XPN’s Gotta Hear Song of the Week: “Powderfinger” by Neil Young

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On August 11th, 1976, Neil Young walked into Indigo Studios in Malibu with an acoustic guitar, and proceeded to record an album of new songs he’d been working on. The album, Hitchhiker, sat on the shelves for years — decades, even — until recently.

On all but one song – on which he played a piano – Young recorded ten intimate, striking songs with producer David Briggs in the control room.

Always prolific, the 70s were Neil Young’s most peak creative period, penning some of his best known and timeless songs and albums, starting with After The Goldrush in 1970, and ending the decade with Rust Never Sleeps. Sandwiched between those two now classic releases were Harvest in 1972, On The Beach in 1974, two albums in 1975 — Tonight’s The Night and Zuma — his 1977 outing American Stars ‘n Bars, and Comes A Time in 1978. He also recorded an album with Stephen Stills as The Stills-Young Band in 1976.

Eight of the ten songs on Hitchhiker went on to be recorded on some of the aforementioned releases. There are two never before released songs including “Hawaii” and the beautiful “Give Me Strength.”

It’s astounding to hear these stark performances of songs like “The Old Country Waltz” – the only song her performs on piano – that he would go on to record on American Stars ‘n Bars (with backing vocals by Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson). A later version of “Human Highway” appeared on Comes A Time. “Pocohontas, “Ride My Llama,” and “Powderfinger” would later be recorded by Young with Crazy Horse on his tour de force Rust Never Sleeps.

Hitchhiker is a stellar moment in Young’s long history, a singular moment that captures one of music’s most enduring songwriters. Below, listen to the Hitchhiker version of “Powderfinger,” and the version from Rust Never Sleeps.

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