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Music

The two underrated Neil Young songs Levon Helm played on

Neil Young needs no real introduction. He’s one of the most influential musical artists to have ever graced this planet, artistically placed somewhere between Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain. Young is one of the last genuine troubadours, a marvellous poet, guitar hero, and enigmatic frontman wrapped up into one larger than life figure. 

It’s true that his music can often veer into the depressing realm, but this is why we love him. He uses music as a means of articulating what he wants to say but cannot, discussing subjects that many in his generation were too afraid or too proud to talk about. 

There’s a profoundly cerebral essence to all of what Neil Young has done, and this has influenced some of the sharpest subsequent musicians to do their thing and not be afraid to show emotion whilst doing it. Whether it be Sonic Youth, Nirvana or Radiohead, many of our favourite acts took their cues from the Toronto native. 

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Whilst we could spend hours waxing lyrical about the musical talent of Neil Young, today we’re getting our story from the other essential facet of his career, the many legends he’s collaborated with. Whether it be Crosby, Stills or Nash, Jack Nitzsche, Linda Ronstadt or James Taylor, the list of musical icons that have helped him realise his vivid creative vision is a spectacular one and is a real who’s who of music history. 

One of the most famous examples of Young collaborating with other artists came with Ronstadt and Taylor for the duo of songs, ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’, which are two of his best-loved cuts, and two of the highlights of his 1972 masterpiece, Harvest. However, he also worked with another brilliant artist on two of his finest songs of the 1970s, but because they’re album tracks, they’re lesser-known, which is a shame because the tracks are exquisite, and we think it’s time they stopped being overlooked. 

The artist was Levon Helm, the celebrated drummer and one of the trio vocalists of the Canadian-American superstars, The Band. Lauded for his deep soulful voice and creative drumming style, Helm helped The Band create some of their most important works, such as ‘The Weight’ and ‘Up on Cripple Creek’. 

The album was 1974’s On the Beach, and the songs were ‘See the Sky About to Rain’ and ‘Revolution Blues’. Helm’s expressive style carries the former, and the light, jazz-inspired style of drumming helps to accentuate the Wurlitzer and incredibly moving slide guitar, giving Young one of the most experimental drumming moments in his whole back catalogue. 

On ‘Revolution Blues’ Helm also shines, and the shuffling beat he delivers is constantly locomoting, giving Young’s busy guitar work the ballast it needs. The way that fellow member of The Band, Rick Danko’s bass work links up with his beat creates a masterclass in how rhythm sections should operate.

The Young-Helm partnership is stunning and one that more people should know and celebrate.

Listen to the two tracks below.

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