In honor of his 76th birthday today, November 12, we are taking a look at the grunge masterpiece by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Zuma. Although Zuma would not be the first album album that first pops into the heads of most listeners for the best Neil Young album, Zuma should definitely be in the conversation. Although not as popular as the fan favorites Harvest or After the Gold Rush albums, Zuma has stood up well through the years and truly defines why Neil is referred to as ‘The Grandfather of Grunge’.
Overview of Neil Young and Crazy Horse Zuma Album Review Overview
Zuma is a name from Aztec origin meaning Lord of Frowns in Anger... Well Neil definitely hit the nail on the head with the name of the album. Zuma has to be one of the most emotionally bleak albums that Neil Young has released. That is saying something considering Neil Young has never been known for being an upbeat and optimistic song writer. would be first to come to mind when thinking of the best Neil Young album. To understand and truly appreciate Zuma an understanding of what Neil Young had recently went through. First he was still recovering from the loss of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten who passed away from an alcohol/diazepam overdose in 1972. The passing of Whitten caused the band to go on hiatus in1972.
During the time away from Crazy Horse, Neil put out a dark trilogy of albums without Crazy Horse (Time Fades Away, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. By 1975 Young and Crazy Horse were ready to to reunite and brought in Frank Sampedro on guitar. Having Sampedro as part of Crazy Horse sharpened and amped up the sound versus the earlier free-form approach of Whitten. His technique is tailor-made for the gritty rocker tracks on Zuma. The playing of Sampedro complemented the lead guitar from Young perfectly. You can still hear the influence from the Zuma album in a lot of the grunge acts that formed in the late '80s and '90s.
Album Flow and Tracks
Honestly everything on the album works so well together and there is virtually no filler tracks. My only change would be the track "Through My Sails" which features Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s supporting vocals. I love the song but it felt like it was added to the core tracks to fill out the length to the album and did not belong on Zuma.
Right from the opening track, "Don’t’ Cry No Tears", on Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Zuma we know we are in for a treat. The country rock ballad features fullness and harmonic density of the guitars and gives us a glimpse into Neil's thoughts and feelings after the breakup from his girlfriend, Carrie Snodgrass. "Well, I wonder, who’s with her tonight? / And I wonder, who’s holding her tight?”
Track two on the album is one of the highlights from the album, "Danger Bird". We get another glimpse of Neil's past relationship with Snodgrass as he delves into her infidelities. Take a listen to the lyrics, ‘Cause you’ve been with another man / There you are and here I am”. The song is set to an ambient feel to music with the full band enters with crashing guitars at several points.
"Cortez the Killer" Highlights the Zuma Album
The other highlight track on the Neil Young and Crazy Horse Zuma album is "Cortez the Killer". It is a is a formidable beast of a track where the lyrics don’t start until 3:23. Musically it is similar to "Danger Bird" but lyrically is the flip side of the coin. The song also features one of the best solos by Young. To this day we can still hear the influence of "Cortez he Killer" in a lot of grunge and alternative releases. Take a listen to "Pink Stream" by Sonic Youth and you will hear what I am saying.
The end of "Cortez the Killer" ends with a fade. This was due to a power surge during the recording causing the original cut to stop abruptly resulting in the final verse not being recorded. As opposed to being upset, Young's reaction to hearing the verse did not get captured was that he "never liked that verse anyway".
Neil Young and Crazy Horse Zuma Review of Packaging
Zuma is a regular nominee on atrocious album cover lists everywhere. It's a good thing the songs were outstanding as the cover was not going to sell many records. The cover-art for Zuma was sketched in less than 10 minutes by Crazy Horse member James Mazzeo. Done in ballpoint-pen, the cover has a rendition of a bird and a naked lady flying over a cactus flipping them both off.
Luckily we are treated to similar artistic visions on both the inner insert along with a doodle of the bird and woman flying over a boat on the back cover. Although bad, over the years I have gotten uses to the image and have kind of come around to appreciating it in some demented way.
The original Zuma LP was released on the Reprise 'steamboat' label and is a single disc.
Sound / Mastering / Pressing Quality
I have owned the majority of the Zuma vinyl pressings over the years along with the original US CD release. Since I have only had the original CD I will not go into much detail comparing it to other releases. As with most of Neil Young releases, I do not imagine you can go wrong with any choice. If you are looking for a CD copy of Zuma there are tons available and they are inexpensive in most cases on the usual outlets.
If you are looking for an original vinyl pressing of Zuma, my first choice is the 1975 US Reprise with the textured cover (1C/1E lacquers). Again, you cannot go wrong with any of the '70s era Reprise albums. Neil always took a personal interest making sure he got the best-sounding mastering on most of his releases.
If you are looking for the best and and my favorite pressing for Zuma, take a look at the 2016 remaster done by Chris Bellman. He really knocked it out of the park on the remaster with Bernie Grundman. The packaging of the release features the textured cover & printed inner sleeve like the original and is on 140 gram vinyl. I do wish they would have included a second disc with the original mastering.
Purchase the 2016 Remaster of Neil Young and Crazy Horse Zuma
Chris Bellman’s master really brings out more focus and energy on the guitars. Listening to the second track "Danger Bird" we can hear a focus of Billy Talbot's bass that was not as clear in the original. The lead guitar clarity is amazing on the track as well, we can hear Young strumming and can tell he is using his thumb as opposed to a pick during early stages of the song.
The other thing you will notice on the 2016 reissue of Neil Young and Crazy Horse Zuma album is the background vocals. Bellman brings them forward on songs like "Pardon My Heart". Talbot and Molina’s background vocals on this track are more clearly separated than on the original master. On the “Through My Sails” track the Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s supporting vocals is another good example as they are richer and more distinct in the remaster than they appeared on the original.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Cortez the Killer" (2016 Remaster) Video
Neil Young Danger Bird Live Video
Neil Young and Crazy Horse Zuma Track List
Don't Cry No Tears
Pardon My Heart
Lookin' For A Love
Cortez The Killer
Through My Sails
2016 vinyl remaster
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music||4.0/5|
|The Great Rock Discography||8/10|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide||4.5/5|
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||9/10|
Release Date: November 10, 1975
Label: Reprise - MS 2242
Recorded: June 16, 1974 – August 29, 1975
Studio: Broken Arrow Ranch, Redwood City, CA and Pt. Dume, CA
Producer: Neil Young, David Briggs:
Neil Young, Tim Mulligan on tracks "Pardon My Heart," "Lookin' for a Love," and "Through My Sails"
Mastered By: George Horn
Neil Young – vocals, guitars, piano
Frank Sampedro – rhythm guitar (all tracks except "Pardon My Heart" and "Through My Sails")
Billy Talbot – bass (all tracks except "Pardon My Heart" and "Through My Sails"), backing vocals (all tracks except "Through My Sails")
Ralph Molina – drums (all tracks except "Pardon My Heart" and "Through My Sails"), backing vocals (all tracks except "Through My Sails")
Tim Drummond – bass ("Pardon My Heart")
Stephen Stills – bass, backing vocals ("Through My Sails")
David Crosby, Graham Nash – backing vocals ("Through My Sails")
Russ Kunkel – congas ("Through My Sails")