Homegrown is an unreleased country-rock album by Neil Young. It was so near to being released that a cover had been created. At the last moment however, Neil Young chose to drop Homegrown and release Tonight's the Night instead. Young stated that he had a playback party for Homegrown and Tonight's the Night happened to be on the same reel. He decided to release Tonight's the Night after that listening because of "its overall strength in performance and feeling" and because Homegrown "was just a very down album."
The album was largely acoustic, with many of the songs being solo performances of Young on guitar and harmonica. It was also quite personal, and revealed much of Young's feelings on his failing relationship at the time with actress Carrie Snodgress. Young has said that "Homegrown is the missing link between Harvest, Comes a Time, Old Ways and Harvest Moon."
Over the next few years many of the songs would be released on subsequent albums; "Pardon My Heart" on Zuma, "Star of Bethlehem" on American Stars 'N Bars, "Love Is a Rose" and "Deep Forbidden Lake" on Decade, and "Little Wing" and "The Old Homestead" on Hawks & Doves. "Homegrown" was re-recorded with Crazy Horse on American Stars 'N Bars, as was "White Line" for Ragged Glory. The lyrics of "Florida" were superimposed over the credits for On the Beach on the insert that accompanied the original vinyl release of Tonight's the Night. The song "Barefoot Floors" was covered by Nicolette Larson on her album Sleep, Baby, Sleep.
In early November 1974, Young went to Quadrafonic, Elliot Mazer's studio in Nashville, to begin the sessions for what was to be his next album, Homegrown. The song's bleak title set the tone for much of what was to come.
The song begins in the middle of a doomy chord; Tim Mulligan lunged for the record button just as Young and the band dove into the song. Levon Helm rattles out a slow counterpoint as Ben Keith spins up a stark, bird-on-the-wire steel solo that has to be one of the lonesomest sounds ever recorded. "I won't apologize/The light shone in from your eyes/It isn't gone/And it will soon come back again," sings Young, sounding dead. This was powerful, painfully sad stuff, and it was goodbye.
Throughout December and January, Young recorded both in Nashville and at the ranch, and the songs rolled out hard and fast. Some were stark acoustic performances - "Love Is a Rose," "Love/Art Blues," "Homefires."
Others were cut with a band: "The Old Homestead," a weird allegorical tale with allusions to the Horse.
"Homegrown," a goofy tribute to hemp recorded in a much higher version by the Horse.
"We Don't Smoke It," an inebriated blues vamp that would've sounded right at home on Tonight's the Night.
And a killer "Vacancy," featuring Young mangling guitar and harmonica simultaneously.
In "Try," a faint ray of optimism that perversely followed "Separate Ways" in one running order for the album, Young paid tribute to Carolyn Snodgress by adapting bits of her lingo into verse: "I'd like to take a chance," yelps Young over a rollicking piano, "but shit, Mary, I can't dance."
On December 16, Young recorded the totem song of the period, "Give Me Strength." The lyrics catch him struggling to make the final break from Carrie's web. The bittersweet chorus is Young at his best: "The happier you fly, the sadder you crawl/The laughter in your eye is never all." Nonsinger Ellen Talbot yowled along on harmony, providing a crazy edge more than suitable for one of the last Carrie songs. The sound is almost mystical. Guitar and harmonica, plus luminous overdubs of a tinkling piano and a finger tapping a paper cup, add glimmers of color that come and go. An impressionistic sound, precisely constructed without losing any of its spontaneous feel.
Towards the end of January 1975, Young and Ben Keith headed to Village Recorders in Los Angeles for the final Homegrown sessions, and the results were way, way out. "Kansas" and "Mexico" were solo Young performances — short, fragmentary and hallucinogenic. "Mexico" was reminiscent of Brian Wilson at his ethereal best. "Florida" was some cockamamie spoken-word dream (printed out, for reasons no one can remember, in the booklet for Tonight's the Night), set to the shrieking accompaniment of either Young or Keith drawing a wet finger around the rim of a glass.
Both "Try" and "Star of Bethlehem" would benefit greatly from the overdubbed harmonies of Emmylou Harris, who recalls a few details of the blurry session: "It was me, Ben Keith, Neil and a bottle of tequila."
-All quotes come from Jimmy McDonough's book Shakey.