Neil Young’s 2001 Album Was Toast Until It Wasn’t

Admittedly, this post was predictable, at least to those who know me well. As a longtime Neil Young fan, I just couldn’t ignore Toast. In fact, you might ask, what took me so long? The simple answer is I didn’t want this post to coincide with any other recently published posts.

Toast is yet another album where Neil was, well, Neil. After he had assembled his backing mates from Crazy Horse in San Francisco in 2001 and worked on music for the album, he decided he didn’t like the outcome and scrapped it. Instead, he called back his Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and recorded an album with Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Are You Passionate?

Well, of course, there’s a bit more to the story. This review in Uncut largely unpacks it. In a nutshell, it appears to have been a combination of poor preparation where Young hadn’t prepared any raw material the band could work from, as well as his personal state of mind: His marriage with his second wife Pegi Young (née Morton) was going through a rough patch. Eventually, they got divorced in 2014.

The above Uncut review quoted from Young’s October 2014 biography Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars: “I was not happy with it, or maybe I was just generally unhappy. I don’t know. It was a very desolate album, very sad and unanswered.” Rightfully, Uncut also noted it’s remarkable that Young, nevertheless, ended up using three songs written during the Toast sessions for Are You Passionate?: Quit (Don’t Say You Love Me), How Ya Doin’? (renamed Mr. Disappointment and Boom Boom Boom (retitled She’s a Healer).

The above shall suffice for context. I’d say it’s time to get to some goodies. I should point out Toast doesn’t break any new musical ground. Since I dig the “old Neil”, that’s not a problem for me. All songs were written by Neil Young, except for the opener Quit, which he co-wrote with Sampedro. Let’s start with that one, a mellow-sounding tune that starts with a chorus repeating the phrase, “don’t say you love me” – not exactly cheerful!

On Standing in the Light of Love things get crunchy. Young called it “sort of like a Deep Purple hit” in a piece on his website NeilYoungArchives.com. However you’d like to characterize the tune, it’s the type of Neil rocker I really dig!

Next up is Gateway of Love. Clocking in at 10:11 minutes, it’s the second-longest track on Toast. It kind of has an epic feel to it and in that sense reminds me a bit of Cortez the Killer, one of Young’s best-known tracks off Zuma, another album with Crazy Horse, released in November 1975.

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Boom Boom Boom, which at 13:06 minutes is the longest song on Toast. At about 8:45 minutes into the track, things take an unexpected jazzy turn with trumpet work credited to Tom Brady – obviously, not that Tom Brady. Let the good times roll!

Toast was recorded at Toast Studios in San Francisco, which is safe to assume explains the record’s name. The album was co-produced by Young and his longtime producer John Hanlon. In addition to Young, Hanlon has worked with the likes of Stephen Stills, T-Bone Burnett, R.E.M., Gillian Welch, Dennis Wilson and The Beach Boys. On his website, Young adds that Rick Rubin “was in the control room for a fair amount of time during the recording as a guest.”

The final word shall belong to Neil. “I had forgotten about these songs, put them out of my mind and went on living my life,” he wrote on his website. “It must be said here Crazy Horse shows a depth never seen or heard before on any other Horse recording [CMM – well, I’m not going to argue with the man here, but I could see some folks disagreeing]. For the greatest group I have ever met – CRAZY HORSE, this is a pinnacle. Where they let me go, where they took me, was unbelievable.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Uncut; NeilYoungArchives.com; Discogs; YouTube

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