Oct 102012

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

The importance of Neil Young‘s 1977 career retrospective Decade, released thirty-five years ago this month, cannot be overstated. It served to establish Young as a major artist in the canon of rock, and was so full of transcendent moments that it needed three albums to hold them all. It offered unreleased tracks at a time when that Just Wasn’t Done, and the quality of those tracks conveyed the impression that Young wrote so many masterpieces he could afford to keep most of them locked away. It gave real insight to the creative process, with Young’s handwritten liner notes saying more in three lines than his critics could in three paragraphs. Its summing up a career with hits, rarities, and deep cuts selected by Young himself made it a sort of Mesozoic box set, one whose template wouldn’t be followed for years but is now de rigueur. Most of all, it’s a way to get some of the greatest music of the ’60s and ’70s in one place – and since Young’s range is so great, there’s always something on it that you’re in the mood to hear.

There are thirty-five songs on Decade; it’s going to take us three days to present covers of them all – one day for each album. It says a lot about the songwriter and his songs that the difficulty came not in finding the covers, but in deciding which ones to feature and which ones to leave out. Like Young, we ended up with a wide variety of musical genres; some of the artists are world-famous, others total unknowns. Altogether, they give us a whole new way of looking at the first ten years in the career of a man who appears incapable of burning out or fading away.

The Grip Weeds – Down to the Wire (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Named after John Lennon’s character in How I Won the War, the Grip Weeds take on “Down to the Wire,” the previously unreleased Buffalo Springfield track that opens Decade, and double down on the song’s power by filling out the arrangement and turning up the amps. A killer opening track, then and now.

Veruca Salt – Burned (Buffalo Springfield cover)

The album Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity has twenty-one reinterpretations of Neil songs by – you guessed it – women artists. It’s not all gentle folky Neil covers, by any stretch – some of them flat-out rock. One of those is “Burned” by Veruca Salt, who sound more like the Pixies here than the Pixies themselves.

Rush – Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield cover)

2004’s Feedback saw Rush get their garage band on, letting rip on eight cult classic singles, vintage ’65 – ’70. “Mr. Soul” gets slowed down to the speed of a lava lamp bubble, and feels just about as trippy.

Kate Rogers – Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield cover)

The original “Broken Arrow” captures Young at his most surreal, both lyrically (“he hung up his eyelids”) and musically, weaving together strings, a calliope organ, a jazz combo and a heartbeat into a tapestry of resignation. Kate Rogers’ version is more approachable, but not one iota simpler.

Bill Baird – Expecting to Fly (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Austin, TX is called the Live Music Capital of the World, and Bill Baird is a resident in good standing. He’s one of a series of musicians whose promising indie band was crushed by major label maneuvers (R.I.P., Sound Team), but he hasn’t let that stop him from continuing to record, perform and work on his art. One listen to his cover of “Expecting to Fly,” and you’ll feel fortunate that this is the case.

Matt Franklin – Sugar Mountain (Neil Young cover)

Matt Franklin is a guitarist who lives in Exeter in the UK, and his cover of “Sugar Mountain” does something close to impossible – it puts a stamp on the song that’s as compelling as Young’s, without taking anything from him. “I can never make it work for me like the original,” Franklin admits, but by personalizing the song to his skills, including a voice that sounds like it keeps getting caught on a rusty nail, he gives a soul-shivering performance. (Listen to some of his originals on his Soundcloud page.)

Chris Smither – I Am a Child (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Young’s paean to innocence gets a knowing cover from Chris Smither, who’s a year and a day older than Young, but whose baritone sounds a good two decades more matured than Young’s gentle tenor in their respective versions of “I Am A Child.” Smither, who was only 25 himself when he released this, also trades the country shuffle of the original for a finger-picking blues sound, giving it a different, not-unwelcome spin.

Three Dog Night – The Loner (Neil Young cover)

Three Dog Night’s debut album featured “One” by Harry Nilsson, the song that began their run of making big hits out of others’ compositions. Another cover on the album was Young’s “The Loner,” which appeared on his solo debut only a couple months earlier. Three Dog Night’s version is tighter, more rousing, and just one more indication that when it came to covers, they sure knew how to pick ’em.

Thea Gilmore – The Old Laughing Lady (Neil Young cover)

Thea Gilmore’s Loft Music collects covers ranging from the Buzzcocks and Ramones to “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” Her take on “The Old Laughing Lady” has a different kind of haunting feel than Young’s; where his would slip into the moors at dusk, hers could be found trailing through the mists of dawn.

Micadelia – Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young cover)

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Young’s first album with Crazy Horse, was a big leap forward for him, with guitar workouts and more direct lyrics coming together most memorably in “Cinnamon Girl.” A lot of covering artists have kept that guitar crunch, but Micadelia, a Swedish singer barely out of her teens, proved that the raucous noise in Young’s version was not technically irresistible – in her hands, the song is more of a lullaby, but we see the baby still loves to dance.

Buddy Miles – Down by the River (Neil Young cover)

Buddy Miles, best known for his work with Jimi Hendrix in Band of Gypsys, plays us out with a funk-rock fusion of “Down by the River” that takes the basic ingredients in Young’s song and builds something entirely different with them. No matter what flavor the jam, the end result is awfully sweet.

Click here for part two of our cover collection of ‘Decade,’ and here for part three.

Neil’s autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, is available on Amazon.

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