Rock Through the Ages: Neil Young 1945-

"Back then people closed their eyes and listened to music. Today there's a lot of images that go with the music. A lot of music is crap and it's all commercial and the images are all trying to sell the record. " -Neil Young

Neil Young a crazy horse in GreendaleNeil Young is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician and film director. In more than thirty-years as a recording artist, Neil Young has experienced as many extreme low points of critical and commercial success as he has high but, without a doubt, he is one of the most important rock composers and performers North America can claim. His signature raw nasal tone, shrill guitar playing, highly personal lyric-writing, and hippie-cowboy loner stance have helped shape rock and roll as it has advanced from adolescence into maturity. Through his experimentation with every genre, from folk to heavy metal to rockabilly to techno, Young has created a sound and feel uniquely his own. Neil Young has one of the most distinct styles in modern American music, but he can be compared to the likes of Tom Petty and The Byrds. You can also hear clear influences from Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles.

Neil Young was born November 12, 1945 in Toronto, Ontario to Rassy and Scott Young. As a youth, he survived diabetes, polio, epilepsy and the divorce of his parents. His father was a highly respected sportswriter for The Toronto Sun and has authored several books, including Neil & Me, a 1984 title covering his relationship with his musician son. Neil's musical skills were encouraged from the time he was quite young. When he was just a boy, Neil's father gave him a ukulele for Christmas. Neil Young began playing music in high school. Soon he developed an affinity for guitar and banjo, which would stick with him throughout his adolescence. Eventually, Neil Young dropped out of high school to concentrate more on his band - Neil Young and the Squires. Through the help of his mother, Neil and the Squires developed a decent following in the area during the early 1960s. Not only did Neil Young play in garage-rock outfits like the Esquires, but he also played in local folk clubs and coffeehouses, where he eventually met Joni Mitchell and Stephen Stills. After the band split up in 1965, Neil Young made a solo pitch to Elektra records. He was unsuccessful in signing with Elektra, and turned instead to the local coffeehouse circuit, where he played both solo and with a band called the Mynah Birds, which featured then undiscovered Rick James.

Neil Young like a hurricaneAfter the Mynah Birds split, Neil Young and Mynah Birds bassist Bruce Palmer moved to the promised land of L.A., where they hooked up with Stills, Furay, and drummer Dewey Martin to form the seminal folk-rock band the Buffalo Springfield. Stills' counterculture anthem "For What It's Worth" earned the band nationwide fame, but it was Neil Young who drew the most attention for his idiosyncratic style and high-energy guitar playing. In their two-year existence, the band recorded three successful albums and a retrospective (Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again, Last Time Around, and The Best of the Buffalo Springfield) for Atco before splintering in 1968.

Following the demise of Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young made two solo records. It was the second one that sprung him and his backup band, Crazy Horse, into fame. He joined his friend Steven Stills in 1969, and with David Crosby and Graham Nash, the quartet of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young recorded three records. The quartet debuted in Chicago on August 16, 1969, and later performed at the famous Woodstock Festival, during which Young skipped the acoustic set and refused to be filmed during the electric set Although he was now part of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Young continued to record as a solo artist, releasing After the Gold Rush at the end of the year. After the Gold Rush, with its accompanying single "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," established Neil Young as a solo star, and fame only increased through his association with CSN&Y. "Ohio" was written following the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970, and was a staple of anti-war rallies in the 1970s. The song was quickly recorded by CSNY and immediately released as a single. Although Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were a very successful act, they were also volatile, and they had split by the spring 1971 release of the live Four Way Street. The following year, Neil Young had his first number one album with the mellow country-rock of Harvest, which also featured his first (and only) number one single, "Heart of Gold."

Neil Young could have released three albums in 1975. However, he shelved one of them, a collection of introspective songs called Homegrown, in favor of a dark, ragged song cycle called Tonight's the Night. Most of the songs on the album, influenced by the drug-related deaths of Danny Whitten and CSNY roadie Bruce Berry, were recorded in '73 with a band that included Talbot, Molina and Nils Lofgren. At the end of 1978, Neil Young embarked on an arena tour called Rust Never Sleeps, which was designed as a showcase for new songs. Half of the concert featured Young solo, the other half featured him with Crazy Horse. That was the pattern that Rust Never Sleeps, released in the summer of 1979, followed. The record was hailed as a comeback, proving that Young was one of the few rock veterans who attacked punk rock head-on. That fall he released the double album Live Rust and the live movie Rust Never Sleeps. Over the course of the mid-'80s, Neil Young released three albums that were all stylistic exercises.

In 1985, Neil Young released the straight country Old Ways, which was followed by the new wave-tinged Landing on Water the following year. He returned to Crazy Horse for 1987's Life, but by that time, he and Geffen had grown sick of each other, and he returned to Reprise in 1988. Neil Young's first album for Reprise was the bluesy, horn-driven This Note's for You, which was supported by an acclaimed video that satirized rock stars endorsing commercial products. At the end of the year, he recorded a reunion album with Crosby, Stills and Nash called American Dream, which was greeted with savagely negative reviews. Freedom was a mixture of acoustic and electric rock dealing with the state of the U.S. and the world in 1989, alongside a set of love songs and a version of the standard "On Broadway." "Rockin' in the Free World", two versions of which bookended the album, again caught the mood. Some say it became a de facto anthem during the fall of the Berlin Wall, a few months after the record's release. However, most Germans don't remember the song being related to the unification, understandably so, since the lyrics are not about political repression. Neil Young hauled out his concept album Greendale, about an extended family in a small town called Greendale, and how they are torn apart by a murder, in 2003. Greendale was recorded with Crazy Horse members Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina. This tale of the Green family also resulted in a movie called Greendale, written and directed by Young. Neil Young currently lives on a 1500-acre ranch in La Honda, California, called Broken Arrow. He also owns property in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and on the islands of Hawaii. Neil Young's extensive discography can be seen here..
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Neil Young
singer, guitar player and songwriter