Saturday, September 12, 2015


There's a mansion on the hill
Psychedelic music fills the air
Peace and love live there still
In that mansion on the hill...

This past week marked a quarter century since Ragged Glory was made available to the masses for purchase. Neil Young and Crazy Horse formed a mutual admiration society back in the mists of the late sixties. Young found Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Danny Whitten when they were part of a six piece band called the Rockets. Short story shorter: they took up with Uncle Neil and the Rockets were no more. In the intervening years prior to this record, they would, sadly, lose Whitten to an overdose in 1972, bring on Frank Sampedro in 1975, make five albums with Neil and five on their own. Having weathered twenty years of an "on again/off again" relationship, the four men convened at Young's studio in April 1990 and laid down the basic tracks for this effort in a week.

One excruciatingly loud and productive week

David Briggs produced and did the final mix, though John Hanlon was the engineer/tape op for these sessions. Hanlon was given one solid piece of advice by Briggs: "Record everything and don't miss one fucking second." The beautiful noise that they made in Neil's barn was louder than God, with the bleed from all of the instruments creating feedback-drenched havoc. That anyone involved escaped with their hearing intact is miraculous. When the dust settled on tracking and vocal overdubs were complete, the quartet emerged with their finest set since Rust Never Sleeps.

Ragged Glory was a return to form for the best known garage band on the planet. Young came in with some very straightforward rock songs, which also benefitted from having hooks that rose above the grunge ("Country Home", "Fuckin' Up", "Over and Over" and "Mansion on the Hill" being the standouts). The main idea was to get together, play and sort out the finer points afterward. I think that the spontenaity of their jams is captured with minimal polishing in the final mix. Credit David Briggs with his austere (and correct) approach to getting things on tape in the most direct fashion. Similarly, Young liked to work fast, without recourse to doing 70 takes of everything. Ragged Glory sounds as fresh as it did in 1990 because it isn't contrived. Mistakes are left uncorrected amongst extended solos, great vocal harmonies and zero bullshit. Easily one of the best discs that they made together, it would serve to revive their commercial fortunes and give way to an equally successful tour.

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