Photo: Dutty Vanier
8 Must-See Films At Tribeca Film Festival 2023
Held June 7-13 at various theaters around New York City, the Tribeca Film Festival will feature more than 20 exciting music films — from shorts to documentaries and biopics. Read on for some of the festival's most exciting screenings.
The annual Tribeca Film Festival is jam-packed with critically acclaimed indies, provocative shorts and groundbreaking documentaries — at the 2023 edition, music is at the heart of many categories.
Held June 7-13 at various theaters around New York City, Tribeca Film Festival will feature exciting music films spanning all genres. There are more than 20 music-related screenings at the festival, including shorts and music videos like Lizzo’s Special, alongside films touching on subcultures and insightful biopics about Gloria Gaynor, Cyndi Lauper, Carlos Santana, the Indigo Girls and Biz Markie.
Feature films include Lost Soulz, a drama set to a lo-fi hip-hop soundtrack and starring rapper Suave Sidle; a concert film of Taylor Mac’s musical extravaganza, showcasing three decades of American social history with a 22-piece orchestra and a host of special guests. Also showing is the legendary hip-hop movie Wild Style, and a tense telling of the Milli Vanilli controversy with Frank Farian that ultimately led to the duo’s demise. Some of the featured artists will also perform live following the premiere of their films.
Accompanying the film slate are talks by music stars like Chance the Rapper, Lin-Manual Miranda, Hailee Steinfeld and Diplo, all offering up their individual expertise and industry insights, and screenings of music videos including Lizzo’s Special and Lunarcode’s The Light. A music lounge will also host performances by Tei Shi, Frost Children, LuNika, Habibi and Sussan Deyhim.
Ahead of the festival, GRAMMY.com rounded up some of the most exciting music documentaries and feature films.
Making its world premiere at Tribeca, this documentary takes us behind the scenes of Alicia Keys’ women’s songwriting camp She Is The Music. Directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Beth Aala, this film explores the difficulties of breaking into the music industry as a woman of color.
Keys acts as a mentor, guiding the songwriters through live performances and intimate writing sessions, as well as opening up about the difficulties she experienced coming up. However, it is the camp’s participants who take center stage in this documentary, including Barbados-born Ayoni and Atlanta native DaVionne.
On the night of the premiere, some of the camp’s participants will perform in a show curated by Alicia Keys.
Legendary disco singer Gloria Gaynor shares her life story in this new biopic, charting not only her landmark successes, but her struggles along the way. Since releasing the song that landed her in history books, "I Will Survive," Gaynor’s life was blighted by health issues and her abusive ex-husband. Now, aged 76, she is releasing a new gospel album and we get to come along for the ride.
Gloria Gaynor herself will be performing after the premiere of the doc.
As Jamaicans migrated to New York City in the '80s and '90s, they brought with them a catalog of culture — from music and dance, to food and language. Of particular note was the import of dancehall music, a genre that was elevated in the city and, eventually, across the rest of the country and world.
In this documentary, we get to hear the story of dancehall told through some of the genre’s most recognizable faces: Sean Paul, Shaggy, Ding Dong, Kool Herc and more. Alongside their anecdotes, audiences will view never-before-seen archival footage to help tell the story of how dancehall traveled from Kingston to the Big Apple and how it has inspired generations, including in hip hop, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Following the premiere, there will be a performance by dancehall legends.
This feature film tells the story of Sol (played by rapper Suave Sidle), who joins a hip-hop group and travels across Texas hoping to find himself. He creates, produces and performs with a troupe who are also rappers in real life.
While most of the film is scripted, director Katherine Propper also gave actors freedom and space to improvise. Set to a lo-fi hip-hop soundtrack, the effect is one of hazy comfort and moments that take you by surprise. Lost Soulz is about finding home in whatever form that may be, and seeking to achieve your dreams without knowing exactly what they are.
Filmmaker Alexandria Bombach has adored the Indigo Girls since her early teens, and is part of a global following who are drawn to the folk-rock duo's liberatory music.
In this documentary ode, members Emily Saliers and Amy Ray share their story of success that spans decades of impressive accolades, including selling 15 million records. But it also highlights the difficulties they faced as women and lesbians within a misogynistic and homophobic music industry, and how this seeped into their wider life and work.
Did you know that America's National Anthem is based on an old British song? In this documentary, musicians and producers Kris Bowers and Dahi travel across the U.S. to find out what a national anthem inspired by America’s rich mix of musical genres might sound like.
As they cross the country, they explore and discuss Motown in Detroit, blues in Clarksdale, country music in Nashville, jazz in New Orleans, Native American music and dance in Tulsa, and Latine music in San Francisco. With all this information, knowledge and infusion of cultural expertise, they set about recording a new anthem that aims to reflect the America of today.
Tierra Whack rose to fame at age 15 after a video of her freestyle rapping on the streets of Philadelphia racked up thousands of views. As she became a staple in the rap world, director Chris Moukarbel wanted to document her journey.
He began filming at her concerts and on the set of her music videos to capture the behind-the-scenes journey. One evening, a strange interaction with a fan led Tierra and her team down an unwitting path towards conspiracy theories around the music industry being run by a small group of elites. In this pseudo-documentary, we are forced to question everything: What is real, who is telling this story, and what should we believe?
Taylor Mac is an extraordinary, multipotentialite artist whose extensive theater work includes this condensed version of a 24-hour musical performance filmed at Brooklyn's St. Ann’s Warehouse. It is an attempt to summarize America’s history of music from 1776 to the present day.Taylor Mac is the star of the show, but is supported by a host of other incredible performers, artists, singers, musicians and more. Captured by renowned filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, this is a delectably queer, glamorous and riotous extravaganza.
Photo: Karthik Kher
Global Spin: Relive King's "Good Trip" With This Radiant Performance
New Delhi-based musician King offers a prismatic performance of "Good Trip," a braggadocious track from his newest LP, 'New Life.'
If you walk with burgeoning Indian star King, it's certain to be a "Good Trip."
On Oct. 18, the New Delhi native dropped his most diverse project yet, New Life, via Warner Music India, blending electronic and hip-hop beats with traditional Bollywood melodies. King traverses topics of mental health ("Runaway," featuring Julia Michaels) and ambitious dreams ("CROWN," alongside fellow Indian songstress Natania).
Amongst the album’s most confident tracks is "Good Trip," which King performs in this episode of Global Spin. "I'm the next big thing," King declares before transitioning into Hindi.
King revealed on Instagram that the LP has been in the works since 2019 but was unexpectedly postponed by the pandemic and his breakthrough album, Champagne Talk. "After living and experiencing all this in just two years, I've got to realize everything happens for a reason and this is the actual new life I've been blessed with," he wrote. "Sometimes, being late is being right on time."
Press play on the video above to view King's vibrant performance of "Good Trip," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.
Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Netflix
For Questlove, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Is Crucial For Rap's Legacy
When Questlove worked on the Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs, the experience was so stressful that he lost two teeth. But he didn't balk at the opportunity to co-produce a two-hour special; the task was too important.
Today, Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is correctly viewed as a watershed not just for hip-hop, but all of music. But when Questlove's father overheard him playing it, it didn't even sound like music to him.
"He happened to pass my room while 'Night of the Living Baseheads' came on and he had a look of disgust and dismay, like he caught me watching porn," the artist born Ahmir Thompson tells GRAMMY.com. "He literally was like, 'Dude, when you were three, I was playing you Charlie Parker records, and I was playing you real singers and real arrangers, and this is what you call music? All those years I wasted on private school and jazz classes. This is what you like?'
"I couldn't explain to him: 'Dad, you don't understand. Your entire boring-ass record collection downstairs is now being redefined in this very album. Everything you've ever played is in this record,'" he says. "If my dad — who was relatively cool and hip, but just getting older — couldn't understand it, then I know there's a world of people out there that are really just like, whatever."
That nagging reality has powered him ever since — whether he's co-leading three-time GRAMMY winners the Roots, authoring books and liner notes, or directing Oscar-winning films.
And that path led straight to Questlove's role as a producer for "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," which will air Sunday, Dec. 10, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. ET and 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network, and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Questlove makes no bones about it: working on that 12-minute Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs was taxing. So taxing, in fact, that he lost two teeth due to the psychological pressure. But he soldiered on, and the result is an inspiring rush of a two-hour special.
"The thing that really motivated me — Look, man, roll up your sleeves and run through this mud — was like, if there ever was going to be a hip-hop time capsule, a lot of the participants in this show are somewhere between the ages of 20 and 60, and everybody's still kind of in their prime," he says.
"So that way,” Questlove continues, “in 2030, 2040, 2050, when our great, great, great, great grandkids are born and they want to look up someone, this'll probably be one of the top five things they look up. And I wanted to be a part of that."
Read on for a rangey interview with Questlove about his role in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years of Hip-Hop," in all its dimensions.
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in 2023. Photo: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What can you tell me about your involvement in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?
I could be the guy that complains and complains and complains and complains: Man, I wish somebody would dah, dah, dah. Man, somebody needs to dah, dah, dah. And then the universe the whole time is poking you in the stomach like a dog. You think you're going to be drumming for life — like, that's your job.
So I went through this period where I just hated the lay of the land. And now people are like, "Well, the door is open if you want to come and see if you could change it." And for me, it was just important to.
And at first, I was really skeptical about this because even when I was an artist, my peers all the time would — I say in air quotes jokingly, but it's like, man, I know they're serious — they would just call me a suit. Whenever someone's called a suit in a sitcom or it is like, that's always the bad guy. Or especially for me that's known for all this artistry.
But for me, it's like, I can either just sit on the sidelines and watch this thing slowly kind of go in a direction that I don't want it to go. And often with the history of Black music in America, we're innovating this stuff, but we're really not behind the scenes in power positions to control it or to decide what direction it is. And it's a lot of heartbreaking and hard work.
After the success of the thing that we did in March — that 12-minute revue thing — I'll be honest with you. For 12 minutes that was like going through damn near, and I'm not even using hyperbolic statements by saying, coming out within an inch of my life.
When that moment was literally over and I was on the airplane landing back in New York, two of my teeth fell out. That's the level of stress I was [under]. Imagine landing in JFK and I got to rush to "The Tonight Show," but then it's like, Oh, wait, what's happening? Oh God, no! My teeth are falling out! And going to emergency surgery. My whole takeaway was like: Never again.
So of course when they hit me in July, "Hey, remember that 12 minute thing you did? You want to do the two-hour version of it?" I was like, "Hell no." And of course I hell noed for three weeks and it's like, "All right, I'll do it, but I'll just be a name on it. I ain't doing nothing." And then it went from that to like, "All right, what do you need me to do?"
What I will say is it's a two-hour show in which you got to figure out how to tell [the story of] hip-hop's 50-year totality — its origins, its peak period, its first moments of breaking new ground, the moment it went global around the world. You got to figure out a way to tell this story in two-hour interstitials and be all-inclusive.
It was just as stressful, even up until four hours ago. I'll just basically say that my teeth didn't fall out, thank God. And it was worth everything, because it's really a beautiful moment.
Sorry for that 12-hour answer, but that's just how my life rolls.
It was a great answer. What was your specific role behind the scenes?
So, [part of] my actual division of labor thing was finding people to help facilitate music. This is a genre in which maybe the first six years of the art form, there was no such thing as an instrumental. "Or, "Hey, J.Period, can you recreate 'Check Out My Melody' by Eric B. & Rakim with no vocals in it?"
Finding the right people to do the music, sometimes I'd have to do it myself. And a lot of people in hip-hop have been super burnt. Super burnt. And I mean, that's putting it lightly.
And so you're giving these impassioned, Jerry Maguire, help-me-help-you speeches. The amount of times I was like, "Look, I really want you to reconsider your answer. This is our legacy we're talking about."
I'm using terms that a lot of these people, frankly, are hearing for the first time, Because like I've said in past interviews, hip-hop started as outlaw music. No one thought it was going to be a thing. So there's a whole generation that had to lay out the red carpet, just so that the next generation could benefit from it while we disposed of them.
But then that next generation gets disposed of, and then here comes my generation. And then the next thing, you wake up and it's like, "Oh, we're not relevant anymore," and dah, dah, dah.
And I'm trying to convince people, "Wait, you don't understand. Now we have a seat at the table. Now we get to control. All that we talked about, we need to control our destiny, and this is our culture." And there was a lot of that. And some people [were like], "All right, I'll do it for you." [To which I said,] "No, no, don't do it for me. Do it for the culture."
But then there were also people like, "Man, never again. F— all that." And there was also, "Hey, why wasn't I asked?" and all that stuff. So in these two hours, you're going to see eight to nine segments in which we try to wisely cover every base.
This is the "Lyricist" section, and this is the "Down South" section. And ["Ladies First"] is all about the ladies. And this is for those that passed away. And this is for the club bangers. And this is for music outside of America. And this is for the left-of-center alternative hip-hop.
Yes, we wanted to include everybody, but this is network television. And at that, you only get eight to 12 minutes at a time. So that's even hard. "Hey, why can't I do my chorus and my verse?" "Look, man, you got 32 seconds." If you've ever seen those "Tom and Jerry" cartoons where they're juggling plates in a kitchen — like 30 at a time — I don't recommend that to anybody.
But we got through it. I want everyone to feel proud of where hip-hop has come, because to be nine years old and to get on punishment for hip-hop — you know what I mean? I come from that generation. You've got to pay a price to live this culture.
And now it's established. So that's why I got involved. So there was a lot I had to do. A lot of calls, a lot of begging, a lot of arrangements, a lot of talking to people about clearing their samples, to call up publishing companies: "Look, it's just a four-second segment. It's just one drum roll. Can you please overlook it just for the sake of it?"
The amount of times I had to give those speeches. So yeah, that's what I had to do.
And that's just me. It's nine of us. So there's lighting directions, and choreography, and wardrobe, and dealing with clearance — like FCC, and, "They can't say that." And, "All right, which one of us is going to try to call Snoop to ask him that sort of thing?"
And the amount of Zooms that we were on at five in the morning in the Maldives or halfway around the world.
There must be some component of this process where you recognize that there could never be a perfect two-hour special. There could never be a perfect 200-hour special. There must be something freeing about realizing that nothing can be comprehensive when you're dealing with a cultural ocean like this.
[At one point], I had to take a hip-hop break. And the first thing that I did a week later, after recuperating, was I went on YouTube and I just watched every award show I remember watching — like prime Soul Train Awards back in '87, '88, '89, the years that Michael Jackson was killing the GRAMMYs.
Award shows were so magical to me, when I was a kid. There was a period just between five to maybe 15 or 16 in which I religiously watched that stuff, and you just take it for granted.
When Herbie Hancock did Rockit back in 1983 with all those mechanical break dancers, I wonder the work and the headaches that it took to make that happen. The drummer from Guns N' Roses [was] missing while they had to do "Patience" at the American Music Awards — and Don Henley, of all people, was just on the sidelines like, "Does anyone know how to drum?"
Because the thing was, that was the year they decided, "You know what? This is going to be the first year in which we're going to ask artists to double down on stuff. So we're going to have Rihanna sing three songs, and we're going to have Chris do two songs. We're going to have Justin Timberlake. And then, suddenly, their absence now means that there's five major gaps open.
And they had 40 minutes left before they went to go live and I'm watching the producer make an announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, something just happened. We can't get into it."
The level of viralness now on Instagram or Twitter is expected, but back then it was like, Oh, I wonder what happened? And they're just running up the aisles to Stevie Wonder, "Yo, can you [mimics rapid-fire, inaudible chatter]?"
And I'm looking at him, pondering: What the hell are they asking him? And then Stevie's getting up and doing it, and then, "Jonas Brothers, can you duh, duh, duh? Boyz II Men. Where's Al Green? Is Al Green here?" So literally, I'm watching them solve a headache in real time. And with 20 minutes left, backstage rehearsing, and we were really none the wiser.
I've seen that a few times. My very first GRAMMYs was when Luciano Pavarotti got sick and someone just randomly asked, "Hey, does anyone out there know the lyrics to 'Ave Maria'?" Aretha Franklin raised her hand, and we were all like, 'Wait, we mean the Italian version, like that 'Ave Maria.'" And she's like, "I do know the version."
We underestimated if Aretha Franklin from Detroit, Michigan knew how to sing something in Italian. And within a half hour she was on that stage and she killed that s—.
So it made me literally recapitulate every award show I ever watched.Now I'm watching with the analytical eye: I wonder what headaches it took to put that together? So, it changed me as a spectator and a participant.
I have a friend who's been a dedicated hip-hop fan his entire life. We were talking about the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. He questioned the entire enterprise, arguing that it's an arbitrary number that doesn't mean much to true rap fans. What does the 50th anniversary of hip-hop mean to you, personally?
Well, to me, it's important. There's an interlude that I put on the Things Fall Apart record. The album starts with an argument from [the 1990 film] Mo' Better Blues in which Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes' jazz musician characters are arguing about just the disposability of the art form.
And it ends with a quote from Harry Allen saying that the thing about hip-hop is that most people think that it's disposable: Let me get what I can out this thing, and I'll throw them out the window. And on top of that, people don't even see it as art. And that really hit me in the gut, because I see the beauty of it.
This is kind of why I got into the game of: first it was with liner notes, and then with social media doing these mammoth history posts. And then it's like, Alright, well, let me write some books, because I'm afraid that no one's doing this level of critical thinking about this particular thing.
I know that the disdain and the dismissiveness that I got from some of hip-hop's participants does sort of stem from a place of ego being bruised. And it's righteous. It's righteous anger. But I also knew that if I sat on the sidelines, then it's like when I have grandkids and they Google this, and if it was a half-assed job, then that's my fault. And I definitely don't want to be the guy that talks, talks, complains, complains, without being a part of it.
So yeah, for the amount of people that prematurely died before the age of 30, and for the startling volume of people that have recently passed away in the last three years because of health issues, cardiac arrest, strokes, a lot of us are dying… You and I are talking right now, right when Norman Lear has passed away at the age of 101.
I just read that in The New York Times.
Dude, can you imagine "Tupac Shakur Dead at 103"? Can you imagine that for hip-hop?
It's a survival tool, because for a lot of us, that was the way out of poverty. It was vital for me. I couldn't just sit back and not watch one person behind the wheel. I have to be the designated driver. So, that's why it's important to celebrate that number.
And a big part of my convincing them was like when they were going to pass, like, "Nah, dog, I'm cool. I got a gig that night," I was like, "Dude, we're not going to do this for the 51st or the 52nd. And frankly, will we be here?" I will be 92 years old if it makes it to the 75th. You know what I mean?
The only person that got in my face was Latifah like, "Excuse me, I will be here for the 75th and I will be for the 100th. You don't know when I'm leaving." So I was like, "More power to you, Dana. All right, good. Queen Latifah will be here for the 100th."
What I'm gathering from what you're saying is that no matter what, it's important to have an organization of this prestige canonize this cultural force.
Oh, absolutely. And I know that oftentimes we play the game of public appearances for the gaze of the establishment. I don't want to get into that thing either: making performative celebrations just so that the mainstream can celebrate us.
I have to say that when you watch it, it really doesn't come off as compromised. This thing really looks good. That was the one thing that we laughed at in the group chat, like, "Man, we just went through Apocalypse Now, and are we all saying it was worth it?"
There are at least three people in my production thread that were sort of like, "Uh-huh, never again. I will never again subject myself." And one of them is dead serious. One of them started doing something the opposite, like, "Nah, I'm just doing classical music from now on. There's no stress there." But it was worth it. It was worth it to me.
Questlove in 2023. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
It looks to be a classy, expansive special. I'm excited for it to air.
The best part about it? So if you remember, to me, the star of the 12-minute version that we did at the GRAMMYs in March, was Jay-Z.
It was one of the things where it's like, "Hey, do we even ask Jay-Z?" And that's the one guy we decided ourselves, "Well, let's pass on him because number one, he's already performing with DJ Khaled, so we'll pass on him."
Jay-Z actually wound up being the star of that because he was a fan mouthing it in the audience, which to me was almost like better than us just doing a song with Jay-Z on stage. But the audience is the absolute star.
To see Chuck D smile — I've never seen Chuck D smile. As all these acts are coming out and Chuck D's like, singing <a href="https://www.grammy.com/news/sly-stone-velvet-underground-11-facts-about-grammy-legends">[Sly and the Family Stone's] "Everyday People," like Boston fans sing "Sweet Caroline" at Red Sox games. Who knew that Chuck D was so jovial about things? But that's with everyone in the audience watching, supporting each other.
So that to me is also an important thing because as audience members on stage, they're ripping it, but as audience members, they're supporting each other. And that, I think is the most important part, because a lot of my take was like, "Wow, I didn't know that dah, dah, dah was so supportive." Or, "Man, Nelly actually knows every Public Enemy lyric. Who knew?" There are a lot of "Who knew?" moments that will shock people for this show.
I'm so glad you brought that up. That was one of my favorite moments during the Hip-Hop 50 performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs. Jay-Z is a billionaire twice over and a global cultural figure, but we see him in the audience, grinning ear-to-ear like a little boy, doing finger guns in the air.
He's getting his life back. And it's important. Especially now, I'm all about joy. And it's not even just like this particular hip-hop figure celebrating his music.
When Chance the Rapper comes out, again, I'm like, "Wow, [Cee] Knowledge from Digable Planets knows Chance?" And then I was like, "Well, they got kids, so of course I'm sure their kids play around the house." I'm doing all this analytical things like, "Wait, how do they know this song? And this is past their age range."
And that to me is the most telling part of this whole thing, to watch generational people get out of their actual zone and to find out that they're fans of — when GloRilla comes out, to watch [Digable Planets' Ladybug] Mecca mouth the lyrics. I was just like, "Oh, wow, OK."
That kind of puts to bed that stereotype that we only listen to the music in our realm. So, yeah, man — to me, that was the magic part of it all.
Photo: Gary Miller/Getty Images
Inside Neil Young's 'Before And After': Where All 13 Songs Came From
The folk-rock titan's newest LP is a journey through the past — whether recent or decades in the rearview. But 'Before And After' is far more interesting than just an album of re-recordings.
More than his fragile tenor, knife-twisting pump organ, swarming Old Black guitar, or any other aural hallmark, Neil Young is defined by his dogged, locomotive-like (and somewhat wackadoo) resolve to surge forward. Come hell or high water, Young will continue the mission.
Which doesn't mean innovate, necessarily — even though innumerable contemporary indie and Americana artists owe their livelihoods to him. It's just that the fire he ignited in 1966, when he wrote his first song as a Buffalo Springfielder, remains furiously burning in 2023.
"I don't care. I figured that's why they like it, because I don't care. It's what I have to do. I want to do this," the two-time GRAMMY winner and 28-time nominee told a tickled Zane Lowe last year, while promoting his latest album with Crazy Horse, World Record. "That's why there's 51, 52 albums: because I want to do this, and I can still feel it. I'd be crazy to stop."
All of a year after World Record, Young is back with a new album, Before and After. (Would that be his 53rd? His recent cavalcade of archival releases renders the number hopelessly blurry.)
Before and After, out Dec. 8 is a collection of solo re-recordings of old songs; it shows that even with his foot on the accelerator, he tends to drift into a figure 8. Some tunes, like "Mr. Soul," are classics. Others, like the Trans outtake "If You Got Love," are exclusively recognizable to the real heads.
But despite his litany of stylistic detours, Young's essentially the same musician as when we met him; as such, this sequence is seamless. Which leads to another wrinkle; Young designed Before and After to be an unbroken suite of music.
"Songs from my life, recently recorded, create a music montage with no beginnings or endings," he wrote in a press release. "The feeling is captured, not in pieces, but as a whole piece — designed to be listened to that way. This music presentation defies shuffling, digital organization, separation. Only for listening. That says it all."
And another wrinkle: Although it's not billed as such, there are signs that the album was recorded live, with a few overdubs added in post — which he's done before, on albums like Rust Never Sleeps and Earth. Not only does the tracklist hew closely to the setlists from his West Coast solo tour last summer, but crowd noise is faintly audible in several spots, and the credits declare the recording location to simply be "USA."
As usual with this most mercurial of artists, Before and After seems simple, but there are layers of Youngian mystery. But where these songs initially hail from is no mystery at all. Here's a quick breakdown of exactly what we're hearing on Before and After.
"I'm the Ocean" (Mirror Ball, 1995)
A warts-and-all collaboration with Pearl Jam recorded in record time, Mirror Ball's actual songs have always had a hard time peeking through what Young described as "a big smoldering mass of sound." (Well, except the undeniable, immediate "Downtown" — perhaps the exception that proves the rule.)
But although its songs were written entirely in the span of the four-day recording session, the passage of time and a fair amount of dedicated listening — will bear out their merits. The Before and After version of "I'm the Ocean" is proof positive: What sounded a bit like an interminable garage-rock workout reveals itself to be a "Thrasher"-esque folk epic.
"I'm not present/ I'm a drug that makes you dream/ I'm an aerostar/ I'm a Cutlass Supreme," Young evocatively sings. "In the wrong lane/Trying to turn against the flow/ I'm the ocean/ I'm the giant undertow."
"Homefires" (Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972-1976, 2020)
No doubt, it was a treat to hear Homegrown, one of Young's whitest whales. Recorded in 1974 and '75, it was shelved until Young finally released it in 2020 — the tip of the spear for a lot of unreleased material in its wake.
But for those steeped in Young lore, it seemed like there was a lot missing: where's "Give Me Strength"? Where's "Frozen Man"? Where's "Homefires"? Clearly, he didn't forget about the latter; there's a perfectly lovely version here.
But take it under advisement to seek out the original recording, which is deliciously vibey and aching as so much early Young music was.
"Burned" (Buffalo Springfield, 1966)
All these decades on, the bond between Young and his Buffalo Springfield/CSNY partner Stephen Stills is ironclad: if nothing's changed since early 2023, the musical brothers still get together to jam every Wednesday.
Young's devastated, precocious "Burned," from the eponymous first Springfield album, has lost none of its sting; it's downright thrilling to hear Young lay into it. Buffalo Springfield may have come out 57 years ago, but burned out on these tunes he is not.
"On the Way Home" (Last Time Around, 1968)
The studio recording of the yearning "On the Way Home" always felt a little incongruous with its sunshine-pop production; the solo, acoustic version on 2007's Live at Massey Hall 1971 always seemed like the take.
While that possibly remains true, this version acts as a worthy bookend, the after to the before: "Though we rush ahead to save our time/ We are only what we feel," Young sings, summing up his entire career.
"If You Got Love" (dropped from Trans, 1983)
Decades of snickers later, the electronic Trans has been redeemed in the critical aggregate.
It was never a thumbed-nose, label-baiting genre excursion like some of his other '80s albums. Rather, it was an honest response to parenthood of a nonverbal son. (And, it must be said, his burgeoning love of — bordering on a fixation on — Devo.)
While outtake "If You Got Love" lacks the aggressive vocoder of its Trans brethren, it remains shockingly commercial and soft-rock for this artist: Young himself called it "wimpy."
While your mileage may vary on the OG version, Young's Before and After take corrects that perception; performed alone on his trademark, rickety pump organ, reveals it to be blindingly pure and simple, a harbinger of Young's hymnlike, borderline childlike material in the new millennium.
"A Dream That Can Last" (Sleeps with Angels, 1994)
The largely muted Sleeps with Angels might be the most underrated album in Young's catalog. In terms of evocative songcraft, brooding atmosphere, and smoldering performances from Crazy Horse, it belongs near the top of the heap.
Two of its highlights are its bookends, both on sonorous tack piano: "My Heart" and "A Dream That Can Last." And this version sounds as emotionally naked as its predecessor, as Young revisits his vision of heaven: "The cupboards are bare, but the streets are paved with gold."
"Birds" (After the Gold Rush, 1970)
This slightly deeper cut from After the Gold Rush has followed Young around forever; perhaps the simplicity and companionability of this piano ballad has rendered it timeless.
And as always, it's moving to hear a 78-year-old Young still drawing power from something he sang as a twenty-something in coffeehouses.
Indeed, lines like "When you see me fly away without you" feel poignant in light of the numberless friends and loved ones — many indispensable to his creative arc — that Young has said goodbye to. When comparing original Horseman Danny Whitten to steel guitarist Ben Keith to his ex-wife, Pegi Young, "Birds" still feels elegiac to the maximum.
"My Heart" (Sleeps with Angels, 1994)
The aforementioned "My Heart" kicks off Sleeps with Angels with capacious canyons of silence and windswept lyrics: "When dreams come crashing down like trees/ I don't know what love can do/ When life is hanging in the breeze/ I don't know what love can do."
In reverse order, these two Sleeps with Angels tunes still carry potency and import — although nothing beats the dramatic arc of the original album, which all Young fans must seek out if they haven't.
"When I Hold You in My Arms" (Are You Passionate?, 2002)
Eyeballing the title, this writer figured "When I Hold You In My Arms" was a deep cut from Storytone, his 2014 paean to new love — and now wife and frequent collaborator — Darryl Hannah.
Rather, it's from 2002's Are You Passionate?, Young's curious team-up with Booker T. and the MGs. (Before tracking that one, a handful of its songs — some under different names — ended up on the long-shelved Toast, which Young finally released in 2022.)
But it could just as easily exist on that album-length tribute to new love: "When I hold you in my arms/ It's a breath of fresh air/ When I hold you in my arms/ I forget what's out there." And that's partly what renders this deeper-than-deep cut still resonant on Before and After.
"Mother Earth" (Ragged Glory, 1990)
Back in 1990, the chief ecological concern arguably wasn't global warming, but the hole in the ozone. Still, "Mother Earth" feels prescient — not only due to current climate woes, but as per Young's catalog itself, which has come to be saturated with climate-centric songs.
But Young's topical songs have always been most powerful when they sound deeply personal, too — and this fragile, organ-led version of "Mother Earth" sounds like a devotional by the Lorax.
"Mr. Soul" (Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967)
Like fellow Buffalo Springfield stone classic "Burned," "Mr. Soul" still feels bluesy and badass, best delivered with a heavy dose of spite. (Young's solo version on 1991's Unplugged, for which he was in the mother of bad moods, is stormy and unforgettable.
The kinder, gentler version on Before and After, though, is no less indispensable, for how ancient it sounds behind the organ — as if Young dredged it from the earth as a young man and it shines eternal.
"Comes a Time" (Comes a Time, 1978)
The ambling "Comes a Time" and its attendant, eponymous album have always been fan favorites: that rootsy 1978 album is where Young crossed a rubicon of earned maturity.
And despite Young's declaration that "I don't want to come back and do the same songs again" on said West Coast tour — if, in fact, this was drawn from that — "Comes a Time" feels like a requisite greatest hit. Which doesn't mean it's not good to hear it — quite the opposite.
"Don't Forget Love" (Barn, 2021)
Young bringing out an aged and grizzled Crazy Horse for three albums in a row — 2019's Colorado, 2021's Barn and 2022's World Record — might come across as a declaration to rawk.
But paradoxically — as Young has always been — these albums have featured some of the most restrained performances by the Horse since Sleeps with Angels.
Colorado concluded on a whisper-light note with "I Do," and Barn does the same, with the dreamlike "Don't Forget Love," performed here on upright piano.
These 13 songs may span seven decades, but Young is immutably Young — and if he gets to add more decades of work to his voluminous songbook, he will remain so. That's the thing about this prestige artist: most of us celebrate the Before, but the After is arguably even more interesting.
Source Photo: Nadav Kander; Graphic Courtesy of the Recording Academy
Sony Music Publishing Chairman & CEO Jon Platt To Receive GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons Honor At The Pre-GRAMMY Gala During GRAMMY Week 2024
Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, the renowned Pre-GRAMMY gala, hosted by the Recording Academy and Clive Davis, returns Saturday, Feb. 3, where Sony Music Publishing Chairman and CEO Jon Platt will be honored as the 2024 GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honoree.
The Recording Academy’s GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honor celebrates the music industry's leading lights and biggest supporters. Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Sony Music Publishing Chairman and CEO Jon Platt will become the latest honoree.
The GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honor is awarded during the invitation-only Pre-GRAMMY Gala, an annual celebration hosted by the Recording Academy and music industry icon Clive Davis that takes place the night before the annual GRAMMY Awards. Held on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, and sponsored by Hilton, IBM and Mastercard, the Pre-GRAMMY Gala has become one of the music industry's most distinguished events for the innovative and influential creators and professionals it draws. Jon Platt is certainly among them.
"One of the most influential figures in the industry, Jon has consistently set the bar for leadership in music," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said in a statement. “His ongoing commitment to equity, his dedication to quality, and his advocacy for artists across all crafts and genres have been an inspiration to music leaders everywhere. We look forward to an incredible evening dedicated to honoring his incredible impact.”
“Jon Platt is one of the music industry’s most illustrious leaders and I am thrilled that he will be this year’s Salute to Industry Icons honoree,” Clive Davis said in a statement. “Jon’s longtime trailblazing commitment to supporting songwriters across the music spectrum as well as his staunch dedication to advocacy, diversity and equality in the music business are exemplary. Artists and the industry at large are fortunate to have his insight and passion at the helm.”
Since his appointment as Chairman and CEO of leading global music publisher Sony Music Publishing (“SMP”) in 2019, Platt has worked to revitalize the company’s Songwriters First mission. His efforts have focused on emphasizing service and transparency at every level, prioritizing equity, and reshaping the company’s administration services.
During Platt's tenure, Sony Music Publishing has strengthened both its legacy and its future, creating historic partnerships with songwriting legends like Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Ashley Gorley; signing the next generation of superstars like Olivia Rodrigo, Jack Harlow, Latto, Anitta, Central Cee, Kane Brown, and the Kid LAROI; and delivering opportunities for DIY creators through a landmark deal with BeatStars.
Throughout his career, Platt advocated for fair compensation for songwriters. Under his direction, Sony Music Publishing has focused on improving the lives of songwriters by putting more money in songwriters’ pockets, and getting that money in their pockets sooner. In an increasingly global music business, the company has also expanded its leading presence internationally into India, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Reflecting Platt’s commitment to artist development and his long-held belief that it’s better to grow hits than to chase them, SMP has built out its services for songwriters and composers at every stage of their careers. Songwriters Forward — a global initiative — has seen SMP providing mental health and wellness support to its roster through the Songwriter Assistance Program. SMP’s Legacy Unrecouped Balance Program has offered new financial opportunities to legacy songwriters. And SMP has provided over $1 million in grants to working songwriters in collaboration with organizations such as the 100 Percenters, Songwriters of North America (SONA) and Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI).
Jon Platt’s career in the music business began in the mid-‘80s, when, as a DJ in his hometown of Denver, he was credited with breaking records from Public Enemy and Arrested Development in the Midwest. He brought the same passion for spotting hits-in-the-making to his career in music publishing, signing and collaborating with some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B, including Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Drake, Rihanna, Pharrell Williams and Usher. Platt is widely credited for elevating how hip-hop and R&B artists are respected and compensated as songwriters.
Platt has consistently shared his belief in building a music business every bit as diverse as the music it represents. He has increased diversity across senior leadership teams throughout his career, and supported the development of a pipeline of female executives with SMP’s global Women’s Leadership Program. His commitment to equity and inclusion extends to empowering the next generation of songwriters and composers with initiatives like SMP’s Screen Scoring Diversity Scholarship at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
Platt previously served as chairman & CEO of Warner Chappell and led the company’s turnaround. He also spent 17 years at EMI Music Publishing, where he cemented his reputation for recognizing icons-in-the-making by signing Jay-Z on the release of his 1996 independent debut album, Reasonable Doubt.
Platt sits on the boards of Berklee College of Music, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Motown Museum, Living Legends Foundation, and the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), and his numerous recognitions include City of Hope’s prestigious Spirit of Life Award, SONA’s Warrior Award, NSAI’s President’s Keystone Award, SESAC’s Visionary Award, Billboard’s Power 100, Variety’s Variety500, and Morehouse College’s Candle Award. In 2005, he launched The Big Jon Platt Scholarship Program for college-bound students from his Denver community in Montbello.