Reviews of Neil Young’s albums:
1966: Buffalo Springfield (8/10)
I don’t know why I never reviewed this album, as I’ve listened to this record many, many times. I guess I probably bought it before I started actually writing reviews (it’s been that long).
Stills’ songs are solid folk rock and country songs ably performed by the band. A few of Young’s songs standout as pretty great for someone of his age, and the two singer-songwriters contrast pretty well.
The band nails the sound of 1966 folk rock and still manages to not sound like The Byrds.
1967: Buffalo Springfield Again (9/10)
Definitely more than the sum of its parts, this album is a bit schizophrenic even if you don’t know the story of the band falling apart.
The debut was a very solid folk rock album, maybe a little bit behind the times but full of strong songs. But nothing on the debut – not a single song – prepares you for this record, which is on another planet not just in terms of songwriting but in terms of ambition. Both Stills and Young seem to have internalized the ambitions of so many other contemporary bands, as both writers try things that the debut didn’t even hint at, with Young providing perhaps his most ambitious composition of his career. Furay’s work is much more traditional but still quite “country” for 1967, at a time when basically only two other rock bands in the world would ever try this stuff.
The results is a patchwork of good to great songs and ambitious arrangements that don’t really fit together in any kind of coherent whole but which show off the individual aspirations of the three songwriters about as well as any other music they would go on to make in the decade.
1968: Last Time Around (6?/10)
I have listened to this enough times to review but never reviewed it.
1969 Neil Young solo albums:
Neil Young (6?/10)
I have listened to this at least three times but somehow never reviewed it.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (10/10) with Crazy Horse
There are signs of Neil Young the solo artist on his debut – his high-pitched voice, his sense of melody, his impressionistic lyrics, even his guitar playing – but they are smothered in poor arrangement and production choices, seemingly trying to make him sound like something he’s not. Sure, the record doesn’t really sound like Buffalo Springfield but, with hindsight, we can say that it really doesn’t sound enough like mature Neil Young either. That sound begins on this record.
Everything that makes Neil Young unique and special is here on this record: his earnest, impressionistic, country-folk songs and his garage rock-like approach to amplified music, two things that not too many people thought went together in 1969. Yes, he would become a better songwriter on future albums, and the stylistic divide would become more clear, but it’s all here. Especially his infamous or legendary guitar playing, which is so out of step with every other major ’60s rock guitarist except maybe John Fogerty or Pete Townshend.
Even 50 years later, it remains one of his very best albums and probably the best studio demonstration of his (anti) technique.
My #3 album of 1969. Read my reviews of albums released in 1969.
Neil Young albums from 1970:
After the Gold Rush (10/10)
I think I can talk myself into the idea that this is Young’s first proper solo album. I mean, the debut has a pretty weak reputation (though I haven’t heard it). And Everybody Knows this is Nowhere is very much a band effort. So, with hindsight, I think this gives more of an idea of what Young sounds like without Crazy Horse. And it runs the gamut of his sounds.
And this is the first time, I believe, that Young really gave full prominence to his excellent songwriting. Even though some of the tracks are fragments, and a few feel like CSNY rejects, here is an excellent collection of songs from someone who wasn’t even the main songwriter of his old band (which was possibly surprising at the time, I dunno).
About half the tracks here are absolute classics and the rest aren’t bad here either. The arrangements are spot on, ranging from full band rock performances to Young pretty much by himself.
It’s probably the best single-album introduction to Young the songwriter; it’s most accessible than some of his more difficult records from the decade (which I prefer, naturally…) and it’s got stronger songs than his biggest hit, Harvest.
It’s not among his very best albums from the decade, but that’s just because he got better.
Deja Vu (10/10) with Crosby, Stills and Nash
Once I said “Neil Young makes a big difference.”
Later I said “Again, it would be better without Graham Nash.”
Now I will say the following:
For me this is a marked improvement over its predecessor simply because they added my favourite songwriter of all time and, shockingly, he has provided what I think are the two best songs here.
This is a group that works better together than separately (at least at this stage) and it’s easy to see how they elevate each other on each song. (And “4 +20” shows you what a Steven Stills album sounds like so you can remember you’d rather listen to CSNY than C or S or N on their lonesome.)
One of the things that is so impressive to me about this group is how the integrate many of the studio innovations into their otherwise (mostly) traditional songs and their love of harmonies. Both their debut and this record are marvels of production and great examples of how what was avant garde only a half decade before could be made to fit extremely accessible music. It’s like the folk pop Abbey Road.
Even though I’ve heard this album many times, I still don’t love Nash’s or Crosby’s lyrics. (I don’t love Stills’ often, either, but on this record he doesn’t bug me as much as he often does.) Ideally Neil Young would write all the words and just get out of their way until it’s time for the guitar solo, but there are too many egos involved for something like that to have had a chance of happening.
It’s an extremely impressive, slightly flawed display of a whole lot of talent (and ego) that could never really coexist for too long. I haven’t listened to many of their later records but my general impression is that it only got worse from here on out.
1972 albums by Neil Young:
Neil Young’s most famous and most popular album is not one of his best from the era – it’s probably the least strong of his records between his debut and Stars and Bars. This is Neil Young as the crowd-pleasing country/folk rocker. It’s the closest he’s ever sounded to those wannabes America.
The album is patchwork of three different styles: his amiable country and folk, orchestral ballads, and rock songs that sound like they should have been given the Crazy Horse treatment. To his credit, it’s still pretty good, as many of the songs are strong and one of them is among his very best.
But this remains the Neil Young album for people who don’t like Neil Young. (Along with its sequel from the ’90s.) It’s the record that, with one major exception, doesn’t confront the listener with the fact that life isn’t as great as you were told it was going to be.
Journey Through the Past Motion Picture Soundtrack (5?/10)
I have never written a review of this soundtrack, possibly because I’ve only listened to it a few times.
1973: Time Fades Away (9/10) with the Stray Gators
Three years ago, I posted the following on Facebook while listening to this record for a list of Neil Young songs I was writing:
“I know Neil Young was drunk the whole time and I know it’s not normally thought of among his best, but Time Fades Away is a fucking great record.”
It’s weird that some of us enjoy others’ pain so much, when that pain is expressed artistically. Though Dylan has denied that Blood on the Tracks is at least in part about the collapse of his marriage, he’s also marveled at how excited people have gotten about a record that, for him, was a horrible experience to make. The same is true of Young’s unofficial “Ditch Trilogy,” of which this is the first part. (The name comes from Neil Young supposedly driving his career into the ditch after the success of Harvest.)
Nobody enjoyed themselves making this record; the band all hated Young and possibly each other. Crosby and Nash had to be brought in to help because Young couldn’t sing as well any more. But for reasons I cannot quite articulate, these performances reach me. It helps that it’s a decent set of new songs but a lot of the appeal is in the performances, how ragged they are, unexpected they were for the crowd, how emotional they are – how raw everything is at a time when basically nobody else, certainly nobody of Young’s stature, would dare release anything like this.
It’s this raw emotion that is missing from so much of the pre-punk music of the 1970s, as it’s usually polished out. But this record has it in spades. It’s far from his best record, but I love it.
1974: On the Beach (10/10)
This is my favourite Neil Young record. I cannot be unbiased about it.
This is one of his best sets of songs, full of penetrating personal insights that feel like they could be about me, rather than him. And lyrical pictures of what it’s like to struggle with being successful in a very pleasant climate and yet still not be happy, combined with stream of consciousness sections which I probably can’t explain to you in any kind of coherent way, but still resonate. (“He’s talking about Toronto!!! on “Ambulance Blues”. I’m from there!!!” Cue audience applause because he knows we exist.) Some people have pointed out that this record is very depressing, but it’s considerably more hopeful – or at least forward-looking – than Tonight’s the Night. This is much closer to the way I feel about the world (though I am far more optimistic than Young in general).
But I almost like the arrangements as much as the songs. A little less chaotic than Tonight’s the Night and featuring some of Young’s most insane, unconventional guitar solos and fills, which reject all convention when it comes to the way they’re played, and sometimes also the volume at which they are played at (or mixed at). I like nothing more than a guitar solo that goes in the most unexpected direction and there a couple here.
1975 Neil Young albums:
Tonight’s the Night (10/10)
Note: This was recorded in 1973.
Neil Young was a star for the first time in 1973. And yet, even though he was star, and he was expected to pump out further “Heart of Gold” style hits, his life was a mess. Whether or not he may acknowledge it now, he had drug issues. And within a rather short span of time, the rhythm guitarist for one of his bands died, and then a roadie died, both of heroin overdoses.
And he was expected to keep playing “Heart of Gold” and writing more stuff like it. Instead he made this record. I can’t remember why it wasn’t released for 2 years. I’ve heard both the label and Young blamed for it. I don’t know which to believe. The idea was it was un-releasable, as it consists of rough takes, most of which were recorded in a day. (Believe it or not, an even more ragged version supposedly exists.)
It’s hard for us to look at a famous record like this and understand why there was fear (from either the artist or the label) to release it. We know it now. But this was before punk. There was pretty much no precedent for putting out something like this, certainly from a (now) major artist. The only precedent I can think of is Get Back/Let it Be, and that was produced to death in order to hide the warts before it was finally made public. So we shouldn’t be surprised that even though it may not sound rough to modern ears, it sure did in 1973. (On the Beach, for example, sounds relatively polished comparatively.)
Most of Young’s songs capture not only his grief and confusion, but the huge amount of confusion that was being experienced culturally in the early to mid ’70s, and the supposedly fulfilled American dream fell apart. Literally nobody else at the time was writing stuff like this. Dylan and Lennon were, but that was about personal demons. The exasperation with life in the US that is in these songs is kind of unparalleled at the time I think. And the aesthetic matches the sort of boozy, drugged “I can’t tell if I’m happy, or sad, or just confused” vibe of the lyrics.
Not my favourite Young record, but among the very best singer-songwriter records of the ’70s, and probably ever.
My #2 album of 1975.
Zuma (9/10) with Crazy Horse
Young’s reunion with Crazy Horse is basically everything you’d want it to be: it’s a strong set of songs featuring the ragged playing from both Young and the band that you would expect.
Though, at first, the songs might appear to be not quite up to the rather high par that Young set with the so-called “Ditch trilogy,” this has nearly as many classics as any of Young’s other classics from the first half of the ’70s.
It’s only not among his very best because of the ridiculous records he put out before it.
1976: Stills-Young Band: Long May You Run (6???)
I’ve listened to this years ago but there is no review for some reason.
1977: American Stars and Bars (6???)
I have never written a review perhaps because I’ve only listened to it a few times. Read my reviews of albums released in 1977.
1978: Comes a Time (8/10)
As numerous people have noted, this record is Young’s most sedate, most pastoral since Harvest, but it’s even more so.
Like most of Neil’s records from this time, the material is actually assembled from a few different sessions, so there is a little bit of contrast in style, but not much, certainly not as much as there was on Harvest.
I think it’s really easy to see this as a lesser record, since it’s so…pleasant. But the songs are so strong that I can’t help but enjoy it more than maybe I should.
PS: Sure is weird listening to “Already One” given what happened with Young and his wife.
1979 albums by Neil Young and Crazy Horse:
Rust Never Sleeps (10/10)
Neil Young’s best “live” album – if you can call it that – likes to pretend it’s not a live album, much like Time Fades Away. But there are many differences from that record, which I also love.
For one thing the songs are better, as this is one of Young’s best set of songs, with one notable exception. It contains his famous statement on fame, but also many gems that are arguably as good or better, including “Thrasher” (my personal favourite here) and “Powderfinger” which as, Jason Ankey put it, “[is] a sudden, almost blindsiding metamorphosis, which is entirely the point — it’s the shot you never saw coming.”
And the performances are far more professional (and far less drunken) than Time Fades Away. This is both because of the involvement of Crazy Horse on the second half of the record and because Young was presumably doing a little bit better personally at this point. (Also, studio recordings help.)
It’s not really a live album – the live tracks have the crowd noise minimized and there are multiple tracks recorded in-studio – but it doesn’t really matter. What it is is one of the best statements of continued relevance by an ageing rock star, as he ponders that very relevance and tries to grappled with change, some of which he wrought himself.
One of my couple favourite Neil Young records.
Live Rust (7?/10)
Once upon a time, I wrote:
Is this really necessary?
There’s a lot of duplication from Rust Never Sleeps and there’s also the weird reggae stuff.
1980: Hawks & Doves (???)
I’ve never reviewed this because I’ve mostly just listened to it to see if there were good Neil Young songs on it for my list. The same goes for most of his ’80s output.
1981: Re·ac·tor (???) with Crazy Horse
Neil Young albums from 1983:
This infamous album is nowhere near as bad as its reputation. It’s, um, still not great.
Everybody’s Rockin’ (???)
Hilariously this is rated ever lower than Trans on RYM.
1985: Old Ways (???)
Very traditional country album that I’ve never reviewed.
1986: Landing on Water (???)
Young’s second worst rated album on RYM is one I don’t even remember. I think I’ve only listened to it once.
1988: This Note’s For You (???)
The single is great. The rest of the album I have never reviewed for the reason mentioned above.
1989: Freedom (7/10)
I have no idea why I didn’t review or at least rate this album the first time I heard it (a number of years ago now). I was just trying to listen to all his songs, so maybe I just didn’t have time to review them all.
For most of the decade Young had been recording un-Neil Young like records and, more recently, he had formed bands to specifically record in a given genre. In many ways, Freedom is the first “Neil Young” album he put out since Hawks & Doves. (That is not entirely true of course, but it works for the narrative.)
As a return to form, it is very Neil Young. He has assembled tracks from a multitude of different sessions, as was his want, especially in the ’70s, and the result is all over the place musically, but well within the range of styles he performed during his peak, making it sound far more conventional than his single-genre records of the ’80s.
The set of songs is a little uneven, as there are some classics, near-classics and also some songs that just don’t hold up among his best work. The constantly varying sounds add to this experience so that I’m not sure that, once I’ve listened to this much more, I might feel very differently. It’s also a little long.
Still, I think most of us would rather listen to this than vocoder Neil Young or rockabilly Neil Young or whatever.
1990: Ragged Glory (8*/10) with Crazy Horse
I’ve never reviewed this though I’ve heard it a whole bunch.
1992: Harvest Moon (7?/10)
I’ve heard this a bunch but somehow never reviewed it.
1994: Sleeps with Angels (???) with Crazy Horse
I’ve heard this about as many times of his ’80s albums.
1995: Mirror Ball (???) with Pearl Jam
I listened to this once or twice in university and then again when I made my Neil Young songs list but I’ve never reviewed it.
Neil Young albums from 1996:
Dead Man Motion Picture Soundtrack (7?/10)
I really like the score as a score as a I am a big fan of the movie. I’ve listened to the soundtrack on its own only a couple of times.
Broken Arrow (???) with Crazy Horse
I sometimes confuse this with Sleeps With Angels in my mind.
2000: Silver and Gold (6/10)
This is a Neil Young album in the tradition of Harvest and Harvest Moon. The songs are fine – there are only two that I would even think of including on a list of his best songs – and the arrangements are well suited to the songs.
But this is slight, for him. It’s certainly a decent record, but it’s not ever going to connect with me like his best work. It’s fine as these things go, but he has many better albums and even one or two late period ones that are superior to this.
2002: Are You Passionate? (???)
Much like Young’s ’80s and ’90s albums, with most of Young’s 21st century albums I’ve listened to them once or twice to pull out some songs for my list, but I’ve never reviewed then.
2003: Greendale (???) with Crazy Horse
2005: Prairie Wind (???)
2006: Living With War (???)
I have only listened to the original mix.
2007: Chrome Dreams II (???)
2009: Fork in the Road (???)
2010: Le Noise (7/10)
I love that Neil is trying to push things in his old age. I love that he is desperately trying not to rust. It would be better if he wrote some classic songs.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse albums from 2012:
Psychedelic Pill (???)
The last Neil Young album that I’ve listened to but not reviewed.