I’ve never been a big fan of Neil Young — I’ll just say it, itâ€™s that pinched voice of his — but I will admit to liking several of his songs once they were covered by other artists whose voices I found slightly less irritating. I love the Pixiesâ€™ take on â€œIâ€™ve Been Waiting for You,â€ and I even find Duran Duranâ€™s version of â€œThe Needle and the Damage Doneâ€ preferable to the original. Let me guess: you just said something snarky about Duranâ€™s 1995 covers album, Thank You. Youâ€™re right, it sucks. Perhaps thatâ€™s why they left this off the album; it was too good to make the cut. (It appeared on one of the CD singles of their cover of Lou Reedâ€™s â€œPerfect Day.â€ Lou allegedly loved Duranâ€™s version of his song, for what itâ€™s worth.)
However, Nicolette Larsonâ€™s version of â€œLotta Love,â€ 30-some years after she recorded it, has forever changed the way I feel about Neil Young and his approach to songwriting.
The Web has not been very forthcoming when it comes to confirming this, but I recently stumbled upon an awesome quote associated to Neil Young about how songs should be treated like houses that anyone can live in. If only the songwriter can relate to a song, then how can anyone else enjoy the experience of listening to it? Songs are for everyone, and the more universal the theme, the more relatable, and homey, it is. Larson, the Jim Keltner of session singers in the â€˜70s and runner-up in the Crystal Gayle Hair-Off, allegedly found “Lotta Love” on a cassette while riding in Youngâ€™s car. He said, â€œYou want it?â€ He apparently didnâ€™t have much use for it, but Larson thought it would be perfect for her 1978 debut solo album, the succinctly titled Nicolette. She was right; the song climbed to #8 on the Top 40 and #1 on the AC chart. â€œLotta Love,â€ as sung by Larson, is one of the coziest houses youâ€™ll ever set foot in.
And, true to 1978 form, Warners issued a disco mix of the track. The mix doesnâ€™t stray from the songâ€™s inherent awesomeness — indeed, itâ€™s a good blend of amped-up rhythm section and west-coast bliss — though it does open with a fleshed-out flute solo, baby! Letâ€™s see Felix da Housecat pull a stunt like that. Otherwise, the mix is pretty much identical to the album version. Some DJs must have been clamoring for a longer intro to mix the song in, and they got it. Along with some extra flautism.
Larson only cracked the Top 40 one more time (courtesy of a duet with Popdoseâ€™s Mellow Gold patron saint, Michael McDonald), though she continued to sing for other artists while carving out a decent career as a country artist. Tragically, we lost Larson in 1997 to cerebral edema — donâ€™t look it up if you donâ€™t know what it is; the less you know, the better youâ€™ll sleep — but her golden voice, combined with one of Neil Youngâ€™s more vulnerable songs, will live forever. Even if Young continues to warble for another 30 years, Iâ€™ll still smile (and occasionally wince) and think, â€œHey, thatâ€™s all right. He gave us ‘Lotta Love,’ so he gets a free pass.â€
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UPDATE: Per Francis’ request…
Duran Duran – The Needle and the Damage Done