Monday, November 16, 2015

Neil Young - Albums Ranked By Me

Some of my on-line friends who are musically inclined [you know who you are] have been discussing the collected works of Neil Young lately.  Videos have been posted, favorite albums discussed.  I've been a fan since my freshman year in college.  I have almost every studio album he's done under his own name [all but three].  So I've heard the good, the bad, and the shitty.  He released his first album in 1968 after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield.  That's 47 years if you're counting, so there's a fairly large sample size [37].  Some albums are great, and there is an equal number of "what was he thinking" unadulterated crap.  To cut to the chase, here's my list:

1.      After the Gold Rush [1970] – After a couple of years with Crosby, Stills and Nash, NY shows them what real songwriting sounds like.  There is not a single bad song on this album.  My favorites are Tell Me Why, Birds, and When You Dance You Can Really Love [Crazy Horse’s last great cut with Danny Whitten].  Southern Man needs no explanation.

2.      Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [1969] – The first album with Crazy Horse.  Songs include Cinnamon Girl, Down by the River, and Cowgirl in the Sand, classics all.

3.      Rust Never Sleeps [1979] – The first half is acoustic, the second half is with Crazy Horse.  Rust Never Sleeps is packed with great songs.  RNS is bookended by acoustic and electric versions of the same song [My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)/Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)].  Pocahontas is wacky with its references to Marlon Brando, the Astrodome and television.  Powderfinger is my favorite from this album.  Sedan Delivery and Welfare Mothers are goofy, dumb songs that only NY & Crazy Horse can get away with.  I hope he hurries up and releases the remastered version of this. 

4.      On the Beach [1974] – If you want to record an album while you’re stoned, this is what it would sound like.  Revolution Blues is NY’s ode to Charles Manson.  The title track is a woozy meditation on stardom.  Ambulance Blues is practically a note-for-note copy of Bert Jansch’s Needle of Death.  The only bum song here is See the Sky About to Rain, a Harvest-era holdover.  This record has a great vibe of doom.

5.      Tonight’s the Night [1975] – This is a tequila-fueled wake for Danny Whitten [Crazy Horse guitarist] and Bruce Berry [CSN&Y roadie].  Guitars are out-of-tune and vocals are off-key [Neil Young off-key?  Say it isn’t so!].  Who cares?  This one keeps getting better with age.

6.      Zuma [1975] – NY finally emerges from the Tonight’s the Night ditch.  NY’s first album with Crazy Horse since Danny Whitten’s death.  Frank Sampedro replaced Whitten on guitar.  Cortez the Killer is here. Danger Bird is another good long song.  The rest are short and sound [dare I say] happy.

7.      Comes a Time [1978] – It sounds like Harvest and Harvest Moon, but the songs are better [Goin’ Back, Comes a Time, Look Out for My Love, Lotta Love, Peace of Mind, Human Highway].  Nicolette Larson [RIP] is the female voice.  Ian & Sylvia’s Four Strong Winds closes the album [a great song, BTW].

8.      Freedom [1989] – The 1980s was a lost decade for Neil Young, but he finally hit the jackpot at the end of the decade.  Like Rust Never Sleeps, Freedom is bookended by acoustic and electric versions of the same song – in this case Rockin’ in the Free World.  There's a lot of stuff in between that's very, very good.

9.      Ragged Glory [1990] – NY followed Freedom with this – two excellent albums in a row.  NY was finally out of his 1980s funk.  This is NY & Crazy Horse at their garage-band best.  I listened to it over and over again when I was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield.

10.  Harvest [1972] – NY finds the middle of the road in 1972 with Heart of Gold and Old ManAlabama is the son of Southern Man, much to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s annoyance.  Here he also cements his reputation as an acoustic folk hippie.  He later said that traveling in the middle of the road became a bore so he headed for the ditch.  A rougher ride, but he met more interesting people there.

11.  Harvest Moon [1992]The 20-years-later follow-up to Harvest, so you know what to expect.  Standouts include Unknown Legend, From Hank to Hendrix, and War of Man.

12.  Mirror Ball [1995] – NY & Pearl Jam.  Four excellent songs [Song X, Act of Love, Downtown, Scenery], one superb song [Peace and Love – vocal cameo by Eddie Vedder].  These Seattle guys provide the Crazy Horse vibe without the Crazy Horse sloppiness.

13.  Sleeps With Angels [1994] As I wrote in 2012, NY & Crazy Horse decided to throw me and their fans a filthy breaking ball with Sleeps With Angels.  It is one of the most subdued performances from them.  It is one of the most musically diverse albums Neil Young recorded with Crazy Horse.  This album is a lost nugget in the huge Neil Young discography.

14.  Neil Young [1968] – The solo career after the demise of Buffalo Springfield begins here.  Classics like The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady are found here.  I’ve Been Waiting For You is a good one as well.

15.  Psychedelic Pill [2014] – So far, this is the last one with Crazy Horse.  On Psychedelic Pill there are two kinds of songs – short, pleasant songs that might get played on the radio, and monster epic jams, of which there are three.  As with all NY & Crazy Horse albums, the less NY sings and the more the band plays, the better the album.  Walk Like a Giant is the NY & Crazy Horse song I’d been waiting on for two decades.

16.  Broken Arrow [1996] – NY & Crazy Horse’s first album without producer David Briggs.  Three really long songs and a few short ones.

17.  Le Noise [2010] – NY goes completely solo.  He’s the only musician on the album.

18.  Prairie Wind [2005] – This is another album cut in the Harvest mold.  It’s not bad, but it isn’t great either.

19.  American Stars & Bars [1977] – Three words: Like a Hurricane.

20.  Chrome Dreams II [2007] – This is a sequel to a NY album that never came out.  There’s a pretty good eighteen-minute version of Ordinary People from the This Note’s For You era.  No Hidden Path is a fourteen-minute Crazy Horse-ish workout.  The first two songs [Beautiful Bluebird, Boxcar] would not be out of place on Harvest.

21.  Re-ac-tor [1981] Two excellent songs [Southern Pacific, Shots], one good song [Motor City].  There’s a bonehead of a song called T-Bone.  The whole song is the line No mashed potato/Ain’t got no T-bone repeated over the same monotonous riff – for nine minutes.

22.  Hawks & Doves [1980] – Mostly acoustic.  It sounds like the country album Old Ways should have been.  Not bad, not essential either.

23.  Trans [1982] – NY’s first album for Geffen Records.  Synthesizers and vocoders are everywhere.  This is an interesting work and the songs don’t suck, but this is one you can listen to maybe once a year.

24.  Greendale [2003] – A concept album about a fictitious small town in Northern California.  Themes include environmentalism, corruption and mass media.  Some songs are pretty good, others are just “meh.”

25.  Fork in the Road [2009] – NY sings about cars.  I like the title song, which is a rant against MP3s [“sounds like shit”].  There’s a song that decries social activism [Just Singing a Song].  Too bad he didn’t take his own advice.

26.  Americana [2012] – A non-essential warm-up for NY & Crazy Horse before Psychedelic Pill.

27.  This Note’s For You [1988] – NY tries his hand at big band “power swing.”  The all-digital production sucks the life out of these songs, which sound much better live on the newly-released Bluenote Café.  This spawned a great video that spoofed Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Spuds McKenzie, and excoriates big company sponsors. 

28.  Silver & Gold [2000] – An acoustic snoozer.

29.  Are You Passionate [2002] – Recorded with Booker T & the MGs [minus Steve Cropper].  NY tried and failed to record soul music.  There’s one good song, and it’s with Crazy Horse [Goin’ Home].

30.  Landing On Water [1986] – Two good songs – Touch the Night and Hippie Dream.  Shitcan the rest.

31.  Life [1987] – This album has two redeeming features – the hilarious Mideast Vacation and Inca Queen.  The rest of this album is indescribably bad.

32.  Old Ways [1985] – NY was pissed off at his record company because they sued him for making music that wasn’t commercial enough and not “representative” of past NY music.  He made this pseudo-country record after he did the computer record [Trans] and a 1950s pastiche [Everybody’s Rockin’].  Run away from this one screaming!

33.  Everybody’s Rockin’ [1983] – This album has no redeeming social value – none.

34.  Living With War [2006] – NY bashes you over the head about the Iraq War until you cry “uncle.”  He and CSN were genuinely surprised that not everybody in their audience agreed with them.  I might like this album if the songs were better, but this is a 42-minute tirade.  I hate this album.

Not Rated [I haven’t heard them]
1.      A Letter Home [2014]
2.      Storytone [2014]
3.      The Monsanto Years [2015]