Neil Young

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Neil Young playlist

 

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Contributor: Marc Fagel

A prominent music journalist recently ignited one of those silly Music Nerd Twitter kerfuffles by posting the simple question: Bob or Neil? Now, I’m the first to admit being a fair-weather Dylan fan, but it’s hard to deny Dylan’s role as a generation’s preeminent songwriter, perhaps the most noteworthy lyricist of all time; nor can one fail to be shaken the power of his mid-60s electric trilogy. But for me, this is no contest. I’ll take Neil Young in a heartbeat.

From his mid-60s tenure with the legendary (but short-lived) Buffalo Springfield right up to his most recent crop of new material (2019’s Colorado), Young has been one of the most reliable and essential forces in American music. His peak era (at least for me), lasting from his 1969 solo debut through 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, is among the most consistent extended runs of music in all of rock & roll, with countless songs rightfully elevated to the classic rock canon and a decade of productivity across myriad styles that places him alongside David Bowie’s comparably enduring catalog from the same period. And while his music in the decades since has been of far more variable quality, including an eclectic and at times embarrassing eighties, a surprisingly respectable nineties resurgence, and seemingly endless post-millennium releases that occasionally struggle for relevance, he has continued to sneak in wondrous gems even on his less satisfying efforts.

The challenge, of course, is distilling Young’s highly prolific 50+ years of music, spread over at least 40 proper studio albums plus myriad live releases and compilations, into a mere 10 (or even 20) songs. Hell, the man has more timeless songs on his unreleased albums than most artists have in their entire discographies. Even setting aside his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (the subjects of earlier Toppermost treatments), it’s an impossible task. Yet … we persevere.

For purposes of this overview, I’ve opted for two separate Top 10s: One focused on his initial ‘classic’ period recording for Reprise Records, running from his self-titled 1969 debut through 1981’s Re-ac-tor; and a second drawn from his middle period, encompassing his restless eighties on Geffen Records and his return to form in the 90s (up through 2000’s Silver & Gold).

Of course, Young has managed another 15 or so studio albums since 2000, by itself a much larger body of work than probably 95% of the artists featured on Toppermost, but I have to admit that I’ve spent far less time with those releases than with his earlier work, and will defer on selecting a Top 10 from his latter days (aside from a few select shout-outs). Perhaps someone else may one day rise to that challenge.

 

 

1969-1981: The Classic Years

 

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TrackAlbum
Sugar MountainDecade
Down By The RiverEverybody Knows This Is Nowhere
After The Gold RushAfter The Gold Rush
The Needle And The Damage DoneHarvest
Don't Be DeniedTime Fades Away
AlbuquerqueTonight's The Night
Revolution BluesOn The Beach
Cortez The KillerZuma
Like A HurricaneAmerican Stars 'N Bars
PowderfingerRust Never Sleeps

Young’s eponymous debut following his departure from Buffalo Springfield sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s not entirely unfair, as the record’s a somewhat slight affair, with a couple space-filling instrumentals and a lengthy closing opus that pales in comparison to later epics; moreover, Young still sounds a little tentative, his performances restrained. Still, the album’s highs readily establish Neil’s bona fides as a truly transcendent songwriter, from the rousing Loner and I’ve Been Waiting For You to the orchestrally dense Old Laughing Lady and some lovely ballads in If I Could Have Her Tonight to I’ve Loved Her So Long; that none of these make my cut for a top 10 is less a slam on the record than a testament to what lay ahead.

Indeed, the most definitive early Neil recording may be the whimsical Sugar Mountain, written by Young as a teenager; it wasn’t recorded for the debut, but a live acoustic recording from 1968 appeared as the B-side to the Loner single (and later on the Decade compilation). It’s a more worthy introduction to the stripped-down singer-songwriter side of the artist than much of what appeared on that first album, an early artist-defining work that is no less beguiling 50 years and countless listens later.

It was on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, following the debut by just a few months, that Neil truly announced his arrival. Adopting the glorified bar band Crazy Horse as backing musicians, Young embraced both a rougher, deliriously ragged sound and a blazing guitar tone that would intermittently bolster his recordings and live performances for the next half century. While Cinnamon Girl, the classic rock staple that opens the record, may be among his most familiar songs, Young shines on the jam band epics Down By The River and Cowgirl In The Sand, burying his simple country rock tunes behind blazing guitar duels. Meanwhile, the more straightforward title track is an early revelation of Young’s deftness in crafting durable Americana-tinged pop songs. (Various incarnations of Crazy Horse would go on to release a number of albums without Neil, the topic of a separate Toppermost.)

Here’s a relatively concise River, performed with Crosby, Stills & Nash:

Even better was the 1970 follow-up, After The Gold Rush, which offers both a stunning set of songs and an early look at Young’s more schizoid tendencies. While the record includes a couple Crazy Horse rockers in When You Dance I Can Really Love and the epic Confederate indictment Southern Man, most of the album is dedicated to gorgeous, folk-oriented balladry, a return to the sensitive singer-songwriter of the debut but with far greater confidence. I’ve always been particularly moved by the piano-driven title track, arguably one of Young’s most indelible songs, as well as the comparable, quietly beautiful Birds and the haunting, moody Don’t Let It Bring You Down. Despite its electric/acoustic divide, the album holds up as a unified, striking whole, with an intimate, deeply personal feel.

With 1972’s Harvest, Young established himself as a commercially viable solo artist, while also shining a light (far from the last time) on his penchant for more straight-out country music rather than the electrified country-rock of Nowhere. I personally find it a less consistent work than the prior two (Words is a bit aimless; A Man Needs A Maid feels buried beneath its orchestration). Which isn’t to say there aren’t some great songs – the radio hit Heart Of Gold is the perfect single, decades of classic rock overplay only slightly dampening its power, and the bittersweet Old Man is nearly as monumental. But it’s The Needle And The Damage Done (presented in an unadorned, solo acoustic live recording), with its emotionally grueling anti-heroin sentiment, that leaves the biggest mark, sadly proving prescient when Young lost a number of close colleagues, including Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, to overdoses following the album’s release.

After Harvest’s success, Young entered a confusing yet incredibly prolific period, with a number of albums recorded between 1973-1975 that saw him jumping around stylistically and refusing to simply replicate Heart Of Gold. The first of these, 1973’s Time Fades Away, was recorded during the Harvest tour with Young’s new backing band, the Stray Gators, and features live versions of songs not appearing on any studio albums. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, at times loose and unfocused, a far cry from the melodic hooks of Harvest; Young himself let the album slide into obscurity, falling out of print for decades. But there are some killer tunes here that don’t suffer from decades-long radio overplay like his bigger hits: Don’t Be Denied is Young’s original story, his voice cracking under the weight of the personal exposure, salvaged by an indelible guitar hook and a declaratory forcefulness; the title track is a surprisingly fun, rollicking bar band ditty; and Journey Through The Past is a lovely reworking of After The Gold Rush.

Following the afore-referenced drug-related deaths, Young recorded the stark, downbeat Tonight’s The Night, a dark travelogue that touched on these tragedies in the album-opening title track and its closing reprise. With its emotional baggage and raggedy backing by the Stray Gator Band, sounding like the whole thing’s about to run off the rails at any moment, it can be a challenging listen, though Albuquerque is a sweet slice of Harvest-like Americana, and the upbeat rocker Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown – a live recording of a Crazy Horse song sung and written by Whitten – livens things up a bit.

Recognizing Tonight’s grueling heft, Young held it back for the time being, instead leap-frogging its more polished 1974 follow-up On The Beach. Not that Beach is a lighthearted romp (taking its name from a film about the nuclear apocalypse and offering some somber if smoother-sounding tunes). But there are a few stand-out tracks that moved beyond the darkness of Time Fades and Tonight – opener Walk On is an uncharacteristically perky and upbeat pop song; Revolution Blues (about Young’s Laurel Canyon neighbor Charles Manson) is a gritty but rousing rocker; and See The Sky About To Rain holds up as one of Young’s most gorgeous ballads. Meanwhile, the deliberately-paced closer Ambulance Blues features a striking extended narrative, just Neil with his acoustic guitar, harmonica, and scrawled lyrics.

 

Zuma, released in late 1975 (a few months after Tonight’s belated issuance), finally shakes off the blues, an electric, engaging record that sees Young back with Crazy Horse throughout. It’s got some of Young’s hardest rockers to date, the pre-punk stomp of Drive Back presaging the later Rust Never Sleeps, while Don’t Cry No Tears and Barstool Blues deliver cathartic earworm hooks. But on an album full of terrific, engrossing tunes, Cortez The Killer still manages to stand out, a lengthy, epic dirge, shades of River/Cowgirl from the second LP but riven with portent. It can be a monster on stage, but even in the studio Young wrung a lot of power out of it.

As if 1975 weren’t busy enough, Young recorded yet another album that year, only to end up shelving it for 45 years. Homegrown was the natural sequel to Harvest, mostly country-tinged, but Young held it back until just a few months ago. And while about half the album’s songs had found their way onto other releases in the interim, standouts like Love Is A Rose and the title track are best enjoyed in their long-overdue original context.

Not surprisingly, Young took a little time off after ’75. Well, sort of. He hooked up with Springfield/CSNY bandmate Stephen Stills for the one-off Long May You Run, a somewhat forgettable album elevated by Neil’s wonderful a-man-loves-his-car title track; and released the triple-LP career retrospective Decade (worth picking up for a few stand-out unreleased songs, particularly the wonderfully catchy Winterlong, not to mention the dynamite Springfield tune Down To The Wire).

Much of the new material worked up during this period was intended for Young’s next album, Chrome Dreams – which, unlike Homegrown, remains officially unreleased, though most of the songs would show up in one form or another on subsequent albums, on bootleg recreations of the record, and on an official collection of demos from the era finally released in 2017 as Hitchhiker. Young instead opted to release 1977’s American Stars ˈN Bars, a somewhat haphazard selection of songs (including some intended for Homegrown/Chrome Dreams) divided between country music and Crazy Horse-backed rockers. It’s not one of his better albums, though the blistering live recording of Like A Hurricane, while sounding a bit out of place on the record, is yet another classic Neil Young epic of the era.

The follow-up, 1978’s Comes A Time, is similarly comprised primarily of quieter country-tinged tunes with a few Crazy Horse contributions; yet it manages to be a far more cohesive record, with several oft-overlooked tunes that are as solid as his work earlier in the decade, notably the mid-tempo rocker Look Out For My Love and the lovely, pastoral opener Goin’ Back.

But it was in 1979 that Young really came roaring back, his decade-closing Rust Never Sleeps a worthy contender for one of his most beloved albums. A live recording like Time Fades Away (albeit with the audience edited out), it’s divided between a solo acoustic half and an electric, Crazy Horse-backed half. Both halves are excellent, with some of Young’s finest songwriting in years (including a few ringers from Chrome Dreams), as well as some silly yet entertaining hard rockers. The album is bookended by the acoustic My My, Hey Hey and its hard-charging reprise Hey Hey, My My, both quintessential Neil. The acoustic side is highlighted by the stunning Thrasher, a bit of a metaphorical flip-off of his coke-addled CSNY colleagues; while the live side offers arguably Young’s most lyrically moving song ever, the Hatfield & McCoy-styled cinematic drama Powderfinger.

Alas, after such a compelling peak (shortly thereafter joined by Live Rust, essentially the full concert from which Rust Never Sleeps was derived), Young’s final two albums on the Reprise label were somewhat anticlimactic. Splitting the two facets of Rust into separate albums, Young released the largely country-oriented Hawks & Doves in 1980, and the boisterous distortion-fest Re-ac-tor the following year. While neither is among his more essential efforts, both include a few great songs, notably Little Wing and Captain Kennedy on the former, and the rousing Shots and Southern Pacific on the latter (as well as the goofy, punk-fueled Opera Star). But despite the highlights – and Re-ac-tor certainly deserves more love than it’s received over the years – there was a bit of a creative malaise setting in, something Young would attempt to remedy shortly, for good or ill.

 

The Geffen Years & The Return to Reprise: 1982-2000

 

Neil Young photo 3

 

 

TrackAlbum
Transformer ManTrans
Wonderin'Everybody's Rockin'
Touch The NightLanding On Water
Rockin' In The Free World (reprise)Freedom
Country HomeRagged Glory
Harvest MoonHarvest Moon
Change Your MindSleeps With Angels
Throw Your Hatred DownMirror Ball
ScatteredBroken Arrow
Good To See YouSilver & Gold

In 1980, music industry veteran David Geffen, who’d been instrumental in signing a number of early singer-songwriters and country-rock-pop hitmakers to Asylum Records, started his own label. Longtime friend Neil followed him there after Re-ac-tor, and the results were, to say the least, interesting. Geffen’s later determination to sue Young for recording a series of albums that failed to sound like Neil Young albums is the stuff of rock lore. But with the benefit of hindsight, one can fairly assess some of these releases as… well, maybe not quite as strange and terrible as perceived at the time, but certainly of widely divergent quality. Still, you can hardly fault Young for following his muse irrespective of fan reaction after a decade and a half of prolific, relatively consistent output.

Young’s first release for Geffen, 1982’s Trans, is Young’s most unlikely recording, but it’s also the Geffen album that probably holds up best today, at the very least as a highly entertaining curio. Trans was Young’s electronica experiment, with drum machines and synthesizers and rampant use of a vocoder, which turned his vocals into creepy robot voices. (Young later explained the work as stemming from his challenges in communicating with his severely handicapped son, who suffered from cerebral palsy.) But even here, Young was stymied in presenting a unified record by his eclecticism, with several tracks originating from yet another shelved project, a tropical-themed concept album. So mixed amongst the Kraftwerk-like, hypnotically engaging Transformer Man and the riff-rocking, pleasure-robot-themed Sample And Hold, is the perky, new wave-tinged pop of Little Thing Called Love and the sprawling, throwback epic Like An Inca. It’s a big ol’ mess, but one that’s freakishly entertaining.

Which is more than you can say for the next batch of albums. For 1983’s Everybody’s Rockin’, Young decided to try his hand at 50s-style rockabilly. A blend of originals and covers, it’s not a per se bad album, just rather slight (checking it at about 25 minutes) and inconsequential. The saving grace is Wonderin’, one of Young’s earliest unreleased songs (finally appearing on the later career overview Archives Vol.1), reworked here as a lovably amusing doo-wop faux oldie (accompanied by a quirky video). Similarly askew was 1985’s Old Ways, a straight country album – not country rock, just flat-out country, with folks like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson dropping by. Once again, it’s not a bad album, with a few fun moments (Get Back To The Country), but one’s enjoyment of it will turn on one’s appreciation of traditional country music.

Actually quite bad, however, was the 1986 follow-up Landing On Water, a confounding collection of vaguely new wave-ish, forgettable pop songs buried beneath every terrible production gimmick of 80s radio pop, from gated drums to cheesy synths to electronic bass. Young managed one salvageable song that transcended the dreadful production – the rocking (though still synth-heavy) Touch The Night, a guilty pleasure with a killer chorus (and, once again, a terrific MTV-friendly video to match) – but otherwise this one is strictly diehards only.

At least on paper, 1987’s Life – his last record for Geffen – signaled a bit of a reality check. Crazy Horse is back in the fold, and despite some lingering, god-awful 80s production, there are, as the album title suggests, signs of life here; it actually sounds like a Neil Young album. Too Lonely, Mideast Vacation, and the rollicking Prisoners Of Rock ‘N’ Roll revisit the rambunctiousness of Rust’s second side, while Inca Queen is a decent enough example of Young’s intermittent epic poems, a sequel of sorts to Trans’ Like An Inca. The balance is largely forgettable, but at least it’s listenable.

Young returned to Reprise Records for 1988’s This Note’s For You; however, apparently undeterred by his Geffen experience, he opted for yet another stylistic tangent. This time, Young went with old-school R&B, enlisting a horn section throughout much of the record (the album was originally credited to Neil Young and the Bluenotes). It’s hardly a savvy commercial decision—few people who grew up on his 70s masterpieces are likely to pick up a Neil Young album hoping for some horn-driven blues—yet includes some surprisingly decent and underrated material. The title track is a bracing broadside against corporate sell-outs (with yet another terrific video); Coupe De Ville is a somber track that could pass for a Tonight’s The Night leftover but for the torch song brass; Sunny Inside is just plain fun.

 

Finally breaking free from his decade of alienating stumbles, 1989’s Freedom represented Young’s return to his classic sound. Like his finest 70s work, the album is roughly divided between mellow, largely acoustic folk/country-tinged numbers and electric rave-ups (he even revisits Rust’s bookends conceit, opening with a live, acoustic Rockin’ In The Free World and closing with a blistering electric reprise). While the latter has been too frequently coopted in pop culture to retain its original punch, it’s still an undeniable triumph (despite a dark lyrical bent that places it alongside Springsteen’s Born In The USA as songs repeatedly misinterpreted as flag-waving American jingoism). Freedom is an intermittently odd effort, a few tunes recorded with the Bluenotes sounding a little out of place (though the extended horn-abetted Crime In The City is intriguing), and a few questionable choices (a cover of On Broadway?). But there are plenty of solid tracks as well (most notably the rocking Eldorado and Don’t Cry), making it the first album since Rust Never Sleeps that, if not essential, is at least likely to appeal to casual fans.

While Freedom came as welcome relief if only for its return to more familiar ground, 1990’s Ragged Glory was actually a legitimately great album, opening up a memorable decade that would more than atone for his eighties indulgences. Like Re-ac-tor and Zuma, it’s a noisy, electric Crazy Horse record from start to finish, not an acoustic guitar (much less a fiddle) to be found. The album is at its best when, harkening back to Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the band stretches out, with long jams built around memorable riffs – opener Country Home is rousing and infectious, while Love To Burn and especially Love And Only Love just cook. (And if Ragged hadn’t confirmed Young’s re-embrace of rock & roll, certainly the next year’s live document Weld – and its accompanying Sonic Youth-inspired feedback opus Arc – did the trick.)

Of course, god forbid that he actually ride out some artistic momentum for a change; with 1992’s Harvest Moon, Neil did another 180, an entirely acoustic, Americana-flavored record that harkened back to its Harvest namesake, but with nary a Southern Man to liven things up. Yet as far as mellow Neil goes, it’s arguably a stronger album than some of its seventies fore-runners, with Young in a particularly melodic mood. The title track is among the man’s finest latter-day moments, a wistful evening lullaby; and Unknown Legend and From Hank To Hendrix are similarly moving. Moreover, while Young has since come to be known as the rock’s most curmudgeonly audiophile, bemoaning diminished audio fidelity in the digital age, this is his first album that simply sounds phenomenal from a production standpoint.

After another live album – an impressively wide-reaching career overview from MTV’s acoustic-only Unplugged show (spanning everything from the Springfield’s Mr. Soul to Trans’ Transformer Man up through Harvest Moon) – Young plugged back in for a trio of solid, primarily electric releases. 1994’s Sleeps With Angels is dark and moody, significantly more somber than Ragged Glory (partially recorded in the shadow of Kurt Cobain’s suicide) yet frequently gripping in the mode of Tonight’s The Night, mixing blasts of Crazy Horse fury and bare piano-based balladry. Stand-out Change Your Mind is another extended jam with the Horse, running nearly 15 minutes but earning every one of them, with one of Young’s most enthralling choruses since the 70s; and the lone break from the downbeat ambience, Piece Of Crap, is an out-of-place yet much-needed lighthearted rocker poking fun at consumer culture.

1995’s Mirror Ball swaps out Crazy Horse for Pearl Jam, and for the most part replaces Angels’ moodiness for amiable cheerfulness, an upbeat electric romp; despite some occasional grunge sludginess, Pearl Jam largely passes as a Crazy Horse substitute, loose and casual. Guitar-frenzied rockers Downtown and Throw Your Hatred Down confirm that Young is as engaged as he’s ever been. Broken Arrow completes the trilogy, another (mostly) hard-rocking Crazy Horse album that slows things down a bit after Mirror but offers some gripping tunes in the atmospheric Scattered and the hushed acoustic piece Music Arcade. (Young then provided a coda with yet another live album, the stomping, electric Year Of The Horse.)

Young closed out this second classic period with 2000’s acoustic Silver & Gold, essentially a follow-up to Harvest Moon, another surprisingly effective batch of stripped down, highly melodic tunes, most notably the warm and bubbly Good To See You and Buffalo Springfield Again, the latter joining Don’t Be Denied as an audio memoir. (This was inexplicably followed later that year by yet another electric live album, Road Rock Vol.1 sounding like an addendum to Year Of The Horse; Vol.2 has yet to surface.)

 

The Later Years

 

Neil Young photo 4

 

 

While Neil has reliably churned out a new record every year or so since the dawn of the 2000s, generally alternating between ragged rockers and quieter acoustic affairs (with the occasional 80s-like side-trip, albeit thankfully no electronica or rockabilly), I confess that I only rarely pull one of these records out for a spin. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some great songs to be found, and even a few albums that approach his nineties-revival peaks; but few have made the same impression on me, and I think a more thoughtful run through the discography is best reserved for someone with more passion for his latter-day work.

Nonetheless, just to close things out, here are a few tracks from his last dozen-plus albums that I find particularly noteworthy:

Bandit: 2003’s Greendale, an environmentally-themed concept album about the denizens of a small town, was Young’s first foray into a Pink Floyd-like album-length narrative. Thematically, it’s a bit muddled if not outright cloying at times, but musically it’s one of his better efforts. I particularly enjoy the quietly gripping Bandit, a poignant acoustic song that holds up even outside the album’s narrative.

Let’s Impeach The President: 2006’s Living With War evidenced Young’s increasingly polemical ventures into politics, particularly military and environmental issues; while Young’s passionate activism decades after writing CSNY’s Ohio is admirable, the lyrics can be a slog. But this anti-Bush anthem is still a hoot.

No Hidden Path: Young inexplicably titled his 2007 album Chrome Dreams II despite the continuing official absence of the original; but it’s a solid record with his classic blend of acoustic Americana and raging rock, with this song ably filling the obligatory extended jam slot.

Johnny Magic: 2009’s Fork In The Road is an odd, hard-rocking car-themed concept album, but this tune is a silly blast, shades of Re-ac-tor’s Opera Star.

Driftin’ Back: Did someone say jam? This nearly 30-minute-long opus from the crunchy, improv-heavy Psychedelic Pill doesn’t have a lot to say, but answers the question of what would happen if Crazy Horse tried to create its own version of the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star.

 

 

 

 

Neil Young Archives (official subscription site with entire catalog)

Thrasher’s Wheat – A Neil Young Fan’s Chronicles

Love To Burn: Neil Young Blog

HyperRust: The Unofficial Neil Young Pages

Sugar Mountain: Neil Young Set Lists

“Waging Heavy Peace”: Neil Young autobiography (Penguin, 2013)

Neil Young (Pitchfork archives)

Neil Young (NME archives)

Neil Young Store

Neil Young YT Channel

More Neil Links

Neil Young biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a recovering lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the recently-published rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter. Marc’s previous posts include My Morning Jacket, Raveonettes, Phish, Luna, Jesus and Mary Chain, Feelies, Genesis, Wilco, King Crimson and Brian Eno.

TopperPost #907

9 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Sep 30, 2020

    When it comes to Neil or Bob, I think Bob at his best is untouchable. And I’d add a few others between Bob and Neil – Robbie Robertson, Elton, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Lennon and McCartney, Jagger Richards. (List not necessarily in order and list not complete)
    Having said that I rate Neil Young pretty high on the acoustic side though, so I have a Wot! No? … Helpless, in particular the version on The Last Waltz.
    And I thoroughly enjoyed this article. And I’ll enjoy listening to it a bit later. Thanks Marc.

    • Marc Fagel
      Sep 30, 2020

      Thanks, David. I realize I’m an outlier when it comes to Dylan, a man whose music I’ve often respected far more than I’ve enjoyed (aside from his mid/late 60s run, a few of his 70s releases, and his live albums). From a pure listening standpoint, I hold the Beatles and the Stones far above all else, but view them in a different light than Bob/Neil (and maybe Paul Simon, an excellent songwriter but one who has contributed far less than Bob/Neil). As for Helpless, I concur; it’s one of the most gorgeous tunes Young (or anyone in the rock era) has written. But it’s technically a CSNY song, so I omitted it from consideration here.

      • David Lewis
        Sep 30, 2020

        Fair enough re Helpless. It’s tough enough choosing 10, and I’m most familiar with TLW version, so, I see that version as Neil with the Band. In no doubt is that you have made an excellent list.

  2. Alex Lifson
    Sep 30, 2020

    A medal of honour should be awarded to you for taking on the herculean task of essaying Neil Young. I have only skimmed for the time being but I can see that you left no stone unturned. I cannot wait to find the time to pore over this properly. Thank you Marc!

  3. Andrew Shields
    Sep 30, 2020

    Thanks for this great piece Marc – superb choices. That said – have to add that much as I like Neil’s music, if it’s Neil versus Bob, its Bob all the way with me.
    Given such a long career, there are bound to be a few that got away here – I might have ‘Deep Forbidden Lake’, ‘Out On The Weekend’, ‘The Old Laughing Lady’ in my list but don’t see what you could leave out. Thanks again.

  4. Peter Viney
    Oct 1, 2020

    A huge task, well done. I’m with David Lewis on the hierarchy (except for Elton John who I’d replace with Leonard Cohen). I also think you can justify adding the TLW version of Helpless in not including C, S or N. From the last few albums, I’d add White Line from Homegrown, the duet with Robbie Robertson recorded on the day of the 1974 Wembley concert. He’s a problem artist. Some I find utterly transcendent (Helpless), others stirring (Out of the Blue into The Black) then disc 3 of Arc / Weld is as bad a recording as any major artist made since Lou Reed did Metal Machine Music. I really dislike his extended jams with feedback. Since Wembley 1974 (a poor day for Neil) my wife dislikes his singing voice intensely but does like his songs, so he mainly gets played in the car on my own … thus frequently played in the house are Powderfinger by The Cowboy Junkies (improved on the original), Helpless by k.d. lang (just about as good as the original) and After The Goldrush by Prelude.

    • Marc Fagel
      Oct 1, 2020

      Thanks. These are all fair points. Like Bob, his voice can be a turn-off for some (and the vocals on his most recent albums have been a turn-off even for a diehard fan like me). And not to overdo the Bob thing, but Neil has similarly written a ton of songs that particularly flourish when re-interpreted by others, not just those you name (which I love), but a lot of others. I’ve got a half-dozen Young tribute albums, and there is a lot of great stuff out there. I really love This Note’s For You and the all-women Cinnamon Girl.

      • Peter Viney
        Oct 2, 2020

        A songwriter is judged on people doing great cover versions. I have a couple of Neil Young tributes too. I notice two of my covers are Canadian, which reminded me of Neil’s superb backing vocal on Robbie Robertson’s Soap Box Preacher from Storyville. Rick Danko pulled out at short notice, and Robbie asked Neil because he wanted “a high Canadian sound.”

  5. Dave Stephens
    Oct 4, 2020

    Congratulations Marc on an excellent Topper. There’s plenty of great music within your selections and oodles of evidence of an exhaustive search through Young’s hefty body of work. I’d like to have seen “Tired Eyes” in there but “Albuquerque” was a good substitute. I also agree with Andrew re “Old Laughing Lady” as a track with little comparison in the Young oeuvre. As far as “Helpless” is concerned I see it as a track that’s so good it warrants breaking rules, and yes I do mean the CSN&Y version.

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