40 Years Ago: Neil Young’s ‘Journey Through the Past’ Album Released
Released on Nov. 7, 1972, ‘Journey Through the Past’ remains one of the odder pieces in the Neil Young puzzle. The album was the soundtrack to the film of the same name, which might best be described as Young’s loose, experimental take on a documentary. The LP was released in late 1972, which was Young’s brightest year as a solo artist. His ‘Harvest’ album was one of the year’s biggest sellers, and the hit singles ‘Old Man’ and ‘Heart of Gold’ helped make Young a household name in his own right.
In what might be seen, with historical hindsight, as a typical ‘Neil’ move, he decided to follow up those triumphs with this confusing soundtrack to the even more inexplicable movie. The two-LP set features some interesting moments from Young’s then relatively short history. Concert and television appearance recordings from 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 ‘Alabama’ that crumbles into a rehearsal take of the same, before melting into ‘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 and winds up with the Beach Boys‘ ‘Let’s Go Away for a While,’ a beautiful instrumental form the ‘Pet Sounds’ album.
The album barely made a dent in the charts, and to this day, ‘Journey Through the Past’ remains one of the only Young titles never to be re-issued on CD. It’s follow-up,’Time Fades Away,’ being another glaring omission from his catalog. The film, however, was released on DVD as part of his ‘Archives’ box set.
This would not, obviously, be the sole questionable step Young would make through his career, nor would it be the last odd film he would make, (‘Human Highway’ anyone?!), but it represents a strange twist in the ever fascinating road Young has traveled all these years. Questionable moves are made along the way, but for every ‘Greendale’ and ‘Journey Through the Past,’ there’s a ‘Ragged Glory’ and ‘Tonight’s the Night.’ Doing the obvious is so often just plain boring, Young knew that then, and knows it to this day, long may he run.