Neil Young “Trans”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#348 in the Series) is Neil Young, Trans.

Neil Young, Trans.  Love it _____, Hate It_____ You tell me.  I don’t believe that there was ever a more polarizing Neil Young album than Trans. I know people that absolutely love this effort. I know people that can’t stand it. I feel that Neil loved that!

What makes people react this way?  Maybe you haven’t heard this album.  What caused the spilt reaction was mainly due to one thing.  That one thing was the vocoder.  What is a vocoder? I guess you could say it was the grandfather to today’s auto-tuner.

Trans had nine tunes in all. Five of those nine had Neil’s vocal track heavily run though the vocoder.  You can do the math that leaves four that were not.

The only single to chart was one of those. That was the album’s opening track, “Little Thing Called Love.” It peaked at #71.

The five tunes that used the vocoder were “Computer Age,” “We R in Control,” “Transformer Man,” “Computer Cowboy,” and “Sample and Hold.”  Today’s songs that use auto-tune usually use what I would call “just a little more than a hint” of auto tune. These vocoder tracks used a ton of it!  “Sample and Hold” got some airplay, so did “Computer Age.”

One of the things that I’ve heard people say for a reason that they disliked Trans was that fact that some songs used vocoder and some did not. They felt it caused uneven feel to the disc.  There was some truth to that since some of the songs were left over from another project.  Neil also reworked his Buffalo Springfield classic, “Mr. Soul.”  That also brought out the love or hate with Neil’s fans.

There are a couple more interesting things about this work. Neil Young has a son, Ben that was born with cerebral palsy.  He is unable to speak. Years later, Neil for the first time, acknowledged that this was formed as an attempt to communicate with his son.  He would say “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.”

This would be Neil’s first release for Geffen Records. He originally had recorded an album while still with his previous label, Reprise, called Island in the Sun.  David Geffen and his people rejected it claiming that wanted something that would be written and recorded just for their label.  After Trans, Neil would release another Geffen album called, Everybody’s Rockin’. This one would be a rockabilly record.  Geffen, obviously looking for another Harvest were not pleased with either.  They filed a 3 million dollar suit against Neil claiming that he “produced deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative work.”  The suit and Neil’s countersuit were eventually dropped. He would stay with Geffen for three more album after Everybody’s Rockin.’ They were, Old Ways (’85), Landing on Water (’86) and Life (’87).  In 1988, Neil would return to Reprise.

This album is long out of print and very hard to find. If  you want to hear it, please check out the playlist below. The complete album is there. I’ve also added a bonus playlist below that where you can hear four live tunes from the Trans tour.  Two are classic Neil numbers, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Like a Hurricane.”


Track listing

All songs written by Neil Young.

Side one

  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

  1. “Hold On to Your Love” – 3:28
  2. “Sample and Hold” * – 5:09 (CD – 8:03)
  3. “Mr. Soul” – 3:19
  4. “Like an Inca” * – 8:08 (CD – 9:46)


  • Neil Young – guitar, bass, synclavier, vocoder, electric piano, vocal
  • Nils Lofgren – guitar, piano, organ, electric piano, synclavier, vocal
  • Ben Keith – pedal steel guitar, slide guitar, vocal
  • Bruce Palmer – bass
  • Ralph Molina – drums, vocal
  • Joe Lala – percussion, vocal
  • Frank Sampedro – guitar, stringman
  • Billy Talbot – bass


Back to the Cool Album of the Day Home Page

SUPER BONUS VIDEOS: Live Trans from Berlin in 1982.

Posted by Larry Carta


  1. Jim (19 Apr 2011, 1:24)

    Great article. I think I need to go pick that up and listen to it again. I never really cared for Neil Young (himself) but I did like some of his music and the way he put some of his stuff together.

  2. Phil (19 Apr 2011, 13:57)

    Good choice! I must admit when I first heard it I didn’t care for it that much. After awhile it grew on me until I practically wore it out. I know just about all the words by heart. Outstanding album in the middle of what, in my opinion, are a few weak efforts. By the way…love “Mr. Soul”.

  3. drkrick (19 Apr 2011, 18:24)

    Put me in the “loved it” column. Plenty weird, and the story about his son rings true, but it struck me as a creditable effort by a classic rock guy to come to terms with the then-new technology. Saw the tour in Baltimore and thoroughly enjoyed that, too.

  4. VoiceEncoder (23 May 2012, 3:02)

    The vocoder used on this album is the Sennheiser Vocoder VSM201.

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