Recorded at Modern Recorders, Redwood City, on June 17, 1981
So we’re gonna zip through most of the 1980s, if you don’t mind. When in his biography, Shakey, it was revealed that the cerebral palsy diagnosis of Neil Young’s second son Ben affected at least his first three records of the 1980s, it all kind of made sense.
At the time, of course, it was baffling: following up Rust Never Sleeps with 1980’s half-folk, half-country Hawks & Doves seems like a typical move on paper, but neither the songs or the focus were there for the record to make much sense, and of course, back in 1982, Trans made no fucking sense at all.
In between, however, was 1981’s Re*ac*tor, which was recorded in swaths while Neil & Pegi worked on an eighteen-month program for Ben that left him with only four hours in the afternoon to record leading to a group of songs that had all of the surface grit and grime that Crazy Horse had uncovered on the second half of Rust Never Sleeps, but none of the depth. Or as Robert Christgau put it: “Got loads of feedback. Ain’t got no takeoff.”
There were some exceptions: “Southern Pacific” was a legit great song that it turns out was served better by the International Harvesters (foreshadowing!) and the mindless repetition of “Rapid Transit” & (yes even) “T-Bone” were both fun if you turned your brain off and listened to the guitar tones. But it didn’t really feel like a Neil Young & Crazy Horse album the way that Rust Never Sleeps or Zuma did.
The album’s one true triumph was “Shots,” which combined fierce guitar, a snare-heavy beat from Ralph Molina, and sound effects that were just this side of annoying, which were created by Young on a synthesizer called a Synclavier.
I hear shots, I keep hearing shots
I keep hearing shots
I hear shots
There are a lot of words on “Shots” but the above is really all I know, as I’m continually distracted by all of the machine gun sound effects and crashes, not to mention a lead guitar that is so distorted some of it is probably leaking into another dimension entirely.
That said, “Shots” hasn’t exactly had a long lifespan: the only live version I could find on YouTube was an acoustic version from 1978, making me think that he’s never played it live with Crazy Horse. Of course, they didn’t tour together again until 1986, by which time Re*ac*tor was long in the rear view mirror.
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