“The Needle and the Damage Done” is a song by Neil Young that describes the destruction caused by the heroin addiction of musicians he knew. Though not specifically about him, the song was inspired by the heroin addiction of his friend and Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten. It previews the theme of the Tonight’s the Night album that reflects Young’s grief over the heroin overdose and death of both Whitten and Bruce Berry, a roadie for Young and Crazy Horse.
“The Needle and the Damage Done” first appeared on the Harvest album in 1972. Rather than rerecording it, he selected a live version from January 1971 that had him singing and playing acoustic guitar. It appeared on the compilation albums Decade and Greatest Hits. On the handwritten liner notes included in Decade, Young had this to say about the song: “I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men.”
It appeared on the 2007 album Live at Massey Hall 1971. The album captured Young’s introduction of his song thus:
Ever since I left Canada, about five years ago or so… and moved down south… found out a lot of things that I didn’t know when I left. Some of ’em are good, and some of ’em are bad. Got to see a lot of great musicians before they happened… before they became famous… y’know, when they were just gigging. Five and six sets a night… things like that. And I got to see a lot of, um, great musicians who nobody ever got to see. For one reason or another. But… strangely enough, the real good ones… that you never got to see was… ’cause of, ahhm, heroin. An’ that started happening over an’ over. Then it happened to someone that everyone knew about. So I just wrote a little song.