The Song Neil Young Wrote About Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten

Neil Young is defined as one of the best singers and songwriters of all time, thanks to his iconic songs characterized by well-crafted lyrics and sounds. Young started gaining fame when he became a member of Buffalo Springfield, but his career in CSNY brought him international popularity and critical acclaim. Also, the musician proved that he could produce legendary works as a solo artist with his backing band.

The musician has released 40 albums with his backing band Crazy Horse, and most of them hit the charts and sold millions all around the world. However, even a successful musician like Young lost his popularity during the rise of punk and progressive rock, but he didn’t give up. The CSNY icon decided to work on a progressive album and punk rock-influenced songs by teaming up with the American art-punk band Devo.

Neil Young’s Punk Rock-Influenced Song ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’

Neil Young released his studio/live album entitled ‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ which was recorded during his Rust Never Sleeps Tour, on  June 22, 1979. The musician focused on creating and writing songs using different styles, such as punk and progressive rock, and he was criticized because of the change in his artistic direction since he was widely known for his previous folk-inspired albums. However, the album also received positive reviews from music critics.

One of the album’s tracks, ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),’ drew more attention than the other songs in ‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ especially with its well-crafted and inspiring lyrics. The song was so influential that ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’ was quoted by the late Nirvana frontman in his suicide note. The track is based on the story of a musician who didn’t lose his love of rock and roll, and this musician was probably Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten.

Is ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ The Story Of  Johnny Rotten?

‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ can be considered a message to the music industry and rock and roll fans. The lyrics ‘The king is gone but he’s not forgotten / Is this the tale of Johnny Rotten? / It’s better to burn out than fade away / The king is gone but he’s not forgotten’ make it pretty clear that they aim to pay tribute to the late Sex Pistols icon.

In a sense, with this song, Young paid tribute to all the kings of rock and roll who cannot be forgotten. While many names may come to mind, such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Freddie Mercury, and Kurt Cobain, Neil already had a pretty good example in mind; Johnny Rotten.

In the song, Neil Young clearly stated that the kings of rock and roll cannot be forgotten by mentioning Johnny Rotten’s name and asking whether it was his tale.

The song’s lyrics read as follows:

“The king is gone but he’s not forgotten

Is this the tale of Johnny Rotten?

It’s better to burn out than fade away

The king is gone, but he’s not forgotten.”

Both Young and Rotten’s fans agreed that ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ is about Sex Pistols’ lead singer considering Rotten’s self-destructing behavior, rock and roll lifestyle, popularity, and commercial success. The CSNY legend wanted to highlight that the musicians like Rotten can burn out but will never fade away, and that’s why it has always been a special song for their fans.

You can check out the song below.