Since co-founding Buffalo Springfield in 1966 (and then splitting after two albums), Neil Young rarely stopped moving.
Born in Toronto in November 1945, Neil Perceval Young worked in Canada as a folk singer before teaming up with Steve Stills in Buffalo Springfield.
When the band split in 1968 he took up solo performances again and recorded a self-titled album, which he followed with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) for which he used a backing group which he named Crazy Horse.
Young was invited to join Crosby, Stills & Nash, and his songs Helpless and Country Girl were the most impressive on the band’s Deja Vu album (1970).
At the same time, he cut another solo album, After The Gold Rush, where he proved his abilities as a songwriter who regarded lyrical content to be as important as the music.
Written in about half an hour and recorded in his basement in Topanga Canyon, California, the sci-fi piano ballad After The Gold Rush – just Young accompanied by a forlorn French horn – was an ecological plea inspired by his friend Dean Stockwell’s idea for a movie about a natural disaster that destroys California.
The movie never got made, but the song immediately touched a nerve.
An album that perfectly evoked both the dying optimism of San Francisco’s counterculture movement and the burgeoning cynicism of the Watergate generation, Harvest (1972) was a commercial pinnacle of the West Coast country-rock scene.
If circumstances hadn’t already dictated the direction of his music – drug deaths; a tour where his band and crew turned on him; ill health; relationship problems during which he split with actress Carrie Snodgress; the diagnosis of their son Zeke’s cerebral palsy – then the success of Harvest (a Number 1 album in both the US and the UK) seemed to spur Young to reinvent himself even more remarkably than usual.
Between September 1973 and July 1975 he delivered three of the most challenging and unforgiving albums of his career.
Referred to retrospectively by fans as the ‘Doom Trilogy’, all three sprang from a protracted dark-night-of-the-soul. Time Fades Away is a ragged, dislocated live document of a nightmarish tour.
Tonight’s The Night is a stark, tequila-soaked wake for Danny Whitten, his friend and ex-Crazy Horse guitarist, who overdosed on the proceeds of Young’s severance cheque.
And On The Beach sees Young analyse his place in the darkness of end-of-an-era California and in the process produce the missing link between John Lennon‘s Plastic Ono Band and punk. Young also regrouped with Crosby, Stills & Nash for a tour in the summer of 1974.
By 1979 Neil Young was celebrating surviving the 1970s with his integrity intact.
A film entitled Rust Never Sleeps premiered in July 1979, comprising concert footage shot the previous year at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, but a simultaneously released album of the same title was more interesting . . .
An acoustic side featured Young solo, while an electric side saw him backed by stage band Crazy Horse, with the record bookended by variations on a song, My My Hey Hey which ruminated on the fleeting nature of stardom. (The song became legendary after Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain quoted it in his suicide note).