guitar as he delivers a rueful vocal. It’s the best of the tracks recorded during the final session and was released on the  Hawks and Doves album in 1980.

These twelve tracks would eventually make their way onto Homegrown. However, that is only part of the story. Around thirty tracks were recorded over a seven month period. Many of them were solo performances and many were acoustic recordings with just Neil Young his guitar and harmonica. With so many tracks to choose from, there should’ve been no problems choosing the tracks that would make it onto Homegrown. Several track-listings were compiled and they were being considered when word came through that the album had been cancelled by Neil Young.

By then, Homegrown’s album cover had been designed and Reprise were preparing for the release. It was totally unexpected and through their plans into disarray. What had happened? 

Neil Young had decided to hold a listening party to let some of his friends hear Homegrown. This included members The Band and Crazy Horse who partied into the early hours. Having heard Homegrown, Neil Young played the other side of the tape which featured Tonight’s The Night. When Rick Danko heard it he said: If you guys don’t release the fuckin’ album, you’re crazy.’” It was enough to make Neil Young change his plans.

This in a way is not surprising, as the songs are very personal, and reveal his feelings about his failing relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. Later Neil Young said about releasing Homegrown: “It was a little too personal…it scared me.” It was shelved and Tonight’s The Night released instead.

When Tonight’s The Night was released on June the ’20th’ 1975, Neil Young’s expression of grief was well received by the majority of critics. However, it stalled at just twenty-five in the US Billboard 200 and failed to sell as many copies as On The Beach. However, Tonight’s The Night was certified silver in the UK and gold in Australia. This was a small crumb of comfort.

Since Homegrown was shelved in 1975, the album lay unreleased in Neil Young’s vaults, and has taken on an almost mystical quality. His fans hoped that one day, the album would be released. This was due to happen on It Record Store Day 2020 as part of Neil Young’s Archives’ series. When the date of Record Store Day 2020 was changed due to the coronavirus pandemic Reprise decided to release Homegrown on the ‘19th’ of June 2020. This was forty-five years after its intended released date.

Rather belatedly Neil Young’s many fans got to hear Homegrown which is one of his most personal albums. It’s a soul-baring album where he reveals his feelings about his failing relationship with Carrie Snodgress, the mother of his young son Zeke. Sadly, their relationship came to an end in 1974, during the recording of the album. Maybe completing the album proved cathartic for Neil Young, although when it came to release Homegrown he was reluctant to do so.

Homegrown has a confessional quality and with its intimate arrangements and an understated and minimalist production style, it’s a very personal, poignant and powerful album from Neil Young where he lays bare his hurt and heartbreak after the breakup of his relationship with Carrie Snodgress on what’s akin to a diary that he never expected anyone to read. 

 Neil Young-Homegrown.

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