Neil Young – The Needle and the Damage Done

This is a powerful song by Neil. This song was the B side of Old Man. It’s gotten a lot of airplay through the years and serves as a cautionary tale for drug use. The lyric “every junkie’s like a settin’ sun” says it all.

Neil Young wrote this one about Danny Whitten, one of the original members of his band Crazy Horse. In 1971, Young went on tour and hired Crazy Horse and Nils Lofgren as backup. During rehearsals, Whitten was so high on heroin that he couldn’t even hold up his guitar. Young fired him, gave Whitten 50 bucks (for rehab) and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. Upon reaching LA, Whitten overdosed on alcohol and Valium, which killed him.

This wouldn’t be Young’s only loss from heroin. Longtime friend and roadie Bruce Berry would also overdose on heroin just months after Whitten. Berry’s song is “Tonight’s The Night,” on the album of the same name.

The song was on Harvest which peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Charts.

Neil Young on Danny Whitten: “I felt responsible. But really there was nothing I could do. I mean, he was responsible. But I thought I was for a long time. Danny just wasn’t happy. It just all came down on him. He was engulfed by this drug. That was too bad. Because Danny had a lot to give. boy. He was really good.”


From Songfacts
Danny Whitten was one of the founding members of Crazy Horse and was very influential on much of Young’s work preceding his heroin addiction. His influence is particularly noticeable on Young’s second album, 1969’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Leading up to Whitten’s dismissal from the band and overdose, Young even attempted daily one-on-one lessons to try and rehabilitate his old friend.

As quoted in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Neil Young says of the tragic death of Whitten: 

The song’s first line mentions a “cellar door.” Young and Crazy Horse, with Whitten, had played Washington DC’s Cellar Door club in 1969.

Young’s famous version was recorded live at the University Of California in January 1971, a year before it appeared on his Harvest album.

A solo, acoustic performance of this song by Young from Massey Hall in Toronto on January 19, 1971 features on his 2007 Live at Massey Hall 1971 album. He introduces it with a short explanation: “Ever since I left Canada, about five years ago or so and moved down south… found out a lot of things that I didn’t know when I left. Some of ’em are good, and some of ’em are bad. Got to see a lot of great musicians before they happened, before they became famous – y’know, when they were just gigging. Five and six sets a night, things like that. And I got to see a lot of great musicians who nobody ever got to see, for one reason or another. But, strangely enough, the real good ones that you never got to see was… ’cause of, ahhm, heroin. An’ that started happening over an’ over. Then it happened to someone that everyone knew about. So I just wrote a little song.”

This was one of the songs that Young performed at Live Aid in 1985.

Young made this succinct statement about the song in the liner notes to his album Decade: “I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men.”

Flea, famed bassist of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, played the song frequently on a 1993 tour following the singer John Frusciante’s temporary departure due to heroin addiction.

The song has struck a long-lived chord with broad range of musicians. Over the years, it’s also been covered by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, and Jewel.

At Young’s 1995 Bridge School benefit concert, the Pretenders sang this in honor of Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon, who died a week earlier from a drug overdose. Blind Melon was scheduled to play the event but canceled after Hoon’s death.

The Needle and the Damage Done

I caught you knockin’ at my cellar door,
I love you baby can I have some more?
Oh, the damage done.

I hit the city and I lost my band,
I watched the needle take another man.
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song because I love the man,
I know that some of you don’t understand.
Milk blood to keep from runnin’ out.

I’ve seen the needle and the damage done,
a little part of it in everyone,
but every junkie’s like a settin’ sun.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

25 thoughts on “Neil Young – The Needle and the Damage Done”

  1. As a think you know, I really dig Neil Young. If I could only choose one song he wrote, this would be a top contender, along with “Like a Hurricane”, “Harvest Moon” and “After the Gold Rush”, to name a few other tunes I also love.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I like “Down by the River” as well. “Powderfinger”, “On the Beach”, “Cinnamon Girl”, “Heart of Gold”, “Rockin’ in the Free World”… as you said, so many great tunes!

        Neil Young definitely has become one of my favorite singer-songwriters! Now I feel like listening to “Decade”!😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A great song, and intelligent. I’m surprised it wasn’t an A-side, because it got that much airplay on AM radio in Toronto back then. His intro to the song on the live album is quite similar to one Bono sometimes gave introducing their song “BAd” in concert.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For some reason I was sure this was on the Time Fades Away album, but I’m thinking of the title track of it because it starts out, “Fourteen junkies too weak to work…” I’ve got both of these in vinyl again. Neil Young, as others have said, is at the top of the heap.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel asleep on ya…
      Yes you are! As weird as weird gets! lol…Oh I’m wierd also…Neil and Bob give hope to the rest of us.


      1. Heh. I fall asleep on me, too, sometimes. I wish my ass had fallen asleep during a movie I suffered thru in the wee hours of the morning. Have you seen Red Sparrow? OMFG. WHO decided that Jennifer Lawrence had the acting chops to pull off a Russian agent. What a DOG this movie was. Lawrence meanders thru this film, like all of her films, with the same stupid look on her face. Oh. Look. It’s Katniss with the worst Russian-attempted accent I have ever heard. She is no Theron or Jolie. She has nowhere the screen charisma.

        The movie desperately tries to cover for her with over-the-top violence and, cameos by Jeremy Irons, Joely Richardson and Mary-Louise Parker. She had absolutely NO chemistry with Joel Edgerton. And, you don’t even get a gratuitous boob shot…anywhere. Theron was more exciting to watch in Atomic Blonde, even with all the choreographed fight scenes. Ditto Jolie in Salt.

        She’s pretty to look at. She is curvy. She could sell bathing suits, hair color & makeup. But act? She’s a plastic barbie doll and couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag.

        GOD. I want my two hours of life back.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I liked Lawrence when I first saw her…those damn eyes BUT…she started to wear on my nerves. I did like American Hustle but that was about it. Plus I’ve read where she can be a pain in the ass to fans.

        Mary-Louise Parker I love…Yea when I heard about how Lawrence is…I don’t care how good she looks.


      3. The idea that J.Law could pull off being an ex-ballerina (she’s f***ing 5′ 9″) or a Russian is SO out there. But, I looked up the director…Francis Lawrence from the Hunger Games movies. That explains everything. It’s the Lawrence/Lawrence comedy hour. Actually, no. J.Law has no sense of humor, either. She and Brit Larson have nearly destroyed the Marvel franchise.

        Yeah. She is a straight-up, no talent bitch.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I don’t care if you rent…I was wondering where Lawrence came in the Marvel picture.


  4. *rant* I was like…what the hell did I say?
    No she wasn’t…I have a 20 year old…I’ve watched all of the Marvel movies…she wasn’t.


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