After The Gold Rush

Album: After The Gold Rush (1970)


  • "After the Gold Rush" is widely known as an environmentalism song, with its chorus, "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s" (changed to "in the 21st century" once the '70s ended). The song is actually far stranger than that, though. In the book Shakey, Jimmy McDonough summarizes that strangeness as well as anybody when he says, "Accompanied by a mournful French horn, Young tickles the ivories and sings a tale of time travel that culminates in an exodus to another planet."
  • The song is structured to take listeners through time. The first verse in set in the Middle Ages, the second in the time it was written in, and the third in the future. In 1992, Young explained it thusly: "[It's] about three times in history: There's a Robin Hood scene, there's a fire scene in the present and there's the future... the air is yellow and red, ships are leaving, certain people can go and certain people can't... I think it's going to happen."
  • After The Gold Rush is an acoustic album that led to many other confessional singer/songwriter works in the early '70s (James Taylor, Carole King, etc.). Young had injured his back lifting a slab of polished walnut and standing up to play his electric guitar was impossible. In addition, he had dropped Crazy Horse as his backing band so he prepared an album of acoustic songs.
  • In his extensive biography on Mr. Young, author Jimmy McDonough reveals that After the Gold Rush was an album loosely conceptualized around a screenplay of the same named written by child star, and Neil Young neighbor, Dean Stockwell. Apparently the only two songs on the album that are based on the as-yet-unproduced screenplay are this song and "Crippled Creek Ferry," the closing song on the album. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Chris - Philadelphia, PA
  • The song has been covered a variety of artists, including Thom Yorke of Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds.

    When Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt recorded it in 1999 for their collaboration Trio II, they got some unique insight into the song from the man who wrote it. Said Parton: "When we were doing the Trio album, I asked Linda and Emmy what it meant, and they didn't know. So we called Neil Young, and he didn't know. We asked him, flat out, what it meant, and he said, 'Hell, I don't know. I just wrote it. It just depends on what I was taking at the time. I guess every verse has something different I'd taken.'"

    Two of the trio had previously recorded the song: Parton included a version with Alison Krauss on her 1996 album Treasures, and Ronstadt did a cover for her 1995 album Feels Like Home. Ronstadt listened to Young a lot when she was on the road touring, and particularly loved this song. "I would think, 'This is the future,'" she said. "Neil's seeing humans leaving the planet and go off to start a new space colony. I've always felt that Neil had a great deal of really uncanny prescience in his writing."
  • New York songwriter Patti Smith recorded a stark piano-and-vocal cover of this ecological paean for the closing track of her 2012 album Banga. Her version features a children's choir singing the chorus at the end. "'Constantine's Dream,' the song before it, is such a dark song," Smith explained to Billboard magazine. "It ends so darkly, with Columbus having a dream of the environmental apocalypse of the 21st century. Even though I fear that myself, I didn't want to end the record that way. I wanted to write a song that was more like the dawn that gave some kind of hope. Then I happened to hear 'After the Gold Rush;' I was sitting in a cafe and thought at least the two verses of Neil's song said what I wanted to say because it has a sense of optimism, but it's also at a cost. So I thought I'd just sing that, because that's what I wanted to say... And having children sing that with all their innocence and purity, I felt that brings out the danger of what he wrote."
  • In live performances, Young replaces the flute solo with a harmonica performance. Additionally, he's amended the final line to "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century" (it was originally "in the 1970s").
  • Randy Newman, who has generally been critical of Young's overtly political songs ("Southern Man" and "Alabama," for example) because they oversimplify complex topics, can't help but love this song. Said Newman: "I can't believe I liked 'After The Gold Rush,' because it doesn't hold up to analysis. I can't stand that sort of 'meadow rock' thing - Neil's doing it, and writing about a big issue in a simplistic way, but I still like it. I love it."
  • On January 9, 2020, Patti Smith performed the song on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The performance created a lot of buzz because the song's environmental themes overlap with heightened concerns about climate change.

Comments: 56

  • John Oreocookie from New Havendunno...takes me back to prep school in the 1970's...uncle neil was all the rave....yep, neil, and the dead....its a song for preppies in the 1970's
  • David D1 from FloridaLittle noted: The song as released on the album consists of two cuts: Up to the horn solo, and from the horn solo to the end. The first section is tuned close to A440. The second section, from the solo on, is tuned slightly higher. It is possible that the second section is simply sped up, resulting in a slightly higher tuning. But the two sections are not the same in tuning. And of course the tempo wanders around throughout the song.
  • AnonymousThis song came out in his album After the Gold Rush in 1970. This was 5 years before the Vietnam war ended. I feel like he was writing, or maybe as some have remarked, he didn't write it....who cares who wrote it....he sang it incredibly!... about the men in Vietnam who died....and the end of the road for so many... Hence, I believe the lyrics "lying in a burned out basement with the full moon in my eyes, searching for replacement when the sun burst through the sky....etc. This felt to me like a soldier separated from his group and a bomb came through and took him to another world...another life...another planet....another reality...."there was a band playing in his head...etc...
  • Ava from West HollywoodThis song came out in his album After the Gold Rush in 1970. This was 5 years before the Vietnam war ended. I feel like he was writing, or maybe as some have remarked, he didn't write it....who cares who wrote it....he sang it incredibly!... about the men in Vietnam who died....and the end of the road for so many... Hence, I believe the lyrics "lying in a burned out basement with the full moon in my eyes, searching for replacement when the sun burst through the sky....etc. This felt to me like a soldier separated from his group and a bomb came through and took him to another world...another life...another planet....another reality...."there was a band playing in his head...etc...
  • Susie from Denver That guy said it was heroin...well it's not.How 'bout another of his songs who's last line is "every junkie's like the setting sun"? That would be goin' down.
  • Kevan P from UkCurtis from Morgan, Mo writes: 'I always thought they were saying "in the 1917", instead of "the nineteen seventies"'. In fact, they were. The lyrics as written may say "nineteen seventies", but Prelude sing "nineteen seventeen". There's no doubt about it. Just listen to it. The last syllable "…teen" is held quite long and clearly ends with an 'n'.
  • Greg from TxThe song wasn't even written by Neil Young people. Stop giving him so much praise for it.
  • Lisa Johnson from Freeport Illinois Does anyone remember a movie with I believe Hally Mills in it about a all girls school for troubled girls ,the school was ran by nuns but the school burned up because of careless smoking and the song After the gold rush was played in the movie it could have been the theme song
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 29th 1974, "After the Goldrush" by Prelude entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #87; and on November 24th, 1974 it peaked at #22 {for 1 week} and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #21 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
    The British trio had one other record make the Top 100 chart, "For A Dancer", it stayed on the chart for 8 weeks, peaking at #63.
  • Vic from Wharton, NjAs new ages began, Mother Nature was put on the run. Totally open to pregnant thoughts, he drifts onto the end. As the last new age ends, chosen ones were picked to abandon the doomed Mother Nature.
  • Greg from Harrington Park, NjThis song is a lyrical masterpiece and the melody is so beautiful. It is able to be sung well and done justice by a man or a woman. Some songs you hear men cover that women sang or vice versa and they seem out of place singing it... However, I think this is a song that is not gender specific. A testament to how great of an artist Neil young is.
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaWhy do so many people ignore the context of lyrics and assume any odd verse is about drugs? Are they druggies themselves? Probably! "Gold rush" equates to pillaging of the land for human desires. "Look at Mother Nature on the run" is about Man being the hunter. "Flying Mother Nature's silver seed" invokes a scenario similar to "Silent Running," where life on Earth had to be rescued from human greed. This is clearly a song with strong environmental themes (the EPA was created in 1970 because too many industries wouldn't self-regulate). No need for mindless drug allusions.
  • Tony from San Franciscp, CaI believe that Niel Young got the lyrics to this song from Alien Beings. Check out > <
    Here you have a real person seeing a real space ship in the noon day sun and it was in the early seventies. He describes a silver space ship. THIS IS VERY INTERESTING - As Spook would say, Check out the web site and learn something new.
  • Marlene from Montreal, QcI couldn't find the Prelude version for years, until Youtube!
  • Ever from Washington Dc, DcI believe the song is about drug use. But imagine the song in the sense that it may be about the fact that humans are destroying the world and when it references Mother Nature on the run....then at the end "They were flying Mother Nature's Silver seed to a new home in the sun." ... meaning, putting Mother Nature on another planet out there with the sun, or in outer space. Now listen to the song thinking about mother nature moving on to somewhere else.
  • Patrick from Las Vegas, NvIt's heroin, man. Heroin. I'm feelin it right now. It's exactly the way he says it is. Exactly. It's heroin. We were all ready to go. We were all waitin for that damn spaceship that never came. It's heroin.
  • Chris from Milan, PaI read an interview with Dolly Parton and she said as she was trying to figure out what this song was about she gave Neil a call. He told her it depends on what he was taking at the time and that he was taking something different when he wrote each verse. Also that is NOT a french horn solo it is a flugelhorn which is a lower version of the trumpet.
  • Steve from Trabuco Canyon, CaI think this song is about the environment being polluted in the 1970's by big business before government reform, "We got mother nature on the run in the 1970's".
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaWhen I first heard this,it changed my life.
  • David from Mesquite, TxThis song is extremely poetic, prophetic and hauntingly beautiful. Don't think that the lyrics about "Knights in Armor" and "a Queen" dates it in any way. It could be tomorrow that the military has full containment power armor with life support, defense, and weaponry for any environment or foe.
    Don't think it's not possible that an all out nuclear war could really happen. NOW. Even conventional war or civil unrest could leave "a burned out basement" to take refuge in anytime, anywhere.
    The "chosen ones" to me are lottery winners that determine who "The loading had begun" were. Some family units were split. Sacrifices made to fly "mother natures Silver seed to a new home in the sun".
    We already have the physics to actually support life "in the sun". Just haven't quite gotten around to figuring out how to finance & implement it. Maybe if we just shut up and listened and cooperated for a few years we could "make a new home". Here on Earth. In the sun. In the stars...

    You don't have to understand the prophesy to be the prophet.
  • Landry from Asheville, NcI love this song. I have no idea what it is talking about. If I go on my own assumptions, I think it might refer to some natural/man-made disaster, or maybe the limits the Earth's resources are pushed to. If so, it does this without sounding "preachy". It is lovely. I love the version done by Dolly Parton, Linda Rhonstat, and Emilue Harris.
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesWell, then, I wish I could write half that brilliantly using only drugs and a thesaurus.
  • Hank from Lancaster, PaI think the lyrics are essentially the result of drugs and a thesaurus.
  • Jim from Campbell River, CanadaThis song is a very prescient piece of Sci-Fi. I was always facinated by the bit about Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s. The same year this was released, Canned Heat released the Future Blues LP. The title song was a reference to a decimated planet. Here we are almost 40 years later and we are at a point that many are calling the final moment for a chance at turning back from our self-destruction. Recently I decided to see what the full lyric for After The Gold Rush was about. It is certainly cryptic and much of the lyric is fanciful. In the first verse the singer is dreaming about a great day of heraldry and, banners flowing, knights in armour something about a queen. Could this be the day in the future where Earthling civiliztion flys off to a new world"?

    In the second verse, the dreamer is lying in the burned out basement, (decimated world) and hoping for a replacement.

    In the final verse the dreamer returns to the heraldry and delight of the day with the silver spaceships and the chosen one to lead via Mother Natures Silver Seed (spaceship) to a new home in the sun.

    Those final lyrics clinch the meaning for me. WOW! This week as I write this, there is talk of the first Canadian Space Tourist. Also there was mayor TV show about grim scenarios for our future on the planet. Are we on that path or can we save this world?
  • Liv from Aberdeen, United KingdomI heard that the song was about a bohemian community living in Canada who all got washed into the sea one day...
  • Jami from Redding, CaMy brother turned me onto this song when I was twelve and still loving Donny Osmond. I listened to it twice and after that I tore down my wall size Donny Poster and never looked back. Thank you to my dear brother Bobby and thank you Mr. Young.
  • Morgan from Bemidji, MnDoes it matter if the song is about heroin? Even if it is that doesn't change how amazing this song is.
  • Robert from Glasgow, United KingdomVery interesting Steve from Fenton. I never would have tought that the "chosen ones" metaphor extended into the rest of the song. I thought that the verses just depicted stages of mankind; the idilic past, the decadence of the present and the desperation of the future, but what you said is really clever.
  • Chad from Los Angeles, CaIt a amazing how high he sing in this song. Also this song is probably someone who lost their job and they are using drugs.
  • Louie from Sunny Isles Beach Florida, FlI know of what I speak from a routine personal basis -- rather than what I've read. I stand by what I wrote and I respectfully disagree with you. Also, nothing was meant to, nor did it, denigrate this iconic artist in any way who also happens to be a friend.
  • Lazlo from Sugar Mountain, OnI'd say the three verses are about the past, present, and future, yeah. I'm not too hot on the Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton version. They replace "and I felt like getting high." with "and I felt like I could cry." Kinda a sell out. Also, I thought the lyric was " a band playin' in my hair" not "head", as posted earlier. All in all, this song still blows my mind.
  • David from Huntington Beach, CaNeil Young has alwasy been open about his drug use. He's done cocaine, smoked tons of weed but he's never done heroin.
  • Dwight from Charlotte, NcANy body know what Key this is if one wants to play a harmonica to it, I know the guitar chords...


  • Louie from Sunny Isles Beach Florida, FlBelieve me you (must be) "young ones" out there, Neil loved heroin and all his so-called "anti-heroin" songs were the result of his own experiences (as that of all heroin addicts/abusers) on the vast negative other side that unavoidably joins the rush for what Neil knows is the greatest high for deadening inner pain and feeling ecstasy simultaneously. I know Neil and he would neither deny this nor feel it is any dark secret to withhold or feel shame. It is/was part of his life.
  • Bess from San Diego, CaTo Sean: It's definitely a french horn. An oboe sounds "reedy" and is rather high-pitched. I've played it before. The solo is so beautiful. I love this song, too, and I don't care whether it's about drugs. It's still wonderful.
  • Sean from Ardmore, PaVery Good comments. There's a solo at the two minute mark. Does anyone know what instrument it is? it sounds like a french horn or an oboe. Please help.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoWhen I heard this song as a kid when it originally was released as a single or at least was getting radio airplay, I had no idea who was singing it. I didn't know who Neil Young was. At the time I assumed it was a woman singing the song and just assumed it was Melanie, the woman who sang Brand New Key. Years later when I became a Neil Young fan, this ideas was planted so strongly in my mind, I still assumed that Melanie had done a version of the song and released it as a single. I finally put 2 and 2 together and realized I had mistaken Neil's very unique voice for that of a woman's on this particular song.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoThe song is about the environment. The biggest clue is the title. A typical gold rush town would be a town that sprung up very fast once gold was discovered to support the gold prospecters. As long as the mining business was good the town thrived. Once the gold was gone, the town died and everyone moved on. Neil used this as a metophor for his song about the environment, but on a global scale. His song was about the Earth's resources being depleted and polution being so bad, that the human race or life in general could no longer survive on the Earth. The human race selects a lucky few to fly off the Earth in rockets (silver spaceships...mother nature's silver seed to plant this Earth's life onto a new Earth) in search of a new planet so the species can survive. I always interpreted the "full moon in my eye" as really being the sun blocked out by so much polution that it appears to be the moon. The line "I was hoping for a replacement" I interpreted to mean that the person has missed out on the lottery to go to the new planet...he's not one of the lucky few, but hopes he might replace one of the lucky few if for some reason that person can't make the trip. "Look at mother nature on the run in the 1970's" is also an obvious clue that the song is about concern for the environment. But it seems to be the person's dream (nightmare) that if the environment is not taken better care of, this scenario might happen in the future.
  • Paul from Meadville, Pa"I was lying in a burned out basement with a full moon in my eyes, I was hoping for replacements when the sun burst through the sky. There was a band playing in my head, and I felt like getting high" I may be wrong, but I have always interpeted this from a soldiers point of view. The sun bursting through the full moon I envision mortor or bombing. I was told once by a Vietnam vet that the band playing in his head was Pink Floyd. Just another fan's two cents on the song and the man.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoJay is correct in my opinion. It is about the environment and is one of the reasons the environment is much cleaner now than in the 70's. Megan in San Diego, it's definitely not Neil glamorizing heroin...he was very anti-heroin (Needle and the Damage Done, Tonight's the Night). Gina, he doesn't want to admit what the song is about, because it's better that it remains cryptic. If he has to explain what it means, it implies he didn't do a very good job of writing them. I think the "replacement" was a ticket on the silver spaceships leaving earth to continue the human race on another planet.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI don't get what the song's about, but I like it and I think it has a great arrangement.,
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, Cajay, u rock! I completely agree! Nel Young seems like more of a drug addict then he is. also, Neil picked up Crazy Horse, later
  • Megan from San Diego, CaI really don't know what this song is about. I only know that I was awestruck when I first heard it. It's beautiful and I fantasize that it is about something breathtaking. It's one of my favorite songs. With that said, my first interpretation of 'After The Goldrush' was in fact, that of a mystical heroin experience. The lucky-the unaddicted or non-experienced can't understand the dream world of a good heroin experience. "All in a dream, all in a dream"
  • Matt from Monroe, LaI have no idea what the hell Neil was writing about but it is one of his best pieces.. Beautiful song...
  • John from Orillia, CanadaThis song, in my opinion is about how the world has changed from medival times and how war and our neglegence of the earth will lead to the chosen ones leavin earth to find a new planet to inabite because we have ruined this one. This song was based on a movie in the 1970's that Neil was going to sing in. It got cancelled so Neil Young put it on his album instead.
  • Neilyoung from Atowninnorthontario, CanadaIt's just a basement. I was just lying there. why you gotta read into it like that?
  • Curtis from Morgan, MoWhen I first heard this song, it was sung by "Prelude". Their version was the highest ever on the charts for an acappella tune. That may still stand today, but I'm not sure. Listening to it on the radio in the seventies, I never quite heard the lyrics correctly. I always thought they were saying "in the 1917", instead of "the nineteen seventies". So I thought it was about WW I, trench warfare, and the coming of WW II. I think I still prefer this incorrect interpretation to one of drugs.
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScI don't get what the song's about, anyway. I think that it's just a great song. Besides, doesn't a song mean what you (the listener) interpret it to mean?
  • Mark from Boston, MaEmmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton included a surreal version of "After the Goldrush" on their 1999 TRIO 2 album.
  • Alyssa from Pickerington, OhThe third verse definitely sounds like it is based on Arthur C. Clarke's 'Childhood's End', which is the story of the end of humanity, mostly because of the 'silver spaceships' and 'flying mother nature's silver seed to a new home in the sun', because in the book, all the children of the world transcend matter and become light energy and flow into the universe... 'tis quite an interesting book, and I definitely think it fits.
  • Gina from Paradise Valley, AzAccording to Neil, even HE didn't fully understand the lyrics of this song!
  • Jay from Norfolk, VaLets go ahead and really delve into what Mr. Young was singing about. It is an apocalytic about the demise of the environment during the '70's and he was hoping for some sort of redemption for man and that redemption would be for those who heeded the call for a more ecologicaly friendly way of life (read something other than our current SUV loving, coal burning, F the earth, republican consumption orgy).

    Neil probably was high during the composition of this song and this was his "vision". But it definitly not a drug song. Look at the lyrics of the first verse, medievial imagery -knights heralding the arrival of a queen, a giver of life and the imagery of the sun throughout the song-illumination? enlightenment?

    Lying in a burned out basement-post apocalytic imagery-hoping for replacement- a dream sequence that connects the first and last verses-the lie, whic is the absolute demise of this world- or is it a lie.

    Redemption- the silver seed to a new home in the sun-chosen ones, the ones who will continue the seed of human kind-going back to the queen.

    All a doper's hallucination? More like a peyote induced revelation.
  • Kevin from Babylon, Nyyoung wasnt into heroin. and the words burned out basement implies he was on pot, not a mainlining or freebasing drug
  • Joshua from Butler, PaBeutiful song. Why does it have to be heroin neil felt like getting high on in the burned out basement?
  • Paula from Houston, TxI've always felt this was an anti-war song. We were still involved in the Vietnam war when this song was released.
  • Nick from Denver, CoTotally a heroin song.
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