Nils Lofgren

TrackAlbum
I Came to DanceI Came To Dance
Keith Don't Go (Ode To The Glimmer Twin)Acoustic Live
No MercyNils
Rock Me At HomeI Came To Dance
Damaged GoodsDamaged Goods
Can't Get Closer (WCGC)Cry Tough
Cry ToughNight After Night
Ancient HistoryNight Fades Away
If I Say It, It's SoNils Lofgren
Just Because You Love MeOld School

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

There is an argument that Nils Lofgren is the guitar hero’s guitar hero. Let’s not forget he’s an accomplished piano player too. As well as having a highly successful solo career, Lofgren has played with some of the greats of rock music, but more of that later. There is a plethora of solo albums to consider and talk about, and, as ever, a distillation to just ten songs has been a difficult task.

I suppose I became aware of Nils Lofgren through listening to Nicky Horne on Capital Radio whose show ‘Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It’ was my motivation to get my homework complete by 9pm. Probably the 1976 release Cry Tough was the first album I heard tracks from, but I Came To Dance was the album that really grabbed my attention. The ten could quite easily have been five songs from each album, as it is there are two from each.

Nils Lofgren toured the UK in early 1978 to promote the album I Came To Dance supported by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In April the tour arrived at the Hammersmith Odeon and I had cut the full page advert from Melody Maker, put it on my bedroom wall and used an orange pencil to highlight the date.(My mother saw it and twirled around my bedroom singing the headline ‘Nils Lofgren is coming to dance’). And what a date it was – everything we expected and more, including the guitar playing acrobatics; Lofgren had been a competitive gymnast at High School.

Given the gig was to promote the album, I Came To Dance opens this selection. I love the exuberant opening of the song with the drums and cymbal, the strings and brass and the message in the lyric, including:

I’ll play guitar all night and day
Just don’t ask me to think.

This is a song that makes me smile throughout.

Lofgren formed his first band Grin in 1968 – that’s for another toppermost – and after meeting Neil Young the trio lived at Young’s home in Laurel Canyon for a while. The then 17 year old Lofgren joined Neil Young’s band and played on the albums After The Gold Rush and Tonight’s The Night. Indeed, in 2008 Lofgren recorded an album of Neil Young songs under the title The Loner – Nils Sings Neil. Lofgren was a member of Crazy Horse and played on their eponymous first album. In parallel, Grin did not achieve success and Lofgren embarked on a solo career in 1974.

Nils Lofgren released his first solo album in 1975 which includes Keith Don’t Go (Ode To The Glimmer Twin) that has been interpreted as a message to Keith Richards not to join others of his generation and overdose on drugs and/or alcohol. In addition to the studio track, there are many fine live versions on record but I kept returning to the live album Night After Night that was recorded on the tour that I saw one night of for the Topper Ten. The album also contains If I Say It, It’s So from the ten, a fine piece of rock and roll with a great guitar lick.

In 1979 Lofgren released Nils that included two tracks co-written with Lou Reed. To the exclusion of the co-writes on the album, No Mercy which opens the album with sound effects recorded at Madison Square Garden was always going to be in this collection. The song tells of a challenger for a Boxing World Title and how by the end of the fight it’s meaningless. I’m no boxing fan but I’m not sure all fighters would agree with the sentiment. However, it is another great song from the pen of Nils Lofgren. A boxing metaphor appears in Rock Me At Home from I Came To Dance which tells the archetypal story of the rock ‘n’ roll wife left at home with a trademark Lofgren guitar lick.

In 1986 Lofgren joined Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and he has worked with Springsteen consistently ever since. There was then a six year sabbatical in his solo recording. From ‘part two’ of the solo albums, in 1995 Lofgren released Damaged Goods from which the title track is as good as anything that came before, if the voice is deliberately a bit raw.

Jumping back to 1976 and Cry Tough I could have had any or all of the nine tracks from the album which features the legendary P.P. Arnold (see toppermost #178) on vocals. In the end, after multiple listens, I chose Can’t Get Closer and a live version of the title track from Night After Night.

Ancient History from Night Fades Away (1981) is a rare angry song and is a bitter message from the jilted guy to the new love in a former girlfriend’s life.

But mister you’re a fool
And you will face that hungry gun.
And when she finally sets you free
You’ll be filed ‘Ancient History’.
And you’ll be filed right next to me,
Next to me.
Ancient History!

Nils Lofgren’s last release of original material was in 2011 and the album Old School which sits well with the older material. We end with another good old love song to put a smile on your face; Just Because You Love Me does exactly what it says in the title, as a message to he or she who knows you best.

In 2014 Lofgren curated a limited edition 10 disc retrospective covering his entire career and includes some songs previously only available as downloads from his website, two of which made my final 15.

My ten are all original compositions. In addition to his tribute to long-time friend Neil Young, Nils Lofgren has peppered his albums with a sprinkling of quality covers; indeed Goffin & King’s Goin’ Back is a staple of live shows. Here are five as a taster – the last two are included in our Nils Lofgren spotify playlist:

For Your Love – Cry Tough
It’s All Over Now – Wonderland
Goin’ Back – Night After Night
Only Love Can Break Your Heart – The Loner
Anytime At All – Night Fades Away

Nils Lofgren official website

Nils Lofgren biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #386

1 Comment

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Nov 25, 2014

    Keith Don’t Go has also been interpreted as begging Mr Richards not to go back to Toronto in the late 70s to be tried for heroin possession. The initial more serious charge of trafficking carried a possible sentence of life imprisonment which would have put a damper, one might say, on the Rolling Stones’ activities. While my failing memory is sure it has heard Nils add the words “..to Toronto..” to the song on occasion, it was of course released around two years before Keith was arrested by the RCMP.

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