Good news: Neil Young has announced a Record Store Day exclusive: a limited vinyl box-set re-release of his “Ditch Trilogy” of albums, plus Zuma.
Sadly, however, there’s an album missing from that stellar line up.
Chrome Dreams might well be the best album Neil Young ever made, at a time (1976) when he was hitting a creative peak. Just look at the classic songs: Pocahontas, Like A Hurricane, Sedan Delivery, Powderfinger… It was so good, it even has a sequel, Chrome Dreams II.
What makes Chrome Dreams especially remarkable, of course, is that despite it being arguably Young’s finest achievement, it has never been officially released.
It’s an extraordinary thing. It’s the equivalent of AC/DC sitting on Back In Black…
By the mid seventies, Neil Young was hitting a peak of creativity. Having found the middle of the road with 1972’s “Harvest”, Young decided, in his own words, to “head for the ditch”. The three subsequent albums Young released over the next three years formed the “Ditch Trilogy”: an influential series of records that were a significant influence of the nineties grunge movement. “Time Fades Away” (1973), “On The Beach” (’74) and “Tonight’s The Night” (’75) confused many expecting a soft rock follow up to “Harvest”. “Zuma” followed these three (despite an album called “Ride My Llama” being touted at one point) and was well received. And still, by 1977 Young had two more albums ready to go – but released neither. “Homegrown” has still to be released and “Chrome Dreams” has surfaced in bootleg form only.
It’s an odd way to go about things – even “Tonight’s The Night”, was recorded before “On The Beach”, only to be temporarily shelved.Embed from Getty Images
As Young himself wrote on Waging Heavy Peace, “Homegrown had been recorded and On The Beach had already been released when (guitarist) Ben Keith and I played the tapes at midnight in what is now known as the Belushi bungalow of Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont Hotel for Rick Danko of The Band and some other musicians. Rick said after hearing “Homegrown” and then “Tonight’s The Night”: “You ought to put THAT out! What the hell is THAT?” So we did. It was Rick Danko who brought it back.”
Continues Young, “Homegrown, which I think is a great album, is still unreleased to this day. (It will come out, though, and we are preparing it now).”
However, as 1977 came around, Chrome Dreams was promised. It came as a surprise therefore that Young released instead the album “American Stars ‘n Bars”.
So what happened? It seems that Young decided not to release the album and instead drip feed various versions of the tracks onto other records.
Young said at the time about Chrome Dreams, “Originally the concept was to have two sides on the album. One was going to be American history and the other was going to be social comment. The bar culture kind of thing where I was at the time, you know, drunk on my ass in bars. I couldn’t remember the history part so we left that out.”
Of the tracks, Pocahontas and Powderfinger had been earmarked for “Ride My Llama” but eventually turned up along with a turbo-charged version of Sedan Delivery on “Rust Never Sleeps”.
Hold Back The Tears appeared – with Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals – on American Stars ‘n Bars in a more countrified version than on Chrome Dreams.
So where can we find this “Unreleased” album? Well, there are a couple of options. I have created a Spotify playlist of many of the tracks that did appear on other albums, albeit in other forms. We could wait for Neil Young to finally release Chrome Dreams – it looks like Homegrown is on its way, so maybe Chrome Dreams will get the same treatment?
But if you can’t wait that long, for the real deal, there is YouTube and even a website or two that specialises in finding these unreleased bootleg albums (just Google Neil Young Chrome Dreams Rust Edition and you’ll find it). If you’re a Neil Young fan, and don’t have this in your collection, I think there Comes A Time when you have to put that right…
Sources: Neil Young: The Stories Behind The Songs by Nigel Williamson
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