There are many sides to Neil Young, whose work has thus far received none of the attention it deserves here at Songs of the Day. He could rock out with the best of them – if you want to know where Grunge came from, have a listen to Cinnamom Girl – or render you wistfully, weepily nostalgic with something like Birds or Sugar Mountain. There aren’t a lot of songwriters out there with the range to veer from Rockin’ in the Free World to Harvest Moon to Unknown Legend, all of which should one day make their appearance in this space, not to mention more obvious but equally worthy classics like Heart of Gold. Today, though, I was feeling a little whimsical, so here’s the wonderfully charming, delightfully out-of-left-field Wonderin’, a mixture of pathos and self-deprecating humour cast in the form of a jukebox number last heard in one of those chrome and linoleum roadside diners back before Elvis got drafted.
It’s hard to say why, exactly, this almost mournful doo-wop, filmed, apparently, on a 1958 Bell & Howell Model One Nine, is so affecting. There’s something about Neil’s portrayal of this affable, confused little sad sack, standing there with his tentative smile and scratching his head as he waits passively between singing his lines, that tugs at the heart strings, while the vocalists of the Shocking Pinks, singing backup from the rear seat of a big old Caddy, are straight out of American Graffiti , and thus provide just the right touch.
He’s just wondering if she’s ever coming back, is all, and it pains us out here in Videoland to realize that no, she never is.
Post-script: my brother reminds me that Wonderin was originally recorded many years earlier, and sounding more Honky-tonk than Doo Wop, for After the Gold Rush: