Songs For Judy (Shakey Picture Records/Reprise) is a collection of Neil Young’s live, solo acoustic songs — sometimes on guitar, harmonica, occasional banjo, and other times on piano or organ. The twenty-two song collection was put together from his November 1976 tour; songs in the set were selected from different stops along the way. Listening to the album is a raw, spontaneous experience, and it’s as close as you’ll ever get to being transported back to that audience. And if you close your eyes, it feels pretty darn close.
The first, and arguably the main, thing that’ll bring you happy chills is the banter: Neil Young’s voice talking to the audience while he’s tuning and between songs, with his Canadian accent and his gentle voice cracking jokes from more than 40 years ago. What? Yes, it’s true. Toward the beginning, he recounts, during his stage chatting, a fanciful story of Judy Garland in a red dress, looking up at him and asking “How’s the business Neil?” and we realize the origin of the album’s title.
He addresses the laughing audience with wry comments like: “If I’m too far gone, I have the right to say it, right?” as he regales them (and us) with “Too Far Gone.” His voice rings out with “and we had drugs and we had booze, but we still had somethin’ to lose, and by dawn I wanted to marry you.” The audience is audibly upswelling in communal joy as he plays it, with his uncanny ability to describe the most poignant of human relations in the simplest of terms.
But it’s more than just the casual banter that’ll bring you chills — it’s those amazing Neil Young songs. Lines that are culturally ubiquitous ring out, like: “I wanna live, I wanna give… keep me searching for a heart of gold” and the audience is rapt. Then: “you took my love and put it to the test.” And when he plays “Love is a Rose” with that distinctive harmonica, you’ll swear you’re right there, feeling like you’re at a hoedown in the crowd: “you lose your love when you say the word ‘mine.'” “After the Gold Rush” he dedicates to the “freeways here in Texas,” because even forty years ago “we got mother nature on the run.” You can feel his heart on his sleeve in every note, every phrase.
“Tell Me Why,” “is it hard to make arrangements with yourself,” is one of those songs that really brings you back to that time — whenever that moment was when you first heard it. He played “Mr. Soul,” “Here We Are in the Years,” and “The Losing End,” from his late ’60’s Buffalo Springfield days. And then it’s “country girl I think you’re pretty” going into the heavier “Pocahontas”, “they massacred the buffalo…” again triggering our universal shared emotions, and then back to poignancy with “Sugar Mountain.”
This collection is a sweet nostalgic addition to both Neil Young’s catalogue, and the annals of 1970’s music history. And it’s more than a trip down memory lane, it’s a time capsule of a perfectly timeless tour. See about it, right here: https://www.neilyoungarchives.com/