Singing With Neil Young
by on July 20, 2011 in Misc

Don’t need no ad machine
Telling me what I need
Don’t need no Madison Avenue War
Don’t need no more boxes I can see
Covered in flags but I can’t see them on TV

Don’t need no more lies
Don’t need no more lies
Don’t need no more lies
Don’t need no more lies…

A hundred voices from a hundred lands Cry out in unison…

~Neil Young, Lyrics from “The Restless Consumer” on the album Living With War





At 9:30pm on a Wednesday night in April 2006, I got a call to be part of a vocal session taking place the next morning in Studio A (the “big room”) at the iconic Capitol Records studios in Hollywood.  I had been recommended by my singer friend Felice Hernandez (Thanks, Felice!), and when the vocal contractor called me about the session, she told me that the gig was to sing on a new Neil Young album (to which I replied “Wow!”).

The only qualifying question I had to answer before getting the job was, “Do you have a problem singing the word “impeachment?”  After enthusiastically exclaiming“uh…NO!” I was booked.

Thursday morning I showed up at the Capitol Records building, along with 99 other singers — including many of the top session singers in Los Angeles — for a 12-hour, ten song session.  After checking in at the gate and signing in at the front desk, I walked the legendary halls of Capitol Records Recording Studios, which is lined with black and white photos of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, John Coltrane, Keely Smith, and more of the artists who recorded their most beloved recordings in the very studio I was about to enter.

The session itself was really fun, with the Living With War choir (me & the 99 other singers) reading lyrics from a huge screen at the front of the room, taking cues from our vocal contractor Rosemary Butler.  Some of the work was pretty easy – everyone singing the same part in unison – but some of it was quite challenging — try getting 100 singers to *exactly* match Neil Young’s timing, pitch, & inflection on every line in a song!

If you’ve heard the album Living With War, you know that it’s a VERY political, anti-war CD, and at one point, when the whole lot of us were repeatedly belting out “don’t need” at the tops of our lungs (as in “don’t need no more lies”), I felt like I was in a recording session for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (“we don’t need no education…”) — it was very cool!!

It was exciting to be working on such a high-profile session with so many of my singer friends, as well as having the opportunity to sing and hang out with icons of the session-singing world — we’re talking about people who’ve sung on albums with Stevie Wonder and in classic Walt Disney films I grew up watching as a kid.

Not to mention working with the legendary Neil Young himself — he was there the whole time, supervising and occasionally helping us fine tune our vocal parts. We ended the evening by singing “America The Beautiful” all together — it was a moving end to an emotional and exciting day, and it was captured on film in the America The Beautiful mini-documentary.

If you watch the 2008 documentary film CSNY/ Déjà Vu, you’ll see several segments of Neil working with the choir, in addition to live footage of Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Freedom of Speech” tour and the surrounding controversy.  When the film came to theatres in 2008, I went to see it with my mom and lo and behold – there I was – singing in the choir right up there on the silver screen! And, yes, as you can see below, I did meet Mr. Young after our recording session.  He was very friendly and incredibly gracious to pose for a photo with me.

Here are a few links if you’re curious to see Neil & the Living With War choir in action:

Living With War Documentary: 5-minute mini-doc on Neil Young, his band & the choir in the studio recording “Living With War”

America The Beautiful Documentary: After 12 hours of recording, the Living With War choir sings “America The Beautiful” to wrap up an incredibly inspiring day. (And if you really wanna see *me*, press pause at 3:27, look just behind and to the left of the conductor, and you’ll see my little head peeking out from the second row!)

CSNY/Deja Vu DVD (2008)


  1. Christinna says:

    Neil!!! You know your good if ya got in with the big guy! That is so awesome Ali!

@copy 2020 Ali Handal