Last week we covered Spinal Tap and my favorite live shows from the shitty city of Portland, OR. This week, I would like to discuss my favorite Neil Young albums. Neil Young is an artist that I hated, and I mean HATED, when I was first really getting into music, whenever that was. 12 or 13 maybe? Prior to that, the only things I cared about were playing baseball, watching the Milwaukee Brewers (or listening to Mr. Baseball call the games on the radio) and the Green Bay Packers. Anyways, I couldn’t stand the guy. I thought he was a mediocre guitar player and an awful singer. An OK songwriter maybe (I had a friend who was obsessed with “Heart of Gold” so it was eventually beat into me as a pretty song), but not worth spending my hard-earned lawn mowing and chore money on.
As I got more into Rock N’ Roll music, I started to come around. I saw Pearl Jam and Neil play the fuck out of “Rockin’ in the Free World” on MTV; you know, back when “Music Television” had music on it or something. What a concept! But, hell, if Neil was good enough for Eddie Vedder and the gang, he was good enough for me. I got a bootleg (via Napster or Limewire, can’t remember, back when you would set up like five downloads and go to bed just hoping they would be done before you woke up or the internet crashed/was interrupted) of “Weld” and my life was changed. As soon as “Hey Hey, My My” kicked in, I was fucking hooked. As we rolled through “Fuckin’ Up,” “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Tonight’s the Night” I fell in love. OK, so Neil could rock the fuck out and play some pretty mean guitar. Hell, he could even sing a little better than I gave him credit for. OK, Fine. He’s fucking awesome and maybe I was too quick to judge.
But, I was so sick of hearing “Needle and the Damage Done” on classic rock radio that it soured me on the whole “Harvest” album, which my buddy played incessantly. Which was a shame since “A Man Needs a Maid,” “Are You Ready for the Country” and “Alabama” are fucking killer tunes. Unfortunately, I would come to know a few people whose lives were either taken or ruined by heroin. Suddenly, the song didn’t seem so stupid. Suddenly, I didn’t hate it. Suddenly, but sadly, it made sense…
But, take a look at my top Neil Young albums and you still won’t see “Harvest” on it. It may have been the one that catapulted him into a new level of stardom and became the thing the record label would ride him to recreate leading to him making some shit-ass fucking albums to fulfill his contract, but I would probably rank it maybe 6th best for Mr. Young. Anyways, take a look at the list below and get mad, agree or whatever it is that you do when you read a list of things.
I know, Live albums aren’t technically albums in a sense, but it was an official release and it was the first thing that made me love Neil and his music, so there has to be bonus points for that. “Fuckin’ Up” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” make this worth the price of admission alone and became staples in my High School band’s repertoire.
4) After the Gold Rush
“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” has to be in my top 25 favorite songs. Well, maybe, there’s a lot of Springsteen songs up there on that list. Top 40 I’d bet. But still, that would be good enough to place this album pretty high but then you throw in the title track, “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” “Tell Me Why” and “I Believe In You” then just, come the fuck on. How could I leave this one off the list?
3) Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere
Obviously, “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” make this record a classic but I love the in between songs so much. Maybe not cover them during my live shows good (I only do maybe 3 or 4 Neil Young songs total these days) but this record has such a fun fucking vibe. It also sports my 2nd favorite Neil Young album cover. It just looks like a fucking fun record to put on. It’s one of my most played vinyl albums since I love the feeling this record gives me when it’s on and how much I love to stare at the fucking cover. But, it’s still only my third most listened to vinyl album behind…
2) On the Beach
I’ve heard (and I’ll listen) to arguments that this could be #1. Every song is a fucking killer on this album. The amount of sadness packed into a record rarely gets this extreme. I love every fucking moment. The way he converts sadness to beauty in the form of song on this album is absolutely incredible. There’s not a moment I would take off or wish was on here. It’s as close to a perfect statement as can be made. There’s upbeat, but still depressing rockers (my songwriting wheelhouse, if I may say so and I may since this is my fucking blog), beautifully sad downbeat tunes and not one, not two, but three tunes with the word “blues” in the title and there could be a fourth as the title track could easily be “On the Beach Blues” given the tune. This could easily be anyone else’s greatest achievement except Neil somehow outdid himself on…
1) Tonight’s the Night
It’s a perfect record. It’s magnificently gorgeous while it wallows in its angry depression. This is the album of immense sadness and anger. Whereas “On the Beach” is sad and reflective, “Tonight’s the Night” is sad and fucking pissed off at the world. There’s an energy that’s nearly impossible to capture on tape, especially in a studio, that Neil and co. just fucking live in on this album. It sounds halfway between a mental breakdown and a band rehearsal. The looseness and not give-a-fuck-ness (which inspired pieces of on my latest album “In My Youth, I’m Getting Old…”) are off the charts. Indeed, I’ve heard these songs were basically “jammed” in the studio live and put out (remember Neil’s one record per year contract…) and they couldn’t have existed in another form. Months in the studio couldn’t have replicated the vibe, the sadness, the energy, the raw beauty of these tunes. Some things are best to not overthink, and this record wasn’t even thought to begin with. It just is, in all it’s raging glory. I, no joke, probably listen to this album once a week. I used to wonder what my #5 all-time album was. It vacillated between Damien Rice’s “O,” Johnny Cash’s “Live at San Quentin" and Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love.” Well, the top five are officially:
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks
Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
Neil Young - Tonight’s the Night
I know, a little boring but there’s been some movement over the years. “Blood on the Tracks” went from #2 to #3 and, well, I guess that’s it besides the aforementioned shifting of #5. With those officially locked in, I doubt I will ever make any changes for the rest of my life, unless somehow, “Tonight’s the Night” rises to #4 or, God forbid, #3. It’s unlikely but there are times I think it’s possible given how much I love that album these days. Tastes change over time but who knows. But, I’m guessing my Asperger’s brain has finally locked this into place and we’ll be done thinking about this for the rest of time. Though, I did used to hate bleu cheese which I now love, so…
(dictated but not read)