Neil Young is loved by most musicians far and wide, and his influence permeates popular music in numerous ways. Often ascribed the title the ‘Godfather of Grunge’, Young’s unique and often gritty guitar tone is regarded as being the earliest iteration of the grunge movement, germinating some of its basic ideas back in the 1970s.
The songwriter’s songwriter, Young’s long and illustrious career has been one of many ups and downs, and to date, he has released a mammoth 41 studio albums. At the ripe age of 75, this is a trend that shows no sign of abating.
Apart from perhaps Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, Neil Young’s prolific artistic output is unmatched. His life reads like a tale of the troubadours of old, a story that is screaming to be made into a biopic. He has permeated popular culture so profoundly that his early ’70s aesthetic served as the principal reference point for the character of Doc Sportello in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 outing, Inherent Vice.
Oozing cool and musical ability, Young’s list of disciples is a dizzying one. Everyone from Nirvana to Radiohead and even Metallica cite him as a critical influence. In guitar music, his impact is truly felt internationally. It is unmatched, and without his vast musical odyssey, so many of our heroes, including those mentioned above, would not exist.
One of these guitar-playing heroes is the frontman of Boston rockers, Pixies. Over the course of his career, Black Francis has showered love on Young on numerous occasions. In fact, given his guitar tone and use of dynamics, it is easy to heed where Pixies took some of their songwriting cues from.
Proving himself to be a true music lover and a big fan of Young, in 2017, in an interview with The Quietus, Francis veered off the beaten path of Young records when revealing his favourite of them all, and it may surprise you. To many an astonished gasp, Black admitted that the Young opus he holds most dear in 2010’s Le Noise.
An experimental yet rocking album, it’s safe to say that Le Noise is vastly underrated within Young’s extensive back catalogue. A sometimes foray into arty noise rock, there can be no surprise that the Pixies frontman loves this record, and both musically and lyrically, there are many parallels that can be drawn between it and their own sonic style.
Francis said of Young: “With Neil Young, it’s all down to his songs. At least half of his songs really turn me on. Even the ones that don’t as much are still really damn good. It’s about getting onto the right wavelength. On this record, when I first heard it, I thought: ‘Ah, this is the big Neil Young, Dead Man soundtrack thing’.”
Francis then revealed that the candid nature that underpins a lot of Young’s work is the facet that truly won him over all those years ago. He said of the Canadian minstrel’s sound: “I love that sound but initially I was only tuned in to the shallower aspects of it. But after a while I started to really get the poignancy and the emotional voice that cuts through and thought: ‘Oh! I really love these songs.”
He continued: “I really respect what he’s trying to say. They’re beautiful songs. Sometimes Neil Young has a real ability to say something – to give a song an emotional stroke, to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I don’t understand’, to express a human frailty.”
Showing himself to be a true muso and lyrical master of a latter generation, Francis proceeded to place Young where he belongs – in the same breath as the Leonard Cohen et al. This is a fact that more people should heed, as Young often gets overlooked in favour of the like of Cohen and Dylan. In actuality, Young has maintained consistent quality throughout his career, unlike the aforementioned ones.
He said: “These older guys – Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Neil Young – when they make a good record as an older guy, they say shit. They might rhyme ‘moon with spoon in june’ but they do it with such heaviness, charm and humour. They drop these one liners that are like ‘Woah! That can only come from a guy who has been around the block 50 times.'”
Given his final take on the maturity of Young and his contemporaries, it makes us wonder what type of artistry Black Francis has in store for us, over the neck chapters of his career. A veteran of the live music scene, it’s sure to be an interesting one.
Watch Le Noise The Film in full below.