#1052: Walk On by Neil Young

Peak Month: August 1974
7 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #12
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #69

In 1945 Neil Young was born in Toronto, Ontario, and then lived most of his years growing up in the town of Omemee in the Kawartha Lakes region near Peterborough. As boy Neil Young was diagnosed with epilepsy, Type 1 diabetes and polio. By the age of six he was not able to walk. Despite his health challenges, he developed an interest in music and was taught to play the banjo and ukulele. After playing clubs in Toronto in the early 60s Young moved to Los Angeles by the time he turned twenty and became a member of the Buffalo Springfield.


After the Buffalo Springfield’s single, “For What It’s Worth”, became a Top Ten hit in the USA in early 1967, all the bandmates including Neil Young became celebrities. The record-buying public got to listen to songs Young wrote like “Mr. Soul” and “I Am a Child.” But my through 1968 Buffalo Springfield disbanded due to tensions within the band. Young often marched to his own drum and failed to show up for booked studio recordings of the groups final album.

In 1969 Young got a contract with Reprise Records. He released two albums that year, Neil Young and Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, backed by his band called Crazy Horse. The singles that emerged from these first two albums provided a glimpse into his creative lyric-writing and musicianship. These included “Sugar Mountain”, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down by the River”.

In the midst of his emerging solo career, Young was invited by Stephen Stills to join a new group with David Crosby of the Byrds and Graham Nash of the Hollies. When Young joined the group it was renamed Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. They played at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, and toured with their new album The band’s subsequent tour and album, Déjà Vu, the following year. But Young’s involvement with the band was short-lived as tensions over musical direction surfaced and Young went solo.

In 1970 he released the album, After the Gold Rush which included “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “Southern Man.” Then between January and September 1971 Young recorded his Harvest album and released it in 1972. The album included his classic songs “The Needle and the Damage Done,” “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.” Harvest went on to be the best-selling album in America in 1972.

Exhibition

I hear some people been talkin’ me down,
Bring up my name, pass it ’round.
They don’t mention happy times
They do their thing, I’ll do mine.

Ooh baby, that’s hard to change
I can’t tell them how to feel.
Some get stoned, some get strange,
But sooner or later it all gets real.

Walk on, walk on,
Walk on, walk on.

I remember the good old days,
Stayed up all night gettin’ crazed.
Then the money was not so good,
But we still did the best we could.

Ooh baby, that’s hard to change
I can’t tell them how to feel.
Some get stoned, some get strange,
But sooner or later it all gets real.

Walk on, walk on,
Walk on, walk on.

 

“Walk On” is the only single release from Young’s seventh studio album, On the Beach. The album was a musical statement from Young about moving beyond despair and not getting overwhelmed by it. In the song “Walk On” Young recognizes that when you participate in any community it will include people who badmouth you. Young writes “I hear some people been talkin’ me down,Bring up my name, pass it ’round.” Listeners could imagine a setting where they were not in the room and the people gathered around took turns at making disparaging remarks about the person who is absent. There could be the choice to speak about the good memories, the happy times. Instead the gang just keeps on bashing away at the absent person’s reputation. And when a circle of friends, a neighborhood or wider community turn on individuals there are a range of coping skills.

Young says, “some get stoned, some get strange.” Tuning out the news, the animosity, the gossip by doing drugs is one way to get by. Others, perhaps more sensitive people get strange: the clothes they wear, eccentric behaviors, isolating themselves from community, or being aloof. Some get hostile or threatening, posting signs outside their home and property indicating they want to be left alone. How each person feels ends up being quite different from the person next to them. The discomforting and fractured society becomes all too real and for many people very broken with no solution in sight. Young’s advice: walk on. If you’re not welcome, if there’s no hospitality offered, kick the dust off your sandals and keep on moving. To keep on walking allows for the possibility that there may be a more receptive setting. There may be people in the next town won’t talk you down, or maybe they will. The promise of really living remains by not settling for what just doesn’t fit anymore.

“Walk On” peaked at #12 in Vancouver and #69 on the Billboard Hot 100, but did not appear on the Canadian RPM singles chart. Neil Young would not enjoy a Top 40 hit in Canada after his 1972 single “War Song”, until “Harvest Moon” climbed to #5 on the Canadian RPM charts in 1992 (a song that did not chart in the USA). Had there been charts available for this Countdown project from 1992, “Harvest Moon” would have likely been in the Countdown. But without any local record surveys from 1992, the only thing that is certain is “Harvest Moon” was a national Top Ten hit in Canada in ’92.
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