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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Neil Young's Saturday Night Live Performance of "Rockin' In The Free World" | NYA

Saturday Night Live Neil Young Rockin
Neil Young's 1989 Saturday Night Live performance of "Rockin' In The Free World" is now playing in Hearse Theater | NYA.

On September 30, 1989, Neil Young served notice that he was back with a vengeance with his legendary performance of Rockin' In The Free World on Saturday Night Live. There are many, many defining moments in Neil Young's career. His appearance on SNL was another such occasion.

Neil's incredibly incendiary 1989 performance of "Rockin' in the Free World" which has been called "one of the most intense live television studio performances ever".

When Neil performed on Saturday Night Live, on September 30, 1989, the album Freedom was about to be released. Neil did a rare "3-fer" on SNL - performing 3 songs: "Rockin'", "The Needle And The Damage Done" and "No More".

Neil channels Elvis & Johnny Rotten
"Rocking in the Free World"

Young seemed possessed as he throttled his Les Paul guitar and shredded its strings before the audience. Wearing a Elvis Presley T-shirt, Young seemed to be bridging his 1970's classic "Hey, Hey, My, My" with the lyrics "The King [Elvis] is gone but not forgotten, this is the story of Johnny Rotten" with the end of the 1980's and the impending advent of the grunge-alternative music explosion.

Lupo's "Elvis Heartbreak Hotel" Shirt

Later, Young commented that he worked with a trainer before going onstage to work himself up to the encore intensity level when he normally performs the song after 2 hours on stage. Neil came on the set as if he had just performed the concert of his life and went from there. The song was selected as one of the best of Saturday Night Live musical performances of all time in broadcasts later in the 1990's for the 25th anniversary.

Critics were ecstatic about Young's return to form based on just the single broadcast and it marked a critical turning point in Neil's career. Jimmy McDonough writes in a Village Voice interview:
With the September 30 appearance on Saturday Night Live, Young arrested any signs of rust - at least for the moment. Backed by Charlie Drayton, Steve Jordan, and longtime sideman Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro - a new band Young's tentatively calling Young, CS&P - he was all over the stage, jumping on the drum stand, lunging out of camera range, whipping off earsplitting solos that sounded like falling power lines. It was the loudest thing I've ever heard on TV, the lyrics to 'Rockin' in the Free World' barely audible. This is easily his best band since Crazy Horse.

Just the look on his face was enough. He really seemed insane.
YOUNG: 'Yeah, well I was. I don't like TV. Never have. It always sucks and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't just walk on and do 'Rockin' in the Free World,' or you'll look like a fuckin' idiot. To perform that song the way it's supposed to be performed you have to be at peak blood level, everything has to be up, the machine has to be stoked. To do that I had to ignore Saturday Night Live completely. I had to pretend I wasn't there.'

So Young developed 'a brand new technique for doing TV' - a half-hour before going on he worked out with his trainer, lifting weights and doing calisthenics to get himself wired.
Video of the performance was once widely available on YouTube however -- as the corporate grip continues to tighten on the Internet -- it is no longer available. Somehow though, the 2nd song performed that night "No More" is available on YouTube... for now.

In the meantime, check out this review of the first concert performance of “Rockin’ In The Free World” in Seattle on February 21, 1989 by Chris Horn.

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At 12/03/2019 10:23:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Neil just killed it that night. This has always been my favorite version of the song. It’s just raw and unhinged. Moments like that are extremely rare, not only for television but for any medium. The stars were aligned perfectly that night, and no matter how many times I see it, it always blows my mind. Goosebumps every time.


At 12/04/2019 01:02:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

The ending, when he looks to the drummer then plays the final chord, is like a nuclear bomb going off. Easily the most intense musical moment in tv history.

At 12/04/2019 08:52:00 AM, Blogger DREman said...

The drummer, Steve Jordan, is the difference here. So much intensity, while keeping it tight. He was also the drummer on Landing on Water, and LoW has some very fine tracks because of his technique.
I agree that this performance is simply stellar. No More, which was also played that night, is also worthy of high praise. After the Geffen years - this was Neil's phoenix that was rising from the ashes.

At 12/04/2019 09:56:00 AM, Blogger leftsideup said...

Goose bumps every time. My favorite Neil TV performance, along with LAH from Berlin. Two desert island tracks for me.

At 12/04/2019 11:58:00 AM, Blogger mark said...

..... if anyone, for whatever reason, still does not like Neil Young, they have not seen this performance.
I've wished many a time, that i'd'a had a VCR that night.

At 12/04/2019 01:41:00 PM, Blogger Kundalini said...

Man that was fun. Made my day. Here's a link on Vimeo for all of you to see and enjoy.

At 12/04/2019 01:43:00 PM, Blogger Kundalini said...

And it's so appropriate to listen and watch on this day when we were witnessing the impeachment process of our current president. And we need to rock in our free world

At 12/04/2019 02:58:00 PM, Blogger PreciousDust said...

Oh yeah, Neil"s a big lefty. I love his music anyway.

At 12/04/2019 06:43:00 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

Getting your hopes up for no reason.

At 12/05/2019 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I completely agree that the performance of No More that night was equally outstanding. I hope Neil will put that up on Hearse Theatre soon.
I did have a VCR that night and I’ve recently transferred the two songs onto DVD. Certainly a high water mark in Neil’s long strange trip.


At 12/05/2019 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

At 12/05/2019 07:04:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Love it!!! Seem him do it in concert. He is truly an artist. Saw it on snl total have seen Neil 15 times

At 3/05/2021 01:51:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...



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