In the early 1970’s Neil Young’s music – a kind of post-hippie intellectual folk rock tinged with southern country – represented exactly how a lot of U.S. youth was feeling as the Vietnam War was drawing to its sad conclusion. There was an almost unimaginable cultural gap between that sound (a hard-fought return away from psychedelia to a kind of post-Beatles roots music) and the earlier aesthetic of Broadway musicals.
By the time Young was recording, many waves of successive cultural upheaval had left their mark in the mere fifteen years since the songs of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady had swept to the top of the pop charts. After the British invasion of 1963, it would become progressively harder for a Broadway musical to produce even one hit song, let alone a whole slew of them.
By the early 1970s, the entire aesthetic that had created the classic Broadway musical had been rejected by a new youth generation. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Frank Loesser – all of whom had recently been towering figures in the popular culture – were regarded as irrelevant or worse, cultural stooges of a discredited older generation that now stood for Richard Nixon and a reviled war in east Asia.
And yet two of Neil Young’s most popular songs: Heart of Gold and I Believe in You, have identical titles to two songs from Frank Loesser’s 1961 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – a Broadway musical that was the very epitome of the older aesthetic.
Well ok, one song title could easily be a coincidence. But two? To quote Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (upon finding out that her prospective son-in-law is an orphan): “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.”
So is it really possible that there was some utterly wild coincidence at work here? Or was Mr. Young just possibly having a little post-modern fun?