Making A Myth?

Poking around in the LP database this morning, I noticed that twenty-one years ago today, I picked up Neil Young’s three-record anthology Decade, released in 1977.

It’s strange, the things that stick with you. I stopped at a garage sale in the suburb of Richfield., a couple miles from my apartment in the very southern portions of Minneapolis. I remember it because of the delusional prices for records. There were several Elvis Presley anthologies in the box of records, all of them priced at $10 or more.

I’d seen many copies of the same anthologies at Cheapo’s for much less.

And I found Decade. I’d glanced at copies of it at Cheapo’s – they were infrequent there – and winced at the $10.80 price. (Cheapo’s sold records in what was considered fine condition for $3.60 a disc, thus a three-LP set in fine condition was $10.80.) That price was a budget-buster back in 2000. But at the garage sale, the fine folks who wanted $10 for an omni-present Elvis collection were asking only $1 for Decade.

I walked away with it, and later that day, gave its three records a listen. It was in great shape, and the music was fine. It wasn’t stuff I was going to listen to frequently, but it was good to have it around: stuff from the Buffalo Springfield years, from his work with Crazy Horse, his solo work, and stuff with Crosby, Stills, and Nash. It left me, however, vaguely dissatisfied.

When the time came for the great vinyl sell-off maybe five years ago, Decade went out the door. I’d gotten hold of Young’s 2004 Greatest Hits CD, and that – along with a few other albums on CD – was all I needed. (I kept the LP of his 1978 album Comes A Time, as it’s my favorite of all his work.)

So, anyway, I was pondering Decade this morning on the anniversary of my finding it, and I went to Wikipedia to check the track list, and I found this interesting segment:

The album has been lauded in many quarters as one of the best examples of a career retrospective for a rock artist, and as a template for the box set collections that would follow in the 1980s and beyond. However, in the original article on Young from the first edition of the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll and a subsequent article in the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide, critic Dave Marsh used this album to accuse Young of deliberately manufacturing a self-mythology, arguing that while his highlights could be seen to place him on a level with other artists from his generation like Bob Dylan or The Beatles, the particulars of his catalogue did not bear this out. The magazine has since excised the article from subsequent editions of the Illustrated History book.

I’ve got both books here, and yeah, Marsh lays it on a little hard. In the Record Guide, he writes: “[F]or all his virtues, Young embedded his good ideas in a trove of bad ones, and his realized concepts are forever juxtaposed (except on Decade) with his worst. With the exception of Tonight’s The Night, he has never been able to make a fully realized concept album, not a terribly significant flaw except that he kept on making half-realized ones. By excerpting the most successful moments from these failures, Young almost managed to convince you they were triumphs.”

I think Marsh is right about half-baked ideas in Young’s oeuvre, but it crosses my mind that it’s pretty rich for the man who helped elevate Bruce Springsteen to mythic status to complain about another rock star’s efforts to hone his own legend.

Decade was a great bargain twenty-one years ago today, but I don’t miss it. Young’s Greatest Hits CD is a better fit for me. It’s missing the Buffalo Springfield  and CSN&Y tracks, as well as stuff from Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach, and a Crazy Horse jam or two, if I read the listings correctly. I’ve got the Springfield and CSN&Y stuff elsewhere, I can find Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach if I want to hear them and the jams aren’t a big deal to me.

So, here’s a Young track with Crazy Horse from Decade that I do like: “Down By The River.” It was originally on the 1969 album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

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2 Responses to “Making A Myth?”

  1. David says:

    That’s an extremely strange piece of criticism by Marsh: Neil Young made “Decade” . . . too good because his selective editing hit the highlights, making him appear better than he actually is on an album-to-album basis? Isn’t that the entire point of a compilation? The Eagles’ “Greatest Hits, Vol. 1” certainly makes the first half of their career appear to be at a much higher level than their hit-or-miss albums or that era like “On the Border” actually are.

    Being born after these albums were released, I can’t say how they were received at the time, but I think “After the Goldrush,” “Harvest,” “On the Beach,” “Tonight’s the Night,” and “Rust Never Sleeps” belong on the list of greatest 1970s albums, and almost everything else Young did during that decade had at least 1/3 that was at least “really good” (other than the Young-Stills “Long May You Run” album, which is bland). I’m not sure that the world needs the copious archive releases that Neil keeps churning out (how many 1970/1971 solo live albums does one need?) but if Prince was the “Artist of the 1980s,” Neil Young has a strong claim to that title for the 1970s (although I would give the award to David Bowie).

    And your criticism of Marsh’s obsequious Springsteen fandom is spot on.

  2. David (Different One) says:

    Air guitar solo time!

    Also, when you were at the Richfield garage sale did you happen to run into “Miss Richfield 1981” looking at some frocks? Great local talent & a handsome gal. https://missrichfield.com/

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