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Music

Why Neil Young sang the original lyrics to a classic Beatles song

@TylerGolsen

Neil Young has a strong affinity for The Beatles. Between covering tracks like ‘A Day in the Life’ during his live shows and or jamming with Ringo Starr during The Last Waltz, Young has been able to translate his lifelong fandom into a career full of admiration.

In fact, The Beatles were the first band that got Young on a stage singing while he was still a kid. “I remember singing Beatles tunes … the first song I ever sang in front of people was ‘It Won’t Be Long’, and then ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’,” Young recalled to Cameron Crowe in a Rolling Stone interview in 1975. “That was in Calvin High School [Winnipeg] cafeteria. My big moment,” he added.

Eventually, he was able to make such a name for himself that The Beatles themselves acknowledged him and his artistry. Somewhat ironically, it didn’t appear as though they were big fans. “It’s mainly his voice, I liked some of his songs but I hated the sound of his voice, his singing is even worse than me,” George Harrison told Bob Geldof. “It’s good for a laugh. We did this show with him, I saw it from the other side of the stage and looked around, I looked at Eric and said ‘what’s going on?’ He did the solo in the middle then he kind of looked at me like – ‘don’t look at me, it’s not me’.”

John Lennon was critical about Young’s famous line “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” taken from the song ‘Hey Hey, My My’. “It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out,” Lennon told Playboy in 1980. “I don’t appreciate worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or of dead John Wayne. It’s the same thing. Making Sid Vicious a hero, Jim Morrison … it’s garbage to me. I worship the people who survive. Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo. They’re saying John Wayne conquered cancer… he whipped it like a man.”

“If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn’t he do it?” Lennon shot back. “Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.” Despite the criticism from his heroes, Young’s fandom for The Beatles never wavered, and when he met Paul McCartney, Young got an insight that he later brought with him to the stage.

When McCartney originally wrote ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, the opening track to The Beatles’ 1963 debut LP Please Please Me, the opening line was, “Well she was just 17, never been a beauty queen”. After some rebuke from Lennon, McCartney changed the latter part of the line to “yeah you know what I mean”. Years later, when McCartney was getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he related the story to Young.

“Years later I was getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Neil Young was there,” McCartney later told Howard Stern. “I told him that story. There was a MusiCares thing, a big benefit in LA and Neil was playing there and he did that song and he used that line”.

Check out Neil Young and Crazy Horse singing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ with a variation on the original line down below.