Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Music

The first song Neil Young ever sang in public

@TylerGolsen

Neil Young had a number of obstacles to overcome if he wanted anyone to hear his voice. First off was a childhood fight with polio, which nearly cost him his life before he was even old enough to drive a car. Next came his circumstances: Winnipeg, Canada wasn’t exactly a hotbed for musical activity. Like his fellow polio survivor, Joni Mitchell, Young was going to have to move south in order to chase his dream.

But before he made it to the US, Young formed quite a few bands in his native country. The Squires and the Mynah Birds were early groups, the latter of which featured a military-evading Rick James on lead vocals. But while Young was still in junior high school, he formed a band called The Jades, which would be the first taste of his future profession.

By the time Young got to high school, rock and roll had already taken off. Chuck Berry and Little Richard were already well-established, but two new artists really captivated Young’s imagination: The Beatles and Bob Dylan.

“I never forgot that every time a new Beatles or Dylan album came out, you knew they were way beyond it,” Young recalled to Cameron Crowe in a 1979 Rolling Stone interview. “They were always doing something else, always moving down the line.” Up to that point, Young had strictly been playing instrumental music, but now he saw the value of both words and vocals. 

The folk side would continue to grow, but Young was first and foremost and rock and roller. So were most high schoolers in the early to mid-1960s, so if you wanted to connect with a young student body eating lunch, The Beatles were certainly the way to go. For his first time in front of a microphone, Young decided to pilfer some material from The Beatles’ second LP, With the Beatles.

“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 told Crowe in an earlier Rolling Stone interview in 1975. “That was in Calvin High School [Winnipeg] cafeteria. My big moment.”

Young eventually got in the habit of writing his own songs, but he never lost his fandom for The Beatles, even as he established himself as a rock star. Throughout his career, Young would occasionally break into Beatles songs like ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, and ‘A Day in the Life’ when performing live, even getting Paul McCartney to join him in one of the performances of the latter.