Neil Young's "electronic" vision - how was one of the most non-standard albums "Trans" of 1982 created?

“If something is wrong, then it’s the mixing,” Young himself said of his work. "We had a lot of technical problems on this record."

The history of the creation of the album "Trans" by Neil Young: idea, recording, success

"Trans." is the twelfth studio album by the musician, singer-songwriter Neil Young. The record came out at the end 1982 year, thus becoming a gift to all fans on Christmas! Although... it's hard to call this album a "gift": inspired by the new wave and a strong vocoder, the album divided fans and critics into two camps for a long time... Its electronic sound confused many fans. It can rightly be said that "Trans." This is one of the most perverted moves Neil Young throughout his entire career.

“This is one of my all-time favorite albums,” Young said grimly as he held the cover of Trans to the camera during a 2012 interview. “If you listen to it now, you will find much more sense here than then…”

Indeed, with age "Trans." became more triumphant and unusual... Well: we suggest recalling the history of this extraordinary record, as well as talking about the meaning inherent in it.

Deep backstory

Neil Young
Neil Young

When you listen "Trans.", you really only hear two-thirds of it. Only six of the album's nine songs were intended for the actual project. The other three came from a completely different album that dealt with young love and ancient civilizations. It should have been called Island in the Sun, but Geffen Records quickly dissuaded Yanga from this concept...

In 1982 year Neil Young left Reprise Records, with whom he had collaborated since the release of his debut album, to move under the wing of Geffen Records, a label founded and owned by David Geffen. Young's contract guaranteed him a million dollars for the album, as well as full creative control over his work. Today "Trans" is often called Young's "pure synth-pop album", but it is not so. Actually, there are few keyboards and a great guitar band. Crazy Horse! Ex-bassist also appears here Buffalo Springfield Bruce Palmer and "Mr Soul" - a song about disregard for rock fame 1967 years ... But what really was not in Trans was the recognizable voice of Neil Young himself. The vocoder transformed all of his vocals into a robotic form. However, it was perfect for a concept album about how humanity faced the digital age... At the same time, it immediately threw the fans out of their comfort zone and pretty much doomed the album's radio chances.

Neil Young holding his son Ben
Neil Young holding his son Ben

Insofar as Young did not give interviews at the time, he never explained the backstory of the album: but if he did, many fans would probably take it to heart at the time. They didn't know that Young's son, Ben, was stricken with cerebral palsy and unable to speak, and that Young was using new digital devices to communicate with him... The songs he wrote showed frustration in the process, as well as the very sounds that the machines made. Yes, it was the electronic experiments of the German group that pushed Young to such a bold direction. Kraftwerk, but more importantly, he felt that it fully reflected his attempts to communicate with his son.

“At the time, he was just trying to find a way to talk, connect with other people… That’s what Trans is. That's why on this record you don't understand what I'm talking about. This is the feeling that I experienced while communicating with my son ... "

Fear of the digital age

Neil Young
Neil Young

Like many other albums Neil Young, "Trans" full of mysteries and unanswered questions...

“If something is wrong, then it’s the mixing,” Young himself said of his work. "We had a lot of technical problems on this record."

Accordingly, most "Trans." about the fight between man and technology. In a song called "Computer Cowboy (AKA Syscrusher)" features a team of computer crooks robbing a bank, with Young's voice downgraded to a digital noise canceller. IN "We're in Control" the robot chorus enumerates aspects of everyday life—traffic lights, the FBI, even air currents—in which humans no longer have a voice. Thematically, these songs—with their dystopian imagery of a screen-and-numbers-driven world where people have everything at their fingertips yet remain miserable—have become outdated pretty quickly. Regardless of the format in which you listen to the album (and it has not yet been released on CD in USA), it seems to you that you are listening to it from the tape recorder of a passing car. Even with longtime collaborators such as producer David Briggs, guitar player Ben Keith and drummer Ralph Molina, these songs bear very little resemblance to Young's classical works 1970's years.

List of tracks

Neil Young...
Neil Young...

album opener "Little Thing Called Love" became one of the few times Young released an individual hit single. On the track, he remarks that "only the blues brings you love..." And "Computer Age", и "We R In Control" talk about the fear of the digital age with ominous crackling chords and mocking inhuman voices...

"Little Thing Called Love"

"Computer Age"

"We're in Control"

"Transformer Man"

"Computer Cowboy (AKA Syscrusher)"

"Hold On to Your Love"

"Sample and Hold"

"Mr. soul"

"Like an Inca"


You shouldn't think that "Trans." devoid of humanity because "Transformer Man" considered one of the most emotionally open songs in the catalog Yanga. From a lyrical point of view, the composition sends love and support. Benu, which is a "transformer man" speaking to the world: "Transformer man / Unlock the secrets / Let's throw off the chains / That hold you." Even the vocoded part here has painful and very human overtones... What happened next is already a legend.

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