Neil Young's Resume
Buffalo Springfield - Though they only stayed together for a couple of albums, Buffalo Springfield, which included Stephen Stills, left an indelible mark on Rock music. They're best remembered for the tense hit "For What It's Worth." However, that song was easily eclipsed by Young's "Mr. Soul" which sounded like a bridge between "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - CSN had produced a successful album (it sold well) but it was pretty bland. Stills asked Young if he'd play on the second album and if he'd mind playing for free. When Young balked, it was decided to invite him to join. He provided an edge whether the other three wanted it or not. When four Kent State college kids protesting the Vietnam War were gunned down by National Guardsmen an outraged, Young wrote and CSN&Y recorded "Ohio," one of the most scathing anti-war songs of the era.
Stills/Young Band - The one-off project had some great tracks including one of Young's all time best, "Long May You Run," which was about his first car and an old girlfriend.
Crazy Horse - In the '70s Young discovered and hired Crazy Horse, an unknown but great group (that included guitarist Danny Whitten) as his backing band. The highlights included "Cinnamon Girl," one of the best riff-Rockers ever recorded. Young got back with Crazy Horse in '90 and produced "Ragged Glory." The CD is pure guitar driven Rock. "Country Home," "White Line" and "Love To Burn" are the incredible tracks on stunning CD. Four years later, Young and Crazy Horse recorded the haunting, Kurt Cobain inspired, "Sleeps With Angels" CD. Having not worked with the full Crazy Horse line-up since '96 ("Broken Arrow"), Young released not one but two albums with the band. "Americana" was a collection of Folk standards given the Garage Rock treatment. "Psychedelic Pill" was in the same vein but with original material.
Solo - Young's solo work has encompassed Country, Big Band Rock, and retro-Rock. His biggest commercial successes include the acoustic-Country influenced "After The Gold Rush" ('70), featuring the critical "Southern Man" (which was later referenced in Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" where there's the line "hope Neil Young will remember, southern man don't need him around any how") and "Harvest" ('72), featuring hits "Heart Of Gold" and "Old Man."
When the time comes to write the summation of Young's career there is a very good chance that the writer will start with Young's solo career rather than the litany of incredible bands he's been in. The reason is simple, Young is one of the few solo performers who remained vital, vibrant and challenging for four decades. Sure, he's had missteps but he's also created many more classics.
One of the great things about a long-lasting career is the opportunity to work with just about anybody and everybody and engage in projects that mere mortals would never be allowed. In '02, Young teamed with the legendary Soul/Rock outfit Booker T. & the MGs and Crazy Horse to create the intimate "Are You Passionate" CD. The following year, Young ventured to "Greendale," an audio play/song cycle that featured earthy storytelling with hard edged songs. In '05, he returned to his lean "Harvest" sound for "Prairie Wind."
Next, Young was the focus of Jonathan Demme's film Neil Young: Heart Of Gold. Young, certainly no stranger to the concert documentary, had made Journey Through The Past ('73), Rust Never Sleeps ('79) and Greendale ('03), among others. The critically acclaimed Heart Of Gold, filmed at Nashville's legendary Ryman Auditorium, included both newer and classic songs, as well as behind the scenes commentary.
Young has managed to keep his anti-establishment stance intact, especially with songs like the title track from his '88 CD "This Note's For You" which blasts Rock's commercialization. Just a year later he produced the incredible "Freedom" CD that began with an acoustic version of "Rockin' In The Free World" and ended with a hard-edged electric version. The song satirized the "kinder gentler" mode of then-President Bush. All this, plus ragged, raw performances earned Young the title "godfather of Grunge."
Though he retained his credibility, after both "Greendale" and "Prairie Wind," it appeared Young had lost or at least give up his ability to create blistering Rock. Perhaps it was time to settle into comfortable old age, as a venerable legend. Not Neil Young.
A little over thirty years after Kent State, the U.S. was again involved in a questionable war. At least the U.S. went into Vietnam with good intentions, whereas, the war in Iraq was seemingly designed to do little more than topple an unfriendly dictator, who had outlived his usefulness, generate huge profits for favored corporations and business interests and turn the oil rich country into a client state. But like Vietnam, everything disintegrated.
The highly charged, and politically confrontational, "Living With War" was released in '06. Young took on the establishment, and their multitude of lies, to create a brilliant album that will only sound better as the years pass.
A mere 36 years after it was recorded "Live At Massey Hall," an album documenting Young's '71 solo acoustic concert in Toronto, was released. "This is the album that should have come out between "After the Gold Rush" and "Harvest," said Young.
Dreams, especially chrome ones, die-hard and abandoned projects have a way of resurfacing. That was the back story to Young's '07 album, "Chrome Dreams II." "Chrome Dreams " was an effort Young scrapped in '77. The title even showed up on a couple bootlegs. Young resurrected the concept after three decades saying, "(the album has) different types of songs working together to form a feeling." The ten-track effort had new material along with three older compositions. The Chrome Dreams Continental Tour got going in Boise, ID, just days before the album was released.
Various retailers offered bonus CDs that featured tracks from "The Riverboat," a not-yet-released live CD culled from a series of '69 solo concerts Young played in Toronto. The songs on the bonus discs varied, depending on the outlet.
In keeping with Young's progressive nature, he addressed the '08 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. Young told the audience that his experimental, energy-efficient LincVolt car was an example of what independent automotive innovation can accomplish. "Guys in garages around the world have come together, and this is one of the results." Young followed that appearance with an extensive open letter that detailed his plan to turn America's roads into a system that supports self-charging electric vehicles. Young argued that these cars would keep the auto industry going (good luck with that one), enhance national security (because the need for foreign oil would be greatly reduced or eliminated), and help put an end to global warming. "The culture must change," wrote Young. "We need visionary people now."
To back up his statement, Young released "Fork In The Road" in '09. The album sang the praises of emerging technologies.
Later in the year he issued the massive compilation (100 tracks) "Neil Young Archives - Vol. 1 (1963-1972)." The set contained songs Young recorded with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Still Nash & Young, Crazy Horse and Stray Gators. - much of it previously unreleased.
The outpouring of archived material had become commonplace by the time "Dreamin' Man Live '92," a compilation of concerts arrived. The "Harvest Moon" era set featured "From Hank To Hendrix" and the title track. "Harvest Moon" was seen as a sequel to the '72 album, "Harvest." And many of the musicians who played on "Harvest" returned for "Harvest Moon."
On 01/22/10, Young played "Long May You Run" to help close out The Tonight Show with Conan O' Brien. That same evening, he also performed the Hank Williams song "Alone And Forsaken" with the Dave Matthews Band on the Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief.
Hey, Hey, My, My... As happens in Rock, even rebels receive tributes. Young was named 2010 MusiCares Person of the Year for his accomplishments in both music and philanthropy (Farm Aid and the Bridge School benefit concerts). "I'm honored so much," said Young. " I forgot how many songs I've written and I saw so many of them, [but] I just want you to know I'm working on a new album."
The next day, Young took home his first Grammy Award for best art direction on a boxed or special limited edition package - "Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 (1963-1972)." The honor was shared with art directors Gary Burden and Jenice Heo. With all due respect to the Grammys, Young has a few more important credits that should be recognized.
"Le Noise" was released on CD, vinyl and iTunes in '10. Young and producer Daniel Lanois recorded the album in an L.A. mansion earlier in the year. "We cut a couple of solo acoustic songs, but the rest is very electric," said Lanois "There's no band, but I got in there with my sonics. There's nothing else out there like it."
Two years later, Young and Crazy Horse produced "Americana." It was their first album together since 03's "Greendale" and the first with the full Crazy Horse line-up of Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro since '96's "Broken Arrow." The '12 set was comprised of Garage versions of classic American folk songs.
Young and Crazy Horse issued "Psychedelic Pill" later in the year. Though the title indicated a return to the late '60s, and the handful of extended jams reflected that, the album was actually a potent shot of their no frills, pre-psychedelic Garage Rock.
That same year, Young's autobiography Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream was released to critical and commercial acclaim. Even so, he needed a little more financial muscle to get his next project rolling.
An audiophile, to say the least, Young used a Kickstarter campaign to fund his PonoMusic player. The effort netted over $6 million, eight times the goal, to become the third highest-funded campaign in Kickstarter history.
Pono, a "high-resolution" digital music-download service, and music player developed by Young to compete against the MP3 and other formats, Pono promised to present songs "as they first sound during studio recording."
But before PonoMusic rolled out Young went low-fi on "A Letter Home." The '14 set had acoustic covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Phil Ochs and Bruce Springsteen.
1968 Neil Young
1969 Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
1970 After The Gold Rush
1974 On The Beach
1975 Tonight's the Night
1976 Long May You Run (Stills/Young Band)
1977 American Stars 'N Bars
1978 Comes A Time
1980 Hawks & Doves
1983 Everybody's Rockin'
1985 Old Ways
1986 Landing On Water
1988 This Note's For You
1990 Ragged Glory
1992 Harvest Moon
1994 Sleeps With Angels
1995 Mirror Ball
1996 Broken Arrow
2000 Silver & Gold
2002 Are You Passionate?
2005 Prairie Wind
2006 Living With War
2006 Living With War: "In the Beginning"
2007 Chrome Dreams II
2009 Fork In The Road
2010 Le Noise
2012 Psychedelic Pill
2014 A Letter Home
The story goes that when Young finished "Chrome Dreams" in the late '70s he played the album for fellow Canadian musician Joni Mitchell. She didn't like it. In her opinion, it was all over the board. That's Young's career in a nutshell!
Like any artist with a forty-plus year career Young has several high points. Everyone loves "Harvest" and "After The Gold Rush" because they blend Young's acoustic and Rock sensibilities. But a better option is to go straight to "Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere" (with Crazy Horse) containing the fierce "Tonight's The Night." Then jump to the live "Rust Never Sleeps" ("Live Rust" is also excellent). '89 release "Freedom" with "Rockin' In The Free World" is another great set.
Young may forever dispel the notion that Canadians are forgiving and tolerant of the colossal mistakes made by their neighbors to the south. Over the course of his career, Young has bashed Southern folks ("Southern Man"), the slaughter at Kent State and the Nixon administration's handling of the Vietnam War ("Ohio"), Bush 41's "1,000 points of light" ("Rockin' In The Free World") and Bush 43's invented war in Iraq and related follies on his album, "Living With War."
While Young's laid-back Country side is appealing, his Folk-Rock, with its moral underpinnings, is more engaging. Of course, when Young puts down the acoustic guitar and plugs in, he's at his best.