June 19, 2012
Feature: 5 Reasons Why… Neil Young is Better Than Your Band
Ok, so we’re aware that he has just released an album of rambling cover songs that includes a version of ‘God Save the Queen’, but this list isn’t a case for the man’s contemporary relevance, more for his unsurpassable legacy. Musicians take note – this is why Neil Young is better than you:
1. He Doesn’t Whine (apart from literally, sometimes).
It may be a little rich to claim that the Kermit-voiced Canadian doesn’t have a slightly nasal whinge to his vocal tone, but here we mean lyrically. Young has survived childhood polio, epilepsy, a brain aneurysm, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and slicing the end of his finger off while making a ham sandwich, but does he moan about it? Not once. Take note, woe-is-me songsters: nobody wants to hear it.
2. He Genuinely Doesn’t Care What You Think (it ain’t an act).
In 1973, following the heroin-related deaths of both guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, Neil gathered his remaining troops and decamped to Santa Monica. In a fog of tequila and spiralling depression, they recorded Tonight’s the Night, an album as ragged as Young’s unkempt hair; as dark as his then permanent sunglasses: 12 tracks of haggard pain delivered in a cracked and exhausted voice. Working on automatic, Young then took the album on tour – him and his band continuing the same self-abuse that had fuelled the recording – taking to stage alongside various cheap and tacky props from California second- hand stores.
Less than a year after his biggest commercial success to date – the pastoral, radio-friendly Harvest and its number one single ‘Heart of Gold’ – the tour was supposed to cement Young’s arrival as a superstar. What expectant crowds received however, was Tonight’s the Night, every night, in full, some renditions of the title track well over 20-minutes long and performed twice: new, unfamiliar, scrappy, and not Harvest. One date towards the end of the tour, after another shaky run-through of the album, the crowd finally turned. One audience member let out a bitter but pleading cry of “play something we know.” Young turned to his band, turned back to the audience, and played Tonight’s the Night again. In full.
3. On The Beach
The sound of ragged, stoned paranoia that was 1974’s On The Beach album contains – on its second side – some of the rawest emotion ever committed to wax.
4. Constant Reinvention.
Despite forever being considered in the collective mind as a heritage folk-rocker, Neil has turned his hand to all sorts of styles over the years in an effort to not stagnate, or just out of pure curiosity. From punk, to rockabilly, to synth-pop, to country & western, to experimental drone, to rambling rock operas about environmentalism; Neil has never been one for standing still. So much so, in fact, that one such left turn in 1983 caused then label Geffen to sue Young for $3.3 million in a claim that he had offered them an album that was “musically uncharacteristic of Neil Young”.” Haters gonna hate.
5. His Middle Name.
Read this feature in context over at THE 405