Neil Young Turns 75: Everything About the Music Legend’s Career on His Birthday

by Chris Haney

On Thursday, legendary country, folk and rock artist Neil Young celebrated his 75th birthday. The musician has created dozens of albums and played in numerous bands throughout his decades-long career.

From his early days with Buffalo Springfield to his solo career spanning decades, Young has been a force in the music world for more than 50 years. Now, on Young’s 75th birthday, let’s look back at the godfather of grunge’s iconic music career.

Young During Grade School in Canada

Young was born on November 12, 1945, in Toronto, Canada. During his younger days, he survived contracting polio in 1951 and later learned to play the ukulele as his introduction to playing music.

In a 1975 Rolling Stone interview, the musician recalled that he couldn’t stop thinking about playing music as a young man.

“All of a sudden I wanted a guitar and that was it,” he said of his early days wanting to be a musician. 

Young was so serious about his musical ambitions that he dropped out of high school. He quit school and focused on playing at local clubs and coffee houses. While still a teenager, Young formed the folk-rock group The Squires in 1963. During this time period, the singer and guitarist met Stephen Stills who would later become his bandmate.

Young’s Early Days in California with Buffalo Springfield

When The Squires broke up in 1965, Young eventually packed his bags and drove all the way to Los Angeles, CA. Stills had already moved to L.A., but when Young got there, the two formed a new band named Buffalo Springfield. Young and the band debuted on April 11, 1966, at the famed Troubadour in West Hollywood.

A friend of the band – Chris Hillman of The Byrds – got them an audition at the legendary music bar and venue, Whisky a Go-Go. Following their audition, the band basically became the house band for two months during the summer of 1966. Buffalo Springfield started to blow up from there, signing a record deal, touring the nation, and releasing their first record in December of the same year.

By March 1967, their single “For What It’s Worth” had become a Top Ten hit. They sold more than one million records off the hit and it was awarded gold status.

The band released three albums in less than two years, but the band’s inner turmoil led them to break up. In May of 1968, the band held talks and mutually parted ways after less than three years together.

Crosby, Stills, and Nash Welcome Young

After Buffalo Springfield broke up, Young became a solo artist. In January of 1969, he released his self-titled debut solo album. The album did not chart, but his projects over the next few years would go down as some of the most influential music of any era.

Only five months later, Young released his first album with his longtime backing band Crazy Horse. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere became the songwriter’s first solo hit album. It climbed to #34 on the Billboard charts and was certified as a platinum record.

The sophomore album includes some of Young’s most well-known hits. They include the album title track, “Cinnamon Girl,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and “Down by the River.” The four songs have become standard during most of his performances. In fact, as the story goes, Young supposedly wrote all four tracks on the same day while fighting a 103-degree fever.

By this time, his old bandmate Stephen Stills had moved on and started another band with David Crosby and Graham Nash. Crosby, Stills, & Nash (CSN) had already released their first studio album in 1969 to much success. But, they asked Young to join the band not long after. The new supergroup – called Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young (CSNY) – went on to release Déjà Vu, which remains the highest-selling album of any of the band member’s careers.

The album’s singles “Woodstock,” “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” and “Carry On” all charted. The singles even led to unprecedented pre-orders for the album totaling more than $2 million before it even came out.

The album sold more than eight million copies and has been certified platinum eight times over. Additionally, the band performed at 1969’s iconic Woodstock Music Festival alongside other legendary acts including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, and many more. However, like many great bands, they did not last. Arguments and tension between Young and his bandmates led to CSN kicking out Y.

Young’s Extensive Solo Career

Since CSNY broke up in 1970, the band has gotten back together off and on over the last 50 years. Yet, Young has consistently created and released music on his own almost every year since. The prolific songwriter released a couple more highlights in his musical catalog over the next two years.

1970’s After the Gold Rush shot to #8 on the Billboard charts after its release in September. Young’s third studio album had two successful singles, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “When You Dance I Can Really Love.” The musician’s famous “Southern Man” track even began a sort of war of songs between himself and southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Skynyrd’s wildly popular “Sweet Home Alabama” even names Young in its lyrics. The song states, “Well, I hope Neil Young will remember, a southern man don’t need him around, anyhow.”

The guitarist followed up with his fourth studio album in 1972’s Harvest. Young welcomed former bandmates Crosby and Stills to play on the album. Harvest topped the Billboard charts for two weeks straight and became the best-selling album in America in 1972. The single “Old Man” peaked at #31, but “Heart of Gold” climbed all the way to #1.

Young Continues to Make Relevant Music

Young has gone on to create 40 solo studio albums, and many more if you include live and compilation albums. His musical output is almost unmatched when it comes to relevance and length over the past 50 years.

Young has always been politically outspoken, and that has continued well into his 70s. His songs have served as anthems for counterculture, including the iconic protest song “Ohio.” The track released only days after the 1970 Kent State shootings.

In addition, Young has released multiple other political-based songs. He released “Rockin’ in the Free World” in 1989, which numerous other bands have covered since, including Pearl Jam.

Also, he released a song titled “Already Great” off his 2017 album The Visitor that criticized President Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Young’s newest album released earlier in June of this year. It’s titled Homegrown and is a collection of songs recorded from 1974-1975. After decades, Young released the album as part of 2020’s Record Store Day.

25 years ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Young as a solo artist.

“Young has consistently demonstrated the unbridled passion of an artist who understands that self-renewal is the only way to avoid burning out,” a statement during his induction said. “For this reason, he has remained one of the most significant artists of the rock and roll era.”  

The musician has not slowed down his entire career when it comes to creating music. And even on his 75th birthday, he doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping anytime soon.