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The Story of Neil Young’s Soulful Misstep ‘This Note’s for You’

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Neil Young was already having a pretty lousy decade when This Note’s for You was released on April 11, 1988. It didn’t start out that awful, with the folksy Hawks & Doves and the Crazy Horse album Re-ac-tor in 1980 and 1981, respectively.

But things quickly took a turn for the worst, first with the robot record Trans, followed by the rockabilly goof Everybody’s Rockin’, the boring country record Old Ways, the going-through-the-motions Landing on Water and the going-through-the-motions-with-Crazy-Horse Life. Then came This Note’s for You.

Falling somewhere between a big-band record and a soul album, Young’s 17th LP, credited to Neil Young & the Bluenotes, employs a horn section that sounds more like a scrappy bar band than a tightly formed unit. Curiously enough, they miss many notes on the record, leaving many fans to wonder if the LP was a tribute or satire. It could go both ways.

In songs like “Ten Men Workin’” and the title track, which spawned a hit video that won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the Year, Young and his group roll through the music with casual authenticity that occasionally doubles back for a wink or two. Most other times, they merely tear through the songs with little regard for its surroundings or history.

Like most Young albums from the period, This Note’s for You tanked, making it to No. 61 before quickly disappearing. The title tune received some airplay, mostly because of the success of the video, which parodied ‘80s pop stars and commercial product placement. Young eventually had to change the Bluenotes moniker after ‘70s R&B star Harold Melvin, who led a band called the Blue Notes, sued; the record was reissued without their name. Not that it mattered much, because few people heard or bought the album. Young finally rebounded from the ‘80s the next year, releasing Freedom and sparking his most creative era since the late ‘70s. This Note’s for You put an end to this dubious genre records phase once and for all.

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