Neil Young Takes A Stand – Again

by Kevin Burton

   Neil Young has always put his money where his mouth is.

  He took on the Nixon White House during the Vietnam War. Now he is taking on a popular podcaster who he says propagates dangerous lies about Covid 19.  

   By pulling his music from Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming site, Young stands to lose as much as $300,000 this year, according to one estimate.

     “Neil Young was five years old when, in 1951, he was partially paralyzed by polio. Joni Mitchell was nine when she was hospitalized by the same illness around the same time,” wrote The Economist, a London-based news magazine.

   “Both grew up to become famous singers, and lately, prominent campaigners against anti-vaccine misinformation. The two musicians, followed by a handful of others, have withdrawn their music from the world’s biggest streaming service in protest at a podcast that gave airtime to anti-vaxxers.”

   “Rolling Stone reported that the 76-year-old rock titan Neil Young sent a letter telling his management team and record label that Spotify would have to choose between hosting his music and hosting the hugely popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience,” wrote the Atlantic Monthly.

   The Atlantic wrote that Young’s letter was inspired by another letter that was “signed by 270 scientists, doctors, and other health professionals in January. It alleged that Rogan had broadcast inaccuracies about COVID-19, including by hosting guests who plugged ivermectin as an effective treatment and by portraying vaccines as unnecessary for young people.”

   I didn’t hear a peep about health professionals protesting about Rogan to Spotify. Neil Young gets involved and a greater light shines on events. Yet Young is just one voice, and no longer an A-list musician.

   “Spotify picked the podcaster over the musician,” The Atlantic wrote.  “On the Beach,” “Old Man,” and most of the rest of Young’s gorgeous, warbling catalog as a lead artist is no longer available to Spotify’s 381 million users (though they can still gently blast Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young).”
   “The Joe Rogan Experience, a chat show about such subjects as health and society and mixed martial arts and aliens, remains available. In a statement, the company said that it wants ‘all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users,’ and asserted that it already removed ‘over 20,000 podcast episodes related to covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.’ The company also expressed regrets about Young’s choice.”

    “One of pop music’s most acclaimed and enigmatic performers,” is the description of Young in “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits.”

   The song that landed him in the book, “Heart of Gold,” was his only solo song to make even the top 30 in the US.  It went number one 50 years ago this month, knocking Nilson’s Without You off the top spot.

   Young had chart success with Buffalo Springfield (“For What It’s Worth,” 1967) and with CSNY (nine top 40 hits including Woodstock and Teach Your Children), but not so much as a solo artist.

   Talented as he is as a musician, I think of him more for his protests.

   You know it was Young who wrote “Ohio” a protest song in reaction to the Ohio National Guard shooting and killing four students at Kent State University during a peaceful demonstration.

  But did you know that Teach Your Children was racing up the chart when Young and his bandmates told Atlantic Records to release Ohio immediately.  The group stepped on its own hit because they had a greater message to deliver. 

   Young’s stand against Spotify will cost him even more.

   “As the biggest streamer with 180 million paying subscribers Spotify has power over artists,” The Economist wrote.  “Young says he gets about 60 percent of his streaming income there.”

   “A rough calculation by Will Page, a former Spotify chief economist, based on figures from MRC a data firm, suggests the musician stands to lose about $300,000 this year if he continues his boycott,” The Economist wrote. 

   For the moment streams of Young songs are up 50 percent on other platforms due to publicity about the spat with Spotify, The Economist reports.

   If I’m reaching for tunes to spin on a Saturday night, there is next to no chance I will be reaching for Young’s. But Heart Of Gold, and its searching for what is truly meaningful before it is too late (and I’m getting old) somehow spoke to me before I even turned ten.

   Maybe I should check into Young’s catalog, to see what else he has to say.

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1 Comment

  1. “After the Gold Rush” has always been one of my favorite Neil Young solos. I in fact wrote some alternate words to it and sang it for my church a couple of years ago. Thanks for promoting Neil’s ethical decision. Personally, I have never used Spotify, and have still managed to find all of the music I want to hear.

    Michael Byington


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