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How Neil Young Changed the Narrative on One of His Most Successful Years

Released on Nov. 7, 1972, Journey Through the Past remains one of the odder pieces in the Neil Young puzzle. This two-disc set, the soundtrack to a largely inexplicable film of the same name, was no way to cap what was Young’s brightest year as a solo artist.

After all, his Harvest album was one of the year’s biggest sellers, and the hit singles “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold” helped make Neil Young a household name in his own right. Yet, Young – in what might be seen with historical hindsight as a typical move for this endlessly idiosyncratic artist – decided to follow up those triumphs with a confusing soundtrack to movie which might best be described as Young’s loose, experimental take on a documentary.

That said, Journey Through the Past features some interesting moments from Young’s then-relatively short history. Recordings from concert and television appearances by Buffalo Springfield (Hollywood Palace, 1967) and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (a blistering live version of “Ohio”) are among the highlights.

Elsewhere, there are scraps from his solo years – including a 16-minute “Words,” a fragment of “Are You Ready for the Country?” and a partial take on “Alabama” that crumbles away before emerging as “God Bless America,” which is topped off with an excerpt of a Richard Nixon speech. The final side of the set features various classical pieces from the film, ending with the Beach Boys‘ “Let’s Go Away for a While,” a beautiful instrumental from the Pet Sounds album.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Journey Through the Past barely made a dent in the charts – and, to this day, the album remains one of the only Young titles never to be reissued. Time Fades Away, its follow-up, is another glaring omission. The film, however, was released on DVD as part of Young’s Archives box set.

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