Trans (album)

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Neil Young - Trans.jpg
Studio album by Neil Young
Released December 29, 1982
Recorded September 24, 1981 – May 12, 1982
Studio Modern Recorders, Redwood City, California, Commercial Recorders, Honolulu, Hawaii
Genre Synthrock, synthpop, new wave, experimental
Length 39:48
Label Geffen
Producer Neil Young, Tim Mulligan, David Briggs
Neil Young chronology
Everybody's Rockin'
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 2/5 stars[1]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[2]
The Village Voice A–[3]
Pitchfork 7.8/10[4]

Trans is the twelfth studio album by Canadian musician and singer-songwriter Neil Young, released on December 29, 1982. Recorded and released during his Geffen-era in the 1980s, Trans baffled many Neil Young fans upon its initial release—a Sennheiser vocoder VSM201[5] features prominently in six of the nine tracks.


In 1982, Young left Reprise Records, his record label since his debut album in 1968, to sign with Geffen Records—the label founded and owned by David Geffen, who had worked with Young as manager of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Young's contract guaranteed him $1 million per album, as well as total creative control over his output.[6]

From late 1980 to mid-1982, Young spent much of his waking hours carrying out a therapy program for his young son, Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy and unable to speak. Neil disclosed to almost no one at the time that he was doing so, or that the repetitive nature of the songs on both the previous album, Re-ac-tor, and this one related to the exercises he was performing with Ben. Work on Trans began in late 1981 as a continuation of Re-ac-tor, with the usual Crazy Horse lineup. But then Young started playing with two new machines he had acquired, a synclavier and a vocoder. Crazy Horse guitarist Poncho Sampedro recalled, "Next thing we knew, Neil stripped all our music off, overdubbed all this stuff, the vocoder, weird sequencing, and put the synth shit on it."[7]

Young's direction was influenced by the electronic experiments of the German band Kraftwerk, but more importantly he felt that distorting his voice reflected his attempts to communicate with his son. "At that time he was simply trying to find a way to talk, to communicate with other people. That's what Trans is all about. And that's why, on that record, you know I'm saying something but you can't understand what it is. Well, that's exactly the same feeling I was getting from my son."[6][8]

Young's first work for Geffen was a group of songs for an entirely different project, Island in the Sun, recorded in May 1982 in Hawaii. According to Young, it was "a tropical thing all about sailing, ancient civilisations, islands and water."[8] Young recalled later, "Geffen thought it was okay, but he didn't think it was good enough."[9]

Instead of recording more new material, Young went back to the synthesizer tracks, actually recorded in the last days of the Reprise contract, and put together an album of songs from the two very different projects, three from Island in the Sun and six of the synthesizer tracks. Young proposed making a video to go with the album that would have clarified what the album was about. "All of the electronic-voice people were working in a hospital, and the one thing they were trying to do is teach this little baby to push a button."[10]

After a year of work, the album was mixed in a hurry because Young was eager to go out on tour (documented in the home video Neil Young in Berlin), and a last-minute change in the running order is evident in the inclusion of a song called "If You Got Love" in the track listing and lyric sheet, even though it is not on the album.[2] Portions of several tracks appeared in Young's 1982 feature-length comedy film Human Highway.[11] Trans, along with Young's next Geffen release Everybody's Rockin', formed the basis of a 1983 lawsuit filed against Young by Geffen on the grounds that he had produced deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative work.[6]

Covers by notable artists[edit]

American alternative rock band Sonic Youth covered the song "Computer Age" for the Neil Young tribute album The Bridge.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Neil Young.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Little Thing Called Love" 3:13
2. "Computer Age" 5:24
3. "We R in Control" 3:31
4. "Transformer Man" 3:23
5. "Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher)" 4:13
Side two
No. Title Length
1. "Hold On to Your Love" 3:28
2. "Sample and Hold" (8:03 on CD versions) 5:09
3. "Mr. Soul" 3:19
4. "Like an Inca" (9:46 on CD versions) 8:08



  1. ^ William Ruhlmann. "Trans - Neil Young | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-06-01. 
  2. ^ a b Puterbaugh, Parke (1983-02-03). "Neil Young Trans Album Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2015-06-01. 
  3. ^ Christgau, Robert (March 1, 1983). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved December 22, 2016. 
  4. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Dave Tompkins (20102011). How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop, The Machine Speaks. Melville House. ISBN 978-1-933633-88-6 (2010), ISBN 978-1-61219-093-8 (2011).
  6. ^ a b c Clancy, Chris (23 September 2009). "From the Vault: Neil Young". Archived from the original on 23 September 2009. Retrieved 3 December 2016. 
  7. ^ McDonough, Jimmy. Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. New York: Anchor Books, 2003 ISBN 0-6797-509-67, p 552.
  8. ^ a b Kent, Nick. "I BUILD SOMETHING UP, I TEAR IT RIGHT DOWN: Neil Young at 50." Mojo, December 1995
  9. ^ McDonough, Shakey, p 556.
  10. ^ McDonough, Shakey, p 556-557.
  11. ^ Human Highway film credits

External links[edit]