Where’s Neil????

Can this be? A book of 1000 essential recordings and there’s exactly one Neil Young record? (OK, three if you count Buffalo Springfield and CSNY.) If this seems woefully slight to you, get in line: I’ve been hearing earfuls about what some consider blasphemy, a crime against rock.

One of the more impossible tasks in compiling such a list was contending with artists like Young, the mercurial singer, songwriter and guitarist who has made important contributions across several decades – and in strikingly different musical spheres. Knowing I couldn’t represent all of Young’s “periods,” I went with the record I felt was most likely to enchant someone new to his work – After The Gold Rush – in hopes that its fragile, plaintive melodies would send listeners into a longterm exploration of Young’s discography. Below, five Next Stops for those who find themselves newly captivated by this cryptic genius.

  • Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969, Reprise). Young’s first album with Crazy Horse seems mannered when compared with the extreme (and sometimes aurally punishing) sonics of later collaborations. But the songs – among them “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By The River” – stand among Young’s most crystalline, razor-sharp compositions.
  • Tonight’s The Night (1975, Reprise). After losing two associates (Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry) to heroin within a year, Young created a caustic, sometimes fractured-sounding masterpiece that’s ideally suited to late-night meditations on the meaning of life. He’s hurt, angry, hungry for truth and mistrustful of fame and all of its once-beguiling trappings.
  • Rust Never Sleeps (1979, Reprise). Somewhere in the mid-to-late ‘70s, Neil Young looked around, noticed a pronounced sense of atrophy (if not outright decay) in the culture, and responded with withering indictments of narcissism, escapism and assorted other “isms.” These songs – “Powderfinger,” “My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue” – rank up there with the most trenchant rock music ever made. For even more extreme versions, seek out Live Rust, released later the same year.
  • Weld (1991, Reprise). Here’s Young with Crazy Horse, tearing through the “hard stuff” in his songbook at the moment just before grunge would remap the rock universe. There are waves of ear-splitting distortion, and guitar solos that find middle ground between elegant melody and scrap metal, and an absolutely incendiary cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind,” complete with explosions in the distance.
  • Harvest Moon (1992, Reprise). Young risked significant ridicule when he returned to the quaint acoustic settings of Harvest, the 1972 album that contains his only number-one hit “Heart of Gold.” The Harvest Moon backdrops are similarly poignant and hauntingly spare, but Young – unlike so many rockers desperate to recapture those glory days – doesn’t go backward at all. Instead, he wrestles with the concerns of grown folks in his peer group, writing of friendships that inevitably fade over time, urban Everyman’s role in environmental destruction, the challenges of retaining a bit of fire in the belly as the world drifts into a complacent stupor.

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Comments:

#1 from leichnitz, newport beach, ca - 11/05/2008 2:18

Yes, Young is hugely talented and important, but I support Tom’s decision to include only one Young album in his top 1,000 list.  I have used his delightful book as a guide to discovering new music.  I have given it to others in the hope that they will use it similarly.  Tom could have included more Young albums, and more multiple albums by other iconic artists.  Harcourt’s book (Music Lust), for example, spent three pages on Young.  But this approach would have left less room for other “lesser” artists—some of whom I would not have discovered without this book (particularly in genres I don’t know well, such as jazz), and other whom I have rediscovered because of this book (Queen’s Night at the Opera, Madonna’s Ray of Light). 

Thanks so much, Tom.  I have tripled my music listening lately, thanks to your book.

#2 from Kurt Garland, Loveland, CO - 11/12/2008 2:55

For me, there are three albums that speak to my soul.  These three albums are not for the squeamish, timid and light fans of Neil Young.  They are “Time Fades Away,” “On The Beach,” and “Tonight’s The Night.” What a far cry from his previous work in ‘72 “Harvest.”

There are songs which speak to our decaying culture back in the 70’s and more importantly, even today, “L.A.” “Vampire Blues,” “World On A String,” “Revolution Blues,” “On The Beach.” Songs about relationships, “New Mama,” “Love In Mind,” and “Borrowed Tune.” And the depravity of a life of wrong choices, “Yonder Stands The Sinner,” “Tonight’s The Night,” and “Lookout Joe.”

Each song carries a burden, a heavy weariness for the listener.  It’s like Neil and band recorded the music at 3:00 A.M. just to emphasize the weight of his struggles. Listen to “Tired Eyes,” and you can’t help but put on shades, take a heavy dose of throrazine and lay on a couch. The instrumentation with fiddle, harmonica, guitar, petal steel and sparse drums drive home the point even further. At the end, you hope and pray Neil pulls out of the mire.  But as Neil so deftly states, “You’re all just pissin’ in the wind.”

These three albums, in my opinion, are masterpieces.

#3 from Kristen K. Foster, New York - 11/12/2008 4:32

incubus - ANY of thier songs and or records.
You would be hard pressed to find a band that has the artistic, lyrical and musical talent of incubus.

I am amazed you have music on there only for the titles, not for musical talent.  your sheer gall must drag on you like deadweight.

#4 from Jane Itzel, Washington, DC - 11/13/2008 11:39

As I flipped through the book for Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” record, I was alarmingly halted between Dion and the Dixie Chicks.  Is it possible that Mark Knopfler gets not one mention in the book?

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