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FOREVER YOUNG

In 1969, after leaving Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young unleashed two albums on UK audiences – his self-titled debut and the sprawling brilliance of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. In the 50 years since, his relentless creative spirit has never waned. With the help of bandmates, producers and the musicians he’s inspired, Daniel Dylan Wray celebrates five decades of uncompromising genius

“I thought some old hippy had just walked in the studio,” remembers Niko Bolas of first meeting Neil Young back in 1986 when he’d been hired to engineer his Landing On Water album. “But then I quickly found out that that was my new boss. I had never listened to his music when I met him. I made one record with him and I became a real fan. He’s amazing and I didn’t know until I started working with him. He’s a force – he’s not a normal human.”

A VITAL VOICE

Young was nearly 40 and well into his career. After leaving folk-rock pioneers Buffalo Springfield, he embarked on a solo career, releasing Neil Young in the US in late ’68 and the UK in January ’69. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of its release this year, it sits as the first of a staggering 40 studio albums. Across those records, Young has created a sonic template for the possibilities of blending rock, folk and country. Now 73, the Canadian has made countless landmark albums, occasionally bleeding into the mainstream consciousness during the process, and remains to this day a vital and inimitable voice in music history.

Outside the reach of his own records, that impact is displayed in his influence. The shadow he has cast over contemporary music continues to loom large five decades on. Whether it’s the woozy, stripped-back Americana heard echoing in records by the likes of The War On Drugs and Kurt Vile, or the crunching guitar assault that earned him the nickname “the godfather of grunge” and became the prototype for bands such as Pearl Jam. Whether it’s Young in frenetic rock or heart-tearing ballad mode, his voice remains a singular and distinctive offering that has shaped as many careers and records as his songs.

His high-pitched, warbled, wonky yet endearingly fragile voice is far from conventional, but its idiosyncratic pitch has become a template for innumerable alternative artists over the years. From Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev, they have all been emboldened and empowered to embrace their wonkiness and in turn have become defining voices of their own generations. “Immediately, I identified with it,” Yorke said back in 2008, referring to his 16-year-old self hearing Young’s voice for the first time. “The frailty and register of it was so appealing.”

Another area in which the influence and impact of Young has been felt so palpably is in his ability to merge the harsh and the soft, to combine abrasive sounds with sugary sweet melody, to be loud and quiet, oft en in the same song. This became a blueprint for so many genres, from shoegaze to the alt-rock and college radio movement in the US and into grunge. One act from the latter era who perhaps most perfectly encompass Young’s harsh/soft duality are Dinosaur Jr, a band who started out with the intention of making “ear-bleed country” and who managed to combine squealing guitar feedback and pummelling bass with an infectious undercurrent of melody, all delivered from yet another voice that may have struggled to be heard if it weren’t for the existence of Neil Young. Lou Barlow of the band remembers being influenced hugely by him when they formed.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Long Live Vinyl - Apr 2019: Record Store Day
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