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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 153
Mon. July 1, 2013

“Like a Hurricane”
Neil Young

1977

“♫ Once
I thought
I saw
you/ in
a crowded,
hazy bar
♫”

There’s something hauntingly beautiful about this guitar laced personification of Neil Young’s intense desire for a paramour he longed for but could never attain. You can actually feel Neil’s fiery lonesome desperation within the howling chords of “Like a Hurricane.” Jimmy McDonough described how this lyrical “Hurricane” came to life, in his book Shakey when Jimmy wrote, “Neil had this amazing intense attraction to this particular woman named Gail – it didn’t happen, he didn’t go home with her. We go back to the ranch and Neil started playing. Young was completely possessed, pacing around the room, hunched over a Stringman keyboard pounding out the song. Young took the song to his band Crazy Horse with just two lines written on an envelope: “You are like a hurricane, there’s calm in yer eye.”

In his 2012 autobiography Waging Peace, Neil Young continued the story in the creative birth of “Like A Hurricane,” when he wrote, “[“Like a Hurricane”] was a memorable recording, though for the feeling that comes out of the instrumental passages. I always record every note played, whether it is a run-through or not, and the recording of “Like a Hurricane” is a great illustration of why I do that. When you do that, you catch everything. Most often the first time something is played is the defining moment. That is what I like to capture in my recordings. It is a strict rule that my engineers are there to record everything. The master recording I used for the final version of [“Like a Hurricane”] was the run-through when I was showing the Horse how the song went. That is why it cuts on the beginning. There was no beginning. There was no end. It is one of those performances you can never repeat, the cherry, the original expression of the song, the essence. We just kept wailing on those changes until we couldn’t move anymore.”

Can you believe a studio run-through would be the master take of Neil Young classic? It goes to show nothing is an accident and by recording everything Young captures every source sound of inspiration, because you never know when the perfect take, rehearsal, improvised or otherwise…but I can’t get over that sound of desire screeching through the original album version of “Like a Hurricane.” Rock Critic Dave Marsh called this Neil Young classic, “an eight-minute tour de force of electric guitar feedback and extended metaphor (Smokey Robinson meets Jimi Hendrix on Bob Dylan’s old block).”

But to me it goes back to that sonic snapshot of Neil’s desire and McDonough captures Young’s eternal longing in Shakey when Jimmy wrote, “I remember walkin’ in the door to Neil’s house—the sun was coming up—and there was Neil, all alone, over the corner of the room playing the keyboard. It was just insane—he was playin’ away like Beethoven. He looked like a fuckin’ maniac.” Reading Jimmy talk about Neil playing the keyboard while coming up with the emotions that would eventually spawn “Hurricane,” reminds me of Neil’s 1992 stripped down organ version on his 1993 performance on M-TV Unplugged. Watching Young with dirty blonde hair and his shades and microphone hanging under his chin, wail away on this beautiful haunted version brings to life all the craving that inspired Neil to pen “Like a Hurricane” in 1975.

Whether you’re like Marsh and love the 1977 original or maybe you enjoy turning off the lights and reflecting in the glow of Neil’s unplugged version of 1993, in just about any incarnation you will lose yourself when you spin the honest majesty of Young’s “Like a Hurricane.” [Even though it’s well deserved…] enough hyperbole; break out your Neil Young vinyl and get ready to be blown away, again and again.

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