2. Cinnamon Girl
3. Ohio (with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
5. Old Man
6. L.A. (never reissued)
7. On the Beach
8. Change Your Mind
9. Pardon My Heart (one of my five or ten favorite NY electric guitar solos)
• • •
It's possible to construct a NY 10 Best that has none of these songs on it, but these are some of my faves. Today.
ADDENDUM: I will say that it's easy to be misunderstood as a Neil Young fan. For one thing, he has a love-it-or-hate-it voice, and it rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and I get that. I don't like very many voices in popular rock and roll, and the ones I hate just disqualify the music for me. I understand those who feel that way about Neil. (I even feel that way about some of his songs myself—for a while he was into poor recording quality, for reasons which are as inexplicable as many of the other things he does, and his voice can get very nasal and hard in some recordings.) Secondly, you really have to be competely prepared to utterly ignore great big swatches of his output, because the man has no filter, bless his heart. He just churns out the records, great, good, indifferent, or inspiredly awful. It's often not about us. It's about where he is and what he feels like doing. I mean, this is a guy who put out a whole album of feedback.
There are actually about four different Neils (if not more), and you can be a fan of any one of them and not care all that much about the others. I like Dark Hippie Neil. Then there's Goofy Experimental Restless Neil; Hard-Rockin' Grungey Neil; and Sweet Gentle Melodic Country-Folkie Neil. Each Neil has a history that has evolved over long periods of time and across multiple albums, such that each can be defended as "the real" Neil. If you're unfamiliar with NY and you want to find out which one you like, go download four tracks: "Speakin' Out," "Union Man" (although experimental Neil is really tough to pin down, for obvious reasons), "Over and Over," and "Hangin' on a Limb." If you like one of those songs a lot more than the other three, you'll be on your track.
Not only is it possible to misread who he is based on listening to the first 90 seconds of a few cuts, it's also quite possible to have heard a dozen of his records all the way through and still not know why he's a genius and why some other people think he's great. Which is why I wrote this for Amazon a handful of years ago. However, I long ago reconciled to the fact that "my" Neil Young is not necessarily "the" Neil Young.
P.S. I think #10 has to be "Don't Be Denied."
"Open Mike" is a series of off-topic posts by Yr. Hmbl. Ed. that appear only, but not always, on Sundays. Today's was suggested by the title of the previous post.
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Featured Comment by Elisabeth: "Great list. My top ten would have to include 'Like a Hurricane,' as well as 'Southern Man' and 'Heart of Gold,' but I'm not sure I could easily narrow my list to just 10! I've really enjoyed looking up some of the songs on your list that I haven't heard in a long, long time, and discovering at least one I don’t think I’ve ever heard ('Change Your Mind' from 1994).
"As I think about it, Neil Young's music reminds me very much of the photos I find most satisfying and memorable—those that tell a story and/or have an especially strong point of view, those with multiple layers not always apparent on first encounter, and those with technical imperfections that actually increase the work's emotional impact. In comparison, so much of today's music (and photography) seems to have had all of those imperfections airbrushed out, so to speak, with no story or substance beneath the thin veneer of polished 'perfection' and superficial content. I think maybe I should queue up some Neil Young on my iPhone the next time I'm out with my camera; I can only hope that a tiny bit of his aesthetic will rub off."
Featured Comment by Hernan Zenteno: "Many thanks for let me know 'On the Beach.' I like lyrics and music of this theme a lot."
Mike replies: The album of the same name is possibly my all-time favorite album, albeit for nostalgic and personal as well as artistic and musical reasons.
Featured Comment by Robin Dreyer: "I'm not sure how this list could not include 'After the Gold Rush,' but last night I heard someone sing 'Cortez the Killer' so well that it made a pretty good case for that song having a place as well."
Mike replies: Yeah, Elisabeth is right, it's essentially foolish to narrow the list down to just ten songs.
Featured Comment by Svein-Frode: "Man, that's just too difficult, or more like impossible! I think it's easier to find the records and songs that stink, because Neil Young seems to be binary. Either his work is divine or just pure garbage (his early 1980s period being so bad that everybody buying Trans, Landing on Water and Everybody's Rockin' should get a refund from the record companies). That said, if I were to own just one NY record it would be Harvest Moon. Talk about perfect record!"
Featured Comment by Hugh Crawford: "I just remembered that I once got involved with some programming for steam locomotive sound effects to simulate both the speed and load on the engine based on the electrical load on a circuit to determine torque and I forget how we determined speed. I think there was supposed to be different amounts and periods of reverb for different sections of track so as to create a scale model of the acoustics. Later on I found out that Mr. Young was the client by way of George Lucas. He had quite the layout from what I heard."
Mike replies: He helped keep Lionel Trains, once the world's largest toymaker, from going under, and still owns a big chunk of it as far as I know. He's got a huge layout—I believe one of the Kalmbach magazines did a feature on him as a toy or model train fan. He's a hobbyist himself but partly (I hear) it's for his two sons who have cerebral palsy—it's something they enjoy and can participate in.
Featured Comment by Michel Hardy-Vallée: "The Onion A.V. Club has done a superb job of putting together a comprehensive list of headways into Neil Young's catalog. They're like TOP for the rest of pop culture: learned, historically-aware, critical and multifaceted.
"My songs, in no particular order: 'Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,' 'Winterlong,' 'Hey Hey My My,' '(See the Sky) About to Rain,' 'Revolution Blues,' 'On the Beach,' 'Ambulance Blues.'"