Neil Percival Young has enjoyed a long, erratic, colourful musical career. He started his recording career with Buffalo Springfield in the 1960s, before releasing his first solo album in 1969. Since then he’s made a ton of albums, both as a grungy rocker and as a folkie.
I’ve recently gone back and filled some holes on my Neil Young page, and have now covered 27 of his albums. I’ve selected my favourite five below. Perhaps controversially, they all come from the first ten years of his career – while Young enjoyed a strong comeback around 1989’s Freedom, none of his albums from the later era crack the top five for me. A special shout-out to 1977’s Decade, a spectacular compilation that wasn’t eligible for the list below.
#5 – Tonight’s The Night (1975)
A drunken wake to commemorate the deaths of Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, Tonight’s The Night is Young’s most ragged album, with some of his worst singing. But there are enough great songs on Tonight’s The Night for it to rank among his best.
#4 – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
Young’s second solo album was his first with backing band Crazy Horse, whose primeval stomp fitted perfectly with Young’s grungy guitar. Some of the album’s seven songs are negligible, but it’s irrelevant when the track-list includes ‘Cinnamon Girl’, ‘Down By The River’, and ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’.
#3 – On The Beach (1974)
A calmer sequel to Tonight’s The Night, although it was released beforehand after Tonight’s release was held back. Notable for being out of print on CD for years, it has the apocalyptic rocker ‘Revolution Blues’, but plenty of pretty material like ‘See The Sky About to Rain’ and the entire second side.
#2 – Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
Neil Young’s work seemed remarkably clear headed at the end of the 1970s, regaining his equilibrium after a tough few years in the middle of the decade. Rust Never Sleeps features a beautiful acoustic side (‘Thrasher’, ‘Sail Away’) and a raging electric side (‘Powderfinger’).
#1 – After the Gold Rush (1970)
After the success of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s Déjà Vu, Young created a confident solo album, with a set of brilliant songs, ranging from the prettiness of the title track and ‘I Believe In You’ to rockers like ‘Southern Man’ and ‘When You Dance (I Can Really Love)’.
Do you have a favourite Neil Young album, or a top 5? Am I silly to leave off Ragged Glory? Do you love his 21st century work?