The love triangle of Neil Young, Joe Rogan, and Spotify came to a head this week when the singer-songwriter gave the streaming platform an ultimatum: the most successful podcast in the world or me. Spotify seemed to make its decision late Wednesday, removing Young’s extensive catalog from the service.
The saga began on Wednesday when Neil briefly posted a since-deleted open letter to his website. In the letter to his management, Young demanded his music be taken off Spotify in response to alleged misinformation about COVID and the vaccine presented on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Simply put, Young said, “They can have [Joe] Rogan or Young. Not both.”
In his note, Young pointed to another open letter signed by over 270 scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators last month calling on Spotify to establish a “clear and public policy to moderate misinformation.”
“With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE, which is hosted exclusively on Spotify, is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence,” that open letter reads. “Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, though the company presently has no misinformation policy.”
For the sake of clarity, Spotify did not take Young’s music down. As the Joe Rogan Experience exemplifies, the platform is not in a position to take content down itself. Rather, Young directed his label—Warner Brothers/Reprise Records—to remove his music from the platform. A follow-up note posted to the Neil Young Archives after the deed was done quantified the financial ramifications of this decision.
“Spotify represents 60% of the streaming of my music to listeners around the world, almost every record I have ever released is available – my life’s music – a huge loss for my record company to absorb,” Young wrote. “Yet my friends at WARNER BROTHERS REPRISE stood with me, recognizing the threat the COVID misinformation on SPOTIFY posed to the world – particularly for you young people who think everything they hear on SPOTIFY is true. Unfortunately it is not.”
Related: Neil Young Shares Previously Unreleased Recordings From 1987 On ‘Summer Songs’
Spotify issued its own statement on Wednesday: “We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid since the start of the pandemic.”
“We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify,” the service added, “but hope to welcome him back soon.”
This is not the first time Young has lobbed criticism at Spotify and streaming services in general. In 2015 he removed—and later quietly re-uploaded—his music to Spotify and Apple Music, decrying the platforms’ poor audio quality. In his Dear John to Spotify, Young also included one more swipe at the company’s audio quality.
“There is an upside for my listeners, people who may be listening to the 60 years of music I have made in my life so far,” Young wrote. “It is this: many other platforms, Amazon, Apple, and Quobuz, to name a few, present my music today in all its High-Resolution glory – the way it is intended to be heard, while unfortunately SPOTIFY continues to peddle the lowest quality in music production. So much for art. But now that is in the past for me. Soon my music will live on in a better place.”
Related: Streaming Services Propose “Lowest Royalty Rates In History” For Songwriters
Though Young’s fiery rhetoric and public outcry may seem final, some of his music slipped through the cracks by way of legal loopholes. A quick search of Neil Young on Spotify will still yield an artist page with sparing results. First and foremost, there is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young‘s 1970 album Déjà Vu, featuring Young’s contributions “Helpless” and “Country Girl”. Luckily, Spotify hosts the 50th-anniversary edition which contains a demo of “Birds”, which would appear later that year on Young’s solo album After The Gold Rush.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Déjà Vu represents the most significant piece of Young’s studio catalog still left on Spotify, though it is worth noting that Buffalo Springfield‘s three LPs also remain on the platform. The most substantive of Young’s presence remaining on Spotify comes from his live catalog. Fans can hear yet another version of “Helpless” from The Band‘s famous The Last Waltz final concert at Winterland Ballroom on November 25th, 1976. Young is also—technically—on the “I Shall Be Released” finale with Bob Dylan, The Band, Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Van Morrison, and many more from throughout the evening.
The Band – The Last Waltz (Deluxe Version)
Young appears beside Dylan once again on the Bob Dylan – 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration live album, joining in on “My Back Pages” in another star-studded lineup of George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, and Roger McGuinn. The Dylan disciple also turns in solo covers of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “All Along The Watchtower” at the August 24th, 1993 all-star event at Madison Square Garden.
Various Artists – Bob Dylan – 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration
Pearl Jam pays tribute to The Godfather of Grunge on the Pearl Jam Twenty Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, sharing the stage with Neil at his annual Bridge School Benefit for a performance of “Walk With Me” at Shoreline Amphitheatre on August 23rd, 2010. More performances from Young’s scholastic fundraiser are heard on The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition, which hears Neil perform “Love and Only Love” with Crazy Horse, as well as reunite with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash for “Déjà Vu”.
Various Artists – The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition
Rounding out Young’s remaining live catalog are his appearances at the two Live Aids. At the original 1985 mega-concert, Neil performs “Needle And The Damage Done” and “Nothing Is Perfect (In God’s Plan)”, while at the 20th-anniversary event he plays “Four Strong Winds”.
Various Artists – Live Aid (Live, 13th July 1985)
Various Artists – Live 8 (Live, July 2005)
As for any remaining scraps of Neil Young’s expansive catalog on Spotify, they can be scavenged from various film soundtracks. From documentaries like Body of War to the 2014 film noir Inherent Vice to Will Smith‘s 2017 thriller Bright—where Young turns in an unlikely collaboration with Shelly FKA DRAM on “Campfire”—Neil Young’s music can subsist in the nether regions of Spotify for years to come thanks to legal quagmires. Or can it? Pull that up, Jamie.