NEIL YOUNG

Reviewed on this page:


How does one sum up Neil Young's long and distinguished career in a single opening paragraph? Not easily. Young's career now spans more than 40 years and dozens of albums. He began as a member of Buffalo Springfield before beginning his solo career in 1968. He soon became a sometime member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, whose recordings brought him into the limelight. Most of Young's solo recordings are in a folk and country vein, while the albums he has made with his sometime backing band Crazy Horse usually consist of hard rock. In the 1970's, Young usually achieved commercial as well as critical success, despite his generally non-commercial work ethic. His output became erratic during the 1980's, but at the end of that decade, Neil returned to form. Unlike many other aging veteran rockers, Young remained relevant well into middle age. He fit in well in the 1990's, when he became recognized as a major influence on alternative rock, and he toured and performed with such bands as Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth. Although much of his 21st century work has so far been less accomplished than his earlier body of work, Neil Young will always be regarded as one of rock's essential artists. When this site was first created in 1999, all of the albums reviewed on this page were out of print in the U.S. As of this writing, only the first two albums and the two EP's remain out of print. (Trans and Landing On Water are not currently available domestically, but are obtainable as imports).


In 1972, Young made a film called Journey Through The Past, a self-indulgent pseudo-documentary of his career up to that point. Directed by Bernard Shakey (a pseudonym for Mr. Young), it consisted of concert footage, low-budget fantasy sequences, and loads of film-wasting silliness. The two-record soundtrack album is for completists only. Side One is the most interesting, containing vintage live performances from Buffalo Springfield ("Mr. Soul", "Rock & Roll Woman"), and CSN&Y ("Find The Cost Of Freedom", "Ohio"). Side Two leads off with a decent live performance of "Southern Man". But after that, the album goes awry. The rest of Side Two contains studio outtakes of songs from the Harvest album, punctuated by noisy distractions (including a charmless recording of a crowd singing the oldie "Let Me Call You Sweetheart"). A repetitive 15-minute version of "Words (Between The Lines Of Age)" takes up all of Side Three. Side Four contains the only new song that Young recorded for the album, an unmemorable piano ballad called "Soldier". That song is surrounded by incoherent odds and ends: a short conversation between Young and a Christian Fundamentalist ("Relativity Invitation"); a gospel choir's rendering of Handel's Messiah; Miklos Rozsa's theme music from the 1961 film
King of Kings; and the Beach Boys instrumental "Let's Go Away For Awhile". If this side was intended as some sort of thematic collage, it's hard to make sense of it.

Track Listing:

SIDE ONE:

1. For What It's Worth/Mr. Soul
2. Rock & Roll Woman
3. Find The Cost Of Freedom
4. Ohio

SIDE TWO

1. Southern Man
2. Are You Ready For The Country
3. Let Me Call You Sweetheart
4. Alabama

SIDE THREE

1. Words (Between The Lines Of Age)

SIDE FOUR

1. Relativity Invitation
2. Handel's Messiah
3. The
King of Kings Theme
4. Soldier
5. Let's Go Away For Awhile



The 1973 release of Time Fades Away marked the beginning of Neil's downbeat period. It was a live album of all-new material that sounded amazingly consistent despite the fact that the songs were recorded during various performances. The songs have an effectively raw and ragged (not to mention downbeat) sound that confused and alienated many of Young's Harvest-era fans. The album is riveting from start to finish, and is arguably one of Neil's essential works.

The same can be said for Young's next studio release. On The Beach continues the downbeat spiral, suggesting that Neil was not happy with the trappings of success. Not for no reason do three of the songs contain the word "blues" in their titles. The record sounds accessible at first; "Walk On" and "See The Sky About To Rain" are easy on the ears, if not exactly uplifting. But darkness descends with "Revolution Blues", a disturbingly believable song about alienation and paranoia. It gets grimmer: Side Two contains three lengthy downers in which Neil sounds genuinely tired and lonely. On The Beach is a potent album, not recommended for manic depressives. (1975's Tonight's The Night, recorded before but released after On The Beach, is even more depressing!). Note: "Walk On" and "For The Turnstiles" are included on the Decade compilation.

Track Listings:

TIME FADES AWAY

1. Time Fades Away
2. Journey Through The Past
3. Yonder Stands The Sinner
4. L.A.
5. Love In Mind
6. Don't Be Denied
7. The Bridge
8. Last Dance

ON THE BEACH

1. Walk On
2. See The Sky About To Rain
3. Revolution Blues
4. For The Turnstiles
5. Vampire Blues
6. On The Beach
7. Motion Pictures
8. Ambulance Blues



American Stars 'N Bars, released in 1977, consists of songs recorded between 1974 and 1977, and is as inconsistent as you would expect such an album to be. Still, American Stars 'N Bars isn't half bad. It contains one classic, "Like A Hurricane", which was recorded in 1975 with Crazy Horse. "Homegrown" is from the same sessions; it was reportedly intended to be the title track for an unreleased 1975 album. (Presumably to fill space, that two-minute track is found at the end of both sides of the cassette version). "Star Of Bethlehem" was recorded in November 1974, at the tail end of the aforementioned downbeat period; Emmylou Harris provides backing vocals on that track. Neil performs all vocals and instrumentation on "Will To Love", recorded in May 1976, in which he compares himself to a fish swimming upstream. The first five tracks were all recorded in April of 1977 with Crazy Horse and background vocals by Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. Those tracks have a country sound, and are likable if unremarkable. American Stars 'N Bars is a lesser Young album, but a decent one.

Track Listing:

1. The Old Country Waltz
2. Saddle Up The Palomino
3. Hey Babe
4. Hold Back The Tears
5. Bite The Bullet
6. Star Of Bethlehem
7. Will To Love
8. Like A Hurricane
9. Homegrown



Hawks & Doves, Young's 1980 album, was a return to folk music after the louder and harder Rust Never Sleeps album. Side One contains some of the gentlest music Young has ever recorded; Side Two is a bit livelier, with the volume turned up a notch or two. The subject matter is surprising. Neil portrays himself as a patriotic American (although he is Canadian) on the title track and "Captain Kennedy", and he warns about impending trouble in the U.S. in "Comin' Apart At Every Nail". "Stayin' Power" is an ode to familial stability (at the time, Neil was caring for his ill and disabled son). But the record has its throwaways ("Union Man" in particular), making it an overall uneven affair. Still, some devoted fans think highly of it. Note: "Little Wing" is not the Jimi Hendrix tune; all of the songs are Young compositions.

Track Listing:

1. Little Wing
2. The Old Homestead
3. Lost In Space
4. Captain Kennedy
5. Stayin' Power
6. Coastline
7. Union Man
8. Comin' Apart At Every Nail
9. Hawks & Doves



For his next album, Young reunited with Crazy Horse and returned to grungy electric loudness. But Re-ac-tor found Mr. Young running low on inspiration. The reason for the dense wall of electric noise on the record is obvious: most of the songs are paper-thin, and needed all the instrumentation they could get. Case in point: the tiresome "T-Bone" repeats the same lyrics and riffs for
nine minutes. The record does have a few standout tracks, including "Opera Star" and "Southern Pacific". Crazy Horse does work up an impressive electric firestorm on the closing track "Shots". Otherwise, Re-ac-tor is a trivial record.

Track Listing:

1. Opera Star
2. Surfer Joe And Moe The Sleaze
3. T-Bone
4. Get Back On It
5. Southern Pacific
6. Motor City
7. Rapid Transit
8. Shots



After Re-ac-tor came and went, Young temporarily left Reprise Records and signed on with the then-new Geffen label for what would prove to be a stormy alliance. For his debut on that label, Neil took a bizarre sidestep with Trans, a high-tech concept album about technology taking over everything. Neil sang most of the songs through a vocoder, which enabled him to sing in various computerized voices. (It also renders many of the lyrics unintelligible, so have the lyric sheet handy!). The record is mostly annoying, and the electronic remake of his Buffalo Springfield classic "Mr. Soul" was a terrible idea. The opening and closing songs are more typical of Young, but they sound out of place on this album (sure enough, they were originally intended to be included on a different album). Only one song remains relevant: "Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher)" apparently refers to a computer-hacking antihero. Otherwise, Trans now sounds as quaint and silly as a campy old sci-fi movie.

Notes: A song called "If You Got Love" is listed on the back cover and even the lyric sheet of the LP, but the song is not on the album. A slightly longer version of "Sample And Hold" was released on the now-deleted Geffen compilation Lucky Thirteen.

Track Listing:

1. Little Thing Called Love
2. Computer Age
3. We R In Control
4. Transformer Man
5. Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher)
6. Hold On To Your Love
7. Sample And Hold
8. Mr. Soul
9. Like An Inca



Young's next album was another genre exercise. Clocking in at barely 25 minutes, Everybody's Rockin' explored the terrain of 1950's-style rockabilly, containing both covers ("Mystery Train", "Bright Lights, Big City") and originals. The Shocking Pinks are made up of frequent Young session musicians, including Ben Keith and Tim Drummond. Although hardly essential, Everybody's Rockin' is a likable and good-natured record, and is actually one of Neil's better '80's efforts. "Payola Blues" would be a good track on any of Young's albums.

Track Listing:

1. Betty Lou's Got A New Pair Of Shoes -- (Bobby Freeman)
2. Rainin' In My Heart -- (James Moore/Jerry West)
3. Payola Blues -- (Neil Young/Ben Keith)
4. Wonderin' -- (Young)
5. Kinda Fonda Wanda -- (Neil Young/Tim Drummond)
6. Jellyroll Man -- (Young)
7. Bright Lights, Big City -- (Jimmy Reed)
8. Cry, Cry, Cry -- (Young)
9. Mystery Train -- (Sam Phillips/Herman Parker, Jr.)
10. Everybody's Rockin' -- (Young)


Another odd anomaly from Neil’s time on the Geffen label, the 1986 album Landing On Water was Young’s imitation of Ric Ocasek. Co-produced by Young and Danny Kortchmar, the album drenches Neil in Cars-like synth-rock while he sings about being alienated from society. In particular, “Bad News Beat” and “Pressure” sound as if Ocasek could have written them. The lyrics of “Hippie Dream” suggest that Neil was suffering from a ‘60’s hangover, while the album’s sound shows him making an attempt to “stay current” in the mid-‘80’s. Although Landing On Water is uncharacteristic and inevitably dated, “Touch The Night” and “I Got A Problem” basically have the classic Neil Young sound, though it’s still quite obvious which decade they were recorded in. On the downside, tracks like “People on the Street” and “Hard Luck Stories” are too steeped in synthesizer noise and loudly mixed drums.

Track Listing:

1. Weight of the World
2. Violent Side
3. Hippie Dream
4. Bad News Beat
5. Touch The Night
6. People on the Street
7. Hard Luck Stories
8. I Got A Problem
9. Pressure
10. Drifter


Young reunited with Crazy Horse for 1987's Life, his final album for Geffen Records. Life is marred by the type of overblown production that was typical for its time, with distracting sound effects ("Mideast Vacation"), keyboard flourishes ("Around The World"), and emotion-laden balladry ("Long Walk Home", "When Your Lonely Heart Breaks"). But the material is basically good. The songs on the first side speak of international politics, while the songs on Side Two deal with more personal matters. "Mideast Vacation" is a standout; "Prisoners Of Rock 'N' Roll" is an amusing swipe at record executives. Although not great, Life was an improvement over Young's last half-dozen albums, and paved the way for his return to form that was only an album or two away.

Track Listing:

1. Mideast Vacation
2. Long Walk Home
3. Around The World
4. Inca Queen
5. Too Lonely
6. Prisoners Of Rock 'N' Roll
7. Cryin' Eyes
8. When Your Lonely Heart Breaks
9. We Never Danced

The 1989 Eldorado EP was released only in Japan and Australia. Three of its five songs surfaced later that same year on the Freedom album, which proved to be Young’s best album in a decade. The other two tracks, the raw “Cocaine Eyes” and “Heavy Love”, have never been released elsewhere, and they make this EP a must-own for Young’s ardent fans. The billed backing band called The Restless consisted of drummer Chad Cromwell and Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas. Where the Freedom album was stylistically varied, Eldorado focuses on Neil’s heavy-rocking side, which we normally associate with his Crazy Horse collaborations. The fierce, distortion-heavy guitar sound on the first four tracks suggests a long-overdue release of pent-up fury. This sound gives a new kind of tension to Young’s remake of the Drifters’ 1963 classic “On Broadway”, which ends with Neil snarling, “Gimme that crack!” This EP’s mix of the breakup song “Don’t Cry” runs about 40 seconds longer than the version on Freedom, with slightly longer stretches of feedback-drenched guitar work. The Mexican-flavored title track mellows the disc down until Young unleashes a short but startling burst of guitar fury toward the end. The Eldorado EP gives us 25 solid minutes of Neil at his most agitated and uncompromising.

Track Listing:

1. Cocaine Eyes
2. Don’t Cry
3. Heavy Love
4. On Broadway
5. Eldorado

One day in October 1994, Neil Young and Crazy Horse went to Complex Recording Studios in L.A. with Oscar-winning film director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) to film music videos for songs on their somber 1994 album Sleeps With Angels. The resulting made-for-video film The Complex Sessions was released on VHS (Warner Reprise Video 38415-3) and on Laserdisc (Lumivision LVD 9153), but as of this writing it has never been available on DVD. The Complex Sessions was also issued as a promo-only CD. The four performed songs are basically faithful to the original album versions, but the live-in-the-studio atmosphere does make a difference. The opening ballad “My Heart” comes through stronger and clearer. “Prime of Life” sounds rougher here, especially where the background vocals are concerned, though the guitar sound makes a stronger impression. It makes sense that “Piece of Crap”, the most raucous song on the album, sounds even more rowdy and disorderly here, and its noisiness almost (but not quite) drowns out the lyrics’ criticism of consumer culture. The highlight of the video/CD is more than half the show: a full-length performance of the never-boring 14-minute-plus “Change Your Mind”. The song is every bit as emotionally satisfying as it is on the album, and its guitar sound has a more immediate effect in this setting.

Track Listing:

1. My Heart (3:08)
2. Prime of Life (4:44)
3. Change Your Mind (14:49)
4. Piece of Crap (3:10)

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