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Sugar Mountain by Neil Young: Great B-Sides

Neil Young Decade

Neil Young first rose to prominence in 1960s folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield, playing lead guitar on their breakthrough hit ‘For What It’s Worth’ and writing ‘Mr Soul’ and ‘Broken Arrow’. Young’s Buffalo Springfield work isn’t his earliest recorded legacy – there’s now a box set that collates his demos and early work with The Squires before he joined Buffalo Springfield.

The best known song from Young’s pre-fame period is ‘Sugar Mountain’. Young used a live 1968 recording of ‘Sugar Mountain’ as a b-side; both for the 1969 single release of ‘The Loner’ and 1970’s release of ‘Cinnamon Girl’.

Written by Young in 1963, ‘Sugar Mountain’ is a rumination on ageing. According to Young’s friend, Joni Mitchell, Young wrote the song as a response to exclusion from his favourite youth club after turning 19. Mitchell wrote the song ‘The Circle Game’ to console Young.

Young later told an audience that he had written 126 (!) verses for ‘Sugar Mountain’, and had purposely included the most awkward verse (“Now you’re underneath the stairs/And you’re givin’ back some glares”) on the basis that “I decided to put it in the song, to just to give everybody a frame of reference as to, you know, what can happen.”

At almost six minutes, with just Young’s voice and acoustic guitar, ‘Sugar Mountain’ drags a little, but it also taps into a magical nostalgia. Nostalgia’s an unusual mode for a young man, but this is the same writer who later penned the line “Old man, take a look at your life, I’m a lot like you”.

‘Sugar Mountain’ wasn’t released on an album until 1977’s essential career retrospective Decade. It’s evidently an important song for Young, included in numerous live shows and on a 7″ bonus disc included with vinyl editions of his Greatest Hits, but it wouldn’t have made sense as an album track, either for Buffalo Springfield or on Young’s solo debut, released long after the song was written. Instead ‘Sugar Mountain’ enjoys the status of a prominent b-side, a song that most Young fans know even though it never enjoyed album space.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
You’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

It’s so noisy at the fair
But all your friends are there
And the candy floss you had
And your mother and your dad.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
You’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

There’s a girl just down the aisle,
Oh, to turn and see her smile.
You can hear the words she wrote
As you read the hidden note.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
You’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Now you’re underneath the stairs
And you’re givin’ back some glares
To the people who you met
And it’s your first cigarette.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
You’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Now you say you’re leavin’ home
‘Cause you want to be alone.
Ain’t it funny how you feel
When you’re findin’ out it’s real?

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
You’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
You’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

15 thoughts on “Sugar Mountain by Neil Young: Great B-Sides Leave a comment

  1. Lots of new information here for me about Sugar Mountain and man I had no idea “Circle Game” was written for Young. Also “Sweet Home Alabama” was for Neil too. He inspired some classics to go with his own classics!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 126 verses!
    My goodness – I’m pleased he trimmed it a bit before the recording.
    I didn’t care for Neil at all for the longest time but I’ve become a big fan over the past few years. There’s a real just ‘press record and see what happens’ vibe to a lot of his stuff, an unpolished quality that I find quite appealing.

    Liked by 1 person

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