Like A Hurricane (1977)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Written by Neil Young
What are DNA Source Songs™? Suggest a source song for inclusion via Rock Populi.
Like A hurricane crazy horse

Neil Young, dog, and Crazy Horse: Pancho, Ralph and Billy

Really. You have to watch these creative types. They’ll ambush your emotions with their compositions every chance they can.

“Like A Hurricane” was written about a chance glance across a crowded room, a modernized and electrified version of South Pacific’s “Some Enchanted Evening” that turns out to be as deadly as a shiv twisted into the depths of the heart.

The chance meeting in an L.A. bar, though, is transformed into something much, much larger. It explores a whole world of love, pain and the sense of tattered banners that fly alongside even the best of relationships.

“Like A Hurricane” is no doubt enchanted. In the freakiest, tragically haunting way you can imagine.

There are three main versions of the song, two of which are plugged-in, high-wattage, howling, teeth-gnashing banshees. The other is an equally moving, “quiet” version that was performed on MTV’s Unplugged series.

The different approaches alter our reactions to the lyrics each time even though the baseline ideas stand in a barren, tranquil landscape regardless of the musical details behind them. The words, left on their own would make a very solid poem.

like a hurricane stars barsOnce I thought I saw you
in a crowded hazy bar
Dancing on the light
from star to star
Far across the moonbeam
I know that’s who you are
I saw your brown eyes
turning once to fire

On the “electric” versions – and electric is a vast understatement – Neil turns in solar-flare intensity guitar performances, which, if you ever have doubted his guitar-god status, should dispel all such misguided appraisals. For further reinforcement, see him on stage with Eric Clapton playing Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” 

Starting with its first appearance on American Stars and Bars, (album cover above), the guitar playing on “Like A Hurricane” is a fitting sequel to that on “Cortez The Killer,” and, while not exactly a refinement, surely an elaboration of “Cortez.”

The Stars And Bars rendition was recorded in ’75 and features a reconstituted Crazy Horse. Pancho Sampedro is shuttled over to the organ, while Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina take up their usual positions at bass and drums, respectively. Molina dishes up a basic Rock drum track, which, although devoid of flourish, serves the song and band well in its garageband simplicity. Talbot’s bass functions as the heartbeat of the song, always a few notes away from a full-on thrombosis.

Pancho’s organ playing lends haunted-house spin on the bone-chilling themes and the song’s dark mood.

Too much can’t be said about Neil’s guitar soloing and fills behind his vocals. You can draw a jagged, cutting line right from “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand” through “Cortez,” through “Hurricane” and then to the equally medulla-rattling “Change Your Mind” off the album Sleeps With Angels.

like a hurricane live rustThe “Like A Hurricane” rendition that appears on Live Rust, released in 1979, features the same line up of personnel but spills over with excess volts, watts, amps, ohms, g-force, BTU’s or any other measure of energy you can think of.

Happily, Molina’s drumming comes alive, the live acoustics helping immensely. A performance that walked a fine line between pedestrian and workmanlike in the studio version emerges as a tour de force. Talbot also rises to the occasion as does Pancho, helping to morph the track into one of the greatest psychedelic tracks of all time, entering the derby late but running hard at the neon finish line.

The chorusing of all the band’s members also batters “Hurricane” into becoming a cross between a fire-and-brimstone sermon and a rascally, maniacally rousing beerhall song to which anyone, in any state of consciousness can sing along.

Neil Young’s guitar work is simply the best of his career. It’s a miracle that he’s alive after playing the way he did on Live Rust.

like a hurricane unpluggedThe 1993 Unplugged  version with Young’s haunting, transcendental vocals working against a pipe organ and intermittent harmonica playing unwraps an entirely different aspect of the masterwork. It takes an honored place right next to the classic live versions of “Needle And The Damage Done” and “Flying On The Ground,” live at DC’s Cellar Door.

Whereas the studio and live full-band recordings are a mix of celebration and defiance, the subdued version tells us of a man who is slowly drowning not in the hurricane itself, but in the aftermath – the flooding, the shivering cold, the broken house, the water-logged memories strewn about – the deep devastation wrought by the storm of love.

like a hurricane neil and billy T

Neil Young (r) and Billy Talbot

“Like A Hurricane” easily captures a spot on the list of Neil’s top ten best songs of all time. It never fails to blow the listener away.

You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye
And I’m gettin’ blown away
To somewhere safer
where the feeling stays
I want to love you but
I’m getting blown away

“Like A Hurricane” easily captures a spot on the list of Neil’s top ten best songs of all time. It never fails to blow 

  • Young said in his book Shakey, about Del Shannon’s “Runaway”: “When ‘Runaway’ goes to I’m a walkin’ in the rain, those are the same chords in the bridge of ‘Hurricane’ – ‘You are…’ It opens up. So it’s a minor descending thing that opens up – that’s what they have in common. It’s like ‘Runaway’ with the organ solo going on for 10 minutes.”

Also by Neil Young & Crazy Horse on

  • Down By The RiverA churning, snarling jam more than anything else, with boundary-busting guitar work from Mr. Young and Danny Whitten.