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Music: Neil Young

"Old man, look at my life —
I'm a lot like you were."

"My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It's better to burn out than to fade away
My my, hey hey"

Neil Young (1945-) is one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the 20th century. He has written and performed numerous hits throughout The Sixties and The Seventies and had a major comeback during The Nineties. He's best known for his solo work, but was also a member of Buffalo Springfield. He's also performed with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, albeit on an irregular basis.

His style changes often, with his albums falling into blues, acoustic folk, rockabilly, jazz, and even electronic. He is sometimes called the Grandfather of Grunge, as his music and harsh, noisy guitar playing had a strong influence on both the bands that would later popularize that genre (Nirvana, Pearl Jam) as well as Alternative Rock in general (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.). Young is also adept with many different instruments, though is best known for the piano, harmonica, and guitar.

Though well-known in America and currently living in California, Young is a Canadian citizen and wishes to remain so. Ironically, he has been very vocal about American policies and politics, and is a well-known liberal activist. He is also an active philanthropist, having founded The Bridge School and the benefit concert, Farm Aid. He is also a sometime engineer-inventor, whose most recent projects are a prototype electric car and the PONO music system which plays extremely high-resolution digital sound.

Not to be confused with Young Neil.

He/His Work Contain Examples Of:

  • After the End - After The Gold Rush paints a very striking and saddening image of this trope.
  • Age Progression Song - "Sugar Mountain"
  • Album Title Drop - "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" for Rust Never Sleeps. By proxy, "Cortez the Killer" (in which Montezuma is mentioned) for Zuma.
  • Answer Song - Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" was written to complement "Sugar Mountain".
  • Artist Disillusionment - "Don't Be Denied"
  • The Band Minus the Face - Crazy Horse's albums without Young.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins - Neil wore them while he was in the Buffalo Springfield, but insists he has no Native American ancestry that he knows of. He has written many songs about Native Americans and is an official member of the Muckleshoot tribe in Washington state.
  • Breakup Breakout - After Buffalo Springfield split.
  • Canada, Eh?
  • Car Song: Long May You Run, performed in collaboration with Stephen Stills, an elegy for his first car, a 1948 Buick Roadmaster that broke down in 1956 in Blind River, Ontario. He performed it again during the last episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien on January 22, 2010, and a few days later, at the closing ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, as the Olympic Flame was being extinguished.
    • Fork in the Road, released in 2009, is a whole album of Car Songs.
  • Career Resurrection - Freedom.
  • Cluster F-Bomb - "Fuckin' Up". Neil says he wrote that as an attempt to get a Parental Advisory sticker, but the attempt failed.
  • Companion Cube: Old Black, the 1953 Gibson Les Paul guitar that Neil has played on almost every album and tour since 1969. Reportedly, it's now so beat up that only Neil and his personal guitar tech Larry Cragg are able to get anything but random noise out of it.
  • Concept Album - Several, such as Greendale and Fork in the Road.
  • Cool Old Guy
  • Creator Backlash - One of the main reasons Time Fades Away has not been reissued on CD: Young has been quoted as saying he regards it as his worst album (as of 1987, anyway). This opinion is not generally shared by fans, who tend to regard it as at least a good album if not one of his best. It does not help that the album was recorded with the Quad-8 Compumix,note  which would make remastering it for CD with traditional methods impossible; the album would need to be remixed from scratch using the original multi-track tapes.
    • He has also expressed disappointment towards his first album for relying too heavily on overdubbing.
  • Creator Breakdown - The "Ditch Trilogy" Time Fades Away/Tonight's the Night/On the Beach, as explained on that page.
    • Rust Never Sleeps itself is a product of Young's fear of growing old, the death of Elvis, and his belief that rock & roll music itself was becoming irrelevant in the age of punk.
  • Deep South - "Southern Man" references many of the negative aspects of this area.
  • Drugs Are Bad / Ode To Sobriety - "The Needle and the Damage Done", an anti-heroin Tear Jerker.
    • Neil wasn't against all drugs, but he had a particularly strong loathing for heroin because two of his close friends died due to overdoses. On the other hand, most of Tonight's the Night was recorded in various states of intoxication on marijuana and alcohol.
    • Long known for smoking marijuana as though it were regular cigarettes (thus explaining those periodic junkets to Amsterdam), Neil has given it up along with drinking, after doctors detected pre-dementia changes in his brain. He discusses this in his 2012 book Waging Heavy Peace.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Neil has quite often played unreleased songs live years or even decades before recording them. Some examples include "Wonderin'" (performed in the mid-60s, recorded 1983), "Country Home" (1976/1990), "Ordinary People" (1988/2007) and "Hitchhiker" (1992/2011).
  • Epic Rocking - Half the reason he gives concerts at all. Pretty much any song can go beyond 10 minutes if he feels like it. Frequent offenders include "Cowgirl In The Sand", "Like A Hurricane", "Down By The River", "Spirit Road", "Cortez The Killer"...
    Audience: It all sounds the same!
    Neil: It's all one song!
    • Several tracks on his studio albums invoke this trope as well, especially when Crazy Horse is his backing band:
      • 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere has the well-known examples of "Down by the River" (9:13) and "Cowgirl in the Sand" (10:06).
      • 1989's essentially live-in-the-studio album Ragged Glory has two tracks that exceed ten minutes ("Love to Burn" and "Love and Only Love") and an additional two that exceed seven.
      • 1975's Zuma has "Danger Bird" (6:54) and "Cortez the Killer" (7:29, which was even longer in the studio performance).
      • 1994's Sleeps with Angels has the nearly-fifteen-minute "Change Your Mind", and two additional songs that exceed six minutes ("Blue Eden" and "Safeway Cart").
      • 2003's Greendale has three songs that top ten minutes ("Carmichael", "Grandpa's Interview", "Sun Green") and an additional three that top seven ("Falling from Above", "Leave the Driving", "Be the Rain").
      • 2012's Psychedelic Pill is an eight-song double CD with three songs topping sixteen minutes. The opening number, "Driftin' Back", clocks in at 27:37. (The other two monster tracks are "Ramada Inn" and "Walk Like a Giant", for the record).
    • Even when Crazy Horse isn't involved, he can still get pretty long-winded:
      • 1974's On the Beach has one song that approaches seven minutes (the title track) and one that approaches nine ("Ambulance Blues").
      • 1977's American Stars 'n Bars has "Will to Love" (7:11) and "Like a Hurricane" (8:20, performed with Crazy Horse).
      • Two of the songs on 2007's Chrome Dreams II ("Ordinary People", 18:13, and "No Hidden Path", 14:31) surpass the fourteen-minute mark with ease.
    • This is still far from an exhaustive list.
  • Genre Adultery - When he signed with Geffen Records in 1982, he released Trans (a synthsizer-based album) followed in the same year by Everybody's Rockin' (a rockabilly album). He was ready to release Old Ways (a country album) before Geffen actually filed a lawsuit against him for making music "unrepresentative" of his previous work.
  • Greatest Hits Album - It took a very long time, but Young finally released one in 2004.
    • Decade (1977) could be regarded as an in-depth one for his early work.
      • Lucky Thirteen (1994) for his Geffen period.
  • Handicapped Badass - Neil suffers from epilepsy, and in his Buffalo Springfield days would often have fits on stage, earning him the nickname "Shakey". He's since learned to control it, but his eccentric guitar playing style and tendency to almost go into trance during Epic Rocking often come across as barely controlled seizures.
    • He's also a polio survivor, diabetic (type 1) and in 2005 nearly bled to death from complications following (successful) surgery for a deadly brain aneurysm. Between that and his many other health problems, he could be the Iron Woobie poster boy. Rusted iron.
  • I Call It Vera - Young has a tendency to name his guitars. Some in his collection include "Old Black" and "Hank," the latter of which was named after its previous owner, Hank Williams.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes - "The Missing Six", albums that Neil for a long time refused to re-release on CD. He eventually released four of them, but Journey Through The Past and Time Fades Away are still unavailable.
  • Le Film Artistique - Journey Through The Past. Possibly Human Highway too.
  • Lost Forever - "Cortez the Killer", from Zuma, was originally much longer, but 7:30 minutes into the recording, an electrical circuit blew and shut down the mixing console, losing an entire third verse and extended jam in the process. When producer David Briggs informed the band, Neil replied "I never liked that verse anyway", and went on to perform the song as it appeared on the album. The additional verse was never officially recorded or performed, but during his Greendale solo tour, he added some extra lines to the song; whether they came from the lost verse or not is unknown.
  • Lyrical Dissonance
    • "Rockin' in the Free World" is not proud or patriotic.
    • It may take a few listens to the Native American themed "Pocahontas" to register just how awful the events in it are.
  • Mayincatec - "Like an Inca", "Cortez the Killer", "Inca Queen".
  • Murder Ballad - "Down By the River"
  • Not So Different: "Old Man."
  • Our Vampires Are Different: "Vampire Blues" is actually a metaphor for the oil industry.
  • Perfume Commercial - spoofed in his video for "This Note's For You".
  • Perishing Alt Rock Voice - Young's distinctive voice has been imitated by some Alternative Rock singers, like Wayne Coyne and J Mascis.
  • Pop-Star Composer - Young for the film Dead Man.
  • Protest Song - So, so many.
    • "Ohio" - written/performed during his time with CSNY, it was about the famous Kent State shootings in 1970.
      • Written, recorded and released within two weeks of the tragedy itself.
    • "Southern Man" and "Alabama" were tied to the mistreatment of African-Americans.
    • "Rockin' in the Free World" is a a general protest against the George H.W. Bush administration and the effects of Reaganomics.
    • Living With War is an entire album about Neil's thoughts on George W. Bush. Including one cheery sing-along called "Let's Impeach The President!"
  • Rail Enthusiast - some people buy model trains. Young bought a model train manufacturer.
    • Actually, the reason why may be a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming — both of Young's sons have cerebral palsy, and one of them, Ben, is also especially into model trains — so he started getting into trains to have something he and Ben could enjoy together.
    • Something of an engineer, Young invented a new kind of control for the train set allowing everything to be run from what he called "The Big Red Button", so that Ben, a nonspeaking paraplegic, could run the whole set himself.
  • Record Producer:
    • DIY Producer: Neil's had a production credit on every album made since his solo debut.
    • The Martin: Count how many of his albums are co-produced with David Briggs, Tim Mulligan, Elliot Mazer or Niko Bolas.
  • Rock Opera - Greendale, which has been adapted into a film and a Graphic Novel.
  • Sequel Gap - It took 20 years between Harvest and Harvest Moon, and 30 years between Chrome Dreams and Chrome Dreams II - more, if you count the fact that Chrome Dreams was never officially released in the first place.
  • '70s Hair - Neil originally wore his hair in a modified Beatle style, with enormous sideburns.
  • Sincerest Form of Flattery - Neil's musical styles, particularly his heavy rock style, have inspired a number of musicians to create closely detailed copies, as a tribute to him. Drive By Truckers' "A Blessing and a Curse" makes you expect to hear his voice. Dawes' rock version of "If I Wanted Someone" is another; it even references "A Man Needs A Maid".
  • Something Blues - "Revolution Blues," "Vampire Blues," and "Ambulance Blues," all from the 1974 album On the Beach.
  • Something Completely Different - Neil explained his Genre Roulette experiments after Harvest to a NME reporter by saying "This song ["Heart of Gold"] put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there."
  • Song Of Song Titles - Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" contains many references to Young's songs "Alabama" and "Southern Man," mostly in the form of a Take That.
    • Not as much as you might think. Lynyrd Skynyrd were fans of (and later friends with) Neil Young, and he even offered them a couple of his now classic songs ("Sail Away" and "Powderfinger") but the plane crash happened before they could take him up on the offer. Similarly squashed was a plan for Young to appear with the band during a show on the Street Survivors tour to play guitar on "Sweet Home Alabama" and sing the line "a southern man don't need me 'round anyhow".
    • And to add to that, rumour has it that Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zandt and Neil were planning to work on an album together as well. And that Ronnie is buried in a Neil Young t-shirt.
      • The Drive-By Truckers' song "Ronnie and Neil" illustrates their friendship.
  • The Stoner - In his autobiography, Neil admits to having spent the last 40 years smoking marijuana "like other people smoke tobacco".
  • Take That - "Thrasher" (from Rust Never Sleeps) is often taken as an oblique attack on Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
  • Three Chords and the Truth - in fact, his 2009 release "Fork in the Road" uses only one chord.
  • Vaporware - Archives was first proposed in the late '80s, but didn't actually come out until 2009.
  • The Villain Sucks Song - Young's 2006 release Living With War was an experimental album detailing all the ways in which he disapproved of George W. Bush.

The White StripesReprise RecordsBarenaked Ladies
WhitesnakeCreator/Geffen RecordsRob Zombie
The UsedCreator/Reprise RecordsBarenaked Ladies
YesThe SixtiesFrank Zappa
The YardbirdsMusicians/RockWarren Zevon
The WeekndCanadian MusicThe Agonist
YesThe SeventiesFrank Zappa

alternative title(s): Neil Young
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