This is a new series here at You Set the Scene where we attempt to settle the age old East Coast vs. West Coast feud. In reality, we’re exploring the New York City metro area vs. the Los Angeles metro area.
In the first post we explored the quintessential band from each area: THE VELVET UNDERGROUND vs. THE BEACH BOYS. Our verdict was The Beach Boys (HERE).
This time around we look at - The (Transplanted) Singer/Songwriter.
BOB DYLAN vs. NEIL YOUNG
- Does Bob Dylan belong to New York City?
Robert Zimmerman was born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota and got interested in folk music while living in Minneapolis. In 1961 he was drawn to New York City by Woody Guthrie and the Greenwich Village scene. He was already calling himself Bob Dylan by then, but New York City was where he made a name for himself. With the exception of the Nashville records, his early records were recorded at Columbia Studios in NYC. Interestingly, in the late 1970s and early 1980s he recorded most of his records in Los Angeles. It's quite possible that he’s spent more time living in LA than NYC. Today he’s the definition of a rolling stone, spending time in upstate New York, Malibu and touring. But New York City gets him because of those early, formative years. But don't tell Minnesota.
- Does Neil Young belong to Los Angeles?
Neil Young was born in Toronto in 1945. He started playing in bands in high school and dropped out to play the folk clubs. After his short lived band the Mynah Birds fell apart (stupid Rick James) Neil moved to LA in 1966 (still only 20 years old). His first band there was Buffalo Springfield, who recorded three albums in a little over two years. After they broke up, Neil stayed in LA and finally found his voice as a writer and performer. He recorded his first few solo albums there. Throughout the 1970s Young continued to split his time and record between Northern and Southern California. These days we tend associate Neil with Northern California, but he did spend his formative years in LA. So for the purposes of this argument, LA gets Neil. But don't tell Canada.
Popularity: While Bob Dylan’s never had a #1 pop song as a performer (“Like a Rolling Stone” and “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” both reached #2), he has sold a shitload of records. Sixteen releases have gone at least platinum and five of his records have reached #1 on the Billboard charts. He’s also won about ten Grammys and a lifetime achievement award, an Oscar and is a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (and at their essence, those are all popularity contests).
As a solo performer, seven of Neil Young's records have gone at least platinum. Only Harvest reached number one on the Billboard charts. Neil's had one song, "Heart of Gold," reach number one on the Billboard singles chart. Funnily enough, in an 1985 interview Dylan said this about the song: "It seemed to me somebody else had taken my thing and had run away with it, you know, and I never got over it. Maybe tomorrow."
Edge: Bob Dylan
But this competition isn’t about mainstream popularity or chart success, so let’s dig a little deeper….
Songwriting: These are two of the most prolific, respected songwriters of all time. By my count, Neil's got ten albums and 85 songs that are pretty fantastic. No slouch either, Dylan's got at least a dozen critically acclaimed records and probably 60 songs that (I think) are pretty fantastic. Dylan also got all those one liners that are ingrained in our culture. Edge: Too close to call
Voice/Musicianship: Both artists have unmistakably unique voices that are a bit of an acquired taste. Dylan can be a chameleon with his. Put some of his country records on the turntable and the average music fan probably wouldn't recognize it as Dylan. Neil's able to use his limited range in a slightly prettier way. While Neil never claims to be a good guitar player, most fans would strongly disagree. Dylan doesn't quite have the same cachet. Edge: Neil Young
Cool Factor: Dylan's cool is more rooted in a beatnik-y, mid to late 1960s thing while Neil's is more rooted in that early to mid-1970s Topanga Canyon vibe. Neither artist has shied away from politics - Dylan with the civil rights movement and Neil Young's "Ohio" was a huge anti-war anthem. They both had periods of uncool too - Dylan's born-again phase and Neil's Republican phase. Neil Young wrote "This Note's For You" and Dylan appeared with Will.i.am in a Pepsi ad (I'll excuse him for Victoria's Secret, but Escalade?). In the end, it's really hard to find anybody who has been as cool for as long as Neil Young. Edge: Neil Young
Influence/Legacy: Both artists will leave behind incredible legacies. They've influenced both directly and indirectly anybody who has picked up a guitar (including each other). Not to discount Neil, but Dylan started earlier and was able to leave a more distinct legacy. There's really no modern substitute for Dylan. Edge: Bob Dylan
Verdict: How do you choose? Dylan's sold more albums, he's an American icon and his influence is undeniable. But as great as his recent songs are, he feels like he belongs to another generation. He's built so many walls around himself and manipulated his image so much, it's hard to feel like you know him. Neil Young's also had an incredible amount of success. He's completely uncompromising, which can be frustrating for his fans, but commands respect. There's so much passion and such a directness in his songwriting that in spite of his prickly nature, fans feel connected with him. Rolling Stone Magazine disagrees with me, but......Neil Young
Reminder: Tune in to Little Radio tomorrow from Noon to 2:00 for the Sinking Radio show. I have requested a recently released (on the Archives set) live version of one of the songs from Neil's first solo record. Often the live versions of the songs from that record beat the studio versions.