Is Neil Young talented?

Young and Jack White prior to Young's historic performance
Young and Jack White prior to Young’s historic performance

Jimmy Fallon had Neil Young on his show a couple of nights ago, and they did something historic: Young recorded Willie Nelson’s song Crazy directly to a Voice-O-Graph vinyl recording booth.

Music is subjective, so I suppose people will disagree, but I thought after Young was done, even knowing he was going for minimalist, that the result was a badly sung song accompanied by a weak guitar with poor sound quality. Young has never appealed to me – I have never picked up on the vibe that made him famous.

He’s done a whole album of similarly recorded songs. Kitschy.

How much of our taste in music is suggested to us? The clothes we wear are entirely the result of suggestion. Ties are getting narrow again, as Fallon and others are wearing them that way. Is music the same – do we learn to like various acts due to subliminal suggestion? Or is it like the fashion business – follow the leader? I cannot imagine why else such mediocre talents as Lady Gaga and Britney Spears achieved stardom. And I imagine that if Neil Young walked into a recording studio today, unknown, that he would be ushered out as quickly.

Fallon’s in-house band, The Roots, by the way – if we can objectively agree on what is musical talent, that would be it. That is one energetic, gifted group of players.

14 thoughts on “Is Neil Young talented?

  1. Well, if any 68 year-old man walked into a recording studio for the first time, he’d be laughed out. So that’s no test of talent.

    Actually, you’re treading on one of my guitar songwriter heros here. Neil’s the man, particularly because he doesn’t kow-tow to the corporate recording industry anymore. He had enough success early on he could run his own career, and do what he wanted — which was to play music that inspired him (much of which he wrote himself).

    Sure, he’s an egotistical maniac, with a whiney-falsetto voice. And his guitar work is klitchy. But you put it altogether, and the sum is far greater than the parts. He’s still writing anti-war and enviro songs, and doing fund raisers for a variety of causes like anti tar sands natives and is dedicated to many causes. He never sold out. So he can go on Jimmy Fallon, and be a goofus.

    I think he’s the one hippy songwriter that survived the 60s to do some of his most important work in his 60’s. I know of no other counter-cultural revolutionary that still pumps it out like Neil does in the 21st century, Most people outside of Neil loyalists haven’t a clue: 3 live documentaries/concerts by Jonathan Demme after he almost died from a brain aneurysm & brain surgery in 2005; an avant garde bit with Le Noise; 12 albums since the new millennium; a bunch of awards; heavy metal; country; and designing/producing a new high definition music/recording format that’s about to go live.

    And way more where that all comes from. Talent is expressed in many ways, the least of which is commercial success. Here I’ll leave you with another Swede dropping:

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    1. Like I said, it is subjective. I am reading McGowan’s book on Laurel Canyon right now, and I looked for Young in the index – he’s got a lot of references on him, including one that is four pages. I’ll read it tomorrow morning.

      And I’ll take your word on it, talent and all of that. I suppose you could say that Dylan does not have a commercially salable choice, but he’s certainly got talent.

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      1. Probably the greatest ant-war songs ever. Young is one of my heroes. He did it. He lived it. And as a picker myself, it’s amazing how much music gets out of just a guitar and his voice. He sounds like an entire orchestra. Amazing, amazing good man too.

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        1. It doesn’t do a thing for me. Again, I wonder if because it is suggested to us that this is the music we should like, that we settle on this. Music is like propaganda, once resident in the memory, resonates and drowns out anything else. What I hear here is an annoying falsetto voice, some mediocre guitar work, and a song that has more a Gregorian chant quality than any musicality.

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          1. Try this. The best song you’ve never heard of. It’s amazing how many great musicians come out of Texas. Say what you will about Texas, but they do produce some of the great ones.

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          2. Music is subjective, and the first to make it to our brain is what stays resident. We are suggestible, so that if we are told someone is a great musician, like, say, Neil Young, and if he captures a wave, say, by singing anti-war songs, he stays resident in our minds. Thereafter, no matter how he may sound, he feeds us.

            I don’t like Mexican music, Chinese atonal music is unpalatable, but it works for them.

            All that said, I liked the song you put up here, It was fun to listen to.

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          3. p.s. And years ago, when we weren’t yet enemies, I told you about this book and tried to find my copy to send to you. Well, I could never find my copy. I think I loaned it out and never got it back. Anyway, when they tried to bring those elk carcasses infected with CWD to Great Falls, I started reading all I could find on CWD. I came across this book, a great read and very informative. Enjoy, or delete this post if you feel like.

            http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199710023371420

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          4. p.s. And I gotta tell ya, that when I first heard this Bruce Robinson song, I was so overcome by emotion that I had to simply withdraw for a good long time while I tried to recuperate and sort things out. It was simply too much for me to handle. I cried for a long time. For I remember those days too well, as you probably do too. I remember listening to the radio for names of the Vietnam dead that I knew. When I heard the names of friends’ older brothers, etc., I could take no more. This song brought it all back.

            I remember one name in particular, an older brother of a friend of mine, who had such promise, He was a real scholar and a fine human being all around. What he was not was a soldier. Yet he was drafted anyway, and was slaughtered. For what?

            Later, when I went to Nam myself, I could only imagine how such a gentle, scholarly kid was killed. His father was a Baptist minister, and the family some of the nicest people I knew.

            And this sort of thing happened all the time back then. I went to pick up my date on night, and on the end table was a picture of her brother who had been killed in Nam. And her dad proudly recounted the tale of his life and death. DAMN the corporate fascist bastards who stole so many of our best and brightest!

            And this song brings it back every time. Every time I listen to it. Sorry, but I get very emotional when I remember those times. How did that Robison capture it in a song??? I dunno…

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