Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fred Neil

Given to the footnotes of his music career, Fred Neil really did things his way.  He basically a folk singer from the start but if you listen deep into his songs you can actually hear what he was thinking about.  He didn't care much for the New York lifestyle and even on his signature song Everybody's Talkin  he'd rather be sailing down in Florida, something that he would eventually do and pretty much silenced his career.

Fred only released four proper albums.  Tear Down The Walls with Vince Martin, Bleecker And MacDougal, Fred Neil aka Everybody's Talking and Sessions.  TDTW is mostly Martin but when Neils takes over on side 2 things begin to come together.

Bleecker And MacDougal is considered his overall best album, with the original version of The Other Side Of This Life and Little Bit Of Rain as highlights.  Somehow Capitol Records decided to sign him up and Fred Neil, despite Everybody's Talking showing Neil doing things his way.  Adding electric guitar and drums did bring some rock elements into the mix but it's still a mostly folk album. There's a ragged feel even to the hits of The Dolphins, and Talkin', these two songs enabled Neil to live a comfortable life from here on out. The jazzy feel of Green Rocky Road, the blues of Sweet Cocaine and Neil's views of New York life that he was beginning to tire (That's The Bag I'm In) and the 8 minute jam that follows Green Rocky Road, showed that he ran out of songs and rather jam a while.  One or two proper songs and Fred Neil would be a better known classic. 

Even then Neil was set in his ways and on Sessions you can hear his producer Nick Venet getting a bit frustrated on the two long songs that close out side 2.  Sessions sounds like the songs were done in one take, for better or for worse.  At best Neil does one of the slowest and coolest versions of Please Send Me Somebody To Love, but on the other hand, Look Over Yonder and Merry Go Round simply are just boring, when Neil shouts out a line, he's basically trying to wake himself up.  The problem with one take songs is that if they go over 7 minutes they lose the listeners soon after.   The half live, half studio The Other Side Of This Life concludes Neil's music career, doing things his own way, even telling Howard Solomon to shut up after Roll On Rosie before going into The Dolphins.   Interesting cameos by Les McCann (Come Back Baby) and Gram Parsons (Ya Don't Miss Your Water) but overall an uneven album.  Collector's Choice Music issued all of the Capitol albums plus some unreleased material as The Many Sides Of Fred Neil, basically all of his Capitol sessions plus an 45 with The Nashville Street Singers.

There isn't many best ofs out there.  Rev Ola took a shot of his recordings and so did Raven but the one label of interest Fallout, compiled some of his late 50s and early 60s attempt at rockabilly with Trav'lin Man, which featured his 6 singles recorded for various labels (Epic, ABC Paramount, Look, Brunswick). There's a connection between Jack Scott and Buddy Holly, especially on the Brunswick sides. The teenie bopper of You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry and Rainbow And A Rose reveals a side of Neil we would rarely see (and with good reason) but Four Chaplains is the song that reveal Neil's going more of a folk direction despite pedestrian vocal arrangements.  These collection of singles have been reissued on various other labels and different names (Passion, Funny Secrets).  If you're looking for the folk side of Fred, this is not the one to go to, but if you're into hearing Fred trying to be the next Buddy or Jack, it's worth a listen but not something you'd play on a regular basis.

Neil dropped out to live his life on saving the dolphins down in Coconut Grove Florida and would not record anything new.  There have been rumors of a couple live recordings that Columbia Records sat on and Neil would only come out for very rare hometown appearances, and Neil would pass away from skin cancer in 2001.   But even for a folk singer Neil did things his way and if the record label didn't like it, so be it.   The best overview is Do You Ever Think Of Me, which Rev Ola/Cherry Red does pick Neil's best known and loved songs. And Bleecker And MacDougal and Fred Neil are the best studio albums.  As long as radio keeps playing Everybody's Talking, by Nilsson, the memory of Fred Neil will be kept alive.  He may have a disdain for record labels and producers but he did process one of the most recognizable bass vocals in music history.  And he was a fine songwriter.

The Albums:

Trav'lin Man-The Early Singles  (Fallout 2008) B 
Tear Down The Walls (Elektra/Collectors Choice 1964) B-
Bleecker And MacDougal (Elektra/Collectors Choice 1965) B+
Fred Neil aka Everybody's Talkin (Capitol 1967) B+
Sessions (Capitol 1968) C+
The Other Side To This Life (Capitol 1969) B-
The Many Sides Of Fred Neil (Collectors Choice 1998) B+
Do You Ever Think Of Me-Best Of (Rev-Ola 2003) A-
Echoes Of My Mind (Raven 2005) B+

The Sky Is Falling, I think is Rev-Ola's version of The Other Side To This Life, therefore I didn't include it in the discography.

In 2006 Water Records did issue the Capitol albums as stand alone albums.
Funny Secrets (Mocking Bird 2012)  and Passion (Ludoxx 2012)  is the same album as Trav'lin Man. 

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