Joel Goldenberg: The Y and Z list

Neil Young at Farm Aid in 2013.

We have now reached the end of our multi-year series on Retro Roundup's favourite individual songs of artists and bands from A to Z, and our final installment includes the Y and Z lists.

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The Yellow Balloon: A member of this group, Gary Zekley, wrote the song that has the same name as this group. Dean Torrence, of Jan and Dean, released the song first under the Jan and Dean name, initially in a low-fi garage-band sounding version and then in a clear, more professional sounding recording that should have been a big hit. The Yellow Balloon's own version is charming, and has extra lyrics, but the clear-sounding 1966 Columbia Records J and D version is my personal favourite. But any version is pure sunshine pop bliss.

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Yes: Progressive rock isn't my favourite genre. Also, Jon Anderson's vocal style is not a favourite of mine — nothing personal, of course. But I have one piece of advice: Play their big hit Owner of a Lonely Heart on a Dolby Pro-Logic II sound system, Music setting, with five speakers.

You're welcome.

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Young-Holt Unlimited: If music conjures up images, then this instrumental group's big hit Soulful Strut conjures up the feeling of a day at a beach on a beautiful, hot day. One of the greatest horn arrangements of all time.

The song was also released with a vocal by Brunswick Records labelmate Barbara Acklin under the title Am I the Same Girl. I like her version, which uses the same instrumental track, as much as the instrumental, although the beach imagery aspect kind of disappears when there are lyrics to focus on.

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Neil Young: Probably Canada's most interesting musical export. Like David Bowie, Young seems to be in a constant state of experimentation, switching genres from release to release — soft folk, hard rock, pure country, electronic music, rockabilly, bad 1980s rock (the execrable Landing On Water album), which proves he can alternate from sublime to frustrating one year to the next.

My introduction to Young was with the classic 1977 3-LP set Decade, which includes some of his most significant songs, and some then-unreleased, as a solo artist, and with Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young;  the Stills-Young Band; and accompanied by the wonderful band Crazy Horse. That led me to the wonderful, crazy, aggravating journey with his other LPs. Here are my favourites from Young's whole career.

Down to the Wire: An intriguing psychedelic track, a Buffalo Springfield outtake and a great way to start Decade.

Mr. Soul: From the Buffalo Springfield Again album, the best from that group. One of Young's most aggressive psychedelic tracks, and it has echoes of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction. Although the song is best known for its stereo mix, the mono single mix has a beautifully grungy sound. From the same album, check out the epic-length Broken Arrow — a very eerie song.

On the Way Home: One of Young's most accessible songs, with a great horn part — except that Young doesn't sing lead on it, at least initially. It's on the final Buffalo Springfield album, Last Time Around, and is sung by group member Richie Furay. Neil later sang it lead in concert.

Cinnamon Girl: The best, tightest riff-heaven song from Neil's time with Crazy Horse. I actually prefer the mono single mix, though, where late Crazy Horse member Danny Whitten's voice almost dominates as he sings with Young. For those who prefer Young's longer jams with Crazy Horse, check out Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand.

Midnight on the Bay- Sublime pop, with Stephen Stills as the Stills-Young Band.

• Okay, I'm cheating again. Get Young's 1970 album After the Gold Rush. It's a perfect LP, like the Who's Quadrophenia and Who's Next, Led Zeppelin's fourth album, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, etc, except Young's album is far more understated — kind of like the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society.

Soldier and Philadelphia: These songs were recorded some 22 years apart, both for movies (the first for Young's own movie Journey Through the Past, the second for the Tom Hanks drama Philadelphia. To me, both songs have that same mournful, beautiful sound and are extremely understated and better for that.

And now to the very brief Z list:

John Zacherle: I love the sly humour of the horror spoof Dinner With Drac a great deal more than the overplayed similar spoof Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett.

Nothing personal.

The Zombies: The vocals and instrumentation on this British Invasion group's hits felt literally like a breath of fresh air, in terms of their softness and lushness. Their most familiar songs are Time of the Season, Tell Her No and She's Not There, but my favourite is their insistent and uncharacteristically aggressive cover version of Little Anthony and the Imperials' usually soft Goin' Out Of My Head. Another great song is the eerie and psychedelic Changes, from the Odessey (yes, this is the way it's spelled) and Oracle album. Funny enough, I first heard this song when it was played before the Beach Boys' 50th anniversary concert in 2012.

Next time: A detour into video — Porky Pig 101.

 

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