Neil Young has been and continues to be a big musical influence to me as a listener and a songwriter. I don’t think that makes me unique. I was first exposed to Neil Young through my childhood friend Elwood Morris (aka ‘Woody’), and in fact I’ve documented this in my song “Listening To Neil” on the Small Town Dreamer album.
The first Neil Young album I ever owned was Decade, a ‘greatest hits and near misses’ album. Back in the days before the internet you would often hear (and love) songs on the radio without knowing who the artist was or sometimes even what the song was called. So it was always fun to pick up a new album and then find those songs. I was thrilled to learn that ‘Heart Of Gold’ was on the album, as my Dad would always proudly crank that song on the car radio when it came on. There were plenty of other songs on the CD that I’d heard before and it got me to thinking ‘hey this Neil guy’s pretty good!’.
It was also really fun to discover new songs, and two that stuck out to me after the first two or three listens were ‘Tired Eyes’ and ‘Love Is A Rose’. ‘Tired Eyes’ because it was so raw, and unusual with almost spoken-word kind of delivery; not quite rap, but not quite singing either. ‘Love Is A Rose’ also had a very raw feel, recorded with a standup bass and acoustic guitar (and dirty harmonica) sounding like it was knocked off in one take (it probably was).
What’s strange about ‘Love Is A Rose’ is that it was never officially released other than on Decade (making it one of several ‘near misses’ on this compilation). It’s an outtake from the never released ‘Homegrown’ sessions. Some of those unreleased works did end up on other albums: you can find ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and ‘Homegrown’ on American Stars n’ Bars, but others like ‘Love Is A Rose’ and ‘Deep Forbidden Lake’ only ever found a home on Decade.
Linda Ronstadt (who had sung harmonies on ‘Heart Of Gold’) picked up on the song and recorded it herself. I suspect she drawn in by the great hooky melody and the playful (but oddly piercing) lyrics; “you lose your love when say the word ‘mine’ “. This version of the song was released on Ronstadt’s Prisoner In Disguise album in 1975. Interestingly, Linda’s release of this song predates Neil’s, whose own version was finally released on Decade in 1977.
I’m usually not a fan of cover songs, but Ms. Ronstadt and co. do such a great job on this one. Whereas Neil’s version is raw and simple (and beautiful), Linda’s version is much more produced and unabashedly countrified. It has it all: banjos, harmonica, violins, three part harmonies, a decidedly solid (almost plodding) drumbeat and finally a nice a capella section. It is so well produced that it comes dangerously close to being ‘cheesy’ and in fact, after my first listen I hated it! But I gave it another try, with an open mind, and I’ve come to really enjoy it. Two very different approaches to the same song and I think both work equally well.
Have a listen … and see if you agree!