Hitchhiker marks a pivotal moment in Neil Young’s ongoing series of archival releases: Instead of a live classic-songs set, this is a buried-treasure mother lode – 10 newly unearthed studio recordings, cut in one acoustic session, on August 11th, 1976. Young wasn’t exactly swept up in the country’s bicentennial spirit at the time; now grouped together rather than spread out over later records, the violence-drenched “Powderfinger,” “Captain Kennedy” and “Pocahontas” feel like pointed rejoinders to the whitewashed history offered up during America’s 200th birthday.
He’s in peak lonesome-guy mode on the never-released
failed-relationship chronicle “Give Me Strength.” Another previously
unheard song, “Hawaii,” is a spooky mysterious-stranger ballad. The
take of the Nixon-sympathizing “Campaigner” here includes a newly
relevant verse deleted from the version that appeared on Decade: “The
speaker speaks, but the truth still leaks.” The major find is the scruffy
title song, an unblinking depiction of fame, “neon lights and the endless
nights,” paranoia and cocaine. Young eventually released it on 2010’s Le
Noise, bathed in electric guitar and with a verse about being thankful for
his kids. There was no one to comfort him in ’76: It’s a journey through the
past, but far darker.