Hanspostcard’s Song Draft — Round 6, Pick 13 — “Sugar Mountain,” by Neil Young


Image link

Note: If you click on the image link above, it will take you to a very interesting post about Neil Young’s folksinger demos from 1964-1967, where Sugar Mountain is one of them.

I think the first time I heard this was on pandora radio. It was love at first listen. Of course I wanted to learn more about it, especially what Sugar Mountain was and what it represented. (Am I the only one who has become addicted to wikipedia as first source when it comes to things?) Once I learned the back story, I was even more enthralled. I look at the song as an icon representing a coming-of-age that each of us faces in our own time and in our own way. Similar to the Bible verse, Corinthians 13:11:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Papa Neil builds his own time capsule of “childish things” then sings with such lamentation about having to put them away. The song reaches and holds tight to me like few other songs. Based on some of the information below, I have to believe this was a watershed moment for Neil, and without it everything else would have rippled differently.

The following information comes from… wikipedia!

“Sugar Mountain” is a song by Canadian folk rock singer and composer Neil Young. Young composed the song on November 12, 1964—his 19th birthday—at the Victoria Hotel in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay), where he had been touring with his Winnipeg band the Squires. Its lyrics are reminiscences about his youth in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The first known recording of the song was made on December 15, 1965 for a demo record at Elektra Records in New York City; this version appears on the “Early Years” disc on The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972. The first formal release was a recording of the song made on November 10, 1968, as part of a live performance at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This recording was released as the B-side of Young’s 1969 single “The Loner” (and again as the B-side of the “Cinnamon Girl” the following year), but was not collected on an album until the 3-LP compilation Decade was released in 1977. A CD/DVD release of recordings from the Canterbury House performance, Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968, was released November 25, 2008 as part of Young’s ongoing Archives Performance Series; this release includes the first-ever stereo mix of “Sugar Mountain” itself.

Young recorded the song again in February 1969, as part of a series of live shows at the Riverboat in Toronto; this version is included in the 2009 Archives Performance Series release Live at the Riverboat 1969. Still another live rendition is included as the first track of Young’s 1979 album Live Rust.

In a concert at the Albert Hall in London on October 29, 1970, Joni Mitchell, who was already friends with Young by the time he wrote this song, opened her song “Circle Game” with this speech:

“In 1965 I was up in Canada, and there was a friend of mine up there who had just left a rock’n’roll band (…) he had just newly turned 21, and that meant he was no longer allowed into his favourite haunt, which was kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you’re over 21 you couldn’t get back in there anymore; so he was really feeling terrible because his girlfriends and everybody that he wanted to hang out with, his band could still go there, you know, but it’s one of the things that drove him to become a folk singer was that he couldn’t play in this club anymore. ‘Cause he was over the hill. (…) So he wrote this song that was called “Oh to live on sugar mountain” which was a lament for his lost youth. (…) And I thought, God, you know, if we get to 21 and there’s nothing after that, that’s a pretty bleak future, so I wrote a song for him, and for myself just to give me some hope. It’s called The Circle Game.”

On the bootleg album Live on Sugar Mountain, released just days after the concert at which it was recorded (on February 1, 1971, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles), Young talks at length about the lyrics. He says that when he first wrote the song, he:

“wrote 126 verses to it. Now, you can imagine that I had a lot of trouble figuring out what four verses to use… I was underneath the stairs at the time… Anyway, this verse that I wrote… It was the worst verse of the 126 that I wrote. So, I decided to put it in the song, just to give everybody a frame of reference as to, you know, what can happen. What I’m trying to say is, by stopping in the middle of the song, and explaining this to you, is that… I think it’s one of the lamest verses I ever wrote. And, uhh…it takes a lotta nerve for me to get up here and sing it in front of you people. But, if when I’m finished singing, you sing the chorus ‘Sugar Mountain’ super loud, I’ll just forget about it right away and we can continue.”

“Sugar Mountain”

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

It’s so noisy at the fair
But all your friends are there
And the candy floss you had
And your mother and your dad.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

There’s a girl just down the aisle,
Oh, to turn and see her smile.
You can hear the words she wrote
As you read the hidden note.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Now you’re underneath the stairs
And you’re givin’ back some glares
To the people who you met
And it’s your first cigarette.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Now you say you’re leavin’ home
‘Cause you want to be alone.
Ain’t it funny how you feel
When you’re findin’ out it’s real?

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
with the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon.
Songwriter: Neil Young

First posted on Hanspostcard

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Dale says:

    I started loving Neil Young a lot later. His lyrics are often very poignant. This song is one of those… I loved reading about the song and Joni Mitchell’s writing of Circle Game for him. So cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Dale very happy you enjoyed the post. I truly never get tired of hearing this one. It takes me there every time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dale says:

        There are songs like that 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. memadtwo says:

    I remember that intro of Joni’s. Neil capture that between time in growing up well. As does Joni, of course. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    As I said in the other post. Awesome song and pick…I thought about two from him…Down By The River and this one.

    Like

  4. Sarah Davis says:

    I have to admit I have a like/dislike relationship with Neil. I appreciate his talent, really like some of his music and I have strong negative reactions to some of his songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Are the ones you dislike based on the music or the lyrics or something else? Do you like this one?

      Like

      1. Sarah Davis says:

        Yes, I like this one.
        The rest I will have think about. I suspect it is I dislike him, but like some songs in spite of myself!

        Liked by 1 person

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