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The Life and Career of Neil Young

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born November 12th, 1945 in Toronto, Ontario, Neil Young is one of the world's most influential singer-songwriters, especially in the genres of folk and rock. While he's been a successful solo artist in his own right, he has also contributed to the music scene by being a member of bands such as Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some of his biggest hits include the songs, "Heart of Gold," "Like a Hurricane," and "Rockin' in the Free World". In this video, takes a look at the life and career of legendary Canadian musician Neil Young.

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Musical Beginnings

Neil Percival Young was born on November 12th, 1945 in Toronto, Ontario.  It was in the 1960s that he began playing in bands like the Mynah Birds, and touring as a solo artist.

Buffalo Springfield

He then formed the rock group Buffalo Springfield. Though the band was together for only about two years, it was one of the decade’s most influential acts thanks to its folk and country rock sound.  Its biggest hit was “For What It’s Worth.”

Solo Debut

Young released his self-titled solo debut to mixed reviews in 1968.  The next year, he came out with Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, and that album was recorded with backing band, Crazy Horse.  The album featured Young’s distinctive guitar solos and the song “Cinnamon Girl.”

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Solo Commercial Breakthrough

He had his first number-one effort on the Pop Albums chart as a member of folk rock group, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with 1970’s Déjà vu. His solo commercial breakthrough followed later that year with After the Gold Rush.  With its hard rock and folk-influenced acoustic tracks, the record is now considered one of his classic LPs and comprised the single “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”


1972’s Harvest was an even bigger hit, and turned him into a star.  The country rock record went to number one on the charts and was the year’s best-selling album.  It included his first and only number-one single, “Heart of Gold.”

The Ditch Trilogy

His next three albums were known as The Ditch Trilogy, and they were commercial disappointments in comparison.  However, the record Tonight’s the Night from the trilogy later became known as a ground-breaking endeavor. In the latter half of the decade, “Like a Hurricane,” was released and it became one of Young’s most well-known songs.

Electric and Acoustic

He also returned to mainstream consciousness with the recognizable country and folk rock sound of the 1978 record Comes a Time. Young found even more success with 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, and that album was made up mostly of electric and acoustic tracks recorded during the preceding tour.


Young experimented with different sounds and styles in the early 1980s. His album Trans features synthesizers; while the record Everybody’s Rockin’ included rockabilly covers. He also had his first hit single during the latter half of the decade with “This Note’s For You.”  However, 1988’s reunion effort with Crosby, Stills & Nash called American Dream received negative reviews.


His popularity returned with the critically and commercially successful effort, Freedom. With its politically-charged lyrics and a heavy use of distortion, the record anticipated the alternative rock explosion.  It also spawned the number-two hit, “Rockin’ in the Free World.” 

"Harvest Moon" and an Oscar Nomination

This was followed by the release of the feedback-heavy album Ragged Glory and the live record Weld.  The next year he went back to country and folk rock with the well-received disc, Harvest Moon and received an Oscar nomination for the song, “Philadelphia,” from the film soundtrack of the same name.

Grunge, Touring and More

The influence of grunge was heard on Young’s 1994 effort Sleeps with Angels, and also on the top-five record Mirror Ball, which was an effort he worked on with Pearl Jam.  Up next was the movie soundtrack for “Dead Man,” the album Broken Arrow with Crazy Horse and the concert video and live compilation, “Year of the Horse.”  Two years later, Young reunited with Crosby, Stills and Nash for the disc, Looking Forward, and this was followed by one of the highest grossing tours of 2000.

Politics and the Environment

During the next decade, several albums that Young released showcased his views on numerous issues.  For instance, there was the politically-minded Living with War, and the environmentally-conscious Greendale, Chrome Dreams II and Fork in the Road.  The latter was notable for being inspired by Young’s LincVolt, which was a 1959 Lincoln Continental that was transformed into a more fuel-efficient car.

Death Scare

The decade was also significant for Young’s health, as he was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm.  Complications from its treatment later led to his collapse and this incident inspired him to write about mortality on his Prairie Wind album.

Collaborations and Archive Series

In 2009, Young played guitar on the disc, Potato Hole, by Booker T. Jones.  The next year, he came out with Grammy-winning solo effort, Le Noise. This was followed by another installment in his series of archival releases, the live compilation A Treasure in 2011.

Musical Legacy

Thanks to his country-folk rock and continual perseverance, Neil Young has become one of the world’s most influential and prominent singer-songwriters.

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