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

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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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