There are many rock and roll artists that have had great musical careers, yet only released a handful of albums. It pretty much makes composing a top 10 albums list for those artists impossible. One could never do a top 10 albums list for bands like Guns N’ Roses or Cream or any other band that made their mark on history with only a few albums. Neil Young is a brilliant artist and perhaps one of the most musically affluent composers of all time. In releasing such an abundant body of work, it makes creating a top 10 list just as difficult for the opposite reason. There are just so many great Neil Young albums, how does one only chooses ten? Hands down, Neil Young has been one of the most consistent artists of all time in releasing albums through the decades. Furthermore his work has always been a reflection and response to social and political issues of the time periods he released his records in. There have been times when he would deliver albums based on a certain musical style in a sort of quasi-tribute to that particular musical genre (This Notes for You) However, for the most part and especially from a lyrical standpoint, his records always delivered genuine opinions about the state of society.
Neil Young released his first album in January of 1969 titled Neil Young when he was only twenty three years old. However, his first solo album was not the first time the voice of Neil Young had been heard on a major label. From 1966 to 1968 Neil Young had been a member of the band Buffalo Springfield. A much loved group that had released three great records. Those albums were filled with classic songs written by Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay. Most musicians would have been happy to enjoy a career based just on the Buffalo Springfield output. Neil Young was just getting started.
Neil Young quickly followed up his debut album in 1969 less than five months later with the release of the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It was also the first album he recorded with the band Crazy Horse that would serve as Neil Young’s back up band on and off throughout his career. Crazy Horse also released a couple of albums on their own. 1970 would prove to be the year that turned Neil Young into a household name for even those not that musically aware. He released one of his landmark albums of his career with the record After The Gold Rush. That same year he also joined up with Crosby Stills & Nash to record the album Déjà Vu which would go onto become one of the biggest selling albums of all time. Neil Young would record on and off with Crosby Stills & Nash over the next couple of decades.
In 1972, Neil Young would release perhaps the most successful album of his career. Neil Young’s album Harvest would yield such classic songs as “Heart of Gold” Old Man,” and “The Needle and the Damage Done.” Harvest would become the biggest selling album of the year in 1972. From 1966 to 1972, Neil Young had already celebrated what could be viewed as a rock and roll hall of fame career. Nonetheless, there was such much more to come. From 1969 to 2020, Neil Young has released forty one solo albums. He has released solo albums in seven straight decades. That is pretty impressive. And that makes picking only ten pretty much impossible. But we did it anyway. Here is a list of 10 of our favorite Neil Young Albums.
# 10 – Living With War
We open up our top 10 Neil Young albums list with his great album Living With War. The album was released in 2006. Neil Young took hold of his 1960’s protest spirit and renewed it in his war against the George W Bush administration and their role in Iraq. It was a bold artistic statement at a time when most artists feared speaking out against the Bush administration. The only other artists to speak up as strong as Neil Young was Bruce Springsteen who would take a severe backlash from many of his fans for it.
# 9 – Psychedelic Pill
Six decades after the release of his first album, Neil Young was still turning out great rock and roll records filled with passionate performances, high energy playing and spirited songs. Neil Young;s album Psychedelic Pill was released in 2012. Neil Young recorded the album with Crazy Horse thereby making it a Neil Young & Crazy Horse album. Psychedelic Pill was released as a two disc set loaded with some very intense long jams such as the album’s opening track “Driftin’ Back,” which clocked in at over twenty six minutes long.
# 8 – Harvest Moon
Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album was released as the follow up album to his 1972 classic record Harvest. The Harvest Moon album was released in 1992. Neil Young recorded the album with his backup band the Stray Gators. The album also included backing vocals by some of classic rocks most iconic voices such as James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. It was an album filled with beautiful well written songs such as “Harvest Moon,” “Old King,” “Unknown Legend,” and many more.
# 7 – Comes A Time
While Neil Young’s Comes A Time album may not always makes other top 10 Neil Young albums lists, it most certainly makes our. There was a warm simplicity to Neil Young’s Comes A Time album that very much echoed his first couple of albums. The album’s title cut was simply to die for as well as the great song “Lotta Love,” which was later made into a huge hit by Nicolette Larson. Comes A Time was not the biggest selling Neil Young album, but its songs have stood the test of time. The album was released in 1977.
# 6 – Tonight’s the Night
For many Neil Young fans, his record Tonight’s The Night was a masterpiece. We wont argue with that. This brilliant album was released in 1975. Tonight’s The Night is an album filled with much despair and a sense of loss. The death of Danny Whitten who had been the guitarist in Crazy Horse along with Neil Young’s friend Bruce Berry looms largely over the entire record. The album’s title track is mesmerizing.
# 5 – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
As we enter the second half of this top 10 Neil Young albums list we turn to some of Neil Young’s most legendary records. Starting of the second half is Neil Young’s sophomore album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. The album was released in 1969. It would become the first Neil Young and Crazy Horse album. The sound of Neil Young and Crazy Horse was presented to listeners instantly on the album’s first track entitled “Cinnamon Girl.” It would become one of Neil Young’s most iconic songs in his catalog. Other standout tracks from the record also included the songs “Cowgirl In The Sand,” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and “Down By The River.”
# 4 – Ragged Glory
Released in 1990, Ragged Glory is Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s most loud and angry record. As passionate as the album was, it contained songs that rocked hard but were fueled by very addicting melodies and riffs. This was an album to roll down the window and drive down the freeway while playing it at volume 11. I witnessed the tour that followed the album during the Gulf War and it was an incredible performance of musicians revitalizing that anti-war spirit while playing music that sounded like an all star garage band. It was perfect!
# 3 – After The Gold Rush
As we close in on the number one spot on our top 10 Neil Young albums list, we take a look at some of the most important rock records of our time starting with Neil Young’s amazing album After The Gold Rush. This incredible record was released in 1970. Want to know why this record was so incredible? Here is a track listing of just the first four songs on the album. 1. Tell Me Why. 2. “After the Gold Rush, 3. “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and 4. “Southern Man” And that’s just to start the album.
# 2 – Harvest
If you looked through the rock albums collections of most most rock fans in the early 1970s, I would argue that 99 out of every 100 rock collections you looked at would contain Neil Young’s Harvest album. Harvest was Neil Young’s greatest musical achievement. It was as genius as one could get in rock and roll. Its an album that belongs in the same categorizes such as The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, The Who’s Who’s Next and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. It is a work of art that defines the dark side of folk music meets rock music singer songwriter genre of the early 1970s that Neil Young ruled over.
Neil Young’s Harvest album featured multiple hit singles including the songs “Heart of Gold,” and “Old Man.” The album featured and amazing cast of musicians singing back up and contributing musical parts. These included David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. The album also featured the London Symphony Orchestra on one track
# 1 – Rust Never Sleeps
While we argued that Neil Youngs’ Harvest was his greatest musical achievement, we believe that Rust Never Sleeps was the album that defined the spirit of Neil Young and Crazy Horse more than any other record. It;s also the album that we have played more that any other Neil Young record in our collection. And if we are going to choose what we believe is the number one Neil Young album, than we are going to go with the one that we have wanted to listen to the most. We think that is in essence the best rubric to utilize in choosing a number one album from an artist that has released forty one studio albums throughout his career. Hey Hey, what can I say?