Certain Songs #1242: Neil Young – “Wonderin'”

Album: The Archives Vol. 1 – 1963–1972
Year: 1970

Recorded at Neil’s home in Topanga, March 15, 1970

“Wonderin'” has had one of the weirder lives of any of Neil Young’s songs. It was kicking around at lot in early 1970: not only was it one of the songs Neil recorded for After The Gold Rush, he thought enough of it to play it live with Crazy Horse during their concurrent shows at the Fillmore East — an honor not given to any of the other songs recorded for After The Goldrush — but it was over a decade before any recording of it surfaced on any album.

That would be, of course, 1983, when “Wonderin'” was by so far the best song on the otherwise execrable Everybody’s Rockin’, Neil’s outflanking of Geffen Records’ demand that he give them a “rock ‘n’ roll” album after the left turn of Trans.

Even with the doo-wop backing vocals, “Wonderin'” stuck out from the rest of Everybody’s Rockin’ like a sore thumb, it’s easy-rolling melody line and classic chord changes completely at odds with the cliched rockabilly tropes that surrounded it. Or so I remember: I haven’t listened to Everybody’s Rockin’ in 35 years, for all I know, that album is a lost classic. (Guessing not, though.)

Anyways, I can see why Neil left this version of “Wonderin'” off of After The Gold Rush, though it would have been a neat b-side — way better of a b-side to “Heart of Gold” than “Sugar Mountain,” and way way way better of a b-sided for “Old Man” than “Needle and the Damage Done.”

However, it was exactly the kind of thing that was the reason so many Neil fans were utterly chuffed with release of The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972 in 2009. Twenty years in the making — the delay of which was a running joke for years within Neil’s fanbase — and even with massive amounts of material that had already been released, to call Archives a treasure trove is a massive understatement: it’s the gold standard for how these things could be done.

Meanwhile, it’s been almost a decade, and nothing but blown (if self-imposed) deadlines for Volume 2: 1972–1982, even if they did put the lovely Hitchhiker — a acoustic session recorded on a single night in 1976 — out in 2017.

And at this point, they might skip physical releases entirely and just dump everything on the Neil Young Archives website, which honestly, might be OK, too.

In any event, what puts this recording of “Wonderin'” into the pantheon for me is the ending, where the backing vocals chant “knowin that I need you to save me” over and over and over, like just singing it could make it so.

Also helping: Nils Lofgren, who sticks some nice almost barrelhouse piano into the middle of it: a musical flourish that probably was the link for Neil to re-record it for Everybody’s Rockin’ over a decade later.

“Wonderin'” 1970 outtake

“Wonderin'” Live at the FIllmore East 1970

“Wonderin'” Shocking Pinks official Video 1983

One Response to “Certain Songs #1242: Neil Young – “Wonderin'””

  1. IOB says:

    You’ve got me on a Neil Young kick, so I put on my vinyl copy of Everybody’s Rockin’ yesterday for maybe the second time ever and you’re absolutely right: “Wonderin'” leaps right out as the one truly excellent song on an album that’s not as bad as its reputation but not very good either.

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