Neil Young is a Canadian singer-songwriter born in Toronto on November 12 1945. He grew up in the rural town of Omemee, Ontario, and, after visiting Florida on holiday in 1952, his family decided to return to Toronto. He raised chickens to make money from selling their eggs while he began to take an interest in music around the same time.
Young began to play music on a plastic ukulele and formed his first band, The Jades, while at school in Winnipeg. He later joined The Squires before going solo and performing in folk clubs around Winnipeg. He first met Joni Mitchell on the circuit. In 1966, Young and friend Bruce Palmer moved to Los Angeles where they formed the band Buffalo Springfield.
Two years and two albums later, the band split up and Young went solo, signing with Reprise Records. His self-titled debut album was released on November 12 1968, Young’s 23rd birthday. It was later remixed and reissued as Young was unhappy with the sound quality. The record didn’t chart on either release.
He later recruited Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina for his backing band, naming them Crazy Horse. His second album was thus credited to Neil Young and Crazy Horse and was titled ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’. It was recorded in two weeks and released on May 14 1969. It has since been certified as platinum in America.
Shortly after the record’s release, Young joined up with former Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills to join Crosby, Stills & Nash. Their first album ‘Deja Vu’ was released on March 11 1970.
Young’s third solo album, ‘After The Gold Rush’ was released on August 31 1970 and featured guest appearances from Stills, Nils Lofgren and Greg Reeves. Crazy Horse recorded some of the tracks on the album but were dismissed shortly into the sessions. He toured in support of the record shortly after its release and during the shows he played material by Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, as well as his solo songs.
While in Nashville to record the TV show, Johnny Cash On Campus, Young met a group of country musicians he called The Stray Gators. He invited them to record with him while in the city, which resulted in his next LP, ‘Harvest’. It was released on February 14 1972 and was a huge success, topping the albums charts in the UK, US and Australia.
Following some personnel changes in the line-up of Young’s backing band, ‘Time Fades Away’ was released on October 15 1973. It became known as the first part of the ‘ditch’ trilogy by fans, as it was the first of three commercial failures and saw Young making more challenging music.
While on tour in the latter stages of 1973, Young recorded an album inspired by the drug-induced deaths of his former bandmate Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. ‘Tonight’s The Night’ wasn’t released until 1975, however, as Reprise didn’t like the record’s dark tone and Young had to pressure them into releasing it. ‘On The Beach’ preceded it, and also featured more dark themes but presented in a more melodic acoustic style. It was released on July 16 1974 and sold poorly but went on to become a critical favourite.
Young also recorded another album around this time, called ‘Homegrown’. Most of its songs were written after his breakup with partner Carrie Snodgrass. Eventually, he decided not to release the record, getting Reprise to release ‘Tonight’s The Night’ instead.
1976 saw Young perform with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and more at the all-star The Last Waltz concert, The Band’s final ever performance. Martin Scorsese released a film of the concert later.
Young’s next album, ‘American Stars ‘N Bars’, was released on June 13 1977. It featured two songs, which had been intended for release on the ill-fated ‘Homegrown’. The record featured appearances from Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Crazy Horse. Young followed it up with his first entirely new solo album since the mid-70s, ‘Comes A Time’, on October 2 1978. Around the same time, filming was done for the film ‘Human Highway’, which Young spent $3 million on producing.
The musician headed out on tour in 1978 and released two albums to accompany the lengthy run, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ and ‘Live Rust’. They were intended to reflect the different sides of his live show – acoustic and electric. Young also directed a movie of the tour, also called Rust Never Sleeps, under the alias Bernard Shakey.
The 1980s saw Young entering a new experimental phase, releasing five albums between 1980 and 1984. The latter year became the first year in Young’s career not to see an album released in it. He spent much of that year and 1985 touring his next album ‘Old Ways’ and was involved in a legal battle with Geffen. He released his last two albums on the label in 1986 (‘Landing On Water’) and 1987 (‘Life’). The latter was his least successful studio album ever, selling approximately 400,000 copies worldwide.
Young rejoined Reprise and released his 17th studio album on April 11 1988. ‘This Note’s For You’ featured a jazzier style than his previous records. The same year, Young reunited with Crosby, Stills and Nash to record the LP ‘American Dream’ and play two benefit concerts.
He regained some popularity in 1989 with the release of his single ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’. It went to Number 2 in the US charts, while the album it was taken from, ‘Freedom’, went on to be certified gold in America. The same year a tribute album, ‘The Bridge: A Tribute To Neil Young’, was released featuring the likes of Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and Pixies.
Young recorded 1990 album ‘Ragged Glory’ with Crazy Horse in his barn at his North Carolina ranch. The album’s hard rock style saw it reach the Top 40 in the Billboard 200 and Young toured the record with support from Social Distortion and Sonic Youth.
Two years later, Young returned to his more country and folk leanings on the album ‘Harvest Moon’. It was awarded the Juno Award For Album Of The Year in 1994. The same year, Young collaborated with Crazy Horse on the album ‘Sleeps With Angels’, influenced by Kurt Cobain’s death. Cobain had quoted a lyric from Young’s ‘My My, Hey Hey’ in his suicide note.
Young was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995 by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. The institution said that Young had ” consistently demonstrated the unbridled passion of an artist who understands that self-renewal is the only way to avoid burning out. For this reason, he has remained one of the most significant artists of the rock and roll era.”
In 2000, Young released two albums – the studio record ‘Silver & Gold’ and live album ‘Road Rock Vol 1’. A year later, he released the single ‘Let’s Roll’ in tribute to the victims of 9/11. He performed at the America: A Tribute To Heroes concert for the attack’s victims, covering John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. In 2002, Young released the ‘Are You Passionate?’ LP, dedicated to his wife Pegi.
‘Greendale’, released in 2003, marked Young’s first concept album. It focused on the murder of a police officer in a Californian town and how the aftermath of his death affected the citizens there. While working on its successor, ‘Prairie Wind’, Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. Following successful treatment, the record was released on September 27 2005. As such, some of the songs address the issue of mortality.
Inspired by the war on Iraq, Young released ‘Living With War’ in 2006. The record included a track titled ‘Let’s Impeach The President’, which hit out at George W. Bush. Young’s new protest songs were performed as he went on tour with Crosby, Stills & Nash for a new run of dates that year. He continued to address political issues, including the environment, on his next few albums.
Young and Crazy Horse reunited on a record for the first time in nine years on 2012’s ‘Americana’. The record was Young’s first entirely made up of covers, paying tribute to various national anthems, including ‘God Save The Queen’. His latest album ‘Storytone’ was released on November 4 2014, his second of the year and his 35th of his career.
In October 2014, Pono, a “high-resolution” digital download service, was launched. Young developed the service’s player, which is designed to compete against the MP3 and similar formats.