Subscribe to our newsletter

Credit: Flipkeat

Music

Pete Townshend reveals Neil Young’s big mistake

Back in January, it was announced that veteran singer-songwriter Neil Young was selling a portion of his vast back-catalogue in a mutually lucrative $80 million deal with Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a UK-based art investment fund managed by The Blackstone Group. The outspoken guitarist of The Who, Pete Townshend, incidentally pointed out one of Young’s biggest career mistakes. 

In an interview with Rolling Stone published in February, Townshend was complimented on the impactful use of The Who’s music on the soundtrack of the American TV series Freaks and Geeks. When asked if he had seen the show, Townshend replied: “Yes, I did. It was a real buzz. I remember being very moved by it and very honoured. It was a dark comedy show with deep, swinging connotations about performance and education and all the things I’m talking about. The uses were very, very smart.”

Townshend then illustrates his point by bringing in Young as an example, rebuking his prudence over the years. “In a sense, it redeemed and gave credence to the fact that I’ve always felt the worst person … Let’s get into real trouble here. The worst person to have control of Neil Young’s catalogue is Neil Young. [Laughs] Give it to me. I just think there’s so much stuff there that could be just turned into joy. He’s such an incredible writer, and so much of his stuff is just unknown, partly because he keeps it tied so tight to his chest.”

It seems that Townshend feels Young should have been more lenient with the use of his music in television and advertising. He continued to detail his first flirtation with the wonders of television and commercial use of music – it brings money and keeps your name relevant. 

“Of course, [Young] didn’t have happen to him what happened to me, which is The Who ended for a good ten years,” Townshend explained. “In 1982, the Who closed down, and we weren’t earning money. I started allowing my songs to be used for commercials, for film use, and not all of it was good. There’s no question. Some of it was embarrassingly bad. But it earned money. One of the things that did happen, in a couple of places … with the use in CSI, fuck! It just hugely, dramatically, powerfully spread the word about the potential … These were some of the best songs that the Who had ever recorded. They were on TV over and over and over and over again. It just reminded people that we were still there. I think it probably helped us to come back.”

With Young’s sale to the Hipgnosis Songs Fund, he may have heeded Townshend’s sentiments, but evidently, a few decades late. Just prior to Townshend’s interview with Rolling Stone, Young took another sucker-punch on the musical promotion front as he decided to remove his catalogue from Spotify in protest against the streaming giant’s screening of potential misinformation. This stemmed from Young’s initial voicings that Joe Rogan’s podcast was spreading false information regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.