Earlier this year, some friend of mine was kvetching about something Neil Young had said or done. Given that his current album, which I haven’t heard yet, is an indictment of the Monsanto Corporation, I rather expect that this would be a highly likely prospect.
Whether he’s kvetching about the sound of MP3s or working to enshrine the right to a healthy environment in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Neil is seldom without a cause.
How did Elvis Costello become “a prototypical angry young man”? “About seeing a ferocious Neil Young performance, he writes [in his new autobiography]: “This was the lesson I took away from that day: If there is an apple cart, you must do your best to upset it.”
The second and third of Neil’s solo albums, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After The Gold Rush, were regular visitors on my college turntables. Neil has put out about three dozen albums, and I have about half of them. This does not include his work with Buffalo Springfield or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. And his album Decade includes some of his group efforts, to complicate this list; I opted to leave off Ohio and Helpless – but link to them here – lest I then need to consider other CSNY songs on this already long list.
To say his body of work is eclectic understates the phenomenon.
35. Piece of Crap– Sleeps with Angels (SWA), 1994. It’s about shoddy merchandising.
34. Ordinary People – Chrome Dreams II, 2007. 18 minutes. In 2012 Rolling Stone had a list of Neil Young’s Top 20 Obscure Songs, and these two songs are on the list.
33. Mystery Train – Everybody’s Rockin’, 1983. Rockabilly. I’m a sucker for his many train songs, and, to be honest, most train tunes.
32. The Losing End (When You’re On) – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (EKTIN), 1969. “Wilson, pick it!”
31. Wrecking Ball – Freedom, 1989. I actually prefer the Emmylou Harris version, but I like this too.
30. Harvest – Harvest (H), 1972. The title of his commercial zenith.
29. Transformer Man – Trans (T), 1983. I have an irrational affection for this experiment, maybe because it was an experiment to try to communicate with his son, who has cerebral palsy.
28. Words – After the Gold Rush (ATGR), 1970. Subtitled between the lines of age.
27. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – EKTIN. I relate.
26. One of These Days – Harvest Moon (HM), 1992. What great message. “One of these days, I’m gonna sit down and write a long letter To all the good friends I’ve known…”
25. Change Your Mind – SWA. A song for Kurt Cobain.
24. Tonight’s the Night – Tonight’s the Night. A song about a roadie for CSNY who died of a heroin overdose
23. Winterlong – Decade (D). I’m particularly fond of the harmony vocal.
22. Walk On – On the Beach. “I hear some people been talkin’ me down, Bring up my name, pass it ’round…” A message that’d be perfect for the Internet age. Got to #69 on the charts.
21. From Hank to Hendrix – HM. Among other things, great harmonica.
20. Pocahontas – Rust Never Sleeps (RNS). “Aurora borealis, The icy sky at night.” Johnny Cash did a great version of this too.
19. Don’t Let It Bring You Down – ATGR. I thought I did a decent Neil imitation, and this was one of the songs easiest to replicate. Love the intro from a CSNY live album when Neil says the song starts off slow and fizzles out altogether.
18. Cowgirl in the Sand – EKTIN. Anthemic.
17. Only Love Can Break Your Heart – ATGR. A waltz. And very true. #33 on the charts.
16. Oh Lonesome Me – ATGR. This is one of the greatest covers, ever. Compare this to the jaunty Don Gibson hit from the 1950s.
15. Birds– ATGR. I find this terribly sad.
14. The Loner – Neil Young, 1968. I was unaware of the first, eponymous Neil album. But I heard a version of this song on the first Three Dog Night album. I figured it was an obscure Buffalo Springfield cut; nope.
13. Mr. Soul – T. Neil must really care about this song. He recorded it with Buffalo Springfield, and it was the beginning of their Broken Arrow.
12. Old Man – H. James Taylor played six-string banjo, and he and Linda Ronstadt contributed vocals. Got up to #31 on the charts.
11. The Needle and the Damage Done – H. About the heroin addiction of two friends, before they died. Recorded live at UCLA.
10. My My, Hey Hey (out of the Blue)/ Hey. Hey. My My (Into the Black) – RNS. The latter is proto-grunge which got to #73 on the chart.
9. Campaigner – D. Namechecks Richard Nixon.
8. After the Gold Rush – ATGR. Not only a great song, but it generated many great covers.
7. Sugar Mountain – D. Some B-side my college radio station played all the time.
6. Heart of Gold – H. This was a #1 hit, and that seemed to make Neil rather uncomfortable.
5. Long May You Run – Long May You Run (Stills-Young Band), 1976. There are several versions of this song, but this version, which I first heard on Decade, which I believe features the harmonies of the full Crosby Stills & Nash, is my favorite. It has to do with the verse citing Caroline, No.
4. Like a Hurricane – D. An electric masterpiece.
3. When You Dance, I Can Really Love – ATGR. I don’t remember if SHE thought so, but when I was in college, I always thought this was my girlfriend (the Okie) and my song. Love the fact that it starts off fairly slowly, but picks up greatly. This song soared all the way to #93 on the charts.
2. Cinnamon Girl – EKTIN. About the perfect pop song, complete with hand clapping.
1. Harvest Moon– HM. This song is personal, about love lost.