<-- The Rust List Page      <-- The Words zone      <-- HyperRust Home

Neil and the Beatles
(A Rusties Discussion)

Compiled/edited by Graham Spook The Horse Gales

In 1996 there was a Neil Young and the Beatles thread on Rust, around the time of the anniversary of John Lennon's death. What follows are the main comments from this thread. Repetitions, errors and mis-attributions, have been omitted. I have included all of Mr. SoulMan's response, others I have paraphrased.

    Spook The Horse

The thread was started by the following message ...

    I recently watched the entire, 10-hour Beatles Anthology 
    video series (I love libraries.) Throughout it, I thought 
    about what Neil was up to during different periods in the 
    Beatles' career.  Does anyone know if Neil and the 
    Beatles ever met, if he worked with any of them after 
    they split (or before), if they ever expressed opinions 
    about each others' music, etc?  I think of Neil and the 
    Beatles as so distinctly different from each other that I 
    have to remember that they overlapped a bit, particularly 
    Buffalo Springfield and the Beatles.  I think of After 
    the Goldrush coming out the year the Beatles split, and 
    for some reason I can't put it and Abbey Road (or a lot 
    of other music current at the time) in the same time and 
    space.  I tend to imagine towering artists like the 
    Beatles and Neil as blotting all their contemporaries, 
    which probably wasn't always true.
     .... (deletions) ...

    Kevin (Jones)

Neil Young and The Beatles never met, either professionally or even personally before the Beatles broke up. However in the time since, George Harrison & Neil were on stage at the same time at the Dylan 30th anniversary Concert aka Bobfest.

Neil met and jammed with Ringo (and others) at The Last Waltz in 76.

As well, one of Neil's former 'employees', Nils Lofgren, was in the 'Ringo Starr All Star Band' as the musical director and singer/guitarist for 2 years. And occasionally played his squeezebox. Neil may have seen one of the shows and ventured backstage ...

Quote from Cameron Crowe interview of Neil Young (Rolling Stone, Febraury 8th, 1979):

In his mid-teens, Neil Young hit the Winnipeg dance-band circuit with his band, The Squires, and his own songs -- stinging instrumentals heavily influenced by the Shadows and the Ventures. Then came the Beatles and Bob Dylan, and Young started to write lyrics.

"I never forgot," he says, "that every time a new Beatles or Dylan album came out, you knew they were way beyond it. They were always doing something else, always moving down the line."

John Lennon said in his book Lennon Remembers in the 70's, when he was asked what kind of music he is listening to, answered something like this: "You can recognise Neil Young from miles away".

From the Rolling Stone article "Neil Young: The Last American Hero", February 8th, 1979, where Billy Talbot talks of touring after Zuma was finished:

"It was an idyllic time, man, Neil was just sparkling. We had a band again. I heard us playing like I knew nobody else could play. I remember in Rotterdam, coming offstage and seeing Paul McCartney standing there. We'd just finished the set, the four of us are running through this wind tunnel to get back to the dressing room, and McCartney's just standing there. He nods at me like, you know, musician to musician. I just kept thinking...Four of us. Four of them. Have we got a band or what!"

One writer doubted that each influenced the other much, but felt that the structure and sophistication of the Springfield song, Broken Arrow, owed something to Sgt. Pepper.

Neil commented on Lennon's death only once, in the Rockline radio interview of November 1991 (to premiere WELD). Neil was asked about digital sound which he compared to the dark ages of recorded music. The same caller also asked Neil about his reaction to Lennon's death. Neil simply (and poignantly) replied, "It was the Dark Ages [of rock and roll]."

From Mr SoulMan...

Hi Folks, I was gonna post this yesterday but never got around to it. Ended up playing guitar all day. John Lennon -- a man I'm sure affected most of us -- was senselessly slain on a New York street Dec 8, 1980, in front of his home in the Dakota apartment building.

Unfortunately because of the actions of one madman, yesterday was an anniversary that also affects most of us. I never knew John personally, but the thought of it has brought me to tears a number of times. Let's celebrate John's life instead of mourning his death! Let's discuss John's influence on Neil.

Here is a quick summary. I hope everyone else will add to it. Of course it begins with the Beatles. From Rolling Stone, Aug 14 1975:

Cameron Crowe: When did you start singing?

Neil: I remember singing Beatles tunes ... the first song I ever sang in front of people was It Won't Be Long, and then Money (That's What I Want). That was in Calvin High School [Winnipeg] cafeteria. My big moment."

[Spook The Horse comment: Of course Money is a Barrett Strong song, as many on Rust pointed out. But like most Canadian and United States young people, Neil would have become familiar with it through the Beatles' version.]
It was the Beatles that inspired Neil to sing, and he chose two songs that John Lennon sang lead on. Later on, the Beatles studio-crafted orchestrated soundscapes influenced Neil on such Buffalo Springfield tracks as Expecting to Fly (add in some Phil Spector, too) and Broken Arrow (which always reminds me of A Day In The Life, a song the BS would've heard as early as January 1967 thanks to David Crosby bringing back an acetate from England - check out Dave Zimmer's book Crosby, Stills & Nash for the full entertaining story. Neil would also open his 1978 shows during the Rust Never Sleeps period with A Day In The Life playing over the P.A. system.

Also don't forget the "namecheck" on the back of Buffalo Springfield Again, where you'll find "The Nurk Twins & George, Ringo". The "Nurk Twins" being an early name John and Paul used when they played as a duo. So obviously the Springfield were into the Beatles deep enough to know this weird piece of trivia.

Later Neil would totally abandon the Beatlesque overdubbed and orchestrated style for reasons I believe also owe a debt to John Lennon. I have no doubt the sparse confessional songs and the raw emotion of the Plastic Ono Band LP would influence Neil. Though I've never read evidence of it, I hear it every time I listen to Tonight's The Night or any of those early 70's albums. Vivid portraits of an artist stripped of all pretense, singing reports from his tortured psyche.

As far as I can tell, Neil might've actually met John once in November 1972. From Neil Young: A Visual Documentary by John Robertson:

"Neil Young, John Lennon and Yoko Ono are among guests at a celebrity party as a third Record Plant studio is opened in Sausalito, California."
A funny Neil and John connection came up in an interview with Alan Jenkins in Broken Arrow magazine, issue #40:
Alan: Were you invited to the recent Nordoff Robbins Silver Clef Winners concert in Britain this summer? You seem to be one of the few winners not booked for the event?

Neil: No I wasn't. You know why? Because I bought John Lennon's suit. But they wouldn't show me the suit so I wouldn't give them the money. When am I going to see the suit?!

Obviously for Neil to buy John's suit -- not his Rickenbacker or his Gibson J-200, not his psychedelic Rolls Royce, but his suit -- it must've been more than respect Neil had for John. Maybe a little idolisation. C'mon I don't see Neil walking around in one of John's old suits. What else is he gonna do - put it in the closet? It couldn't have been just an investment.

Neil would also namecheck John on his and Pearl Jam's Mirrorball track Peace & Love, even featuring images of John in the video.

So what did John think of Neil? Who knows? The evidence is slim.

In a Rolling Stone interview conducted in New York on December 8 l970 (reprinted in the book Lennon Remembers) when asked by Jann Wenner "What music do you listen to today?", John replies:

"If you want the record bit, since I've been listening to radio here, I like a few things by Neil Young."
He also adds:
"I only heard Neil Young twice - you can pick him out a mile away, the whole style. He writes some nice songs."
John may've been commenting on the recently released After The Goldrush (September 7 1970). At the time John was promoting his Plastic Ono Band album (recorded Sept. 26 - Oct. 27 1970, released Dec. 11 1970). So which came first, the chicken or the egg?

We do know what he felt about Hey Hey My My because David Sheff interviewed him in September 1980 for Playboy magazine (reprinted in the book The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono).

David: You disagree with Neil Young's lyric in Rust Never Sleeps: "It's better to burn out than to fade away..."

Lennon: I hate it. It's better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. If he was talking about burning out like Sid Vicious, forget it. I don't appreciate the worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or dead John Wayne. It's the same thing. Making Sid Vicious a hero, Jim Morrison - it's garbage to me. I worship the people who survive - Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo. They're saying John Wayne conquered cancer - he whipped it like a man. You know, I'm sorry that he died and all that - I'm sorry for his family - but he didn't whip cancer. It whipped him. I don't want Sean worshiping John Wayne or Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean, it's garbage you know. If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn't he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I'll take the living and the healthy.

Neil would reply two years later when asked to respond to Lennon's comments.
"The rock'n'roll spirit is not survival. Of course the people who play rock'n'roll should survive. But the essence of the rock'n'roll spirit to me, is that it's better to burn out really bright than to sort of decay off into infinity. Even though if you look at it in a mature way, you'll think, "well, yes ... you should decay off into infinity, and keep going along". Rock'n'roll doesn't look that far ahead. Rock'n'roll is right now. What's happening right this second. Is it bright? Or is it dim because it's waiting for tomorrow - that's what people want to know. And that's why I say that."
All right now, I believe they both got it wrong, Rust Never Sleeps / Hey Hey My My is about life not death. It's about fighting corrosion and decay by continually creating, adapting, changing. But I also believe both made more valid statements in such songs as Grow Old With Me (JL) and Staying Power (NY).

Well thanks for reading. I'd like to say one final thing in regards to Neil. Yoko knowing how much the fans enjoyed her husband's music allowed the vaults to be opened and for everything from work tapes to studio outtakes to be broadcast in a radio series called The Lost Lennon Tapes. I think it's still going strong though no one carries it in my area. Wouldn't it be great if Neil would allow this to be done in a similar format or one like the officially sanctioned Grateful Dead Hour which plays live recordings of the Dead? I can hear it now "Neil Young: A Journey Through The Past".

John says in the Playboy interview: "Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it." Instead of worrying about how to sell or package it, just put the music on the airwaves and let the enthusiasts such as us find it and enjoy it.

Mr SoulMan

Thanks to Cowgirl In The Sand, Kevin Jones, Ron Pretli, Mr SoulMan, JL, TWM, aerostar, Kurt Braun, John, Lasse Willen, AFoY, and Man Of The People.

 <-- The Rust List Page      <-- The Words zone      <-- HyperRust Home