Having filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump for using ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ at his campaign events without seeking permission, Neil Young has helpfully suggested a different tune the US President’s re-election campaign might want to consider. ‘Looking For A Leader’ was originally released on Living With War back in 2006, written as a skewering of George W. Bush, but 14 years later Young has updated and expanded the song for an era which makes the ‘Dubya’ years seem like a cakewalk. Having first appeared in Young’s lockdown Fireside Sessions, the song is now the focal point of a new EP, The Times, drawn from the livestreaming series.
The seven acoustic tracks gathered here may seem laidback in sound but the anger seethes beneath as Young re-records some of his more political songs, and adds a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’. ‘Ohio’ was, on first release, one of the more immediate and striking protests ever recorded, written as a response to images of the Kent State shootings and on the shelves within a few short weeks of the incident. Half a century later, as violence is again being used to quell protests in the United States, its sentiment reverberates once more.
The same is true of all these selections. ‘Alabama’ and ‘Southern Man’ may have been written in the early 1970s but as America continues to battle its demons on race they sound just as urgent now – the main update that is needed is to be clear this is not a problem confined to any one corner of the country. ‘Campaigner’ first appeared in 1976 in the wake of Richard Nixon’s impeachment and resignation, its inclusion here a reminder that though Trump survived an impeachment process of his own, but many feel the reputation of the Oval Office has never been lower than it is at this time.
Trump is not mentioned by name on the updated ‘Looking For A Leader’ – Young not giving the egotist that satisfaction – but the attack is personal. “Scared of his own shadow, building walls around our house/He’s hidin’ in his bunker, something else to lie about.” Young made clear his preference for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, but as November’s election looms Joe Biden gets his backing in song. “We had Barack Obama, and we really need him now/The man who stood behind him has to take his place somehow,” he sings with a clear nod to the former vice-president.
Whichever way it goes, it will take far more than November’s election to cure America’s ills – these songs themselves are reminders that these are issues that have burned since the country’s birth – but after four hugely damaging years, The Times is Young’s appeal for his adopted home to get back on to a course towards a better tomorrow.