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Neil Young: Songs for Judy

review young x1 cong

Recent Neil Young live albums can sometimes be of the “I guess you had to be there” kind: the recording is not the same as the actual event, and even for die-hards, they can be a bit meh.

Songs for Judy is different. Young’s guitar tech and tour photographer Joel Bernstein taped live shows from Young’s 1976 North American tour from the mixing desk (with permission) for his own enjoyment. Later, he and journalist Cameron Crowe sorted through recordings of the tour, made during a golden era of productivity, and painstakingly compiled a mix of the best recordings of each song.

Bernstein and Crowe were music geeks and spent hours listening to different versions of each track, to pick the best. The mix was professionally processed and recorded onto cassette tapes, one each for the two men and one each for the roadies who’d let them stick wires into the mixing desk each night.

The roadies were told never to share or copy the tapes … but one lost his and it leaked out as a bootleg, known as The Bernstein Tapes. Long circulated among fans, it is known as the definitive document of Young’s acoustic show. (On the tour, he played an acoustic half and an electric half, but Bernstein and Crowe were purists who only recorded the acoustic half).

The combination of Young in his prime and the geeks’ selection of the best recordings mean this is a treat of a live album. Young is relaxed and chatty, and the songs flow freely.

The title comes from Young’s surreal ramble about seeing Judy Garland in the orchestra pit carrying some sheet music. “How’s the business, Neil?” she asked.
“The band had found an excellent combination, that included at least Tequila and marijuana, with which to commune,” report the sleeve notes, adding that a 1am start for the show probably helped Young’s imagination, too.

Surreal chat aside, Songs for Judy includes many of Young’s most loved songs, including Harvest, After the Gold Rush (dedicated to “all the freeways here in Texas,”) Needle and the Damage Done, and A Man Needs A Maid.

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