Little Wing / The Old Homestead / Lost in Space / Captain Kennedy / Stayin' Power / Coastline / Union Man / Comin' Apart at Every Nail / Hawks and Doves
by Jeff Connelly
Of his popular hit "Heart of Gold," Neil Young wrote, "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch; a rougher ride, but I saw more interesting people there." The same can be said for Hawks and Doves, Neil Young's first album following his phenomenally successful Rust tour. He heads straight for the metaphoric ditch, following his muse rather than striving for commercial success.
This album is the first in his string of eclectic, experimental (self-indulgent? - you be the judge) eighties records. Side one has a spare, at times eerie sound. Unusual for a Neil Young album, the first track, "Little Wing," is practically a throwaway; perhaps it leads off so the album doesn't start overly dark. (Yeah, I know, you've got three words for me: Tonight's the Night). "The Old Homestead" dates back to 1974. Neil will often hold onto a song until he feels the time is right to release it, and it is the only track on the side with instruments other than Neil's guitar and harmonica. The song has a ghostly, Band-like feel to it, helped by the presence of Band drummer Levon Helm. The darkness of "Homestead" is countered by the relative whimsy of "Lost in Space" (featuring a guest vocal by a Marine Munchkin). The side ends with "Captain Kennedy," which lyrically would fit on a Tom Waits album, and both lyrically and musically evokes an image of Neil singing in a candlelit room with people lying about, smoking grass, and staring up at the flickering ceiling.
Side two, in contrast, has a bright, country flavor and a full band. The omnipresent fiddle player would later tour with Neil in the International Harvesters. Most importantly, Neil sounds like he's having a lot of fun. Lyrically, the songs are much more direct - "Stayin' Power" and "Coastline" are love songs, while "Union Man" and "Comin' Apart at Every Nail" are more political, though the most pressing matter at the meeting in "Union Man" is the issuance of "Live Music Is Better" bumper stickers. Hey, first things first. The album ends with Hawks and Doves, which today Neil probably couldn't sing without making it ironic. (We'll ignore for the moment that he is originally from Canada). It's a burst of hey-we're-in-the-greatest-country-in-the world patriotism, right in tune with the beginning of the Reagan Era. Though I'm not a patriot in the classic sense (I prefer to think of myself as a Biafran neo-patriot), the song never fails to pick me up and make me smile. Had it been issued as a single and successful, it probably would stand today as a popular patriotic country anthem for those who find Lee Greenwood boring.