This week, our Top Ten Thursday is an ode to LxL’s favorite Canadian, and no it’s not Alan Thicke. In honor of Neil Young’s latest release, the epic Psychedelic Pill, we give you our ten favorite Neil Young records. Neil was no doubt one of the three or four most important artists of the 70’s, but has still released his share of good-to-great albums in the past three plus decades as well. Young’s 40+ studio albums plus even more live albums comes second in productivity only to Bobby Dylan. We also made the decision to just include solo Neil Young records to clean things up a bit, but it goes without saying that Neil has released some classics with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Buffalo Springfield. So without further ado: the best of Mister Young.
10. Comes A Time
An album I was actually unfamiliar with before putting this list together, is one I am quickly falling in love with. Comes A Time combines the rustic honest folk of Harvest with some really well-timed orchestration, stunning harmonies with Nicolette Larson, and poignant lyrics making for an undeniable Neil great.
9. Harvest Moon
Harvest Moon may be in many ways a bit of retread territory for Neil, but I prefer to see it as latter-day Neil going back to what made him great: rustic, carefully written songs about love and love of country. The title-track has to be one of the greatest songs about aging love that only grows and remains true, and “Unknown Legend” is a song I will never shake partially due to its brilliant inclusion in the indie drama Rachel Getting Married, where TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe as the groom sings it to his newly minted wife at the altar.
8. Ragged Glory
Ragged Glory is often overshadowed by the album that came right before it, Freedom, which probably features Neil’s biggest hit ever in “Rockin’ In the Free World” and signaled Neil’s return to garage rock. But guess what? Ragged Glory is actually a better record. Neil brought the distortion and social commentary, as Neil is better than anyone of showing both love and criticism of rural America.
7. Tonight’s The Night
Tonight’s the Night followed the death of Neil’s second close friend to die of a heroin overdose, and is appropriately downtrodden but still admittedly touching. As the album’s name suggests, the album is best fit for late-night reflection or a dark dingy bar.
Another album I wasn’t overly familiar with before this list, Zuma is just a good hearty rock record. Like many Neil albums, Zuma is stuffed with Native American references with the biggest standout being “Cortez the Killer”, one of many Neil songs that illustrates the beautiful nature of the Native American people. Native American sympathizers are in short supply, and Neil and his band Crazy Horse (named after the Indian war hero) have consistently stood on the side of the oppressed.
Neil’s best known record is also one of his best, including such classics as “Heart of Gold”, “The Needle and the Damage Done”, “Out On The Weekend”, and “A Man Needs a Maid”. It also includes one of the two songs that famously ticked Lynyrd Skynyrd right off in “Alabama” (“Southern Man” being the other), which drew “Sweet Home Alabama” as the unabashed Southern anthem reply to Neil’s cutting take on the racist south. This was a rap battle before rap battles.
4. On The Beach
Probably Neil’s most underrated album, 1974’s On The Beach includes some of Neil’s best written work in “For the Turnstiles”, “Vampire Blues”, and one of his best epics in “Ambulance Blues”, which is saying a lot since he is practically the King of epically long songs.
3. After The Gold Rush
My personal favorite Neil Young album, After the Gold Rush is maybe the best singer/songwriter album in the age of singer/songwriters: the 1970s. The album plays like a Simon & Garfunkel album in the way that you can just hear your high school choir practicing all these songs, since they all pretty much belong in the echelon of timelessly written songs: “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, “Oh Lonesome Me”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Tell Me Why”, “Till the Morning Comes”. The list goes on.
2. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
7 perfect tracks clocking in just over 40 minutes is Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Neil’s second album and his first with Crazy Horse is his announcement to the world rock is here to stay and its going to be grungy, raw, and relentless. The album also includes the greatest one-note guitar solo of all time on “Cinnamon Girl” where Neil just hammers away on one note for a glorious and sly commentary on traditionally song structures.
1. Rust Never Sleeps
Poetic, sprawling, and lumbering, Rust Never Sleeps contains all you want in a Neil Young & Crazy Horse record – graceful storytelling, brute-force rock ‘n’ roll, and an unwaveringly confident Uncle Neil. His voice and guitar is about as strong and confident as it ever was on Rust Never Sleeps, probably a testament of just how much he was born to play with the guys in Crazy Horse.
Todd – Mirrorball
While by no means his best work, Todd loved the combining forces of one of the fathers of grunge in Young with Seattle’s grunge rock goliaths, Pearl Jam, who played backing band for Neil on this record. The album is just what you would expect: lots of glorious noise.
Wes – Chrome Dreams II
The sequel to Neil’s best album never released in Chrome Dreams, CD II contains an incredibly diverse assortment of songs, both newly recorded and long-lost orphan songs that never found an album home. Shining new originals included the rustling “Box Car”, the unashamed sludge of “Dirty Old Man”, and classic Neil sound of “Spirit Road”.
Austin – Prairie Wind
This pleasant country folk catches Austin’s fancy, as it brings him back to the days of simple old country Neil. The album closes on one of Neil’s best gospel tunes in “When God Made Me”, a moving reflection on the complex nature of God.