The Back Catalogue of Neil Young : Part Two

Where things start to go a little strange.

 

Part Two : Genius, Geffen and Grunge.

 

NEIL YOUNG  : American Stars N' Bars – released May 1977

A bit of a mixed bag this, but the fact that it includes Like A Hurricane means it's an essential purchase. It also contains two of Neil's finest tender moments in Star Of Bethlehem and Will To Love. The cover, incidentally, was designed by Dean Stockwell.  

 

NEIL YOUNG : Decade – released October 1977

Basically a greatest hits package. This is the best way to start off your Neil collection if you're unfamiliar with him. Containing some of the most obscure liner notes in history, scrawled by Neil himself, the original triple vinyl release was a beautiful item. On CD it's cover has lost a lot of it's impact, but the music is still wonderful. Chronologically tracing his first decade as a recording artist it not only contains the hits like Cortez the Killer, Like A Hurricane, Ohio and Heart Of Gold, it also contains some extra gems, like Campaigner (where even Richard Nixon has got soul), the beautiful, wistful Winterlong and Deep Forbidden Lake. It is definitely the best place to introduce yourself to Neil's work, but the extras make it an essential buy for his fans too. 

 

NEIL YOUNG : Comes A Time – released October 1978

Country Neil is back in town with more fiddles than you'd find at an Irish pub on New Year's Eve. Definitely not his best album but a great collection of songs nonetheless. In particular Lotta Love which is one of the most beautiful songs he's ever written. Motorcycle Mama jars with the rest of the album's tone but there's a lot of stuff to like here. I wouldn't say it's a must have album but if you're starting to like Neil's work it's more than worth checking out.

 

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE : Rust Never Sleeps – released June 1979

Neil's best album. There I've said it. Now argue all you like but I'm not going to listen. This album has everything. Split roughly into two halves, one acoustic and one electric, the album was recorded on the road with Crazy Horse but had the audience mic parts taken out afterwards. From the rambling beauty of Thrasher to the bizarre imagery of Ride My Llama. From the haunting Pocahontas to the joky Welfare Mothers and Sedan Delivery. Every song on here is a classic. There's even My, My, Hey, Hey (out of the blue) and Hey, Hey, My, My (into the black) two versions of the same song, just with different titles, and of course, the Crown jewel, Powderfinger. Albums just don't come much better than this. By anybody. 

 

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE : Live Rust – released November 1979

More live stuff from the same tour. Lots more. As far as live albums go it's pretty good, but it doesn't have the power and spark that Rust Never Sleeps has. I'm not a big fan of the version of Cortez the Killer on here, for example, which is ruined by a daft and badly imitated Jamaican accent towards the end. Then again it does contain, for me, the best version of When You Dance I Can Really Love ever released. Let's just say it's worthy of note.

 

NEIL YOUNG : Hawks and Doves – released October 1980

 

Hawks and Doves is an album of two sides, in more ways than one. Side 1 is slow, deliberate, acoustic material whilst Side 2 is a little more rocky, a little more out there. After such an amazing string of excellent albums Hawks and Doves is a little disappointment. Opener Little Wing is beautiful but seems unfinished and The Old Homestead hints at the type of storytelling approach to lyrics that he would use in Greendale many years later. Side 2 on the other hand, just doesn't know what it wants to be. The songs have a swinging, blues-rock base, but done Nashville style and I just can't get away with it at all. Hey, how many other Blues/Country/Rock crossover bands do you have in your collection that are any good? Exactly.

 

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE : re.ac.tor - released October 1981

 

Re.ac.tor saw Neil back with Crazy Horse and as you'd expect it's a simple, to the point, rock album. It's an album that I think is often overlooked and it contains some great, frenetic guitar playing. The whole album is played at full pelt and you get the impression that they had a lot of fun making this. There are some bizarre sound effects hiding in here, and some even stranger lyrics (T-bone anyone?) but there are some electrifying guitar workouts. If you like Neil's work with Crazy Horse, you'll find a lot to like here.

 

NEIL YOUNG : Trans – released December 1982

 

Ahhh, the start of the Geffen years. For a lot of people, you can just avoid every Neil Young album that's got the Geffen logo on it and if I'm totally honest, I wouldn't argue too much against it, but there are some things worth checking out within that group. Trans just confused everybody when it was released. Experimental isn't the word for it. On Trans good old country rock God Neil Young wrapped himself up in synthesizers and disguised his voice with a vocoder, much to the annoyment of the majority of his fans. In fact, Neil was experimenting with ways of communicating to his handicapped son (read the lyrics to Transformer Man) but that didn't matter to most of his audience. If you're a fan of Kraftwerk and Devo you may get a slight kick out of it but if you come expecting the Neil Young of previous albums, you'll get a surprise. For completists and nosy parkers only I'm afraid.

 

NEIL YOUNG AND THE SHOCKING PINKS : Everybody's Rockin' – released July 1983

 

The cover gives this one away. Neil does rock and roll. As in 1950's style rock and roll. 10 songs, 25 minutes. Interesting but by no means an essential purchase.

 

NEIL YOUNG : Old Ways - released August 12th 1985

The only Neil Young album (so far) to be released on my birthday. But you didn't really need to know that. You don't need to know much about this album either. It's a country album and, in all honestly, it's crap. There are some versions of these songs floating around on bootlegs and things that are a lot better, but you'll be safe in skipping this one.

 

NEIL YOUNG : Landing On Water – released July 1986

 

AVOID! I've seen this in bargain bins for 50 cents. There's a reason for it. Don't waste your money.

 

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE : Life – released June 1987

 

The return of Crazy Horse was a relief for many fans, but personally, I think there's a little too much going on here to make it worth recommending wholeheartedly. The problem I have with it is that it sounds like an album made in the 1980's. It seems trapped in that decade and as such it feels dated in ways that some of his older albums don't. It's got some great songs on here (Prisoner of Rock 'N' Roll especially) and it's a damned sight better than any of the other Geffen albums, but it's not one you should rush out for.

 

NEIL YOUNG AND THE BLUENOTES : This Note's For You – released April 1988

 

Here we find Neil in blues bar swinger mode, and it suits him well. The title track is great and of all of Neil's 'experimental' albums I think this stands out as the most successful. Perhaps it was because it was his first album back on the Reprise label? I'm sure David Geffen would have something to say on that subject. It's worth checking out, but not essential.

 

CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG : American Dream – released November 1988

 

18 years after Dejà vu was released the four icons got back together and produced this piece of rubbish. It tarnishes all memories of what made this 'supergroup' super in the first place. Leave well alone.

 

NEIL YOUNG : Eldorado – released April 1989

 

Now we're getting somewhere. This little EP was released in Japan and it's absolutely fantastic. You'll probably be able to find it on import but be prepared to pay stupid money for it. It is an excellent mini album but some of it would turn up on Freedom so, if you're not a completist, just go buy that instead.

 

NEIL YOUNG : Freedom – released October 1989

 

Freedom is an amazing return to form for Neil. Rockin In The Free World, Crime In The City (Sixty to Zero Part 1) the beautiful Hanging On A Limb and the fabulous Eldorado; Freedom is a blistering album. Hard, rocking and exhilarating it wasn't only the best album Neil had released in over a decade, it's one of the best albums he'd ever released. An essential buy.

 

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE : Ragged Glory – released September 1990

 

Another essential buy. I know a lot of people who rank this as Neil's greatest album and it's easy to see why. The power of the Horse is in full effect here and it contains some of Neil's most electrifying moments. Fuckin' Up and Love and Only Love are two of Neil's best songs, but the rest aren't half bad either.

 

Words : Damian Leslie