Neil Young

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b. 12 November 1945, Toronto, Canada.

Having moved to Winnepeg as a child, Young began his enigmatic career as a member of several high-school bands, including the Jades and Classics. He later joined the Squires, whose indebtedness to British act the Shadows was captured on the Young-penned "Aurora"/"The Sultan." In 1965 the artist embarked on a folk-based direction with appearances in Toronto's bohemian Yorkville enclave. A demonstration tape from this era contains early versions of "Sugar Mountain," a paean to lost childhood later placed on 10 different single releases, and "Don't Pity Me," revived a decade later as "Don't Cry No Tears." Young then joined the Mynah Birds, a pop-soul attraction which also featured Rick James, but this act folded prematurely upon the latter's arrest for draft evasion. Group bassist Bruce Palmer accompanied Neil on a subsequent move to California, where they teamed with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay to form the Buffalo Springfield. Young's tenure in this seminal 'West Coast' act was tempered by several sabbaticals, but two luxurious, atmospheric compositions, "Broken Arrow" and "Expecting To Fly," established the highly-sculptured orchestral-tinged sound prevalent on NEIL YOUNG. Although blighted by a selfless mix which buried the artist's vocals, the album contained several excellent compositions, notably "The Loner," "The Old Laughing Lady," "I've Been Waiting For You" and "Here We Are In The Years." The set also featured two highly effective instrumentals, Young's evocative "Emperor Of Wyoming" and "String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill," a sublime arrangement and composition by Jack Nitzsche. The closing track, "The Last Trip To Tulsa," was unique in Young's canon, a surreal narrative whose performance betrayed the strong influence of Bob Dylan. Following his first album, Young was joined by Danny Whitten (guitar), Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums)—three former members of the Rockets—in a new backing group dubbed Crazy Horse. 
EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE captured a performer liberated from a previous self-consciousness, with the extended "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" allowing space for his stutteringly simple, yet enthralling, guitar style. While the epic guitar pieces dominated the set, there were other highlights, including the zestful "Cinnamon Girl" and the haunting "Running Dry," a mournful requiem featuring Bobby Notkoff on violin. The album underlined the intense relationship between Young and Crazy Horse. An attendant tour confirmed the strength of this newfound partnership, while Young also secured acclaim as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. His relationship with Crazy Horse soured as Whitten grew increasingly dependent on heroin and the group was dropped following the recording of AFTER THE GOLDRUSH. The set provided a commercial breakthough and included several of Young's best-known compositions, including the haunting title track, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," a US Top 40 hit and the fiery "Southern Man." The highly commercial HARVEST confirmed this newfound ascendancy, spawned a US chart-topper in "Heart Of Gold" and remains one of the artist's best-selling albums. This commercial peak ended abruptly with JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST, a highly-indulgent soundtrack to a rarely-screened autobiographical film. A disastrous tour with new backing group the Stray Gators exacerbated the gap between the artist and his potential audience, although TIME FADES AWAY, a collection of new songs culled from the concerts, reclaimed the ragged feistiness of the Crazy Horse era. The set included the passionate "Last Dance" and the superb "Don't Be Denied," an unflinching autobiographical account of Young's early life. 
The deaths of Whitten and road crew member Bruce Berry inspired the harrowing TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, on which Young's bare-nerved emotions were expounded over his bleakest songs to date. 'I'm singing this borrowed tune, I took from the Rolling Stones, alone in this empty room, too wasted to write my own', he intoned in world-weary fashion on "Borrowed Tune," while in concert Young would offer multiple versions of the grief-stricken title song. However the final set was shelved in favour of ON THE BEACH, released to coincide with a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion tour. The work was initially greeted coolly and Rolling Stone described it as one of the 'most despairing albums of the decade'. This was a severe misinterpretation, since ON THE BEACH was actually a therapeutic work, enacting Young's shift to a more positive state of mind. In common with John Lennon's PLASTIC ONO BAND, ON THE BEACH saw Young stripping away his personality in a series of intense songs. The undoubted highlight of the set was the closing "Ambulance Blues," arguably the most accomplished work of Young's career. In analysing his place in the rock music world, Young offered a sardonic riposte to his detractors: 'So all you critics sit alone/You're no better than me for what you've shown/With your stomach pump and your hook and ladder dreams/We could get together for some scenes'. ON THE BEACH was a consummate album and a crucial turning point in Young's career. The belatedly issued TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT was no longer a shock, but testified to Young's absolute conviction. The album sold poorly but was retrospectively acclaimed as one of the bravest and most moving albums of the decade. 
Young next chose to team up Crazy Horse—Talbot, Molina and new guitarist Frank Sampedro—for ZUMA. The set's highlight was provided by a guitar-strewn "Cortez The Killer" but, despite often ecstatic reviews, the overall performance was generally stronger than the material it supported. Another gripping recording, "Like A Hurricane," was the pivotal feature of AMERICAN STARS 'N' BARS, an otherwise piecemeal collection drawn from extant masters and newer, country-oriented recordings. The latter direction was maintained on COMES A TIME, Young's most accessible set since HARVEST, on which female vocalist Nicolette Larson acted as foil. The album's use of acoustic settings enhanced Young's pastoral intentions and the singer was moved to include a rare cover version, Ian Tyson's folk standard "Four Strong Winds." Characteristically, Young chose to follow this up by rejoining Crazy Horse for RUST NEVER SLEEPS. The album rightly stands as one of Young's greatest and most consistent works. The acoustic "My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)" and its electric counterpart "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" explained the central theme of the work—the transience of rock stardom. "The Thrasher," one of Young's most complex and rewarding songs, reiterated the motif. "Ride My Llama," "Pocahontas" and "Powderfinger" were all worthy additions to Young's classic canon. The album was preceded by a Young film of the same name and followed by a double live album. 
During the '80s the artist became increasingly unpredictable as each new release denied the musical directions offered by its predecessor. The understated and underrated HAWKS & DOVES was followed by excursions through electric R&B (RE-AC-TOR), techno-pop (TRANS) and rockabilly (EVERYBODY'S ROCKIN'), before embracing country (OLD WAYS), hard rock (LANDING ON WATER) and blues (THIS NOTE'S FOR YOU). The last-named achieved notoriety when a video for the title song, which attacked the intertwining of rock with corporate sponsorship, was banned by MTV. The blues experiment also saw Young regain some critical acclaim. Young's next project was culled from an aborted release, tentatively entitled TIMES SQUARE. ELDORADO invoked the raw abandonment of TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, but the 5-song set was only issued in Japan and Australia. Three of its songs were latterly placed on FREEDOM, an artistic and commercial triumph which garnered positive reviews and assuaged those viewing its creator as merely eccentric. The set was generally acclaimed as Young's finest work in a decade and included some of his most intriguing lyrics, most notably the lengthy "Crime In The City," itself an extract from an even longer piece, "Sixty To Zero." Young affirmed this regeneration with RAGGED GLORY, a collaboration with Crazy Horse marked by blistering guitar lines, snarled lyrics and a sense of urgency and excitement few from Neil's generation could hope to muster. Contemporary new wave band Sonic Youth supported the revitalized partnership on the US SPOOK THE HORSE tour, cementing Young's affection for pioneers. 
An ensuing in-concert set, WELD (accompanied by an album of feedback experimentation, ARC), was rightly applauded as another milestone in Young's often contrary oeuvre. Following this, Young informed the media that he was making a return to HARVEST-TYPE-ALBUM, and the result was for many one of his finest albums. HARVEST MOON captured the essence of what is now rightly seen as a great album (HARVEST) and yet it sounded perfect for the '90s. "From Hank To Hendrix" and the title track are but two of a collection of Young songs destined to become classics. As if this was not enough less than a year later he produced UNPLUGGED, which was a faultless and confident live set recorded for MTV. SLEEPS WITH ANGELS mixed some of his dirtiest guitar with the most winsome. His ability to contrast is extraordinary: "Piece Of Crap" finds Young in punkish and vitriolic form, whilst the gentle "My Heart" would not be out of place in church. In similar mood was his ethereal "Philadelphia," perfectly suited for the film of the same name, for which it was composed. A collaboration with Pearl Jam produced a spectacular album in 1995, and once again this man thrilled, excited, baffled and amazed us; MIRROR BALL is one of the most necessary albums he has ever recorded. At the time of writing his artistic standing remains at an all-time high. However, he retains the right to surprise, infuriate, and even baffle, while a reluctance to court easy popularity must be applauded. More than any other artist working in the rock field, Young is the greatest chameleon. His many admirers never know what to expect, but the reaction whenever a new project or direction arrives is almost universally favourable from the young and old. He transcends generations and stays hip and in touch with laconic ease, indifference and incredible style. In appraising ‘grunge’ let it be said that it was Young who first wore check workshirts outside torn jeans and played blistering distorted guitar. And he did it all more than 25 years ago. 


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