RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #158: Helpless by Neil Young.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #158: Helpless by Neil Young.

There is a town in north Ontario,

Dream comfort memory to spare

And in my mind, I still need a place to go,

All my changes were there.”

And so begins Neil Young’s answer to the question, “Where are you from, son?”

To be technically correct, “Helpless” was a song that was first released on an album called “Deja Vu”, which is a Crosby, Still, Nash and Young album. He didn’t officially release “Helpless”, as his own song, until almost seven years later when he released his “Decade” compilation album. To be honest, I have always considered it to be his song (as opposed to CSNY) because it is an homage to the place where he spent much of his childhood.

The town that Neil is referring to is Omeemee, Ontario. Although he was born in Toronto, Neil Young spent his youthful days in Omeemee. Having said that, Omeemee, Ontario is hardly in “north Ontario”. It resides approximately an hour northwest of where I live in Cobourg, which sits on the shores of Lake Ontario. By contrast, my lovely wife, Keri, attended university in Thunder Bay which, by car, is a full eighteen hours away and, even then, it is not the northern-most place one can reach and still be in Ontario. This speaks to the vastness of the land we call, Canada. But, perhaps, back in the early 1970s, when “Helpless” was written, being an hour north of Lake Ontario made Neil feel that he was in “north Ontario”.

Neil Young describes Omeemee as being a small town where all of the kids walked to school on their own and where everyone knew everybody else. He has said that there was a lot of freedom to go anywhere and do anything he wanted in Omeemee because, basically, there was nothing really there so all of the games he played were made up, with imagination being a pre-requisite for fun. But, some of his memories are bittersweet, as well. For instance, he developed polio as a very young child and, actually, spent some time in Florida where his parents believed the warmer climate would be beneficial. It was, also, during his time in Omeemee that his parents divorced; with Neil going to live with his mother, while his father, journalist/writer, Scott Young, continuing to make a national name for himself in Canada. As Neil says in his lyrics, “All my changes were there”.

“Helpless” was a song that filled many Canadians with pride when it was first released. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, we, as Canadians, still measured the success of our singers and movie stars, in terms of their acceptance in America. So, first of all, to have singers like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and, soon to be, Anne Murray, become stars, in their own right, in America, meant that they had truly made it in our national eyes, too. But, more than that, the fact that Neil Young wrote of Canada and that he sang the words, “north Ontario” to U.S. audiences, was very special to us. The way Young sang “Helpless” almost made Omeemee sound exotic and alluring, in the same manner that some others sang of Kashmir or Marrakech.

One thing about Neil Young is that he is a very generous person. He has voluntarily performed at numerous benefits, such as LiveAid and FarmAid (helping to organize the latter) and has sung “Helpless” at all such events. However, the video that I am going to share comes from a different event which was, the final concert of the group known as “The Band”. Their final concert was made into a movie/documentary called “The Last Waltz” and was filmed by famous director, Martin Scorcese. In this video, Neil Young is introduced as a special guest. He sings “Helpless” along side Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko, with backup accompaniment by Joni Mitchell. Because of the skill of Martin Scorcese with how he shot this song, along with the emotion of the moment among those on stage, this version of “Helpless” has always been my favourite. What a gorgeous rendition this is. Wow! If you have a different version that tickles your fancy, feel free to pop it into the comments below.

For now, please enjoy Neil Young’s ode to Omeemee, Ontario. Here is “Helpless”.

The link to the video for the song, “Helpless” by Neil Young, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Neil Young, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #28: Heart of Gold by Neil Young.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #28: Heart of Gold by Neil Young.

It amazes me that we are so deep into the countdown and yet, there are still facts that I discover during the research process that I was unaware of and find hard to believe. In the case of Neil Young, the fact that I discovered during the research for this post is that, despite a Hall of Fame career that has spanned over half a century, he has only had one #1 hit song…..that hit song was “Heart of Gold”.

“Heart of Gold” was from one of his best albums, “Harvest”. The song, and much of the album for that matter, was primarily powered by an acoustic guitar. In addition to “Heart of Gold”, “Harvest” also yielded classic songs such as “Old Man” and “The Needle and the Damage Done”. One of the main reasons that the “Harvest” album was done with an acoustic guitar is that, at that point in time, Neil Young had hurt his back and was finding it hard to stand erect for more than a few minutes at a time. By using an acoustic guitar, Young could sit upon a chair or a stool and that seemed to make a difference.

The song “Heart of Gold” was written during a time in Young’s life when he was dating actress Carrie Snodgrass and was, by all accounts, very happy in that relationship. This blissful state of mind is reflected in lyrics that speak to the value he placed upon people who possessed character and forth-rightness. The ironic thing about “Heart of Gold” is that one of the people Neil Young was most inspired by, when it came to writing this song, was Bob Dylan. *(Note the prominent use of his harmonica). And yet, Bob Dylan didn’t like listening to this song because he felt it was too similar in structure and sound to the type of songs he was singing and releasing then.

As for Neil Young, the success of this song unnerved him. As it went to #1, he was immediately asked by fans to play it for them everywhere he performed, to the exclusion of his prior work. As well, he was hounded by record executives who strongly encouraged him to write “Heart of Gold”-Part II. So, being ever the contrarian that he is, Neil Young decided, right then and there, that mainstream success was abhorrent to him and therefore, that he would never willingly aim for, what he called, “the middle of the road”. Young stated that he preferred the ditch, to the middle of the road, and, as a result, his next three albums (“Journey Through the Past”, “Time Fades Away” and “On The Beach”) veered far away from the spotlight and have become known as his “Ditch Trilogy”.

Curmudgeonly or not, we are all better off for Young having taken an introspective look into his own life and heart with “Harvest” which, as it turned out, was the biggest selling album in America in 1972. As a bit of trivia before we go, Neil Young had some famous help on “Heart of Gold”. Singing back-up on the song were up and coming singers named Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. As the story goes, Ronstadt and Taylor were in Nashville in order to appear on a TV special with Johnny Cash. Nashville was where Neil Young recorded, “Harvest”. As Young worked his way through “Heart of Gold”, he and his producer felt the song needed some harmony. It so happened that the Johnny Cash special was being taped not far from where Young was recording “Heart of Gold” and so, Taylor and Ronstadt were asked to pop over if time allowed. Well, time must have allowed because both singers can be heard in the background of this song if you listen carefully.

So, there you have it. A #1 hit song about finding blissful happiness turned out to not be the blessing that Neil Young desired. But, it did confirm for him that he valued his independence fiercely and would be willing to make certain career decisions with integrity and independence in mind. I am sure if you were to ask any Spotify executive right about now, they would agree that Mr. Young still commands respect for being the type of person who puts principles above profits. So, without further delay, let’s all listen to the only song ever to reach #1 for Neil Young, “Heart of Gold” from the Album of the Year for 1072, “Harvest”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Heart of Gold”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Neil Young, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #344: My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue) by Neil Young.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #344: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) by Neil Young.

There are a great many reasons why a song may stand the test of time and become legendary. One of my favourite reasons is that the song possesses an iconic line that ends up taking on a significance that, in some cases, even transcends the song, itself. The writer in me, loves a good line. I was thinking about this when I wrote about “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, a few days ago. I have always admired the line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. For me, “Me and Bobby McGee” is just another song but, that line always makes me smile and want to be a better writer, when I hear it. Another song that has an iconic line is “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) by Neil Young. The line in question is, “Its better to burn out than fade away”. That one line has become one of the foundational pillars of Rock n’ Roll; an attitude that is the essence of Rock for many. That line is all tongues sticking out, devil horns stretched to the sky. It is one of the most requested musical lines by people requesting tattoos. In fact, the line means so much that Kurt Cobain even referenced it in the letter he left behind on the day he took his own life.

When Neil Young wrote this song, the 1970s were just coming to an end. Young was one of the leading names in the Music scene and had already accomplished much on his own and as a member of “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young”. But, one thing that has always characterized Neil Young is his reluctance to settle in and become predictable. While some artists have one hit album and milk that for all it is worth and then, continually head out on “nostalgia” tours, where they recycle their couple of hits, again and again; Neil Young has always sought to re-invent himself and, by doing so, stay relevant and meaningful. So, it was not surprising that, by the end of the 1970s, he had become aware of a new form of musical expression called Punk Rock. Young was fascinated by how completely different and vital Punk Rock seemed when compared to what he felt he and his contemporaries were playing. You can call it a mid-life crisis, if you want but, truth be told, Punk Rock made Neil Young question his place in the musical hierarchy. All of a sudden, he felt old.

“My My, Hey Hey! (Out of the Blue)” is his response to the simultaneous passing of Elvis Presley and the emergence of performers like, Johnny Rotten, of “The Sex Pistols”. In this song, Young proclaims that Rock n’ Roll will always exist because it can withstand the passing of legends due to the fact that new talent is always knocking on the door, ready to carry the fortunes of Rock onward. Then, he offers up his iconic line that it is better to burn out than fade away. His advice to all who follow in his wake: give everything you’ve got, every show, every song. Play it loud! End your shows soaked in sweat! Always be creative and trust your voice! No compromises! There is no reason to play it safe because Rock n’ Roll was meant to be played with swagger and joy. And, if you become tired of it all…..no worries. Someone fresh and new is standing by. Rock n’ Roll is immortal.

Neil Young took his own advice to heart and has enjoyed a long career that has seen him switch creative gears several times along the way. From Rockabilly, to harder Rock, to Country, Neil Young has constantly re-invented himself and, as such, he has remained relevant for over half a century now. Part of his secret is embracing new performers when they come along. For instance, he has co-headlined concerts with Pearl Jam. “My My, Hey Hey! (Out of the Blue)” was written and fleshed out by Young and Mark Mothersbaugh, the lead singer of Alternative Rockers, “Devo”. Rust may never sleep and neither does Neil Young, Rock’s master chameleon. So, without further delay, here he is, with “My My, Hey Hey! (Out of the Blue)”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)” by Neil Young, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Neil Young, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting creative, original Rock, in all of its many forms. The link to their official website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP-Song #457…Like a Hurricane by Neil Young.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #457: Like A Hurricane by Neil Young.

In a perfect, Covid-free world, I would be writing this post while drinking a cup of coffee in the sleepy hamlet of Omeemee, Ontario, which is about forty-five minutes northwest of my house. Omeemee was where Neil Young spent much of his childhood. His father, Scott Young, was a prolific journalist/author in these parts and across Canada. Writing that line brings me back to my Cape Breton roots where the oft-asked question, “Who’s yer fodder?” often helped define your own identity in the minds of others. But, make no mistake, in the real world in which Neil Young lives, he needs no one to help define his identity. He is very much his own man and always has been. In the annals of modern music history, Neil Young stands out for (1) his longevity (still performing after 60 years!!!), (2) his versatility (as well respected for his Folk music, as he is his Electric period, as he is for his Grunge phase), (3) the company he keeps (he was a member of “Buffalo Springfield”, as well as, super group, “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young”, his backing bands have ranged from “CrazyHorse” to “Pearl Jam”!), (4) his success (he has over 20 Gold/Platinum records and he has been elected to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame TWICE!!! Once for his solo work and a second time as a member of “Buffalo Springfield”.), (5) his virtuosity (he plays multiple instruments well but is best known for his acoustic and electric guitars and his harmonica), and finally, (6) he is known for his politics and activism (in particular, he has been pro-environment and anti-corporate rock, which means that he has often refused corporate sponsorship for his tours so that his music can be truer and freer and his connection with fans, stronger). Neil Young appears on this list of the Top 500 songs multiple times so, we can get more into the nitty-gritty details of his career as the list unfolds. For now, let’s talk about the story behind “Like a Hurricane”.

Neil Young is quoted as saying that “Like a Hurricane” was written in the back seat of a friend’s car. The inspiration for the song is as simple as the lyrics imply. It was seeing a beautiful girl “…in a crowded, hazy bar, dancing on the light from star to star.” Apparently, he did not go home with this girl and, as well, this girl was not the woman he ended up eventually marrying. But, unlike a lot of guys who end up going home alone, Young viewed his longing through a songwriter’s lens and crafted this song, basically, in one night. The lyrics were written in the backseat of the car, the music was created throughout the night in the house he was sharing with a few of his musician buddies. The end result is a song that has become a staple in all of his live shows ever since. “Like A Hurricane” is one of those songs that appeal to a varied audience. On the one hand, the song is filled with romantic-sounding lyrics. Phrases like, “I am just a dreamer and you are just a dream.” seem to roll off of Young’s tongue as they would any romantic poet. On the other hand, “Like a Hurricane” is noted for its two, extended guitar solos, which appeal to those who came to rock.

The video I will post below is of a typical, electric guitar-centric performance of this song. I will, also, post a second version that was taken from the “MTV Unplugged” Concert series. In that video, Neil Young replaces the guitar parts with a church organ!!! The effect is to make the song move from a classic rock song to something more ethereal. In any case, “Like a Hurricane” is a terrific song, regardless of format. For anyone who has ever locked eyes with a stranger across a crowded room and felt that lighting bolt of attraction then, this song is for you. But, more than that, you know you have found the one for you if you can look at each other and have the chorus act as the song of your hearts.”You are like a hurricane. There’s calm in your eye. And I’m getting blown away, To somewhere safer where the feeling stays. I want to love you. I’m getting blown away.” Twenty-one years together and I think this still applies for my wife, Keri and me. Maybe a romantic drive to Omeemee is in our future. If so, we’ll give Neil Young a tip of the hat as we enter the township. These may be Covid times but, there is always time for Love. Take care, everyone.

The link to the first music video for Like a Hurricane by Neil Young can be found here.

The link to the acoustic version of Like a Hurricane by Neil Young (from MTV Unplugged) can be found here.

Neil Young’s website is worth checking out. You can do so by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting good music and creative musicians, like Neil Young. A link to their website can be found here.