Don't Be Denied

Album: Time Fades Away (1973)

Songfacts®:

  • "Don't Be Denied" is a key song in Neil Young history. It's from the live stage album Time Fades Away taken from tours done to support Young's outstanding smash hit Harvest, and at the same time done during one of Young's darkest times, right after longtime collaborator Danny Whitten had died of an overdose of alcohol and Valium. Young was hitting the bottle pretty hard here and singing in a falsetto voice, the combination of which would cause him to develop a throat infection. Young, with his heart always on his sleeve, sang what he felt.
  • As stated in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, "'Don't Be Denied' is an unguardedly autobiographical tune that traces Young's life from his parent's [1961] divorce to his current dichotomous status as poor in soul but rich in commercial success."
    The time of Young's parents' divorce was turbulent, as the separation was anything but amicable. However at the time, 16-year-old Neil was raising chickens and selling the eggs, with plans to go to Ontario Agricultural College and be a farmer. Only his leisure activities foretold his future, when he would hide from his family problems in his room with his transistor radio playing local station CHUM. From this, Young learned admiration for Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and of course Elvis. In 1958, his father bought Neil his first music instrument, a plastic ukulele. His father would later recall, "He would close the door of his room... and we would hear plunk, pause while he moved his fingers to the next chord, plunk, pause while he moved again, plunk."
  • Norah Jones covered this song for her 2016 Day Breaks album. The singer tweaked a few lyrics of Young's autobiographical tune, transforming it into a piano ballad about a woman who grew up with a largely absent father that finds solace in music. (Jones' dad was the late sitarist Ravi Shankar).
  • Norah Jones first heard the song when she opened for Neil Young. She recalled to Radio.com:

    "When we opened for him he was playing it, which was like this crazy treat. And I did a Neil Young tribute show shortly after that, I was like, "You know what? I wanna do 'Don't Be Denied,' but it's kinda hard to sing those lyrics; I'm a chick." He's saying, 'When I was a young boy, going up to Winnipeg.' I was like, how do I make this work for me?

    And so I changed it to third person for that tribute show. And then I thought, 'I kinda wanna record this song; let's just try it when we're in the studio.' But that song wasn't really the obvious choice for these sessions, but I still wanted to try it.

    And then we were in the studio, and I kinda was like, "All right, it's third person, but I still…can I just change it to 'she'?" And then it became Anchorage, which is somewhere I moved when I was young. And so I just kinda had to personalize it a little to own it."

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