Revisit Neil Young’s furious letter to MTV: “You spineless twerps!”
During a period of time when millions of people are forced to remain home amid strict social distancing measures, we’re dipping back into the Far Out archives to deliver a much-needed dose of nostalgia to keep us going. While the great Neil Young has been doing his best to provide lockdown entertainment with his recent quarantine ‘Fireside Sessions’, his efforts led us down a never-ending rabbit hole while exploring some of his most fascinating moments.
Through a rich back catalogue, Neil Young has managed to traverse generations and become one of the more influential singer-songwriters of his age. His incredible canon of albums has produced countless mammoth tracks that rightly put him at the top of the pile. That said, his work hasn’t always been appreciated and it may have been what led to him confronting MTV back in 1988.
It’s widely known that Young, a man who has never been afraid to make his opinions well known, has always put the power of music to the very top of his agenda—it’s what drives him both artistically and personally. While the financial gain, the touring, the sold-out shows and the fame all followed, Neil Young always ensured that the art of songwriting was the sole feature of his priorities.
In 1988 then, as Young was preparing to release his 16th studio album This Note’s for You, the musician was growing increasingly frustrated by the amount of supremely popular rock stars selling their souls to the advertising world. At the time of recording the material for the title track of the record ‘This Note’s for You’, the likes of Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Genesis and more had all signed mega-money advertising deals with major corporate companies, confirming their places in Young’s little black book.
Young, decided that enough was enough and he would take his grievances to the biggest stage and changed the creative thinking behind his record. The album title, a cheeky play on Budweiser’s advert campaign “This Bud’s For You”, also included references to Coca Cola, Pepsi and Miller beers in the lyrical content.
Taking aim at the lack of artist integrity, the line “I got the real thing, baby” is a direct reference to the Coca Cola slogan “It’s the Real Thing” and that very much set the tone for Young’s direction and his scything lyrics.
Finishing off his efforts to point the finger at those who sold out, Young recruited director Julien Temple to create a parody video for his lead single which poked fun at a number of different artists and companies. The clip starred a “practising alcoholic” Eric Clapton, a Michael Jackson impersonator whose hair catches fire and a Whitney Houston lookalike who sings the line “ain’t singing for Coke.”
The video was controversial, make no mistake about it. Upon immediate release, MTV decided to take the decision to ban Young’s work amid rumours of lawsuits from Michael Jackson’s estate. Rumours began speculating that MTV was attempting to censor Young’s message of negativity around the advertising world and the musician didn’t take too kindly to it.
Deciding to take things into his own hands, Young wrote a letter to MTV bosses and labelled them “spineless twerps”.
See the note, below.
6th July, 1988
MTV, you spineless twerps. You refuse to play “This Note’s For You” because you’re afraid to offend your sponsors. What does the “M” in MTV stand for: music or money? Long live rock and roll.
The letter, it would seem, did the trick.
Amid a public uproar, MTV performed a total U-turn and began showing the video intermittently across all their channels. To compound their bad decision making, MTV later crowned the video for ‘This Note’s for You’ the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the Year for 1989 in a bizarre turn of events, which only adds to the singer’s legend.