Amazing Records That Sound Incredible: Neil Young, Unplugged (Reprise Europe, 1993)
This album has no business being any good. Neil didn’t want to make it: his manager dragged him kicking and screaming into the early-90s MTV Unplugged juggernaut. The concert went terribly: Neil was so unhappy with the first taping, on December 5th 1992 in NYC, that he paid out of pocket for a do-over in LA two days later. But that was a mess, too. Neil was disgusted by the playing of his band, the legendary Stray Gators, and had one of his famous freakouts. After the dust settled, band member Kenny Buttrey said, “I never wanna hear his name again… I will never, ever play another Neil Young album on my stereo. I want it in capital letters that he is THE HARDEST PERSON TO WORK WITH I’ve ever worked with in my life.”
Somehow, after all this, Neil agreed to release the LA performance as an album.
And somehow… it’s FUCKING BRILLIANT. (I want THAT in capital letters.)
I am a big, huge Neil Young fan. I’ve got him up there with Glenn Gould in the small pantheon of all-caps GENIUSES to have come out of Toronto. And this is one of my absolute favourite of his albums. “Transformer Man” is the top of the top: it’s amazing on Trans, but this gently psychedelic version is *the one*, managing somehow to be blissfully gorgeous while also bending the frame of reality. “Like a Hurricane” with a pump-organ? “Mr. Soul” in a stripped-down, tough-as-hell version? Yes, please. And that’s just the start.
The early 90s were arguably the nadir of audiophile vinyl, so you might not expect much from this disc — which is not only from a long time ago, but also super long, packing 66 minutes of music into tightly spaced grooves. But Neil’s reputation for audiophilia is well deserved, and never took vacations. This disc, produced like all the best-sounding Neil by the great David Briggs, sounds AMAZING. Sadly the lone original pressing, with super cute Euro labels, is super expensive. This copy is on loan from my friend Jared. I’ve got the CD, but I’m always looking for a copy of my own…
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