“Here We Are in the Years”: A chronological look tracing Neil Young’s astonishing musical journey

By on November 13, 2017

On the occasion of Neil Young‘s recent birthday — he was born on November 12, 1945, in Toronto, Ontario — we here at Night Flight HQ would like to encourage our Night Flight Plus subscribers to check out Here We Are In the Years: Neil Young’s Music Box, one of the great music documentaries we’ve recently added to our ever-growing collection of titles.

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“Time itself is bought and sold, the spreading fear of growing old contains a thousand foolish games that we play,” Neil Young sings on the wistful “Here We Are in the Years,” which provides the title for this nearly two-hour documentary.

This reflective ode to the pleasures of country life was a tender, ecology-inspired stoner’s epiphany about growing old and looking back at youth, and a gentle plea for sanity in an insane world.

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Neil Young backstage at the Electric Factory, Philadelphia, February 1970 (photo by Joel Bernstein)

“Here We Are in the Years” first appeared on Young’s self-titled first album, originally released on November 12, 1968, his 23rd birthday.

Reprise Records weren’t initially happy with its initial poor sales, considering that he was the first ex-member of the popular Buffalo Springfield band to go solo.

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Young wasn’t happy either, particularly because he’d been talked into using a relatively-untested and muddying mastering process, Haeco-CSG, designed to make stereophonic vinyl LPs compatible with mono turntables.

So, in the winter of ’68, Neil Young was remixed, and the new artist-approved pressings began arriving in stores on January 22, 1969, its new official release date.

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Read more about Here We Are In the Years: Neil Young’s Music Box below.

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The relatively minimal impact of Neil Young may have also been hampered by the fact his name hadn’t appeared on the first pressings’ cover art either, which featured an oil painting by a local Topanga Canyon artist named Roland Diehl, a friend of Young’s first wife, Susan Acevedo.

Young met Acevedo in a coffee shop in Topanga Canyon, where he’d bought a house with his advance money from Reprise.

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The top half of Diehl’s portrait of Young depicted an idyllic rural canyon setting, while the bottom half showed surreal urban skyscrapers reflected upside-down on his jacket.

This duality was symbolic of how Young’s musical journey had diverged down two distinct paths during the late ’60s.

One sent Young traversing down a dusty country road, pursuing his folk and country-rock interests (he was hugely influenced by Bob Dylan, and by moody British folk-blues guitarist and composer Bert Jansch, from whom he’d purloined the melody for his On The Beach track “Ambulance Blues”).

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A second path took Young further down a heavy rock road with his band of electric brothers, Crazy Horse.

Their incredible LP debut, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, arrived in stores on May 14, 1969, just a few months after Young’s solo album.

Four of its songs, soon to be standards of his live concert repertoire — “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and the title track — were written in a single day when Young had the flu and a 103-degree temperature.

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Alex Westbrook’s two-hour documentary film — released in 2011 by UK-based Sexy Intellectual/Chrome Dreams — is chronological look tracing Neil Young’s astonishing musical journey.

The documentary begins with the very time he first heard Elvis Presley, and continues looking at how rock ‘n’ roll icons like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard influenced Young’s teen years in Canada.

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In 1965, he would return to his birthplace of Toronto, to that city’s Yonge Street Strip and its Yorkville Avenue coffeehouse folk scene, where he further continued to explore other musical directions.

The music box journey continues with stop-offs along the way pointing to how he found major rock success with a couple of highly successful bands (Buffalo Springfield and CSN&Y), only to leave both groups at their creative peaks to continue to blaze his own musical path as a solo artist.

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There are occasional detours detailing his various brief musical sojourns (like the rockabilly-fueled Everybody’s Rockin’ by Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks) and preoccupations with groups he discovered along the way, like Kraftwerk (whose synth-driven sounds informed Young’s brief flirtations with electro-pop on his underrated 1982 Geffen album Trans) and Devo (who appeared in his 1982 apocalyptic comedy Human Highway).

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The documentary’s journey culminates during the 1990s “grunge era,” detailing Young’s sadness over Kurt Cobain‘s death upon learning his suicide note quoted a lyric from his song “My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)” from his 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps.

This rather compelling journey is told, not by Young — although there is a short clip from an interview he did with the BBC in 2007 — but by a few of his friends and associates, including bandmate Ken Smyth of Young’s Winnipeg-based band, the Squires, and George Tomsco of the Fireballs.

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We also get to hear from music journalists and Neil Young biographers too, including: Ned Raggett; Greg Prato; Johnny Rogan (Neil Young: Zero to Sixty, who describes his Neil Young solo album as one of Young’s “greatest achievements” and “among the best five albums he ever recorded”); Anthony DeCurtis (Rolling Stone); Nigel Williamson (Neil Young: Stories Behind the Songs, who makes quite the compelling case for Young as a pioneer of country-rock); and Richie Unterberger (Turn! Turn! Turn!: The ’60s Folk-Rock Revolution and Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock’s Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock).

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There’s concert footage of Young at the 1993 “MTV Video Music Awards” (jamming with Pearl Jam on “Rockin’ in the Free World”), from Rust Never Sleeps; his Trans album tour; Heart of Gold; and Buffalo Springfield TV performance of “Mr. Soul,” to name just a few.

Watch Here We Are In the Years: Neil Young’s Music Box over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.