Four Decades of Neil Young Covers

13 09 2007
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Phil Dellio in Stylus Magazine

In the winter and spring of 1972, right around the time I commandeered a transistor radio lying around our house and began listening religiously to Toronto’s 1050-CHUM, there was a six-month window when Neil Young was something of a radio star. “Heart of Gold” made it to #1 in March, followed soon after by “Old Man,” a more modest hit. “The Needle and the Damage Done” also got some AM airplay (in Toronto, at least), and when “Heart of Gold” fell out of the #1 spot, it was supplanted by America’s “A Horse with No Name.” I have a very dim memory of America insisting at the time that “A Horse with No Name”’s similarity to Neil (ditto their “Sandman”) was purely accidental; just like the Osmonds and “Yo-Yo,” America’s sound was their very being, impervious to outside influences. Meanwhile, less covert cover versions of Neil had been on the radio within the past couple of years: Buddy Miles (1970) and Joey Gregorash (1971) both charted with “Down by the River,” Matthew’s Southern Comfort (1971) included “Tell Me Why” on the same album as “Woodstock,” and somebody named Tommy Graham (no recollection of him at all; he sounds like he should have been in Deep Purple ) made it onto CHUM’s Top 30 with “After the Gold Rush” in 1972. Neil’s liner note on Decade about not liking the middle of the road very much following the massive success of Harvest wasn’t altogether an exaggeration; if he wasn’t exactly Elton John, you didn’t have to search very far to hear him, someone who sounded like him, or someone singing one of his songs in 1972.

And that was pretty much it for Neil Young and AM radio. Neil himself had another half-dozen very minor hits over the next decade (none making it higher than #61), and two more cover versions charted: Linda Ronstadt’s “Love Is a Rose” (1975, a B-side) and Nicolette Larson’s “Lotta Love” (1979). No more Top 100 singles of any size for Neil after that, and no more hit cover versions. But cover versions did continue to appear—lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them.




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