Neil Young: "What does the "M" mean in MTV: music or money?"

Neil Young: “What does the “M” mean in MTV: music or money?”

The narrative of rock mythology is continually nourished and is a source of anecdotes and stories which, with the passage of time, inevitably border on legend, such as, for example, that of the infamous incident recorded as 'Mud shark' which saw those bad boy gods as protagonists Led Zeppelin. Below I propose one, decidedly less itchy, which concerns the Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young happened in the late 1980s.

The Eighties were the most difficult and tormented decade of a long and extraordinary career for the Canadian musician.

In the Eighties, Young released albums that were little understood by critics and, more importantly, by his loyal audience. In 1981 .“Re-ac-tor” it is his latest release with Reprise Records, his historic label, which he left to join Geffen. It came out in 1982 “Trans”, an album of electronic music that surprises everyone (primarily the new record company that wanted a record in the style of the singer-songwriter and instead found one of a completely different genre). The following year “Everybody's Rockin'” it's a pure fifties rockabilly record. The relationship with Geffen inevitably deteriorates. The label accuses the artist of having betrayed his musical spirit, while the Canadian musician claims that an artist's creativity cannot be caged.

In 1985 things didn't improve much, Neil Young public “Old Ways”, an album that changes musical direction once again, now embraces country with a row of collaborations, even prestigious ones, that would make the end credits of a feature film pale in comparison. Peace between artist and record label does not even come with “Landing on Water”, from 1986, perhaps considered the lowest point of Young's recording career. With Geffen he is always arm wrestling. Punctual like clockwork, perhaps to close his contract as soon as possible, Young releases an album a year. So we get to 1987 when it is published “Life”the latest Geffen Records album that contains the song “Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll”a sort of ironic farewell to David Geffen.

It may be completely random instead, but the return to the Reprise brings great benefits to Neil Young. The wandering between one musical genre and another, however, cannot be said to be over yet. His sixteenth album was released on April 11, 1988. “This Note's for You”, which benefits from a horn section and gravitates towards soul and rhythm and blues. The video of the title track will bring him the prize MTV Video of the year 1989. Then, in 1989, with the two albums “El Dorado” And “Freedom” he will return to the more classic sounds for him. “Freedom” contains the song manifesto “Rockin' in the Free World” which will put him firmly back on the crest of the wave.

Shortly thereafter, the nineties would begin and the explosion of grunge of which he, certainly unsolicited, was recognized as one of the godfathers.

The curious story that concerns Neil Young is linked to the aforementioned award given to him on 6 November 1989 by the television broadcaster MTV as video of the year. It's curious because the video of “This Note's for You”directed by Julien Temple, excelled in the year-end rankings among the audience of the music channel which at the time had only been around for eight years, despite the fact that the television channel itself had banned it – not broadcasting it for a long period – because, it claimed, mentioning commercial products in songs was against network policy. But the real reason, he replied in his defense Neil Young it was all in the message of the song. In a rather shrewd move, when MTV banned the video, the singer's entourage sent 1,500 copies of the clip to all news channels in the United States, obtaining great media exposure for the song and also for the video that accompanied it.

These are some words from the lyrics of the song:

“Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Ain't singin' for Coke
I don't sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note's for you”

At the time the connection between music and multinationals was – even in the eyes of the public – much less clear than it is now, and Young's song took the side of music.

And he also did it with the images of the video that ridiculed those who had instead given in to the 'devil' and sold their soul to him. In the clip there is therefore a parody of the accident suffered by .Michael Jackson in 1984 who, while filming a commercial for Pepsi, saw her hair tragically catch fire (read the story here). In the clip the parody continues with a lookalike of Whitney Houston who puts out the flames on the King of Pop's scalp by pouring a glass of rival Coca Cola over him. Clearly Michael Jackson He didn't take it very well and thought about suing Neil Young. This prompted MTV to withdraw the video of the song from its programming. Young's response was not long in coming, he sent a letter to the television network where, among other things, he wrote: “What does the M in MTV mean? Music or money?”. And bluntly calling their leaders 'spineless idiots'. Ironically, a year later, Neil Young he was on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards to accept the award for best music video of the year. And they all lived happily ever after? More or less. It seems that the audio of the singer-songwriter's voice during his award acceptance speech was affected by a technical problem. And that wasn't exactly accidental.