Neil Young – Heart of Gold
by Kathy Unruh
Neil Young is sometimes referred to as “the godfather of grunge” although he is probably most often thought of as a folk/rock musician. He hails from Manitoba, Canada, but moved to southern California in the mid 60s and actually lived in the same general area where I grew up. One of his most well known songs is Heart of Gold. The song was released as a single in 1972 from the Harvest album and became his only #1 hit.
Heart of Gold is easy enough for a beginner to learn, which makes it good teaching material for the instructor. The song begins with a cool riff that gives the guitar student a fun way to practice a hammer technique in an actual playing format. The chords are easy and the lyrics are pretty universal too. Almost everyone can relate to this song, so it’s a good standard to have in your performance repretoire.
Heart of Gold put Young in the limelight as a solo artist, becoming one of those classic songs that people love to hear. Bob Dylan stated that although he always liked Neil Young, he didn’t like hearing this song on the radio…
“The only time it bothered me that someone sounded like me was when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, in about ’72 and the big song at the time was “Heart of Gold.” I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to “Heart of Gold.” I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I’d say, “…that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me.”
Perhaps that was Bob’s round about way of saying that he thought it was a great song.
Neil’s own feelings about having a number one hit are equally as interesting…
“This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”
My admiration for Neil Young goes well beyond his being an excellent musician and songwriter. I love his honesty as a human being. What you see is what you get. There is no pretense, no fluff and no need for it either. He speaks his mind and is not one to shy away from writing about controversial issues.
Consider Neil Young’s song, Southern Man, for example. It speaks against the discrimination that black Americans faced throughout the south. Apparently, Neil Young wrote this song after he was pulled out of a bar in Alabama in 1969 and beaten up by three men because he had long hair. This was just another form of discrimination that was all too common during the 60s. I think Southern Man is among the best songs he’s written.
Though Neil’s lyrics can be somewhat controversial, this fact hasn’t stopped him from enjoying a career that has lasted over forty years. Nevertheless, he doesn’t like to be pressured when it comes to meeting the demands of the music industry and has declared his indepence by stating…
“I didn’t spend 10 years in the 60s and 70s creating something so I could be a prisoner of it … You know if you’re trying to stay in the favor of the public, you’re a loser – you’ll never get there.”
In addition to being the “godfather of grunge”, perhaps we could also think of him as being a pioneer of the current Indie Music scene.
Neil Young was also a member of such memorable bands as Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, and Nash (which later became Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Taylor and Reeves). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.