Ragged Glory by Neil Young (with Crazy Horse) turns 30 today. Thirty years old! I remember walking into a store that is long gone in a town that was my home (but I’ve now lived longer anywhere else) to buy this on a format that was long ago dead and buried until a bit of hipster fetishism gave it the world’s weirdest revival (the cassette tape).
Ragged Glory has always been a sentimental favourite – I’ll usually call it my favourite Neil Young & Crazy Horse record, stopping short of calling it my favourite Neil Young album. But it’s easily the Young record I’ve heard the most. It has all the hallmarks of a sentimental favourite – it’s not the one that most people name straight away and it was the first album I bought by Young. The one that made me a fan.
It’s sloppy, messy, and brilliantly espouses a key Young-ian philosophy: That passion should rule over precision. It really has endured too. Love to Burn and Love and Only Love, the album’s two ten-minute guitar workouts are regularly in any live set, have been across the last 30 years really – and are staples of Crazy Horse shows for sure; as important in their way as Cinnamon Girl or Cortez The Killer. Mother Earth and F*!#in’ Up have often been in there too. Up to 60% of the album has been on offer on the regular as part of live shows.
It also arrived in the middle of Young’s great comeback-announcement, his spiritual rejuvenation, his ascendance to Godfather of Grunge.
After a 1980s that saw the wilful behaviour that had his own record label sue him for not making music that was representative of what they thought they were buying when they signed him and to this day is shorthand for artistic suicide as the ultimate form of creative expression and doggedness to never conform, Young released Freedom. A record that is unlike anything else in his catalogue in that it presents a veritable ‘all sides’, protest and folk songs, angry and acoustic, punk and country – Crazy Horse and solo. It’s the spirit of the late-70s Rust Never Sleeps/Live Rust era after a decade of perverse wandering. It was followed a year later by Ragged Glory – and then the tour that captured highlights from both albums alongside some of the very best versions of Crazy Horse classics (Cortez, Like A Hurricane, Powderfinger) was captured with Weld, a ferocious, cobweb-shaking live album from a deaf-making tour where Sonic Youth at the peak of their commercial powers and cultural cache was the opening act.
Neil Young was 45 – and he was a hip granddad.
He was also my new hero. And though I’d come to realise I had heard a few of his hits on the radio growing up I saw him sing Freedom’s Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World and Ragged Glory’s Mother Earth on a late-night TV concert (to free Nelson Mandela) and was struck by his energy. I had to know more. Had to find out about this guy.
An avid Guitar World reader at the time, I found a review of Ragged Glory, five-star, two-page spread. Remember reviews? Remember magazines? I clipped it and took it to the tape-store to make my pocket-money purchase.
And that was it. The red Walkman was given a new workout – Ragged Glory lit up. Country Home was the opener. Seven sublime minutes that meant nothing but signalled everything: A glorious (and ragged – and raging) sound from a band having fun, getting loose, not out for anything other than the power and fun and feel of ripping through rockers.
I was a teenager. Just. And Ragged Glory was everything. A link back to the great music Young made in the 70s – which I would discover quickly – but in line with the grunge rockers just around the corner for me and seemingly everyone: Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth’s commercial peak…
And it’s always been everything for me ever since.
I can’t say I tire of Neil Young but I do sometimes give the biggest parts of his catalogue a rest. Ragged Glory is the one with a forever day-pass. Special dispensation. It’s the Neil Young album I play the most when I’m in the throes of a new run of obsession. But it’s also the one that gets to go around and around when I don’t feel like listening to anything (else) by him for a bit.
It’s a mixture of jams and a few old songs that were never recorded – I found a bootlegged performance of Days That Used To Be from the 70s, White Line all trashed up and urgent here was eventually released to the world in its first version earlier this year – as an acoustic track on the mid-70s shelved recordings that made up Homegrown.
Farmer John, Ragged’s lone cover is a non-hit wonder from a 60s garage band. It is so throwaway. But it’s so utterly vital. As much as anything else on the record it shows the very spirit, the spit and feel, the energy and the urgency – mates having a blast in the shed out the back, plugging in the guitars and rocking out like they’re 15 again and forever.
And that’s what is so exhilarating to me about Ragged Glory.
Over and Over. The churn of it all. So wonderful.
I’ve never not loved this album.
And that doesn’t happen all that often. Favourites grow tired. Growers are growers and sometimes slow to show. Other records are love-hate affairs, time/place. But Ragged Glory is forever. It feels like the first time ever chance I get to play it.
Happy 30th Ragged Glory.
Don’t Spook The Horse!
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron