Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
Neil Young has always been one of our “weirder” rock stars. Whether it’s his fascination with turning old ‘40s and ‘50s gas-guzzling Cadillacs into electric cars, dressing up his roadies as Jawas from Star Wars, creating a triangular-shaped digital listening device to compete with Apple, or turning two old barns into a pair of gigantic stereo speakers at his Broken Arrow ranch, Neil has always been one to pursue any idea strikes him as even mildly interesting. That impulse has also found its way into his music as well, including most recently on his new album The Visitor.
When considering some of Neil’s stranger sonic turns, most people immediately hone in on his work throughout the 1980s. More specifically, the 1982 album Trans, where he traded in his trusty acoustic Martin and electric Les Paul guitars for a vocoder and synth and poured his heart out over a sad, electronic suite of songs. While the finished product left a lot of people — including the folks running Geffen Records — scratching their heads, there was a method to his madness. “Trans, was inspired by my son Ben and his communication challenges,” he explained in his memoir Waging Heavy Peace. “He couldn’t talk or communicate in a way that most people could understand, so I made a record where I sang through a machine and most people couldn’t understand what I was saying, either.”
Following the backlash that came from Trans, Neil made a return to rock record called Everybody’s Rockin’ with a backing group called The Shocking Pinks. The only problem was the rock he returned to wasn’t his own, but rather an earlier ‘50s swing style. Then in 1991, there was the album Arc, in which he channeled Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, turning in a disc comprised of a single, 35-minute long track of twisted guitar feedback. And of course, who could forget his 2003, “audio novel” Greendale, which was recorded with his trusted backing group Crazy Horse.