This week, Neil Young came back to his hometown of Omemee to play a small intimate show for only 200 people. The concert was invite only plus a handful of eight radio contest winners who were lucky enough to make it inside. However, outside, thousands gathered to celebrate Young’s homecoming, watch a live stream in a winter wonderland orchestrated by Neil’s partner Daryl Hannah and come together to enjoy some great music. In honour of Neil’s homecoming, this week’s Geeks & Beats Geek Picks of the Week is all about Neil Young songs featuring Ontario.
Kicking off this week’s picks is the always-beautiful “Helpless”. Written about Neil’s hometown Omemee, Ontario and his coming of age (Neil moved to Winnipeg around age 11), he sings “There is a town in North Ontario/ Dream comfort memory to spare/ And in my mind I still need a place to go/ All my changes were there”.
In the tune “Ambulance Blues”, Young makes direct reference to Toronto’s Yorkville music scene, which was vibrant and thriving in the 1960s. He references the Riverboat Coffee House (run by music big-wig Bernie Fiedler), where many folk artists had their first taste of the big time – among them Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Neil himself. “Ambulance Blues” opens with the line: “Back in the old folky days/ The air was magic when we played./ The Riverboat was rockin’/ in the rain/ Midnight was the time/ for the raid.”
Born in Ontario
This song is the quintessential piece in Young’s catalogue that proves he is proud of his Canadian roots and remembers where he came from. He recounts travels to other cities like Detroit and Baton Rouge but in the end, the chorus cries out “And I was born in Ontario./ I was born in Ontario, Ontario, Ontario.”
Time Off for Good Behaviour
“Time Off for Good Behaviour” is a rare track featuring a story about Neil’s brother who went to jail in Kingston, Ontario for selling marijuana. Of course Uncle Neil had something to say: “My brother went to prison/ He’s in Kingston doin’ time/ He got seven years for sellin’/ What I’ve been smokin’ all my life.” The song looks at the downfall of prison in Canada with lyrics that haunt.
The song “Hitchhiker” talks all about experimentation with different drugs across Canada and into the United States. It deals with topics of both paranoia and joy. Of course, Toronto receives a shout out. “You didn’t see me in Toronto/ When I first tried out some hash/ Smoked some then and I’ll do it again/ If I only had some cash.”
Love & War
“Love & War” pays homage to political efforts in music and what Young has seen from both over the years. He discusses religion, heartbreak and struggle and he makes specific reference to Toronto: “Since the backstreets of Toronto/ I sang for justice and I hit a bad chord/ But I still try to sing about love and war.”
Long May You Run
A beloved song by many, Young actually wrote this tune for one of his cars! Young has an infamous relationship with motor vehicles (he even wrote a book about it). In “Long May You Run”, Young references Blind River, a small town on the north side of Lake Huron. “Well it was back in Blind River in 1962/ when I last saw you alive/ But we missed that shift/ On the long decline/ Long may you run”.
Let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve missed an important Ontario track from Neil!