Recorded at the Universal Ampitheatre & Record One Studios, Los Angeles on November 18, 1986
My theory is that pretty much every hardcore Neil Young fan has at least one album during Neil’s lost decade that they will totally stan for.
I’ve already mentioned how Tim loved Trans from the start, and Sherilyn has always gone to bat for 1986’s Landing on Water, and Doc has proclaimed his fandome Everybody’s Rockin’ and I’m sure even Old Ways and This Notes For You have their adherents.
But me, I love Life, the weird-ass album he made in 1987 with Crazy Horse. While the “& Crazy Horse” made it seem like a “back to basics” record, Life kept the overly 1980s sound that had permeated (and for me, ruined: I like Steve Jordan, but it was weird that his snare drum was the loudest thing on the album) 1986’s Landing on Water, with the news hook being the three garagey songs that opened up side two: “Too Lonely,” “Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Cryin Eyes.”
And while those songs were fine, I kept finding myself attracted to the opening tune, “Mideast Vacation” which has a terrible sound, stupid sound effects, bad politics, a confusing narrative and is a reminder that Ralph Molina doesn’t need a huge echo on his drums.
So with Molina lumbering around a martial beat, Frank Sampedro playing a moaning synth, and sound effects left over from “Shots,” “Mideast Vacation” tells the story of a reckless operative.
I used to watch “Highway Patrol”
Whittling with my knife
But the thought never struck me
I would be black and white for life
I was raised on law and order
I a community of strife
Became a restless boarder
And I never took a wife
But I kinda love how Neil — who had infamously expressed enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan — gets into character here, especially when he wraps his vocals around “I never took a wiiiiiiiiiiife,” which is why he had time for other pursuits.
I went looking for Khaddafi
Aboard Air Force One
But I never did find him
And the C.I.A. said: “Son
You’ll never be a hero
Your flying days are done
It’s time for you to go home now
Stop sniffing that smoking gun”
It’s here where Neil plays his first guitar solo, wrapping long sweeping notes around the beat and all of the synths. It’s not very long, but it breaks up the narrative, so maybe you might not notice the retcon of the third verse:
I was travelling with my family
In the Mideast late one night
In the hotel all was quiet
The kids were out like little lights
Then the street was filled with jeeps
There was an explosion to the right
They chanted “Death to America”
I was feeling like a fight
Once again, I love his singing on this: you can tell he’s playing a character, and you can tell he’s having some kind of fun doing it, too. But I gotta ya Neil, what family? In the first verse, your man says he never took a wife, so — especially considering the family values politics of the right in the 80s — what kids?
Not, of course, that it matters: “Mideast Vacation” is a profoundly silly song, but every single time Neil cranks out his guitars, it doesn’t even matter. He hadn’t played any kind of crazy guitar on record since Re*ac*tor, and so it was quite welcome, even if things didn’t turn out so well for our hero.
So I ran downstairs
And out into the street
Someone kicked me in the belly
Someone else kissed my feet
I was Rambo in the disco
I was shooting to the beat
When they burned me in effigy
My vacation was complete
I’ve always found “Rambo in the Disco” equal parts stupid and hilarious, and should point out that i doesn’t matter cos after this verse, his guitar is bombs bursting in air and rioting in the street, as “Mideast Vacation” stumbles towards its fade.
You’d be well within your rights to hate this song, of course, but during that long hot summer of 1987 it was the first song I’d truly loved from Neil for well over a half of a decade, and as such I figured I had to include it here, and should point out that Neil liked it enough to put it on the decade-spanning Lucky 13 compilation.
“Mideast Vacation” live in San Francisco, 1986
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