For those who are unfamiliar with this series, I occasionally feature six tunes I dig by a given artist. Note that I am not claiming that they are the best six – just a half-dozen I like. Could be a different set next week. Let’s roll …
First up is one of the first songs I believe I ever heard by (now) Old Neil. By way of background, back in the good old days of albums, record companies were run by, sure, guys who wanted to make money but who also were into the music. They would do cool things like allow you to sign up for early releases of songs by new artists as well as release compilation albums.
One of the albums was by Warners and it had a lot of good stuff (Dead, Young) and oddball stuff (Zappa, Beefheart.) It was an eyeopener for me but one of the tracks that always stood out for me was “The Loner.” Not only a good song but I have always been somewhat of a loner so it appealed to me on both fronts. In reading up on it, I now realize it was Neil’s first post-Buffalo Springfield single as well as a track from his eponymous debut album:
Know when you see him
Nothing can free him
Step aside, open wide
It’s the loner
Like many, I first heard “Helpless” as a track on CSNY’s Deja Vu album. Always loved the tune and I’m told it’s a staple of his live shows.
“There is a town in North Ontario.” Per Wikipedia, the town is often presumed to be Ontario native Young’s hometown. Young himself cleared up the rumors in a 1995 Mojo interview: “Well, it’s not literally a specific town so much as a feeling. Actually, it’s a couple of towns. Omemee, Ontario, is one of them. It’s where I first went to school and spent my ‘formative’ years.”
In keeping with the solo Neil idea, I’m using the MTV Unplugged session here. Nils Lofgren on accordion!
What’s always fascinated me about Neil more than, I think, any other artist is his wild swings between the most sensitive songs you can possibly imagine to the wildest guitar-thrashing noise you have ever heard in your life. One minute he’s the male Joni Mitchell, the next he’s AC fucking DC.
The King is gone
But he’s not forgotten
This is the story of Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out than it is to rust
The King is gone but he’s not forgotten
Here’s Neil Rotten with “My My, Hey Hey (Into the Black)” from Rust Never Sleeps (the slogan of a company named Rust-Oleum. Suggested to Neil by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo):
Neil once introduced “The Needle and the Damage Done” thusly:
“Ever since I left Canada, about five years ago or so… and moved down south… found out a lot of things that I didn’t know when I left. Some of ’em are good, and some of ’em are bad. Got to see a lot of great musicians before they happened… before they became famous… y’know, when they were just gigging.
Five and six sets a night… things like that. And I got to see a lot of, um, great musicians who nobody ever got to see. For one reason or another. But… strangely enough, the real good ones… that you never got to see was… ’cause of, ahhm, heroin. An’ that started happening over an’ over. Then it happened to someone that everyone knew about. So I just wrote a little song.”
What can I say about “Rockin’ in the Free World?” One of my favorite Neil tunes plus also my go-to advice for anyone no matter what the situation. “Dad I’m in a jam and I need some advice.” OR “Help, I’m being held hostage.” OR “I just need a shoulder to cry on.”
“Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World!” sez I, sympathetically. Here’s Neil (and Crazy Horse?) live at Hyde Park a few years back:
To wrap this up, let’s go back to Rust Never Sleeps for a song whose lyrics “are the posthumous narration of a young man who attempts to protect his family against an approaching gunboat. He realizes that all of the older men are unavailable, leaving him “to do the thinking.”” And then there’s that “fade away” thing again.
Think of me
As one you’d never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love,
I know I’ll miss her.