Happy Birthday, Neil Young!
Neil Young is 68 years old today. Below is an excerpt from Neil Young FAQ, by Glenn Boyd.
In 2009, Neil Young released no less than three new collections—including the massive, decades-in-the-making Archives Vol. 1 boxed set. Ambitious even by Young’s own very exacting standards, the multiple-disc set comes in CD, DVD, and Blu-ray versions, and chronicles Young’s career up until 1972. At least two more volumes are planned, and the December 2009 release of Dreamin’ Man Live, a live concert rendering of the classic Harvest Moon album, is an apparent warm-up to one of them. Somewhere in the midst of all this, Young found time to release an album of new material (Fork in the Road), and to tour (which he does nearly every year like clockwork).
If nothing else, Neil Young is “prolific,” to say the least. Yet, as staggering as the sheer volume of his recorded output has been over the years and decades, the fact that through it all he has made this music strictly on his own artistic terms every step of the way is a rather astonishing feat in and of itself. This is what makes Neil Young an artist who is truly unique in all of music.
This same uncompromising approach to his art—some would call it a stubborn streak—has both earned Young the admiration of his peers and drawn the fire of folks like the record company suits charged with marketing his music to the masses.
Two quick cases in point:
Following the release of his first #1 album Harvest in 1972—the album has long since gone platinum many times over and remains a steady seller to this day—Young followed it up with a series of bleak, desolate, and downright depressing records that were the very antithesis of the folky, singer-songwriter pop that made Harvest, and particularly its single “Heart of Gold,” such a huge hit.
On the liner notes for his three-disc retrospective Decade, Young famously described the albums Time Fades Away, On the Beach, and Tonight’s the Night as a period when he “left the middle of the road, and headed towards the ditch”— hence earning these records the fans’ nickname of “the Ditch Trilogy.”
When these albums earned Young the respect of then emerging new wave artists like Devo—bands who were otherwise notorious (and often quite brutal) in their disdain of other so-called dinosaurs from the sixties—Neil responded with Rust Never Sleeps in 1979, an album whose title track embraces “the story of Johnny Rotten” with its famous lines of how “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
But this would be only one of many incidents in which the mercurial (that’s a word associated with him quite a bit, by the way) Young would follow his artistic muse in such a way as to cause record executives to tear their hair out in frustration.
After signing with David Geffen’s self-named new label in the eighties, Young then spent the better part of that decade making albums that veered wildly from the Devo-inspired synthesized new wave of Trans to the goofy rockabilly of Everybody’s Rockin (“they wanted a rock album, so I gave them one,” he once explained)—his record with makeshift greasers the Shocking Pinks.
Geffen eventually sued Young for breach of contract, citing of all things, the artist’s failure to deliver any actual “Neil Young records.” You just can’t make this stuff up.
But if Young has made a career of confounding critics and fans alike by following his at times seemingly strange artistic whims, the bottom line is he always seems to find his way back home. He did it after the Ditch Trilogy in 1979 with Rust Never Sleeps, and he did it again after the Geffen years in the eighties with the album Freedom and its anthemic single “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
When all is said and done, the two things Young is best known for are the cranked to eleven, feedback-laden noise he makes with his trusty guitar Old Black on albums with his on-again, off-again band Crazy Horse like Rust and Ragged Glory, and the quieter, more introspective acoustic folk-pop of albums like Harvest and its equally gorgeous nineties successor Harvest Moon. As different as these two styles are, together they form the cornerstone of Young’s sound. The glue that binds them—and everything else that Neil Young does—is the songs.
Neil Young has had one of the most remarkable careers in the history of music. He hasn’t just outlived many of his contemporaries – some of whom were great inspirations for him (“From Hank to Hendrix,” as one of his own songs says); his artistry lives on through those he has inspired (Pearl Jam, Radiohead), and he remains relevant and vital well into his fifth decade of making music.
Young also continues to crank out records at a rate that would kill most artists half his age. Between his solo and live albums, and his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, his remarkable career has spanned well over 50 albums.
Although he has experimented in genres from syntho-pop to rockabilly, Neil Young is best known for the fully cranked, feedback-laden noise he makes with Crazy Horse (Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory) and the more introspective folk-pop (Harvest). The glue that binds his work together is the songwriting. Because when it comes to writing great, timeless songs, Neil Young has few equals.
Neil Young FAQ is the first definitive guide to the music of this mercurial and methodical, enduring, and infuriating icon. From the Archives to Zuma and from the Ditch Trilogy to the Geffen years, this book covers every song and album in painstaking detail-including bootlegs and such lost recordings as Homegrown, Chrome Dreams, Toast, and Meadow Dusk.
Obscure facts and anecdotes from the studio to the road, along with dozens of rare images, make this book a must-have for Young fans.