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Music

Why Neil Young once bought 20,000 copies of his own album

@josephtaysom

Neil Young is a perfectionist, and if something isn’t done on his terms, he wants no part of the entire operation. It’s a mindset that explains why his music is no longer on Spotify and why he once bought 20,000 copies of his own album.

The album in question is 1978’s Comes A Time, the Canadian’s ninth-studio record. Although it’s not one of the most renowned pieces of work from his canon and didn’t birth any hit singles, it’s a strong collection of folk-tinged tracks and it was met with rave reviews from publications upon its release.

However, Young wasn’t happy with the final product due to the sound quality and didn’t want it to be consumed by the public. There was an issue with the master version of the album, which was damaged during transportation and ultimately left Comes A Time sounding inferior.

Young is obsessive regarding sound quality, and in 2015, he first had his music removed from streaming services due to this issue rather than problematic podcast hosts. He explained: “I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution. I don’t feel right allowing this to be sold to my fans. It’s bad for my music.”

In fact, Young even went as far as encouraging fans to illegally record a copy of the album when it aired on Tidal because it would be broadcast in the sound quality he believed it deserved. 

“If you wanna get it, I think they play the whole album on Tidal in a couple of weeks,” he said on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. “Go onto Tidal and just record it off of Tidal! It’s gonna be 44.1 [kHz]. So that way everybody can get it, ’cause I’m not selling them. I’m not selling the MP3. When I start talking like that, my manager shows up.”

For many years, the tale of him buying 20,000 copies of Comes A Time was merely hearsay. However, in 2014, Young finally confirmed it was true and told Rolling Stone: “The tape got damaged when it went through the airport or something. I had to go back and use a copy of the master — it was a copy, but it had better-sounding playback than the other one. No, no, I made a barn roof out of them. I used them as shingles.”

Money has never been a concern for Young, and making sure his art is heard exactly how he envisioned it while creating it in the studio, everything else is merely secondary to him. Furthermore, his pedantic streak is also the catalyst for Young owning the most-unique barn roof in Colorado.