November 06, 2013

Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done (Live) (1971)

After Buffalo Springfield broke up, Neil Young signed a record deal as a solo artist with Reprise Records on the recommendation of his friend Joni Mitchell. Although his first two albums, Neil Young (November 1968) and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (May 1969) didn’t initially chart very well, his third album After the Gold Rush (August 1970) gained much more attention, primarily in thanks to his increased exposure from joining Crosby, Stills & Nash in August 1969.

By the end of the summer in 1970, CSN&Y completely imploded and disbanded. That very same autumn, Young decided to go on an acoustic tour of the United States, playing songs from his Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, and solo catalogs. As the tour went on, Young began to introduce more and more of his newer material to live audiences. The song heard below was played before a live audience on one such occasion on January 30, 1971. As the tour concluded, Young befriended a group of musicians (whom he dubbed The Stray Gators) which he would use as the session musicians on his fourth solo album, the critically-acclaimed Harvest (February 1972). The only song to appear on Harvest from Young’s acoustic tour was “The Needle and the Damage Done,” heard below.

The song heard below was written by Neil Young, spotlighting the detriments of heroin on the people around him. Specifically, the song was inspired by Danny Whitten, the guitarist of Crazy Horse, a band whom Young had hired to back him on his second and third albums that were eventually signed to their own record deal. When Young’s Harvest album became a huge success, reaching number one in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada, Young quickly made plans to start a tour to support it. He called upon Whitten among others to rehearse with him for the impending tour. Upon their rehearsals, it was evident that Whitten was still using heroin, as his guitar playing was hardly a shadow of his former abilities. On November 18, 1972, Young fired Whitten from the band, giving him fifty dollars and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That very same night, Whitten died from a fatal combination of Valium and alcohol, the former being taken for knee arthritis and the latter taken to try and quell the heroin cravings. It took years for Neil Young to stop blaming himself for Whitten’s death.

album art

Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done (Live) (1971)

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I caught you knocking at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more?
Ooh, ooh, the damage done

I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done

I sing the song because I love the man
I know that some of you don't understand
Milk-blood to keep from running out

I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's like a setting sun

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