Neil Young’s ‘Long May You Run’: Behind The Olympic Closing Ceremony Song

Canadian-born singer/songwriter also performed the song on Conan O'Brien's final 'Tonight Show.'

At the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics on Sunday (February 28), Canadian-born singer/songwriter Neil Young took center stage — or, rather, center snow at BC Place Stadium — for a games-ending performance of “Long May You Run.”

Standing beneath the flickering lights of the Olympic torch with his guitar and harmonica, Young’s mournful song capped 17 days of world-class competition and might have sounded familiar to TV viewers: He performed the same song a month earlier, during the final episode of Conan O’Brien’s run on “The Tonight Show.”

While the tune seems to be finding itself a cultural statement in 2010, it’s been around for more than three decades. In 1976, the Stills-Young Band — headed by Young and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Stills, both former members of the folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield — released the album Long May You Run. Reaching #26 on the Billboard chart, the disc ended up going gold. The album was originally envisioned as a reunion between Stills and Young and former bandmates David Crosby and Graham Nash, but tension between the four resulted in the brief formation of the Stills-Young group. The duo didn’t last for long, as Young bailed in the midst of the ’76 tour and Stills was forced to finish the remaining dates without him.

The title track is said to be an ode to Young’s first car, a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse. “Although these changes have come/ With your chrome heart shining in the sun,” go the lyrics. “Long may you run.”

In January, during O’Brien’s final “Tonight” appearance, the late-night host said Young had been the first person to call him and offer support when his battle with NBC management became public. Similarly armed with only a guitar and harmonica, Young offered a soaring take on “Long May You Run” that acted as an emotional counterpoint to O’Brien and Will Ferrell’s performance of the Lynyrd Skynyrd rock anthem “Free Bird.”

At Sunday’s ceremony, Young stood in the midst of the cavernous stadium and belted out a tribute to the spirit of the Olympics. “We’ve been through some things together/ With trunks of memories still to come,” he sang. “We found things to do in stormy weather/ Long may you run.”