New Song: Beck Covers Neil Young’s Classic “Old Man”… For A Commercial? And It’s Good!

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Sometimes good things can come out of bad ideas. Or maybe we should describe it as good things sometimes come from bad motives.

My lovely daughter and her boyfriend were in town this weekend. They came in for the local Art Fair which was nice but let’s be honest, it was more of a rolling bash. Yesterday we had a little gathering – I wouldn’t call it a party – that was half house warming and half NFL football game watch party. My parents were here. My aunt and uncle made a surprise cameo. It was a nice afternoon if you don’t count how my team lost. The weather was perfect, quite a few people showed up. I described it as a successful gathering to my father who quickly pointed out, again, our team lost. I had no response other than, “Well other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

As the Sunday Night Football game came on last evening and the crowd had thinned out here at the house, suddenly I heard a countdown and then the beautiful acoustic melody of one of Neil Young’s greatest tunes, (and the Rock Chick’s favorite Neil Young song and that’s a short list) “Old Man.” I couldn’t help but think, in stunned surprise, “Wait, is this a commercial?” I was surprised that Neil Young, a staunch anti-corporate guy would use his song in a commercial. I mean it was Young who sang “This Note’s For You,” a song that railed against selling your songs to Pepsi or Budweiser. The lyrics of that song were pretty on the nose, “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi, ain’t singin’ for Coke, I don’t sing for nobody, makes me look like a joke.” I believe we’re all clear on where Neil stands on the issue. It turns out it wasn’t Neil Young, but as I quickly realized from the video, it was Beck. The song was being used to pimp next week’s SNF (Sunday Night Football) game that will pit Patrick Mahomes, a young star QB against Tom Brady the titular “old man.” What in the Hell were they thinking? Rock n Roll and football… “cats living with dogs, mass hysteria,” worlds colliding.

I am on record as being a big Beck fan. I wasn’t crazy about his last couple of LPs 2017’s Colors or 2019’s Hyperspace but he’s always good for a great song or two even on his weaker albums. I may not have liked Colors but I certainly liked the single, “Wow.” “Giddy up, giddy up,” indeed. And I thought “Saw Lightning” was a great track from Hyperspace. Beck always seems to be able to slip a little blues riff in on the occasional track and that always pulls me in. I’d like to tell you I was an early adopter on Beck. I liked “Loser,” his big breakthrough single, and still do, but couldn’t connect with the LP it came from, Mellow Gold. I remember hearing Odelay and thinking it was brilliant but I didn’t buy it until the Rock Chick re-introduced me to that record years after it was released. Frankly, I’ve always liked Beck’s more acoustic stuff than his more “dance-oriented,” electric tracks. In fact the first LP of Beck’s I purchased was the acoustic driven Mutations, although an ex absconded with it. I lost a lot of music in the 90s. There was a theory, briefly, that I only got married to keep a hold of my CDs.

When I think about Beck’s more acoustic side, I can’t help but immediately think of Sea Change, his brilliant breakup record. I can’t  believe it’s been 20 years this month since that album came out. Everybody should check out Sea Change. I probably should have included it on my list of grim and sad LPs everyone should hear. After Sea Change Beck was on a hot streak. He released three great LPs in a row: 2005’s Guero, 2006’s The Information, and finally 2008’s Modern Guilt. Those three albums, along with Odelay, for me anyway, cement Beck’s status as an important artist. In 2014 he finally returned to his acoustic side with his masterpiece, Morning Phase. I consider it a sister LP to Sea Change. With those 3 LPs sandwiched between them you might consider them “bookend” albums. Since then though, his output has slowed down and I haven’t been able to connect with more than the stray track or two.

Being the music obsessive that I am, I had to go out and buy this cover song… heaven knows how we do love our cover songs and albums around here… This may have come out of a bad idea – a commercial for a football game which is as bad an idea as me opening a bottle of wine last night after an afternoon of beer drinking (terrible idea) – but I have to admit Beck crushes this song. It’s a pretty faithful cover. Just Beck’s voice and an acoustic guitar. He does bring in somebody in on back up vocals for the high harmonies on the chorus, “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you, I need someone to love me the whole day through, Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true…” There are really two ways to approach a cover song. One is to turn it on it’s head and make it something completely different. The artist “makes the song his own” so to speak. The other approach is basically what Beck does here – record the song and remain faithful to the original. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s a beautiful song and it’s beautifully sung here. There are some people who don’t particularly care for Neil Young’s voice in general… and I may be married to one of those people. If you’re one of those folks you might like Beck’s vocal better. Beck manages to capture the angst of Neil’s original. To the Neil Young purists out there this all may seem like blasphemy. You don’t touch an iconic song. I remember a friend of mine who was literally disgusted that Metallica covered Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page.” I’ve never really understood his anger. It was like it was a personal affront to him. He stood around red faced with a furrowed brow and rage spittle hanging at the corner’s of his mouth. I was like, dude, it’s a song?

I remember Beck turning Hank Williams’ track “Your Cheating Heart” on it’s head and I would have welcomed a more experimental treatment of this song. At the end of the day, long after everybody has forgotten this commercial and the football game it’s advertising, we’ll still have this kind of cool cover song. Being a Chiefs fan, I’m certain I’ll be trying to forget this football game even before it’s over but then, the Chiefs have been breaking my heart my whole life (until recently, anyway). It may have been spawned by the most awful corporate motives but something good, a cool cover song, came out of it. You don’t hear a lot of simple acoustic music these days. I urge everbody to check it out:

Here’s to hoping your football team or whomever you’re rooting for in whatever sport you’re into wins their next game! Well, unless you’re a Tampa Bay Bucs fan… Cheers!

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