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|Song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young|
|from the album Déjà Vu|
|Released||March 11, 1970|
|Recorded||November 7, 1969|
|Genre||Folk rock, country rock|
|Producer(s)||Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young|
"Helpless" was originally recorded with Young's band Crazy Horse in early 1969, before Young's new CSNY bandmates (he had joined the then-trio in mid-1969) convinced him it would suit them better. The song was simple, at its core effectively the repetition of one melody over a descending D-A-G chord progression. The group found difficulty deciding on an arrangement, and many different versions of the song were recorded before the group finally decided on the slow-paced version that appeared on the album.
On this final version Young was in the foreground, singing the verses and the chorus with his bandmates providing the "helpless" refrain, while the instrumentation came in the form of acoustic guitar, electric guitar (with volume pedal and tremolo), piano, bass and drums.
It became one of the most revered songs from the Déjà Vu album (Q magazine's Peter Doggett regards it as "one of (the album's) showpieces"), and has remained a live favorite of Young's for over forty years. An alternate mix of the CSNY version was released on Neil Young's The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972. It features Young playing harmonica and electronically treated percussion.
Young played the song with The Band in the group's final concert with its original lineup, on American Thanksgiving Day 1976 at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, with Joni Mitchell providing backing vocals offstage. The performance was featured in the Martin Scorcese concert film The Last Waltz.
The "town in North Ontario" referred to in the opening line of the song is often presumed to be Ontario native Young's hometown; Young himself cleared up the rumors in a 1995 Mojo interview with Nick Kent:
- "Well, it's not literally a specific town so much as a feeling. Actually, it's a couple of towns. Omemee, Ontario, is one of them. It's where I first went to school and spent my 'formative' years. Actually I was born in Toronto..."
- David Crosby–harmony vocals
- Stephen Stills–harmony vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Graham Nash–harmony vocals
- Neil Young–lead vocals, guitars
Appearances in media
- Folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie recorded a cover version for her 1971 album She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina.
- It was arranged in 1984 by Japanese musician Yukihiro Takahashi, and it was sung by Bill Nelson. It is collected in album WILD&MOODY.
- In 1980, Canadian band Fosterchild recorded a version of the song on their album On The Prowl.
- In 2004, k.d. lang recorded a version with a lush string section for her album Hymns of the 49th Parallel.
- Nick Cave recorded a rendition of this song for the Neil Young tribute album, The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young.
- In 2004, Canadian band Cowboy Junkies recorded a studio version for 'neath Your Covers, Part 1, a bonus disc of covers that accompanied some orders of their album One Soul Now; a live version appears on their 2006 album Long Journey Home.
- In 2010, Heavy metal band Black Label Society recorded a version as a bonus track on their album Order of the Black. Also appears on their album The songs remain Not the same
- John Nolan of Straylight Run and Taking Back Sunday covered the song on his 2010 EP, Songs I Didn't Write.
- Scottish hard rock band Nazareth recorded a cover version for their 1989 album "Snakes 'n' Ladders".
- Montreal-based Indie rock band Arcade Fire performed this song with Young at the 2011 Bridge School Benefit
- British artist Mike Rosenberg (Passenger) covered this song with Old Man River on their One For The Road tour in 2011 and Rosenberg has since covered it himself whilst busking around Europe
- In 2012 the Italian artists Massimo Priviero and Michele Gazich covered Helpless in their album Folk rock
- In 2017, Canadian vocalist Eleanor McCain released her version of the song on her album "True North"
- In 1992, Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare released a cover on their EP Volt.
- In 2010, Moby covered the song on his "iTunes: Live from Montreal" release.
- In 2018, Australian singer-songwriter Angie McMahon released a cover version as a single.
- In 1994, Lori Yates covered the song for the Neil Young Tribute Album Borrowed Tunes: A Tribute to Neil Young.
Live cover performances
- Ryan Adams performed a duet version with Gillian Welch at Nashville's Exit/In
- Over the Rhine recorded a live version during a winter 2001 concert at Cincinnati's Taft Theatre, which was released on the band's 2002 rarities compilation, "The Cutting Room Floor."
- The Spring Standards & Joey Ryan recorded a live version.
- Elton John, Leon Russell, Sheryl Crow and Neko Case performed a version in 2010.
- Case/Lang/Veirs performed a version at the Ryman Theater, Nashville in August 2016.
- Perfume Genius performed a version at the Imperial, Vancouver in July 2017.
- k.d. lang performed a version at Toronto's Massey Hall in September 2017 as part of Neil Young's induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
- Kinos-Goodin, Jesse (November 24, 2016). "10 things you should know about the Band's Last Waltz". CBC.ca.
- Tahlia Rose (13 March 2011). "Helpless - One for the Road Tour with Old Man River & Passenger". YouTube. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
- "Archive.org". Archive.org. Retrieved 14 December 2017.