Like many of you, we took notice of Arcade Fire’s recent cover of Neil Young’s “Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown” during their recent show in Winnipeg.
Well okay, maybe it’s more of a Danny Whitten cover. And what’s the deal with the giant heads?
Regardless, Arcade Fire have made these types of cover songs a staple of their current tour. Basically, in each city they perform, they make it a point to perform something by one of that town’s favorite sons.
So, when you come to Winnipeg, a Neil Young connection more than makes sense, right?
But for our purposes here, this got us to thinking about some of our favorite instances of otherwise famous artists covering Neil Young songs.
Let’s start with this one:
A shorter version of this song, from Buddy Miles 1970 Them Changes album, was a staple of the early progressive rock FM stations that briefly flourished from the late 1960s up until around the mid 1970s.
This was right before the corporate interests took over, and the once free-form musical format gave way to the more tightly regimented narrow-casting that remains in place to this day.
Anyway…we’ve always preferred this version, from the long out-of-print Buddy Miles live album.
Buddy was always best known as the power-drummer who played behind the likes of both Mike Bloomfield (in the Electric Flag) and Jimi Hendrix (in the Band of Gypsys). On this stunning version of “Down By The River,” he reveals himself as a surprisingly adept vocalist, and more than capable of a quite soulful interpretation of one of Neil’s greatest songs.
It is hard to imagine there being any voice in modern rock more uniquely qualified (or, for that matter, “matched”) to cover Neil Young than Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.
Radiohead have covered Neil Young numerous times onstage – a routine Google or YouTube search will turn up numerous versions of “After The Gold Rush” and “Tell Me Why.”
But our personal favorite has always been this much rarer version of “On The Beach.” The desolate tone of Yorke’s voice here, suits this song perfectly.
Speaking of voices perfectly suited to Neil Young songs, how about the Man In Black?
Although Cash clearly comes from the opposite end of the tonal spectrum, his deep vocal register literally smacks you in the gut here.
Cash did some of his greatest work with producer Rick Rubin in his final years on the American Recordings series. This is among the least known, and best. The fact that “Pocahontas” is also one of our very favorite Neil Young songs ever, further qualifies its inclusion here.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.