There are two songwriters that probably had the biggest influence on me. Firstly, let us get to the most obvious one. Neil Young. I have been a big fan of his music for almost 20 years and although my listening has waned in recent years and I struggle to make my way through some of the albums that have come out when I play out it is the comparison I get most. I cannot hear it too much myself other than in the way I play harmonica but he definitely has had a massive influence on me and he is probably the reason I ever picked up a guitar in the first place to ever write a song. He made it seem like anyone could write a song so without further ado here is my top 10 Neil Young songs. Some of these are what got me interested in his music and some are personal favourites, most you will probably disagree with but give it a lash.
There was a copy of Neil Young’s After the Goldrush in our house from when I was a wee fella so I imagine these would be the first Neil Young songs I ever heard are from these album. Funnily enough not my the title track but by the a song “Birds.” I used to listen to that song on repeat and it is such a simple short song but that was the start of it for me.
Next up it would have been the Last Waltz version of Helpless. There are so many great musical moments on that show but I was captivated by the Neil Young performance with no knowledge of what had to be done to include that song in the movie. (Google it) The “They got it now Robbie,” has made it into our vernacular, often quoted when someone realises that they have got something wrong.
Rockin In The Free World- Pearl Jam
Wait, is this cheating? It’s my website and I make the rules damn it. On Pearl Jam’s Touring Band release for the 2000 tour the collection ends with a fantastic version of Rockin’ in the Free World that has so much energy in the performance. This was my introduction to the song and one of the first songs I ever learned how to play and I have played this song in every band I have been in since. Unfortunately I cannot find the version I want for the playlist but you will have to make do with another live version from Weld.
That ringing G chord, “Look out mama….” One of the first songs I learnt and one I still sit down and play from time to time. The story goes that Neil Young sent a demo version to Lynard Skynard for their next album but before they could record it, their plane crashed. The story in the song is fantastic and the imagery is great. There have been many covers and live recordings but the version found on Rust Never Sleeps is still my favourite.
Tonight’s The Night
Seen as a bit too dark and raw as a follow-up to Harvest the album was hidden away for two years but to me it is perfection and I could put the whole album on here. I thoroughly recommend Borrowed Tune and Mellow My Mind but it’s the title track that stuck out to me. There are two versions of Tonight’s the Night bookending the album. I prefer the first because of the piano-y smokier sound on it. I recently heard a 20 minute version of this song that I thought was phenomenal, not a bad feat considering the song has maybe eight lines.
Quite a long one here, recorded and unreleased for almost 20 years during the blues phase. It can be found on Chrome Dreams which is an album that is probably quite difficult to recommend for much else on there. This song clocks in at almost 20 minutes and contains little snippets from various lives in between jams. I think it is a bit under the radar for Neil Young songs but I recommend you give it a spin. Some of the live versions are phenomenal so I have included a live version on here.
Another piano based song. This one is a lot sweeter sounding the aforementioned tonight’s the night. I have only ever heard the version that can be found on the Unplugged album. “on his shoulder rests a violin, in his head chaos reigns.” An absolutely beautiful song and one I used to listen to on repeat. It is a very rare song to hear played live. I think it has only been played a handful times.
Appearing on the underrated Are You Passionate. Yes I admit some of the songs on here are throwaway but Two Old Friends is as good as Neil Young has got in the 2000s. However I am going with Goin Home. The album was recorded with Booker T and the MGs after a failed attempt to record the songs with Crazy Horse. However Goin’ Home survived as the only Crazy Horse song on here. One of those that you have to turn up as loud as possible and let it thud along.
Not too many songs from Greendale would make it onto a greatest of all time list but these are more my favourite songs so I get to put this on and give it a bit of love. Falling from Above is another good one on there but for me it’s Bandit. The din of the string rattling it’s way through the song while the lyrics tell the story of a struggling artist trying to sell his paintings.
Being a huge Pearl Jam and Neil young fan I had so much expectation when I got my hands on mirrorball, the collaborative album between them. The main take away is that Neil Young turns Pearl Jam into Crazy Horse. There are a couple of decent songs on here and the addition of The Long Road would have really helped but alas, no. I’m the Ocean is a cracking song on there but I have gone with the Pearl Jam-less song played on an organ. Fallen Angel is easily the shortest song on the list at 1 minute 15 seconds or thereabouts. I love the simplicity in the music and the lyrics.
Anything I have missed or what would you include or take off my list? Let me know