Neil Young has enjoyed a long and erratic music career. His first brush with fame came with Buffalo Springfield in the 1960s. He released his first solo album in 1969, and he also teamed up with Crosby, Stills, and Nash for 1970’s Déjà Vu. Young’s been prolific ever since, releasing grungy rock with Crazy Horse and gentler material tinged with country and folk.
My favourite Neil Young records all come from the first ten years of his solo career. While Young enjoyed a strong comeback from 1989’s Freedom, albums like 1990’s Ragged Glory and 1994’s Sleeps With Angels suffer from their release in the overlong CD era. A special shout-out to 1977’s Decade, a spectacular compilation that wasn’t eligible for the list below.
Five Best Neil Young Albums
Tonight’s The Night
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. Songs like ‘New Mama’ and ‘World On A String’ are well-written, while the rawness of ‘Tired Eyes’ and the title track are cathartic. Whitten’s also featured on a live performance of Crazy Horse’s ‘Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown’.
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
#4 , 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 unremarkable, but it’s irrelevant when the track-list includes ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and lengthy guitar epics ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’.
On The Beach
On The Beach is a calmer sequel to Tonight’s The Night, although it was released beforehand; Tonight’s release was delayed for two years. Notable for being out of print on CD for years, it has the apocalyptic rocker ‘Revolution Blues’, but lots of pretty material like ‘See The Sky About to Rain’ and the entire second side.
Rust Never Sleeps
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’).
After the Gold Rush
After the success of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s Déjà Vu, Young created a confident solo album. This eclectic set of brilliant songs ranges 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?