Neil Young is one of the most integral rock musicians of all time. While his influence is far-reaching, the genre of grunge, which is linked so closely with Seattle in the 1990s, has a lot to thank Young for—which is why he has been awarded the acclaimed moniker of ‘Godfather of Grunge’.
More specifically, it is Young’s 1979 record Rust Never Sleeps which helped craft this nickname thanks to the heavily distorted nature of his guitar on the album. He played a pivotal role in influencing the generation coming through at the end of the following decade who were raised on a diet which heavily consisted of the former Buffalo Springfield man’s work.
Young’s records famously inspired both Pearl Jam and Nirvana immensely and, once grunge had ascended to the mainstream by 1993, the two acts were quick to point out how much they owed their success to Young, a musician who taught them there was another way that the guitar could sound.
Kurt Cobain famously used Young’s lyrics in his suicide note when he tragically took his own life and that in itself remains a clear example of how much the artist meant to him. Young poignantly wrote this in his memoirs about how it scarred him when he discovered that Cobain had quoted his lyrics: “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me,” he said. “I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.”
Following Cobain’s death, Young then turned his grief into song when he wrote ‘Sleeps With Angels’ which was the title track from his 1994 album — one which he dedicated to the late Nirvana frontman who he was trying so hard to get in touch within the weeks prior to the awful tragedy.
Similarly, Pearl Jam was also indebted to Young for his inadvertent hand in pioneering the grunge movement. When Young was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Eddie Vedder was on hand to join him for a powerful rendition of ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ — a performance which signified a passing of the torch moment to one of Young’s disciples.
“He’s taught us a lot as a band about dignity and commitment and playing in the moment and when I hear, you know, the speeches and inducting Janis Joplin and Frank Zappa, I get, uh, I’m just really glad he’s still here,” Vedder declared.
“And I think I’m gonna have to say that I don’t know if there’s been another artist that has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to commemorate a career that is still as vital as he is today. Some of his best songs were on his last record,” he then added.
Young’s moniker essentially is born out of his influence on the grunge scene rather than him being actually involved in the movement himself, more so that his records opened the eyes of the grunge footsoldiers in Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain who took the music to a totally new level.