Twinkies, Cokes, and the Greater Meaning Behind Neil Young’s First Hit “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” 

By 1965, Neil Young was performing around Canada as a solo artist and writing some of his earliest songs before briefly joining the R&B group Mynah Birds, whose frontman was “Super Freak” singer Rick James a year later. That same year, Young formed Buffalo Springfield along with bassist Bruce Palmer, future Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young bandmate Stephen Stills, guitarist Richie Furay, and drummer Dewey Martin.

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Buffalo Springfield found early success right from the start with their 1966 self-titled debut and the Stills-penned “For What It’s Worth,” which went to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another song—and one of the five written by Young for the album—”Flying on the Ground is Wrong” also made it on the charts in Canada.

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Sung by Furay on the album, “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” marked Young’s first hit as a songwriter, but it wasn’t Buffalo Springfield’s version that made it on the charts.

A year after recording “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong” with Buffalo Springfield, Young passed the song on to The Guess Who? featuring Bachman-Turner Overdrive‘s Randy Bachman, and their version hit the top 40 in Canada.

A Song About “Dope”

When Young Wrote “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” he had just moved into his first apartment in Los Angeles, California at the Commodore Gardens. At the time he already suffering from epileptic seizures and living off a refrigerator full of Twinkies and Coca-Colas.

“I put a blue lightbulb in the fridge,” said Young in his 2012 memoir Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream. “It was an old fridge. I don’t know what I ever put in it. Must have been Cokes and Twinkies. I wasn’t into health food yet, that’s for sure.”

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Young continued “I wrote a lot of songs there for the Springfield, and it was an exciting time for me. ‘Flying on the Ground,’ ‘Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It,’ and ‘Burned’ were among the songs I wrote there. I was also dealing with my newly discovered seizure disorder, and come to think of it, I’m sure the food I was eating was not helping.”

Though Young’s lyrics can be left to interpretation, they follow the story of a semi-remorseful man whose drifting mentality has made his life, and a particular relationship, fall apart.

Is my world not falling down
I’m in pieces on the ground
And my eyes aren’t open
And I’m standing on my knees
But if crying and holding on
And flying on the ground is wrong
Then I’m sorry to let you down
But you’re from my side of town
And I miss you

Turn me up or turn me down
Turn me off or turn me round
I wish I could have met you in a place
Where we both belong
But if crying and holding on
And flying on the ground is wrong
Then I’m sorry to let you down
But you’re from my side of town
And I miss you

“This song is about dope,” revealed Young of “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” on Live at the Cellar Door in 1970. “It’s mostly about grass. It’s about what happens when you start getting high, and you find out that people you thought you knew, you don’t anymore, because they don’t get high, and you do.”

Young continued, “Your girlfriend, she doesn’t understand. Your life is crazy.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m just a helpless child
Sometimes I feel like a kid
But baby, since I have changed
I can’t take nothing home

City lights at a country fair
Never shine but always glare
If I’m bright enough to see you
You’re just too dark to care

[RELATED: The Meaning Behind Neil Young’s 1989 Hit “Rockin’ in the Free World”]

Still “Flying”

In 2008, Young’s Crazy Horse bandmate and E Street Band member Nils Lofgren recorded “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” on his album The Loner – Nils Sings Neil.

Young’s own version was finally released in 2013 with the Live at the Cellar album, featuring performances pulled from six shows in Washington, D.C. in 1970.

Throughout the decades, “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” still makes it onto Young’s setlists.

Photo: Joel Bernstein / Courtesy of Warner Records

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