Neil Young Tells the Story Behind New Archival Album ‘Hitchhiker’ (Watch)

Neil Young is perhaps the most avid and thorough self-documentarian in music history, who in this century has not only dropped new or archival albums at a rate of two per year, he’s even announced plans to release virtually everything he’s ever recorded online.

Yet he’s just as much of a perfectionist, sitting on recordings for decades before deciding, for whatever reasons, that the time is right to release them. What is most remarkable about many of these recordings is how great they are — he launched his “Neil Young Archive” series with a mind-blowing 1970 set with Crazy Horse recorded at New York’s Fillmore East — and “Hitchhiker,” recorded solo in a single night in August 1976 at Malibu’s long-shuttered Indigo Studio, accompanied only by producer David Briggs and friend/actor Dean Stockwell — just might be the best yet.

Out on Sept. 8 but currently playing on NPR’s First Listen, the album finds Young playing 10 new songs, eight of which would be release in different versions over the ensuing years. Yet here they’re as pure and direct as possible, new songs rendered entirely by their author, with no studio or musical embellishment beyond the guitar or piano with which Young accompanies himself.

Young recalled the session, posting a wobbly video on Facebook early Friday of him reading a long remembrance at the studio of Colorado public radio station KOTO.

“The idea I had at the time was to present these new songs in their purest and most simple form, just as they had been written,” Young says, citing the influence the music of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and others had on him.  “These influences remain with me today.”

“I was excited to put these tunes down, really feeling good about the session,” he continues. “I smoked a little weed with Dean and we settled into the small room where I would play acoustic and sing.” He talks through the setlist, which is presented on the album in the order the songs were recorded, noting that three of them had been attempted for his then-latest album with Crazy Horse, the 1975 classic “Zuma.”

After the title track, he notes. “You may be able to hear the drugs kicking in here.”

He concludes by saying: “I was advised to record the songs with a band, but the ‘Hitchhiker’ versions are the true originals, recorded earlier than any versions you may have ever heard, and I always knew the original album would find its place and surface. That time is now. A long time, a long wait, but worth it — this music is the essence of those times, pure and undisturbed, just as it was 40 years back.

Characteristically, Young finishes on a cryptic note.

“Some have noted after hearing this that this recording may be a high-water mark for me heard to match. Yet here we are, 40 years later, and the visitor will arrive soon with his own ideas.”

Whether that’s a hint at his next project or simply a red herring remains to be seen.


Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music

    As Woodstock Turns 50, the Fest's 10 Most Sacred Music Moments (Watch)

    Cars were left abandoned along the New York Interstate. Electrical and speaker systems fuzzed and popped. Amps blew then went silent. The rain was endless as the mud sank deep and rank. Young children ran naked and dazed through crowds of strangers. Food was scarce. Water, unclean. Looking back, Woodstock seems a more apocalyptic, than [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]


    Jay-Z to Acquire Ownership Stake in NFL Team (Report)

    Jay-Z will soon acquire a “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team, TMZ reported on Friday. The team was not disclosed, but a source told the site the deal will happen in the “near future,” adding that the billionaire rapper “wants to continue to be a change agent for the NFL.” Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation, [...]

  • Blake Shelton, Trace AdkinsCMA Music Festival

    Blake Shelton Takes a Shot at 'Old Town Road' in New Single

    Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins have just released a duet, “Hell Right,” that seems to have a beef with “Old Town Road.” But is it a light-hearted, maybe even affectionate slam — or should anyone read culture-war significance into the two country stars expressing a preference for Hank Williams Jr. over Lil Nas X, the breakout [...]

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

  • Teddy Riley Walk of Fame

    From Blackstreet to Hollywood Blvd. as Teddy Riley Receives a Star on the Walk of Fame

    Many musical artists are responsible for hits, whether recording and writing for themselves or producing smashes for others. Teddy Riley’s got the success, having fashioned platinum-plated R&B works for, and with, Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson, Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh and more since the mid-’80s, not to mention the music of his own slick soul [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content