Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane & ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man
In keeping with Neil Young’s spontaneous nature, Like A Hurricane was written on the fly. Young and some drinking buddies were bar-hopping in La Honda, California, in the summer of 1975, when they stopped off at a local scenic spot to do a few lines of cocaine.
“I wrote the Like A Hurricane lyrics on a piece of newspaper in the back of [friend] Taylor Phelps’ 1950 DeSoto Suburban, a huge car that we all used to go to bars in,” Young explained in his memoir, ‘Waging Heavy Peace’. When he got home, the Canadian worked out the chords on a keyboard mounted in an old pump organ in his front room.
“None of the original guts were left inside the thing, but it looked great and sounded like God with this psychedelic Univox Stringman inside it… I played that damn thing through the night. I finished the melody in five minutes, but I was so jacked I couldn’t stop playing.”
Unable to sing due to a recent injury to his vocal chords, Young jammed it through with Crazy Horse at his ranch, where Like A Hurricane eventually fell into place. Recorded in November 1975, the song emerged as one of Young’s longform signature pieces, an eight-and-a-half minute epic that ranks alongside Down By The River, Cowgirl In The Sand and Cortez The Killer in terms of scale and fierce grandeur.
It begins as it means to carry on, with a guitar solo. And while the verses are tender — ‘Once I thought I saw you/In a crowded hazy bar/Dancing on the light/From star to star’ — the music is savage, driven on by Young’s distorted guitar and Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro on the Stringman synth. The rhythm section of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, meanwhile, never allows the tension to slacken. Young squeals into his second extended solo before leading the charge over stinging minor chords towards an exhausted finish.
The chorus borrows from Del Shannon’s Runaway for its opening chord progression, the reedy fragility of Young’s voice in sharp contrast to the heavy clamour of the music around him. He would later describe the attitude of Like A Hurricane as “pure and innocent.”
The song finally cropped up on 1977’s American ‘Stars ‘N Bars’, Young’s eighth album, and quickly became a live favourite. It has since appeared on a host of compilations and in-concert collections, and remains one of Young’s most durable creations.