As I mentioned before Neil Young belongs to my favorites in the pop history. Beautiful ballads and rock sound distorted by the old Fender amplifier are shown in his repertoire. The following is one of his best and sadest (in my opinion) ballades, played on the acoustic guitar:
The needle and the damage done
I caught you knocking
at my cellar door
I hit the city and I
lost my band,
I sing the song
because I love the man
I've seen the needle
and the damage done,
Neil wrote this song in L.A. after one of band members died on drugs
The one who's interested is invited to read his biography
Neil Young is the chameleon of rock music. No one else has changed style and approach as often and surprising as this man. The most important thing for him has always been to keep the artful expression and not stardom itself. As Young himself said in a 1985 interview : "I just hate being labeled. I hate to be stuck in one thing. I just don't want to be anything for very long. I don't know why. I just want to keep moving, keep running, play my guitar". This is the story of Neil Young's career so far and his 42 records.
Neil Young was born in Toronto, Canada on the 12th of November 1945, he is married to Pegi Young and one of his interests is collecting model trains.
In the mid-fifties, Young discovered rock 'n roll music and with his first semi-professional band, The Squires, he started playing this kind of music. But then he got interested in folk music thanks to among others Bob Dylan. He couldn't get any gigs in Toronto, so he decided to form the Mynah Birds, a rock band inspired by R&B (rhythm and blues). This was in 1964. Of course, this band was also history almost instantly. Young left his friends in the hope of getting some gigs in Los Angeles, where he met some persons including Stephen Stills. The new band was called Buffalo Springfield. They took this name from some steamrollers, doing roadwork in the streets. The nameplates of these steamrollers had just two words - Buffalo Springfield. In the years 1966 - 1968, they made three records and were considered one of America's best '60s bands. Young already showed that his songs could not be described as only fitting one certain style. "Mr. Soul" and "Broken Arrow" are songs that Young still performs live. At this time he started questioning his rock-star life with groupies and a lot of drugs. Everything went too fast and therefore, Young decided to go solo in 1969. Most people would at this point avoid trying new musical ways, but not Young. His first solo album Neil Young included country and classical instruments and this made his next move hard to predict. Young was at this time checking out a local band known as The Rockets. He liked the way drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot and guitarist Danny Whitten played - they weren't technically advanced at all. Instead, it was the spontaneous, instinctual, sloppy guitar- driven approach that made Young include them in a new band - Crazy Horse. In 1969, their first album - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was released, and if it hadn't been for Young's characteristic voice, you would hardly recognise him by now. "Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Down By The River" were breaking new ground for extended guitar epics with almost a jazzy feeling to it. Many musicians have been inspired by this kind of guitar playing and it was important for Young's coming songs well. The album also included "Cinnamon Girl", a song that managed to be both hard and catchy. The album is still by many people considered to be the stuff of a genius. It is definitely not an ordinary, well- produced, mainstream kind of album. His biggest memory from that time was that he traded his old guitar for a black 1956 Les Paul. This is the guitar he still uses today and that gives him his special spiky, gritty sound, almost decayed. Of course he has also given the guitar a name : Ol' black.
In 1970, he joined Crosby, Stills and Nash which naturally became Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Stephen Stills, his old companion from Buffalo Springfield, was one part of the band. The others were David Crosby and Graham Nash. With this band, Young got millions of new fans throughout the world, particularly with the lovely ballad "Helpless" from the album Déjà Vu. These kind of songs gain power thanks to his voice - He sings in a thin, longing voice. The pitch of his voice is exceptionally high. He is able to give a lovely and painful feeling at the same time like no one else. (Young recorded yet one studio album with this band, but that was not until 1988.)
The solo album After the Goldrush from 1970 was a Top Ten album. Young had now various kinds of songs and the album managed to appeal to different kinds of fans as well. With tuneful folk and country ballads as well as the guitar epic "Southern Man" this album gives a good insight into Young's work. Young wanted to record with Crazy Horse again, but Danny Whitten had got hooked on heroin. Instead, he teamed up with The Stray Gators, a group of Nashville musicians, and recorded his best selling album of all time - Harvest (1972). Here you find the well-known ballads "Heart of Gold" and "The Needle and the Damage Done" but also "Words" and "Alabama", which sounded very much like the low-down songs of Crazy Horse. "Alabama", with its lyrics : "I come to you and see all this ruin, what are you doing Alabama? You got the rest of the union to help you along, what's going wrong?" made the band Lynyrd Skynyrd write "Sweet Home Alabama" in protest. Young's first arena tour was not to be what he had in mind, because Danny Whitten then took a drug overdose and died. In Young's words : "That fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible". So, devastated and with a feeling of guilt, he went on a tour. The live album Time Fades Away (1773) from that tour finds him singing in a tremulous voice. Young means that he could have made a perfect follow-up to Harvest, but he simply was not interested in releasing an expected album.
He rather lost a lot of people while changing style. The next tragedy was that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's roadie Bruce Berry also died from a drug overdose. Well, suffering creates art : Young started writing songs immediately and then recorded them for Tonight's the Night (1975) together with Molina, Talbot, guitarist Nils Lofgren and steel-guitar player Ben Keith. They all got stoned for the recording. It is a very dark album filled with personal pain, very far from the mainstream and it takes a couple of listenings to get into the mood. Young once said : "What we were doing was playing those guys on their way. Tonight's the Night is like an OD letter. The whole thing is about life, dope and death".
In 1975, he also recorded Zuma, a rock album with Crazy Horse, including the wonderful epic "Cortez the Killer", showing that inspiration still flowed after the loss of Danny Whitten. Comes a Time (1978) is an acoustic folk rock album with beautiful duets, again far from his rock albums in style. Rust Never Sleeps from 1979 might be Young's best album. Starting with slow songs like on After the Goldrush and then ending with angry rockers, this is a perfect album for those who do not know any of Young's work. The album is inspired by punk rock bands such as Sex Pistols. The song "Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)" has incredibly raw, distorted guitars, pounding in the murky depths while Young's voice sails along at a much higher pitch, resulting in a memorable, spooky feeling. This is the song that Kurt Cobain (singer in former Nirvana) quoted in his suicide letter : "It's better to burn out than to fade away". Well, Young certainly had burned out several times, unlike most '60s musicians, who by now had faded away. In fact, Rolling Stone Magazine voted Young Artist Of The Decade. With Rust Never Sleeps, he also introduced his special treatment to some of his most aggressive songs that he masters so well : by doing an acoustic version of the same song, it almost becomes two separate songs, each with a separate feeling offered by his voice.
Even for most of Neil Young's dedicated fans, the '80s was the century when they felt they lost him. This is because many of the albums are experimental and strange. A lack of emotion and of the characteristic longing in his voice is part of the reason. Some of the more interesting albums from the '80s follow here :
Hawks & Dowes (1980) and Re-ac-tor (1981) are rock albums, the latter musically a furious, somewhat out of focus album recorded together with Crazy Horse. In 1982, Young turned to New Wave music, believe it or not. Trans was not very well received by the critics, but for Young, this album means as much to him as Tonight's the Night. In other words - a lot. He really liked the new digital technology which gave him a free expression. Young has two severely handicapped children. Both have cerebral palsy and can not talk. Trans includes electronically generated vocals that try to say something, but you do not know what - this is his struggle to understand his own sons. This was a commercial suicide followed by another one - Everybody's Rockin' (1983), with rock 'n roll music sounding as it did in the '50s! Then, a quick turn into country music again with Old Ways in 1985. His record company Geffen was now tired of his frequent changes in style and sued him for making "unrepresentative music"! Young has said concerning this : "They said, 'We don't know what you're doing. We're scared! We want Neil Young!' That was confusing to me because I thought I was Neil Young. But it turns out that when I do certain things, I'm not Neil Young." This was an anti-creative period, but by 1987 he had returned to his original record company Reprise and in 1989, he started his remarkable comeback with Freedom and the rock anthem "Rockin' In the Free World". New bands such as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. had now been influenced by Young's '70s records. Young didn't yet want to give up his guitar playing ambitions and let others take over. He had not been playing with Crazy Horse since 1985, but in 1990, they recorded the platinum-selling Ragged Glory. This album has a very dirty garage-like sound and Young sings slightly out of key. It fits the so called grunge sound that was new at this time. (That means loud, crunchy guitars far away from the glamour of the '80s). This was almost the sound that Young had invented in the '70s and therefore he has been called "The Godfather of Grunge". He says he's very inspired by Kurt Cobain and for his 1995 album Mirror Ball he "borrowed" USAs best-selling grunge-rock band Pearl Jam as backing band and with them he went on an electric, much acclaimed European tour.
His guitar-driven songs still sound like nothing else. Young gives a good description of his expressionistic guitar excurtions by saying : "I don't think of my guitar solos as guitar solos, because when we play we're like a big band jamming and taking long rides together". He writes some of the most inspired songs in his career right now without sounding like a pale copy of the new bands. As always, he does it his own way, often with tortured noisy feedback endings to his songs. In between Ragged Glory and Mirror Ball, he put the screaming guitar away for Harvest Moon.
in 1992 (a country follow-up to Harvest) and an Unplugged album in 1993. One of the reasons for this was that he got tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears due to too loud sounds).
So, as by a miracle, the legend of rock music is back to his roots after ten years of strangeness. He has many fans throughout the world, and news and rumors are constantly spread on the Internet. Unlike many other artists, his next moves are always interesting and very often unexpected. In a year or two, a retrospective of his entire career will be released, complete with special live recordings. Neil Young still inspires new bands, but you never know what his next move will be, and probably he does not know it himself. This visionary will go where the music takes him, as always.