Thursday, October 13, 2016

Neil Young - Pushed It Over The End

I started this blog about 10 years ago! My first post was on April 24, 2006 and it sure was a good one. But the very first song I ever talked about on this blog, in a post that July, was a song called "Pushed It Over The End" written by Neil Young. Now, more than 10 years later, I am coincidentally listening to that same song and STILL blown away by it. What's so fucking great about this song? Let me quote myself from ten years ago:

His guitar playing is pretty, understated, but incredibly communicative. You hear it, you almost feel like you're teetering on the edge of something ("pushed it over the end," after all), and then you tip over and make the long deep fall, all the way down. That's exactly how I felt hearing the song before I even knew the title of the song.
What's the story behind the song? I think Neil wrote it sometime in 1974, and did a full-band version of it with Crosby Stills Nash and Young on their (in)famous cocaine-fueled 1974 tour. He also did an acoustic version of it during a solo tour later that year. Then he just kinda dropped it. Never released it on an album. Never did anything with it. This was literally one of his best EVER songs. I'm not kidding -- in his entire 50 year career, I would rank this as one of the most brilliant songs he ever wrote. And that's saying quite a lot, given his ability, especially in the late sixties and seventies, to just rattle off classic after classic without breaking a sweat.

"Pushed It Over The End" was a strange elliptical meditation on the existential malaise of the mid-seventies, filtered through allusions about Patty Hearst, Nixon, and God knows what else. This was a song about the intersection between love and politics, about how relationships can be abstracted through politics and vice-versa, how some of our most self-destructive urges can sabotage the best things in life until they are (literally) pushed over the end (edge).

Playing background to the almost incomplete lyrics flush with disjointed imagery, was a skip-stop-start waltz-y rhythm (one person called it a "junkie waltz") that never quite gels, it just wobbles through the first couple of minutes until it momentarily gets a firm backbeat and stands tall. And then all of a sudden, it's back to the wobby skip-start-junkie waltz again.

His guitar playing sounds like a musical virtuoso on one instrument is learning how to play another. The lead guitar solo (beginning at 3:05) is nothing much to speak of, a sequence of utterly sloppy notes played up and down the guitar neck, strings bent here and there, but THEN at one point, he holds the same single note as a vibrato for, like, 10 freaking seconds flat (start listening at 3:30), it is absurdly intense, like you just want to stop breathing - just like you imagine when you are pushing your favorite relationship over the end. Your head hurts and you can't breathe, but you are just compelled to try to fuck things up. It's like an aural equivalent of that.

All of this was recorded live on a CSNY live date in 1974 (August 27, 1974). Young later added a few choice overdubs - apparently vocals by Crosby and Nash -- but the recording still sounds spartan. At some point, in 1976, Young had apparently wanted to include the song on his greatest hits-type triple album thing called Decade. The liner notes for that song were even written up:

Recorded live on the road in Chicago, 1974. Thanks to Crosby & Nash's help on the overdubbed chorus, I was able to complete the work. I wrote it for Patty Hearst and her countless brothers and sisters. Also, I wrote it for myself and the increasing distance between me and you.

As you can guess, the song was dropped from Decade at the last minute. The liner notes were erased. And because Neil Young is completely crazy, when he did issue the song, he made it available ONLY on a single-sided Italian 12" single that was released in 1981 and which NO ONE bought. Anyway, this Italian objets d'art is worth gobs of money. I recently bought a copy for $100. Yes I'm that insane. It's the most expensive song I've ever bought in my life.

It's worth noting that this song is now actually (finally) officially released as part of CSNY's recent live chronicle of the 1974 tour, called CSNY 1974. There is even a video of the song in a DVD in the collection. However, the version on there is VASTLY inferior to the version on that strange and rare Italian 12" from 1981. Fortunately, you can hear an (albeit poor quality) version of the prized Italian 12" version here:

Is it worth $100? No. Am I crazy? Yes. But is it a good song? Yes. Fucking brilliant. Hear it and weep.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that some actually think that a third version of the song, an acoustic version which Neil apparently called "Citizen Kane Junior Blues" (because why not) is the BEST version out there. You decide.

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