Singer/songwriter Neil Young is sometimes visionary, sometimes flaky, sometimes both at once. He has maintained a large following since the early Seventies with music in three basic styles - solo acoustic ballads, sweet country rock, and lumbering hard rock, all topped by his high voice - and he veers from one to another in unpredictable phases. His subject matter also shifts from personal confessions to allusive stories to bouncy throw-aways. A dedicated primitivist, Young is constantly proving that simplicity is not always simple.
As a child, Young moved with his mother to Winnipeg, Canada, after she divorced his father, a well-known sports journalist. He played in several high school rock bands, including the Esquires, the Stardusters, and the Squires. He also began hanging out in local folk clubs, where he met Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell. Mitchell wrote "The Circle Game" for Young after hearing his "Sugar Mountain." In the mid-Sixties Young moved to Toronto, where he began performing solo. In 1966 he and bassist Bruce Palmer joined the Mynah Birds (which included Rick James and had a deal with Motown Records); after that fizzled, he and Palmer drove to Los Angeles in Young's Pontiac hearse. Young and Palmer ran into Stills and another mutual friend, Richie Furay, out west and formed Buffalo Springfield, one of the most important of the new folk-country-rock bands, which recorded Young's "Broken Arrow," "I Am a Child," "Mr. Soul," and "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing." But friction developed: Young quit the band, only to rejoin and quit again, and in May 1968, after recording three albums, the band split up.
Young acquired Joni Mitchell's manager Elliot Roberts, and released his debut solo LP in January 1969, co-produced by Jack Nitzsche. Around the same time Young began jamming with a band called the Rockets. Renamed Crazy Horse, the band - drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot, and guitarist Danny Whitten - backed Young on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (#34, 1969), recorded in two weeks. The album includes three of Young's most famous songs: "Cinnamon Girl," "Down by the River," and "Cowgirl in the Sand," which, Young later said, were all written in one day while he was stricken with the flu. The album went gold (and much later, platinum), but Young decided to split his time between Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills and Nash, which he joined in June. In March 1970 his presence was first felt on CSN&Y's Deja Vu.
Young's third solo, the gold (and utterly pessimistic) After the Gold Rush (#8, 1970), included Crazy Horse and 17-year-old guitarist Nils Lofgren. The album yielded the single "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" (#33, 1970), and that plus the CSN&Y album put the spotlight on Young. Harvest (#1, 1972), with the #1 single "Heart of Gold," made the singer/songwriter a superstar.
By the release of its live album, Four Way Street, in spring 1971, CSN&Y had broken up. In 1972 Young made a cinema verite film, Journey Through the Past; it and its soundtrack were panned by critics. Young confused fans further with Times Fade Away (#22, 1973), a rough-hewn live album recorded with the Stray Gators, including Nitzsche (keyboards), Ben Keith (pedal steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass), and John Barbata (drums). In June 1975 Young released a bleak, ragged album recorded two years earlier, Tonight's the Night (#25). The album's dark tone reflected Young's emotional upheaval following the drug deaths of Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten in 1972 and CSN&Y roadie Bruce Berry in 1973. In November Young released the harder-rocking Zuma(#25), an emotionally intense work that included the sweeping "Cortex the Killer." Crazy Horse now included Talbot, Molina, and Frank Sampedro (rhythm guitar). In 1976 Young recorded Long May You Run (#26) with Stills, which went gold; he and Stills embarked on a tour, but Young left halfway through.
In June 1977 Young was back on his own with the gold American Stars 'n Bars (#21), again a