A Six-pack of Neil Young

For those who are unfamiliar with this series, I occasionally feature six tunes I dig by a given artist. Note that I am not claiming that they are the best six – just a half-dozen I like. Could be a different set next week. Let’s roll …

First up is one of the first songs I believe I ever heard by (now) Old Neil. By way of background, back in the good old days of albums, record companies were run by, sure, guys who wanted to make money but who also were into the music. They would do cool things like allow you to sign up for early releases of songs by new artists as well as release compilation albums.

One of the albums was by Warners and it had a lot of good stuff (Dead, Young) and oddball stuff (Zappa, Beefheart.) It was an eyeopener for me but one of the tracks that always stood out for me was “The Loner.” Not only a good song but I have always been somewhat of a loner so it appealed to me on both fronts. In reading up on it, I now realize it was Neil’s first post-Buffalo Springfield single as well as a track from his eponymous debut album:

Know when you see him
Nothing can free him
Step aside, open wide
It’s the loner

Spotify link

Like many, I first heard “Helpless” as a track on CSNY’s Deja Vu album. Always loved the tune and I’m told it’s a staple of his live shows.

“There is a town in North Ontario.” Per Wikipedia, the town is often presumed to be Ontario native Young’s hometown. Young himself cleared up the rumors in a 1995 Mojo interview:  “Well, it’s not literally a specific town so much as a feeling. Actually, it’s a couple of towns. Omemee, Ontario, is one of them. It’s where I first went to school and spent my ‘formative’ years.”

In keeping with the solo Neil idea, I’m using the MTV Unplugged session here. Nils Lofgren on accordion!

Spotify link

What’s always fascinated me about Neil more than, I think, any other artist is his wild swings between the most sensitive songs you can possibly imagine to the wildest guitar-thrashing noise you have ever heard in your life. One minute he’s the male Joni Mitchell, the next he’s AC fucking DC.

The King is gone
But he’s not forgotten
This is the story of Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out than it is to rust
The King is gone but he’s not forgotten

Here’s Neil Rotten with “My My, Hey Hey (Into the Black)” from Rust Never Sleeps (the slogan of a company named Rust-Oleum. Suggested to Neil by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo):

Spotify link

Neil once introduced “The Needle and the Damage Done” thusly:

“Ever since I left Canada, about five years ago or so… and moved down south… found out a lot of things that I didn’t know when I left. Some of ’em are good, and some of ’em are bad. Got to see a lot of great musicians before they happened… before they became famous… y’know, when they were just gigging.

Five and six sets a night… things like that. And I got to see a lot of, um, great musicians who nobody ever got to see. For one reason or another. But… strangely enough, the real good ones… that you never got to see was… ’cause of, ahhm, heroin. An’ that started happening over an’ over. Then it happened to someone that everyone knew about. So I just wrote a little song.”

Spotify link

What can I say about “Rockin’ in the Free World?” One of my favorite Neil tunes plus also my go-to advice for anyone no matter what the situation. “Dad I’m in a jam and I need some advice.” OR “Help, I’m being held hostage.” OR “I just need a shoulder to cry on.”

“Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World!” sez I, sympathetically. Here’s Neil (and Crazy Horse?) live at Hyde Park a few years back:

Spotify link

To wrap this up, let’s go back to Rust Never Sleeps for a song whose lyrics “are the posthumous narration of a young man who attempts to protect his family against an approaching gunboat. He realizes that all of the older men are unavailable, leaving him “to do the thinking.”” And then there’s that “fade away” thing again.

Think of me
As one you’d never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love,
I know I’ll miss her.

Here’s “Powderfinger”

Spotify link

Source: Wikipedia






51 thoughts on “A Six-pack of Neil Young

  1. All six are great choices, although I kind of forget “Powderfinger.” “Loner” is at the top of my Neil list, along with “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” my own favorite “bummer” song.

    I’ve been listening to a lot of Bert Jansch lately, and it’s interesting comparing his “Needle of Death” with Neil’s “Needle and the Damage Done.” Neil claims Jansch as a musical hero, but both wrote about personal friends who’d OD’ed on heroin. And both songs are stark and (darkly) lovely.


    1. I had also considered “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and some others. I’m kinda tired of the early “Cinnamon Girl/Heart of Gold” stuff. I’ve always really dug “Loner.” It’s funny but I’m not even really a Neil mega-fan. I like some of his stuff quite a bit, respect and acknowledge his rock and roll bona fides but I am not the upper echelon Neil fan if you catch my drift.


        1. BTW, as to his integrity, etc. big yes on that. I liked when he did that song about “I won’t sing for Coke” or whatever. I thought briefly about using it but it’s a better message than song IMHO.

          I hate hearing songs of our generation used in commercials. I will never get used to it or accept it. I remember the first use of a Beatles song in a commercial was in the late ’80’s when Nike used ‘Revolution.” There was a big outcry. I was so pissed I found out the name of one of the owners and wrote him a “how dare you” note. He wrote back (believe it or not) defending his actions saying “I’m a Beatles fan too.” No you’re not pal. Because if you were, you wouldn’t use one of their songs for your fucking sneakers. End of rant.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Agree 100 percent. I’m an inveterate letter writer and have done the same thing. I admire Pete Townshend’s talent, but he’s turned the Who’s catalog into a warehouse of commercial jingles, and I have trouble enjoying the Who these days because of it. I’m not sure if you know of Nick Drake, but the greatest outrage of all was VW using his “Pink Moon” in a TV commercial. Drake deserved greater recognition, but not in a crass manner like that.


        3. I know of Drake largely through other bloggers. And if I recall correctly, Dylan used “Blowin in the Wind” (or something) for an accounting firm commercial.


  2. A solid six there, although my guess is depending on the day, the weather, wind force it could be another six. My friend insists the solo on Powederfinger is one of the best examples of electric guttering available to the known world.


    1. Yep, I make that point up front that it could be another six. Certainly Neil has a lot of possible choices. As far as Young as a guitarist, I’ve grown to like his rough, go-for-it style but I wouldn’t call him one of my favorites. A raw unfinessed charm for sure but not on my top list. That said, I’ll go back and listen to “Powderfinger” from that perspective.


  3. You won’t be shocked to hear I dig all of these tunes. Anything that’s on Young’s first compilation “Decade” is pretty much first rate, in my opinion.

    I also really like the “Harvest Moon” album, especially the beautiful title track. I might have included it, though it’s tough when you only have six spots and so many great tunes to choose from.

    Coincidentally, earlier this morning, I published a post on Walter Trout and his excellent new blues covers album, and he said something I think is very true: “I’ve always respected guys who went out on a limb, like Neil Young or Bob Dylan. You never know what they are gonna come out with.”

    I feel artists who follow that approach inevitably are going to have misses, and Young is a perfect case study. But even if for the remainder of his career he would only release music that’s less than exciting, it wouldn’t matter. He no longer needs to proof anything!


    1. You are a Mega FAN, considering that you drove all the way up to Boston to see him. As to “Decade,” I think I’ll listen to that on the way home 2nite.

      As to Walter Trout, a fellow blues guitarist turned me onto him a while back. Coincidentally, I was reading a blues mag and they had a whole article on him. He lived the rough blues life, nearly died and wrote a book about the whole thing. I will definitely check out your post.

      I found in going through Neil’s discography that I did not recognize much lately. Have you continued to listen to his later stuff or do you find his best output was early on?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you are going to dig the Trout album – good ole electric blues rock! His backing band sounds ace, too. It must be a lot of fun listening to these tunes life, which is why I’m seriously considering catching Trout (no pun intended!) at the Iridium in New York in April.

        As for Neil Young, while I consider myself being a fan, I’m really mostly basing that on his 60s and 70s output, as well as the “Freedom” and “Harvest Moon” albums. Other than a few select tracks in my Neil Young Apple Music playlist, I can’t say I’m well familiar with his “more recent” output from the past 20 years or so.


        1. Trout tours here reasonably frequently. But to our recent conversation, I need to figure out if I’m seeing more and enjoying it less.

          Santana tix went on sale today. I was poised. And then when I saw the $800 tab for two tix I said NO. I don’t do sitting on the lawn at an amphitheater and I don’t even wanna pay $500 (or whatever) for lesser seats. I am seeing Stones, I may yet see Queen. But I think I’m done with the outrageous prices for good. And let me tell you that was a very big deal for me not to buy the Santana tickets.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I hear ya, with the high ticket prices nowadays it’s kind of sucks!

          I saw Santana a few years ago together with most of the classic Santana band. They were mostly playing stuff from the first three Santana albums. It was awesome and I doubt it can get better, which is part of the reason I’ve decided not to explore seeing him again.

          Trout, by comparison, is a bargain: $35-55. I’d be okay with a $35 bar seat. In the unlikely case he slacks, I can get drunk!😆


        3. Yeah, I’ve seen him a few times and by God I’d see him again. But at this point I’m gonna save that cash for my vacation. Queen? Hmm. Gotta think about that, though. I mean, you know, Radio GaGa, Radio Goo-goo!

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Going ga ga over Queen, eh?😀

          I imagine tickets will command royal prices. I like their music, but probably not enough to spend big dollars.

          Instead, I’d consider seeing Almost Queen again at a fraction of the cost. They’re are a pretty decent tribute band. While it’s probably near-impossible to fully capture Freddie Mercury, their lead singer does a nice job.


        5. Heh! I’m sure she’d be cool with it. I just hate saying we don’t have the money for X thing we need yet turning around and spending $400 on a ticket.


        1. Ah, wait. Now i see. I said Let’s roll. Yeah, I wondered about using that expression but I figured it’s just a figure of speech and it can’t belong to 9/11 forever. I’m taking it back!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Just spent the morning talking about Neil. Yeah Doc I listen to him a lot. I didn’t start out as a fan but eventually came around and now I listen to “Old Neil” a lot. I like his change of pace and I do like when he rocks out with Crazy Horse. The tunes you picked all sound good to me. He does a killer version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ with Booker T & MG’s at a Dylan tribute. He’s in his glory that night. Just discussing ‘Powder-finger’ with hotfox63 awhile ago. Has a Band vibe to me. Just the story thing.


    1. “I didn’t start out as a fan.” And you’re a Canadian?? Actually, much of Neil’s work in the early days wasn’t my bag. I’m kinda sick of all those old classic rock tunes. But when I like his stuff I like it. I heard about “Powderfinger” from somebody on the blogosphere. You guys? Can’t remember.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That CSN never grabbed me and i kind of painted him with that. I was wrong! I like some of the softer easy stuff but I do like it when he cranks it up to eleven!
        (Stay tuned you might recognize someone tomorrow. You might even have a close personal relationship with the guy)


  5. I like ‘uncle’ Neil and I’d like to like him more (if that makes sense?) and I’ve a couple of his on the shelves but I never really ‘got’ him enough to spend time listening to do so.
    Most of these (Free World and Hey Hey aside) were new to me and I like what I hear, thanks


      1. Commercially? No not really. Critically he gets appropriate praise where due but I don’t think he had sufficient ‘crossover’ appeal to appeal to those with a stiff upper lip


  6. Excellent choices. I got into Neil via Pearl Jam. 95. Just as Mirrorball landed. I love that album. I know many aren’t impressed by it, but there was something special there. I made my way back through his stuff and within a year or two had everything that was available to me. Maybe could do with some quality control here and there, but mostly his output is amazing.


  7. Hi. To put down six you like is so much safer than exclaiming ‘These are the six best ever’. And impossible to argue with. I ‘got into’ NY with Rust Never Sleeps and I’m happy to see Powderfinger in the list. It epitomises two things I love about his music; powerful simplicity and tuneful guitar solos. Hurricane is still my favourite rocker and Lotta Love for love song. It’s also lead me onto CSNY and Ohio and I almost cut my Hair with those beautiful harmonies.


    1. Yes and it keeps us all from arguing over ‘No THESE are the best six’ and allowing us to focus on the music. I’m always put off when somebody says ‘this is the best X’ so I try to avoid that. Who are they (or for that matter I) to say that definitively? It’s all so subjective. As I recall I didn’t know ‘Powderfinger’ till I saw it on another bloggers site a while back. I like Neil but I’m not his biggest fan. Anyway, welcome to my part of the blogosphere and come back anytime.


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