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Neil Young’s Solo Debut Album Showed Hints of His Potential

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By 1968, Neil Young was well into his musical journey. After first steps in his native Canada with the Squires, the singer-songwriter headed for California, where he’d find kindred spirits in Buffalo Springfield. But the ever-restless Young would soon move on again.

Young released his self-titled solo debut on Nov. 12, 1968 — his 23rd birthday. The LP features many of Young’s future trademarks, including biting guitar work and his signature vocal style. But within that context, he also uses a variety of colors to paint one of the most distinctive records in his long, storied career.

It all kicks off with “The Emperor of Wyoming,” a country-style instrumental that launches into “The Loner,” which remains one of Young’s greatest songs and one of the earliest showcases for his signature sound. The beautiful ballad “If I Could Have Her Tonight” follows, taking a cues from his Buffalo Springfield work.

Meanwhile, the underrated “I’ve Been Waiting for You” features one of Young’s greatest arrangements, especially the instrumental centerpieces — like the fuzz guitar. It’s one of the album’s most potent, and unheralded, tracks.

The LP ends with “The Last Trip to Tulsa,” an epic that clocks in at more than nine minutes. A dynamic narrative piece that revolves around Young’s voice and acoustic guitar, the song builds as its story unfolds, making it one of his most engaging numbers and a fitting conclusion to his solo debut.

Top session musicians like Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche (as well as seasoned Wrecking Crew vets Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine) help out on the album, giving songs like “The Old Laughing Lady” jazzy and baroque touches. Backing singers Merry Clayton (who provided the searing vocals on the Rolling Stones‘ “Gimme Shelter”) and Brenda Holloway add a soulful touch to Neil Young, lending it a style and sound that’s unlike any other album in the artist’s stuffed discography.

The album came out with no name or title on the cover — just a simple color painting of Young. The perpetually fussy singer-songwriter was unhappy with the record’s original mix — which used a new and relatively untested technology — so he had the LP recalled. It was re-released the following year in a new, artist-approved mix. So in more ways than one, Young’s solo debut set the template for things to come.

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