Young did write this tale of longing about a specific girl, but it wasn't nearly as serious as it sounds - he had already broken up with actress Carrie Snodgress and had yet to meet his wife Pegi Morton. The woman in question was a girl he came across in a bar.
In Neil Young's biography Shakey
by Jimmy McDonough, it's revealed that during the summer of 1975, Young was recovering from surgery on his vocal cords and couldn't talk. This didn't stop him from going out and having a good time with his friends, including his neighbor Taylor Phelps, who said: "Neil, Jim Russell, David Cline and I went to Venturi's in La Honda. We were really f--ked up. Neil had this amazing intense attraction to this particular woman named Gail - it didn't happen, he didn't go home with her. We go back to the ranch and Neil started playing. Young was completely possessed, pacing around the room, hunched over a Stringman keyboard pounding out the song."
Young took the song to his band Crazy Horse with just two lines written on an envelope: "You are like a hurricane, there's calm in yer eye." The band struggled with it for 10 days on Young's ranch before a breakthrough. Crazy Horse guitarist Poncho Sampedro said: "We kept playing it two guitars, bass, drums, but it wasn't in the pocket. Neil didn't have enough room to solo. He didn't like the rhythm I was playing on guitar. One day we were done recording and the Stringman was sitting there. I started diddling with it, just playing the chords simply, and Neil said, 'Y'know, maybe that's the way to do it - let's try it.' If you listen to the take on the record, there's no beginning, no count-off, it just goes woom!
They just turned on the machines when they heard us playing again, 'cause we were done for the day. Neil goes, 'Yeah, I think that's how it goes. Just like that.' And that was the take. That's the only time we ever played it that way."
Referring to his vocal performance, Young explained: "It was a sketch. I went in and I sang both harmony parts, the low one and the high one - and that's the way the record is. It's all me singing."