Although the latest from Neil Young’s Archives Series comes from a studio session — designated as Special Series Disc 5 — its existence relates to the seven previous Archives Performance Series releases because of its approach. Recorded on Aug. 11, 1976 in Malibu’s Indigo Studios, the solo acoustic performance highlights Young’s gift as a riveting songwriter.
The set up finds him relaxed yet intense, confidently unfolding the complexities of his lyrics and moving between a detached or engaged storyteller who travels back and forth through time to comment on human frailty, man-enacted terror and personal heartbreak. The material becomes linked in history that’s relevant to the day he put these tunes to tape and even today (“Pocahontas” and “Powderfinger”). He offers forgiveness to a onetime enemy (“Campaigner”) and tries to remain positive despite the negative actions of mankind (“Human Highway”). Even when life turns on him, Young strives to move forward (“Give Me Strength”), realizes hard drugs aren’t the solution (“Hitchhiker”) and that, in the end, music is the biggest comfort to ease his troubled soul (“The Old Country Waltz”).
There are a couple of unreleased numbers – “Hawaii” and “Give Me Strength” – but the majority of Hitchhiker came out years later in fleshed-out versions on Decade, American Stars ‘n Bars, Comes a Time, Rust Never Sleeps, Hawks & Doves, and Le Noise. A section of the title track became the chorus in “Like an Inca” from 1982’s Trans. But, viewing the album as demos that would only interest the most rabid of fans does a great disservice to their existence and your potential listening pleasure. The barebones versions here captured by producer David Briggs give the songs additional depth while Young’s stylistic guitar strumming becomes all the musical background needed to be effective.
Hitchhiker is a joyfully old school record that demands your complete attention and should never be played during a commute or as background music. Turn the lights down low, have your beverage of choice nearby, press play or set the needle down and…just…listen.