I first heard this song in Martin Scorsese’s film account and presentation of the final concert of The Band – The Last Waltz on American Thanksgiving Day 1976 at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. Many of the songs which feature in that concert will also appear here like today’s track Helpless. This song was written by Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young and recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) on their 1970 album Déjà Vu. The song was originally recorded by Young’s band Crazy Horse in 1969, but Crosby, Stills and Nash convinced Young they could do a better job with it.
It is a simple song which has a repetition of a D-A-G chord progression. I really like what Young does with the harmonica in The Last Waltz version as well as Joni Mitchell’s backing vocals backstage. It’s a mellow ‘Americana’ sound which I alluded to in posts about Bob Seger, Tom Petty and The War on Drugs. I found Helpless invigorating from the first moment I heard it and has remained a live favorite of Young’s for over forty years.
There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind
I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.
Blue, blue windows behind the stars,
Yellow moon on the rise,
Big birds flying across the sky,
Throwing shadows on our eyes.
The “town in North Ontario” referred to in the opening line of the song is often presumed to be Ontario native Young’s hometown; Young himself cleared up the rumors in a 1995 Mojo interview with Nick Kent: “Well, it’s not literally a specific town so much as a feeling. Actually, it’s a couple of towns. Omemee, Ontario, is one of them. It’s where I first went to school and spent my ‘formative’ years. Actually I was born in Toronto…“.
1. Helpless (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song) – wikipedia