When I was at school Select Magazine ran a feature of the Best 100 Albums released in the 90s. For the rest of that year, I made it my mission to hear, and own, all of them. This was a time before the internet so hearing all 100 was a long and laborious task. Bargain bins in record shops were scoured and family members were asked if they had any of the missing albums.
One of the harder ones to track down was Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s 1990 album ‘Ragged Glory’. Ironically, my parents were happy for me to have Method Man, Snoop Doggy Dogg, The Prodigy, Portishead, and Green Day, but an album with a song called ‘Fuckin’ Up’ was a bridge too far. Eventually I found someone at school whose Dad had it. I swapped the first Reel 2 Real album, and I had a copy for a week.
After I heard ‘Ragged Glory’ I was blown away by how stark the recordings were, but also how fun it was. Grunge was over and Britpop was starting get in full swing, so hearing a 45-year-old just rocking out felt strangely rebellious.
This brief jaunt down memory lane comes to mind as soon as I start listening to Neil Young’s latest live album ‘Way Down In The Rust Bucket’. The album was recorded in November 1990 at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, two months after ‘Ragged Glory’ was released. The show was a three-hour epic. Three different sets and an encore for the audience in attendance. Every track on ‘Ragged Glory’ is played, expect ‘White Line’ and ‘Mother Earth’. This on its own would have been worth the admittance, but the rest is the kind of greatest hits sent you could only dream of. ‘Cinnamon Girl’, ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’, Sedan Delivery’, Like A Hurricane’. ‘Cortez the Killer’ and ‘Dangerbird’ getting its first live airing, 15 years after it was released in 1973’s ‘Zuma’.
This isn’t just a Greatest Hits set, oh no, throughout Young and Crazy Horse throw out hidden gems and deep cuts. It’s great to hear ‘Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze’ belted out here. It’s criminally underrated and has always been one of my favourites of Young’s songs. It just sounds massive and crunching here.
‘Bite the Bullet’ sounds better than on 1977’s ‘Stars N Bars’. ‘Homegrown’ – one of Young’s great lost songs – gets a deserved live performance. It sounds far more laidback than on the 2020 album, but this performance cemented its legend with the Young community. “It exists!” you could imagine members of the audience saying to one another.
‘T-Bone’ also gets a rare outing. This could be the standout moment on the album. Lyrically it’s just Young saying ‘Got mashed potatoes, Got mashed potatoes, Got mashed potatoes, Ain’t got no T-Bone’. It’s pretty throwaway, but at its heart ‘T-Bone’ is a barroom stomper. This is the kind of song that in anyone else’s hands it might come off as lazy rock, but Young and Crazy Horse manage to distil everything that makes them such mercurial outfit.
It has been rumoured on forums and message boards that ‘Way Down in the Rust Bucket’ is the best Young and Crazy Horse every played together. The release of 1991’s double live album ‘Weld’ often put these conversations to bed. However, after hearing ‘Way Down In The Rust Bucket’ it makes a strong argument. The set list is far more interesting, due to the deep cuts, than ‘Weld’ but the real excitement comes from when Young and Crazy Horse just get in each other’s pockets and play.
What’s even more remarkable is that three years prior Young said he wouldn’t play with Crazy Horse again due to his frustrations with about bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. However, like a magnet, Young was drawn to his backing band. Maybe this friction gave the performance some added bite. The only downside to the album is ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’ was also performed on the night, but due to a technical issue it wasn’t recorded properly and is absent from ‘Way Down in the Rust Bucket’. This performance is pretty great, but with ‘Cowgirl’ this had the prospect to be a 10/10 classic. Without it we’re left to ponder ‘What if…?’
If this album had come out in the 90s, teenage me wouldn’t have fully appreciated it. Having to wait this long to finally hear it has made it so much better. Again, though, we return to the question “If Neil had this and ‘Homegrown’ in the vault, what else is there?” Hopefully, we won’t have to wait long for that to be answered.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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