This the best version, studio or live, of one of my favourite tunes (even though it’s a bit long). It’s also the best sounding version on YouTube as well, so I must apologise for pointing to it, but it saves me hunting it down all the time.
The breathtaking simplicity of the track is the key. Four slow chord changes in the verse and four similar in the break is all it is. Add in some words which sound as though anyone could write them and you’re away! One youtube poster said if punk hadn’t happened then this’d be the best song since 1956, and I think I agree. For most of the song the melody just hangs on and everything just manages to stay together. If you try and play along then you’ll see this – the pace of the song changes relentlessly, sometimes almost appearing to stop and at other times seeming to race away. It doesn’t really do this, of course – it only appears that way. But the guys really do float around the beat quite a bit as the pace changes, sometimes in mid-stanza. That, with it’s simplicity, is the true genius of it I think.
The video is of a performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1976 apparently. I guess he was one of the “dinosaurs” that punk was trying to displace, but this single performance of his song remains as a true example of the punk/grunge vision and Neil Young’s (continuing) views on personal freedom and responsibility, war, peace and power broadly echo all that was best about the punk era. I think that he just got lumped into the rock bands of the era – Led Zeppelin etc. When you realise that Spinal Tap was based on Led Zep and somehow these people were supposed to be heroes, then you can see the point. They were awful and self-centred vacuous people. To see Jimmy Page smugly poncing around again recently just brought it back to me how awful they were, and the music papers that worshipped them as well. Now I have to put up with all the chat about riffs etc from would-be Pages at work now.
Another simple song he did was “Heart of Gold” – and it too is a cracker. Legend has it that when Bob Dylan heard it, he thought it was one of his, and when he realised it wasn’t he just went and sat outside Neil Young’s house for a weekend – staring at it.