“Sample & Hold”: Neil Young’s ’80s-era videos ran the gamut of musical genres & styles

By on October 17, 2018

Night Flight’s “Neil Young: Video Profile” — which originally aired on November 18, 1988 — featured six of the renegade rocker’s ’80s-era videos, running the gamut of musical genres and styles, from the vocoder & synth-rich techno of “Sample and Hold,” to the easy rockabilly roll of “Wonderin’.”

Our profile also features excerpts from the interview Young did with Night Flight creator Stuart S. Shapiro, whose International Harmony independent film distribution company ten years earlier had distributed Young’s concert film Rust Never Sleeps (it also  aired regularly during Night Flight’s early years).

It’s sure great to see this beloved rock icon back now on Night Flight Plus!

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“When I was a kid, I was watching Elvis, Larry Williams, all these people, Chuck Berry and everybody, and I really wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star,” Neil Young told us. “And then after I became a rock ‘n’ roll star, I had different goals.”

During the 1980s, those goals included expanding his visionary style to music videos like “Sample & Hold” (1982), “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “Wonderin'” (both 1983), “Touch The Night” (1986) and “Hey, Hey” and “This Note’s For you” (both 1988).

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“Some people are under the misconception that I’m like a brooding recluse, some kind of Heathcliff kind of character, and I don’t know where they get it from,” Young told us.

“But, uh, the fact that I don’t go out of my way to be seen, and go to places where I know my picture’s going to be taken, and things like that, makes them think I’m hiding. I mean, you know, I’m not hiding from anything, I’m just not interested in it.”

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By the end of the ’80s, Young had a good reason to hide away from the world, though, after label boss David Geffen sued him for recording “unrepresentative music,” particularly his 1983 Blade Runner-ish cyber-rock album Trans.

Several of its songs, like the eight-minute long Crazy Horse-style jam “Sample and Hold,” were obscured by Young’s vocoder, a device Kraftwerk had introduced him to which he then used to facilitate communication with his young son Ben, who suffered from severe cerebral palsy.

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“Sample and Hold” — the title comes from a module feature on classic early Moog, ARP 2600 and Odyssey synthesizers — joked about a robotic computer dating service building perfect made-to-0rder female robot brides:

“We know you’ll be satisfied, when you energize/And see your unit come alive.”

Read more about our late ’88 “Neil Young: Video Profile” below.

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Our “Neil Young: Video Profile” also features “Cry, Cry, Cry” (we recently told you all about it) and “Wonderin’,” both credited to Neil Young & the Shocking Pinks.

“Wonderin'” was actually first demoed in 1969, but Young set it aside because he thought its easy-rollin’ melody was too “insubstantial.” He finally recorded it for Everbody’s Rockin.’

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In the video, which has an odd, herky-jerky look, Young plays a weirdo with a 5 o’clock shadow, messy hair, a pink necktie. He’s also wearing director Tim Pope‘s loudly-patterned black & white shirt (as seen below).

Pope slowed down his camera to half-speed (12 frames-per-second), and he had Young mime his lyrics in-sync to the slowed-down video playback.

“Life speeds around him,” Pope said later of the visual effect, “like some dream.”

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Pope shot footage of Young and his band at various locations on Friday, June 24, 1983, in and around L.A., including the Hard Rock Café (which used to be at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles), an oilfield off La Cienega Blvd. in Baldwin Hills, the Santa Monica Pier, and the All-American Burger and several spots on the Sunset Strip.

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Pope also directed Young in a long single-take music video for “Touch the Night,” a track from Landing on Water, released in July 1986.

Young plays an obnoxious reporter for the News 7 “Action News” team, covering a grisly highway accident.

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Our “Neil Young: Video Profile” is bracketed by two videos from This Note’s for You, Young’s sixteenth album — credited to Neil Young & the Bluenotes — released in April of 1988.

Both videos poke fun at MTV’s fans, a kind of “bite the hand that feeds you” type scenario if you’re hoping MTV will later play your music video on their shows.

“Hey, Hey” features Young singin’ “Get off of that couch, turn off your M.T.V.” before the song title pops up: “Hey hey, my woman looks good to me.”

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Julien Temple‘s video for “This Note’s For You” has Young parodying Eric Clapton‘s infamous Michelob beer commercial (the song even starts off sounding a lot like Clapton’s “After Midnight”).

Young knocks his fellow musicians for endorsing products in commercials, mentioning Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Miller and Budweiser as product’s he “ain’t singin’ for”: “Don’t sing for Bud/I won’t sing for politicians/Ain’t singin’ for Spuds/This note’s for you.”

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Along the way, Young pokes satirical fun at a Michael Jackson-lookalike, moonwalking for Pepsi until his hair catches on fire; a Whitney Houston-lookalike, pouring beer on Jackson’s flame-saturated Jheri Curl hairdo; a Calvin Klein-style advert featuring a voluptuous babe on her hands and knees, lapping up spilt “Concession” cologne; and, a dog resembling Spuds McKenzie, the one-time Budweiser pooch pitchman.

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At the end of the clip, Young holds up a beer can to proudly show the label that tells us he’s “Sponsored by Nobody.”

Ironically, the video won Music Video of the Year — despite being banned by MTV, who thought they’d lose advertisers — at the following year’s MTV Video Music Awards.

Watch “Neil Young: Video Profile” on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.