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  • 20. <i>Trans</i> (1982)
20. Trans (1982)
Trans fails not because of what it is but what it is not. The album's reputation as a catastrophic failed experiment has in recent years been disputed by revisionist hipsters, who cite it as a precursor to minimal wave, techno, and countless electronic music subgenres. If only that were true. Truth is, Trans could have been such a defining, trendsetting album, but Neil's inability to wholly commit himself to the experiment results in an album that sounds indecisive and occasionally dilettantish. Struggling to communicate with his mostly non-verbal son, and under the influence of Devo, Neil immersed himself in a world of synthesizers, vocoders and synclaviers. Total immersion would have resulted in an album far ahead of its time, for much of Trans is incredibly prescient: the fantastic "Computer Age" still has no sonic analogue anywhere in music; the proto-electro "Sample And Hold" invents Daft Punk; a re-recording of "Mr. Soul" sounds like Thomas Dolby off the meds; and the gorgeous "Transformer Man" proves that Grandaddy was not the first to outfit artificial intelligence with a heart of gold. Unfortunately, the spell is broken by three songs from the aborted Island In The Sun album that bear little of the technological curiosity found elsewhere. Still, it's true that Trans' reputation could use some reevaluating; it is widely misunderstood as another vindictive raspberry by Neil the provocateur, but to compare it to pranks like Everybody's Rockin' is to ignore its deeply personal nature. It is a record about failure to communicate, and Neil, through gadgetry, articulates this failure with the same humanitarian depth as that found on his finest love songs.

Aliens land. They’ve traveled from some distant planet with a specific mission: to find out what this ’rock and roll’ stuff is all about. Through some curious coincidence, they find you. “What is rock and roll?” they demand, rayguns drawn. You begin to sweat. Still, there is really only one question you need to ask yourself:

Which Neil Young album do I play them first?”

This is no hyperbole; Neil Young is the personification of rock and roll in human form. From his humble beginnings as a surf rocker in the Squires to his tenure in Hall Of Fame acts Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, to his most recent blitzkrieg Psychedelic Pill, Neil has spent a career as the embodiment of artistry despite fierce resistance. This iron-willed devotion to the Muse has not come without a price, however: While Neil’s successes have mostly flown in the face of prevailing music biz wisdom, his uncompromising nature has earned him almost as many failures, failures that should have sunk him several times over. His unpredictability and star-chamber business practices have often made him a pariah; his impulsive spirit and mood swings would frequently estrange his fellow musicians and most ardent supporters. Even more than Dylan, Neil Young has made a career of being consistently inconsistent.

As an architect of what we now consider ’underground music’ there is no peer: For every Great Indie Moment of the past thirty years, there is a Neil Young song correlative. Wanna hear ground zero for Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs? See “Journey Through The Past.” The raw-nerve humanity in the songs of Jason Molina? Check out “On The Beach.” The primary influence on J Mascis’s wild, feedback-laden guitar playing, or his reedy, cracked vocal style? That’d be “Cortez The Killer” and “Mellow My Mind,” respectively. Alt country? “Harvest.” I could do this all day. Of course, it works both ways: Neil Young’s decision to release 1991′s Arc, a 35-minute collage of feedback and noise, seems directly inspired by his run-ins with Sonic Youth, while the Pearl Jam-assisted Mirror Ball would find the newly-sired Godfather Of Grunge an awestruck but reluctant don of the alternative rock revolution.

Neil Young has never lent his music to a commercial. He was the Canadian hippie that publicly supported Reagan (despite the fact that he was not eligible to vote), only to record an entire album arguing for the impeachment of George W. Bush. He vainly made movies that made Cocksucker Blues look like Double Indemnity. His autobiography depicts a man more interested in model trains, vintage cars, and cutting-edge technology than his legacy as a rock star, which seems to bore and trouble him.

This, at least, is consistent: As early as 1966, the reluctant star penned “Out Of My Mind” for Buffalo Springfield’s debut album, a song containing the lyrics “All I hear are screams/ from outside the limousines/ that are taking me out of my mind.” He introduced himself to the world with songs about epileptic seizures, tormented small-town girls, and the rent that always seems to be due. His peers may have been enjoying the nectar of flower power, but Neil’s acute perception allowed him to see the darkness just below the surface.

It is easy to view Neil as a cranky contrarian who takes his gifts and fortunes for granted, but this is an oversimplification. It is equally tempting to define him alongside similarly protean artists from Bowie to Gaga, but this, too, is specious. The genre experiments of other artists often indicate an identity crisis, or an attempt to recreate oneself in the hopes of appealing to increasingly fickle market forces. It could be argued that Neil’s shape-shifting is motivated by the exact opposite reasons: trends, expectations, and market forces be damned, he doesn’t feel like making another country-rock record right now. Whether his imagination leads him to Greendale or to goldrush, it’s all the same to Neil Young. This is why even his most seemingly impersonal, comically overambitious leaps of faith contain, at their core, an honesty — a humanity.

His music may be frequently peevish and outwardly rebellious, but at heart, Neil’s a moralist. His fierce loyalty to talented-but-toxic characters like Bruce Palmer, Rusty Kershaw and Danny Whitten is an example of a probity that undermines a reputation for hardness. Other examples can be found within the songs themselves, full of lessons: Sooner or later it all gets real. Only love can break your heart. Don’t be denied. Don’t wait till the break of day. Time fades away.

It has become customary when introducing Counting Down pieces to note that there is no ’worst’ album by the featured band, acknowledging that a great artist’s relative failures are often redeemable within a greater context. In previous entries I have written on Sonic Youth and Drive-By Truckers, among others, this has been true and I stand by it. It is not true for Neil. I won’t claim that the bottom five entries on this list are complete turkeys, but they’re certainly pretty close.

Still, I feel I must disclose that Neil Young has created some of the most important music of my life. Since the release of Freedom in 1989 and subsequent concert at Jones Beach that same year, I have unfailingly purchased every Neil Young record on the Tuesday of its release; I have done this even as the digital age has allowed me to audition lousy albums like Greendale and Fork In The Road beforehand. A tattoo on my right wrist reads ’WWNYD,’ elevating Neil to the status of Jesus Christ, and a promotional poster of Neil at Massey Hall hangs over my writing desk. In some ways, this makes me both the best and worst person for the job of ranking Neil’s albums; I am, and shall always be, a Neil Young apologist.

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (145)
  1. this is not going to be pretty

  2. trans isnt in the top 10??????? I ride a bike, have a mustache and tattoos so obviously trans is in my top 5, but I’d figure it would be in non-hipster top ten.

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  4. dissing on mirrorball + no WELD = IN VALID LIST

  5. Where’s “Dead Man” ?

  6. Innaresting list you’ve got there James. This is a truly impossible task you’ve given yourself…

    Let me make a few guesses at WNYWD:

    -put Landing On Water at the bottom. It really does suck that bad.
    -put Are You Passionate next to it.
    -move Ragged Glory up, up way up.
    -American Stars and Bars isn’t underrated, it’s a confusing hodge-podge of songs ranging from spectacular to mediocre
    -On The Beach is a confusing hodge-podge of songs ranging from spectacular to bone-chillingly brilliant, but it doesn’t hold together that well as an album (side 2 does, but anyway). It’s probably in my top 5, but #1 just doesn’t seem right – anything else in your top 5 makes more sense to me (I’d go with After The Goldrush because it’s After The Goldrush).

    You’ve left out all his proper live albums, which I get cause this list is already crazy-long, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a desert island without Live Rust or Live at Massey Hall.

    • This guy gets it. Agreed on everything.

    • I once fell under the “live album” spell too with Talking Heads, so I just made a Jonathan Demme best of list to quell my rage so that Stop Making Sense got its due.

      I believe a Neil Young list should start with the album captured your own ears for the first time. I have always remembered Freedom as that album that sucker punched me and stoked my obsession at that moment. Sure, up to that point I was a fan of the greats (Harvest, Tonights the Night, etc…) and Freedom isn’t the sexy pick, but it was in ’89 and this rebirth made me go….wow. He followed up with Ragged Glory which then offered me that scuzzy alter ego of him, but even more amazing, realized he was an amazing two headed monster. And then once the gorgeous Harvest Moon came along, I was convinced this guy was everything I needed to have in order to understand the endless ceiling that makes up Rock and Roll. Everything he has done well throughout his entire career is encapsulated within that trifecta of albums…the politics, the feedback and the beauty. The true Godfather.

    • Yup. Landing On Water is the worst. Just absolutely stuck in it’s era, unlike most other Neil Young albums. Ragged Glory should break the top 5 IMO, fully backed.

  7. God, where to begin?

    I’ll give you this, you have his 5 best in the top 5, but I don’t think I’d ever be able to put anything except Rust Never Sleeps at number one. At 9, Time Fades Away is underrated, and Psychedelic Pill, Ragged Glory and Old Ways are severely underappreciated on this list. I can’t see putting Silver and Gold, ReAcTor or Harvest Moon nearly as high as they are here: Harvest Moon is decent, but overshadowed severely by the two albums released prior to it, and ReActor and Silver and Gold are both severely flawed (T-Bone is nigh unlistenable.) I also don’t quite get the hate surrounding Americana: it’s loose and catchy in that Crazy Horse way, and while it’s not great by any means, surely it’s better than Landing on Water. I’m also an Everybody’s Rocking apologist: it’s fun and short enough to not outstay its welcome.

    That said, Neil’s catalog is so huge and full of great work that there’s no way any Young obsessive is going to agree on almost anything. The biggest issue? Leaving out the OSTs. Journey Through the Past deserves to be shown as boring and half baked, and Dead Man deserves all the possible praise it could receive as an avant success.

    Finally, Arc/Weld. Just do it.

    • I’m glad we agree on Rust Never Sleeps, and bringing up the OST’s is a good point. I really like Dead Man, but it would be tough to rank it unless the recording method and other aspects related to the film were considered. I also think this list would be different had some live albums been included, namely Live Rust, Massey Hall, and Unplugged. Getting the full Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold Suite as he originally written it, and solely on piano, is something that none of these ranked albums have.

    • Thanks for the great response. I actually struggled with Time Fades Away being so low – I originally had it higher, but couldn’t justify bumping down any of the eight above it. I have been told I tend to overrate Harvest Moon, but i stand by the ranking – I think it’s exceptional. Soundtracks and live albums were a wormhole I desperately wanted to avoid; I tried to address them the best I could, but I thought the list seemed too long already!

      • This was definitely a blast to read, and it’s always fun to see what other people think of the more contentious Neil albums. I’ve yet to see anyone argue firmly in favor of Greendale.


  8. I would like to see one of these for Prince.

  9. Gotta agree, On the Beach #1, and I’d put Zuma 2. Then I lean toward Everybody Knows.

    A good list, top 6 are reasonable.

  10. Odd list, by the way.

  11. Say what? After the Gold Rush NOT number 1???? We are both talking about THE Neil Young, correct? Other then my personal gripe in your number 1 choice ( PLEASE fall in love with that album. It is not only his best, but in the top 100 of ever), your choices are very good, well written and pretty well measured, although I wouldn’t agree that “Trans” fails as an album/statement.
    But yeah, you’re going to take a lot of heat for your number 1 pick :P

    • I would just like to point out that in the ranking of After the Gold Rush, Mr. Toth did state: “It’s not merely one Neil Young’s best albums, or even one of the finest albums ever made — it’s Scripture.” So, um, I do think he has “fallen in love” with that album.

  12. Nailed 1 and 2 IMO

    Gotta admit, I kinda liked Greendale tho. “Devil’s Sidewalk” is an awesome song.

  13. First off, kudos on this massive undertaking.

    Neil Young is my all-time favorite songwriter. Hands down. I have a few issues with the rankings, but my grievances cannot be articulated well enough in the comment section with my limited writing ability, so I’ll just hit some major points…

    Rust Never Sleeps should be #1. Even the concept of “rust never sleeps,” and “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” is, in my opinion, one of the most important lines in the history of rock music. The album came out at a time when Neil was losing his post-CSNY/Harvest momentum and starting to slip under the radar, so that must have been a phrase that stuck pretty hard with him. Not to mention the albums seamless slipping between folk (Thrasher/Pocahontas) and Neil’s brand of punk that eventually became grunge (Sedan Delivery), along with hybrids of the two (Powderfinger) . Plus his total lack of self-censoring shines terrifically in the Thrasher. Now I’m kind of rambling, but yea, I love this album. I would put On the Beach at #2 though.

    Also… self-titled is better than REACTOR. I think The Loner itself puts S/T ahead of it. I’d also put Mirrorball and Greendale higher up. Then again, when you’re ranking 35 albums, it’s tough to argue a couple of slots.

    • Thanks! I agree Rust is excellent, and features at least two of my all time favorites (Thrasher, Powderfinger), but it also features Welfare Mothers, and the presence of even a single dud knocks it below my top 3, which are perfect albums front to back imo. You make a strong case, though!

  14. Interesting list. A lot of albums there I haven’t given any time to that I really want to get stuck into now. Thanks.

  15. I am so sorry you had to listen to Neil Young’s 80s and new millenium output. The hazards of music blogging!

    Picking a number one for this guy, who had so many weird twists and turns in his career, is not easy! I think I would have been fine with On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Harvest, After the Goldrush, or Rust Never Sleeps at number 1, they’re all just some of the best rock music ever made and I could see any one of them being somebody’s favorite. Even Freedom, Harvest Moon, Zuma, and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere could be justified, though I think they are just a notch below the first group of albums.

    I could quibble with some individual choices but the spirit of your list is pretty much on point.

    Also, while I am here: Can I get a Wu-Tang solo albums from worst to best?

  16. fuck yes, On The Beach is number 1. this record is so incredible. i once listened to it by accident and now i listen to it always.

  17. “On The Beach” as #1 is a little much.

    1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
    2. After The Goldrush
    3. Tonight’s The Night
    4. Rust Never Sleeps
    5. Sleeps With Angels (not bloated at all IMO- Crazy Horse has never sounded better post-Whitten)
    6. Harvest Moon
    7. Harvest
    8. Zuma
    9. Dead Man (by what tortured logic is this disqualified again?)
    10. On The Beach

  18. Whatever album with “Horse with no name” is probably the best one.

  19. Holy crap. Not at the ranking, but that you did this. Nice work. Really… nice work.

  20. Whoa! I haven’t started reading the list yet, but this is not an enviable task. His career is more daunting than Dylan’s to evaluate.
    That being said, On The Beach had better be pretty close to number 1.

  21. Seems I completely missed the existence of Fork In The Road. (Where was I in 2009?)

    But only Neil Young would write a song called “Cough Up The Bucks”

  22. Huge undertaking. Well done. My personal rankings would have After The Gold Rush at the top spot. It really is the perfect Neil Young record. A perfect overview of nearly everything he had done and would do in his career. It’s the best starting point and still the most consistent, cohesive album.
    That said, thank you for not overrating Harvest. It’s a very good record, but it has some MAJOR missteps. “This Whole World” is one of my least favorite songs ever.
    I would like to see Trans and Time Fades Away ranked higher, but I guess that’s the hipster revisionist in me talking. I like that Le Noise ranks highly among the new stuff, but I think it could be even higher. It’s a really strange, fascinating, wonderful record and one I highly recommend for anyone who thinks there hasn’t been anything of value in the new century.

    • Ditto on Le Noise and Time Fades Away. I could probably stand to see Trans a tad higher too.

    • Totally agree re: Le Noise. And I might have already said this in response to another comment, but the placement of Time Fades Away was the one I struggled with most. In my mind, it’s easily a top 6er – but when I really scrutinized the list, I couldn’t knock any of the others down to accommodate it. The top ten was REALLY difficult.

  23. I was thinking just yesterday “I need some new Neil Young albums, I wish Stereogum had a Neil Young albums from worst to best” Thanks guys!

  24. Holy shit. I have been waiting for this list ever since you guys started making these lists. I haven’t the list yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed the introduction. Ok everyone, let’s argue!

    Really Hoping to see Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach, After the Goldrush, and Zuma as the top four in some order. Also, I’d love to see Le Noise get some recognition and maybe crack the top twelve or so. You all need to listen to that album again. It’s a wonderful experiment.

    • So happy to see On the Beach at number one. All in all, I love the list. And you clearly have done your homework on Mr. Young. I can’t really argue with Zuma getting bumped in favor of those other two. And Le Noise got some positive recognition, even if I think it’s a little low. I might have bumped Time Fades Away to number seven. I’ve really grown to love Trans and Re-ac-tor, mostly because of some prodding from ‘gummers to give it a second chance. Very entertaining read, and a nice primer for diving into some of his more recent work.

      • Thanks! Glad we’re mostly on the same page. See one of my replies above for the reasoning behind Time Fades Away’s placement. It was the definitely the album I had the hardest time corralling into the countdown. I hope my love for that record was obvious, despite its placement.

    • Yay, someone else repping for Le Noise. Guys, it’s so good. An actual successful artistic detour.

  25. How is Trans at 20? It didn’t really fail like you put it, and if you truly knew Mr. Young, you would take his albums as is (which helped a movement start), rather than gripe because he didn’t continue with the style.

    • Yeah, it seems like at the time he was ripped for not being “Neil” enough and now he’s getting shit for the moments that are too “Neil.” Trans just can’t win.

  26. You know what I really want to be pissed off about? A Tom Waits list. Go ahead, leave Swordfishtrombones out of the top three. I dare you.

  27. love on the beach but tonight the night is the best album end to end.

  28. Tonight’s the Night is my #1, but I’m just happy to see it here at #2. The top 5 are the best 5 neil young albums, and we could argue about the order forever.

    I think Ragged Glory is far too low. It’s his best electric album probably of the last 3 decades.

    Hawks and Doves is a bit too low, and I’m disappointed you didn’t mention “Lost in Space” — one of Neil’s most winsome and haunting and overlooked songs.

    I love that you say to give Silver and Gold another chance. For what it is, it’s quite possibly a perfect album. An album about middle age, nostalgia, and disquiet – but also contentedness.

    I’d put “Are You Passionate?” as one of the worst albums. Surprised to see it here over very solid albums like Broken Arrow

    However flawed Mirrorball is, it still has “I’m the Ocean” which makes it more worthy of purchase than at least 6 or 7 of the albums ranked higher than it (Landing on Water? This Note’s for You? Come on).

    Anyhow, as you can probably tell I’m a huge Neil Young fan. Thanks for doing this list.

    • Thanks for reading! A friend on Facebook also gave me a great deal of shit for the placement of Hawks and Doves, but if your whole argument is predicated on “Lost In Space,” we will have to agree to disagree: that song is a string of seemingly unrelated ideas (and not in that cool, impressionistic Dylan kinda way) in search of a chorus it never actually finds. Was it called “Deep Sea Blues” at first? Probably. I think it’s a mess.

      I’ll give you Landing on Water being almost totally indefensible, but reexamine the 3 or 4 tracks from TNFY I mention. Listen out of the context of the (admittedly mediocre) album, maybe; they’re good songs!

      • Thanks for your list. I think you nailed almost everything and I’m especially happy you mentioned “Twilight” from TNFY. I was on my honeymoon sitting on a beautiful patio with my beautiful wife and that song started playing. I’d never heard it before and Neil in clean-blues-mode with that mournful trumpet just floored us both. One more thing – thanks for singling out the drums on Mirror Ball. I don’t think any record could have survived that assault.

      • Guh! Blurt! Oofh! I stared at the screen for awhile, considering if it was really a wise decision to reply and attempt to write about why I love “Lost In Space”, and finally said, fuck it, we’ll do it live!

        I don’t see the song as a “string of unrelated ideas” at all. To me, it’s pretty clearly about loneliness and isolation – and there’s a stream of images and conceits that lap together and pull apart in rhythm to that simple breath-like guitar part that exhales and then seems to gather air to exhale again. The song opens with the repeated plea “live with me” but it doesn’t sound like an imperative at all. In Neil’s delivery it’s tenuous and hesitant; this is a person who might not want to hear the answer to the question he’s asking. The metaphors about isolation of being “lost in space” and “out on the ocean floor” fit neatly with other metaphors about making some sort of order out of the world (“gardening again…keeping all the world around you clean” and the futile endeavor of drawing buildings on the “infinity board”). And when Neil finishes the song by saying “he has to lose the deep sea blues”, you can read it two ways. On the one hand, the speaker is plainly stating that “living with him” would eradicate his loneliness. Our buildings won’t last forever, but let’s try to make a go of it. On the other hand he could be saying that he MUST lose his loneliness and is willing to do whatever it takes to do so (I GOT to lose the deep sea blues). Couple this with the previous statement that he is “losing” the one he loves (“I heard I was losing you”), and the “live with me” refrain takes on a weird desperation this second time around. It starts to feel less about domestic cohabitation, and more of an existential proposition.

        Plus the overlaid ukelele (mandolin?) is just so goddamn gorgeous.

  29. I just wanted to make a point about “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”. I mean, that album invented modern guitar playing. Look at all the other guitar virtuosos from the 60s – Clapton, Hendrix, Duane Allman — their goal was to achieve more and more arduous heights of technical complexity. I mean in a song like “White Room” the guitar is just babbling all over the place, constantly declaring the “skill” of the guitarist. Neil Young just obliterated that whole conceit in “Down by the River” by tapping out that telegraph-like opening solo – one note, repeated over and over. Neil Young wasn’t into technical mastery — he just wanted to create rhythms and textures and moments of beautiful abrasiveness that would puncture the traditional pathways of what a guitar or a guitar soloist was “supposed” to do. 40 years later people aren’t playing the guitar like Hendrix or Clapton; they’re playing it like Neil Young: Doug Martsh, Jack White, Thurston Moore, etc. all owe a debt to those solos.

    That’s why in my own rankings “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” is one of the hardest albums for me to place. It’s not really Neil Young’s “best” album, but it might just be his most important.

    • Well put, and I totally agree.

    • As much as I love Neil’s soloing on Everybody Knows, Danny Whitten truly stands out as the star for me on that album. The way he continually toys with, changes, and fights with his rhythm guitar playing is astounding. On the first solo of Down By The River he sounds like a rabid dog constantly bouncing around, spurring Neil’s flights of fancy and pushing to greater urgency by subtle shifts in his timing. I wish he would have recorded more.

    • damn straight. finally some logic EKTIN is the tops.

    • it’s a guitar manifesto. A stylistic landmark of minimalism and feeling. In poetry classes, we talked about this notion of “duende”, which is like total commitment to improvisation that you hit this magic zone of complete emotional harmony. Whoever we studied, i can’t even remember, couldn’t touch Neil’s ability. I wish i could show you guys my “EKTIN” tattoo

  30. Cannot disagree with #1. Glad to see the album gets the respect it deserves, after having been out of print and almost forgotten for a while there.

    But when I saw how low RAGGED GLORY ranked . . . well, that’s problematic.

    Perhaps we can split the difference with a separate list just of his live albums? There aren’t many artists extant whose live albums could be considered such a vital part of the canon. As long as you managed to put WELD / ARC at #1 we’d be jake.

  31. This is very well done. On The Beach is easily Neil’s finest work. Live Rust should be in the top 10 or 5 and I don’t know if it’s an “album” but there is some great material on the MTV Unplugged thing.

  32. Wow. Absolutely nailed it. When I first saw that this list was made I was like ohhh boy…then I saw Zuma (hugely underrated) as high as #6 and got excited, then saw On the Beach as #1 and jumped for joy.

    “Ambulance Blues” is my favorite Neil song…I’m not even sure what it’s about, but it’s one of the most melancholy sounding songs I’ve ever heard. The harmonica/violin parts gut me every time.


  33. Having completed this massive task, you must have some free time on your hands, and seem to up to the task of taking on a Bevis Frond worst-to-best. Or, at least the ten best songs.

    Hadn’t listened to “On The Beach” in a decade until this morning. A great choice, that one.

  34. On The Beach at #1 – I’ll allow it

  35. I always enjoy reading lists…I rarely agree with them but it always amazes me how upset people get over them.

    Personally, I think Neil’s debut is awesome. Top 5 for me.

  36. I loved your list. Thanks for providing a thoughtful analysis of Neil’s work. I have a few quibbles. I would make after the Goldrush #1 then On The Beach and then Tonight’s the Night. Time Fades Away would rank a bit higher. It is the most audacious live album EVER. Coming off of the #1 LP of the year (Harvest), Neil releases the most un-Harvest live lp ever. Imagine a live lp with no greatest hits, no airplay ready singles. I remember picking up Time Fades Away and On The Beach in 1974 and immediately forgave him for Harvest. Living With War is a better album that Fork in the road. The only two Neil albums I can’t listen to are Fork and Americana.

  37. I’d be curious to see how a few of his live albums factored into all this. Massey Hall easily makes it into my top 5.

  38. three things:

    1. although my version of it differs slightly from neil’s version i absolutely love broken arrow. . i dump the awful jimmy reed track (yeah, i get the bootleg joke), put “loose change” at the end and put in it’s place the b-side from the “big time” single “interstate” (which was recorded during the ragged glory sessions. find an empty highway, partake of some fine herb and crank it. i guarantee this album will climb up the list.

    2. “living with war” is indeed an atrocity. however, “living with war raw” is a pretty solid album. it mercifully dumps the backing vocals and the awful “god bless america”. what remains is a pretty fun, admittedly goofy rock album.

    3. i’d also move “greendale” up the list. sure, poncho is missing but the story is a good one. the live show with the playbill and the stage show fit in rather nicely. “bandit” is pretty high on my list of favorite neil songs of all-time as well.

    ok, a quick #4….i really, really dig psychedelic pill.

  39. I think ‘Living with War’ and ‘Americana’ are under-appreciated, here. ‘Harvest Moon’, on the other hand, is overrated. ‘Ragged Glory’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Sleeping with Ghosts’ are much, much better. However, you can’t really disagree with the first five, though you can always appreciate them in a different order.

  40. Oh come on, Living with War is great! Though I do prefer the CSNY versions of the songs on the Deja Vu Live album.

  41. I was going to compare this list to the Springsteen list from a few weeks ago (insofar as both are very, very well-written and thoughtfully considered) but fuck that…this list is far more difficult to compile. How can we even speak of a single artist when speaking of Neil Young? What even remotely connects an album like Trans to an album like After the Gold Rush. And you are absolutely correct, while we can point to other artists dabbling in genre exercises for money or attention, that never, ever seems to be a concern for Mr. Young. I guess you could argue that Neil himself is the thread that connects all of these albums, but I think that he might be the best case of an author not being a single entity but containing a multitude. Best list ever? Certainly the most worthy of the artist in question. Kudos to you, sir!

  42. Greendale is not a “lousy album” to “avoid.”

    The album came out in ’03, long after he had released anything substantial and it plays like a Crazy Horse rebirth with a lot of things going for it, the messy plot not being one, I’ll give you that. But to tell your readers to flat out avoid it is a great disservice. The opener Falling From Above, Carmichael and Bandit are enough to make this a very enjoyable album that ultimately works well for Neil’s style.

  43. No Weld? I love that album. “Ragged Glory” needs to be higher, “Landing On Water” sucks way more than “Living With War”. Hell, I like “Arc” more than I like that one….

  44. Been a Neil young fan since as long as I can remember my first memory, so I felt compelled to comment. Good list overall. I’m sure it was no easy task. My number one and two would be After The Gold Rush and Rust Never Sleeps. Broken Arrow needs a better ranking. I still remember seeing Neil on this tour. He opened with Big Time. That guitar crunch and tone. The hypnotic extended jam. Such a good tune. Finally, I would have ranked self titled higher for the loner and ive been waiting for you. Cheers.

  45. I guess I don’t know enough neil young fans because I thought On the Beach was a hidden gem. Most casual fans I recommend the album to have never heard it.

  46. You guys take your opinions way too seriously.

    • You really think so? You think all of us are quitting are jobs on Monday to spread the gospel truth of the best Neil Young albums from best to worst? Or that we will set fire to the internets for such blasphemy? Or maybe, just maybe this list was posted on a Friday and most people have weekends off and just like to share their opinions with their free time? I thought most of the comments on here were civil, polite and not that serious.

    • What else is there to take seriously besides opinions?

  47. I’d second those who call for the inclusion of Neil’s live albums– on that basis Massey Hall ’71 would be not only in my top 3 Neil albums but among the best live albums of all time. I haven’t listened to any other live album so much and prefer it to Rust Never Sleeps (whoa, heresy).

    Looking through some of this artwork, there’s an alternative list here that I’d call “Neil Young album covers from borderline passable to truly abominable”, a list topped by Zuma, Landing on Water and the debut LP, closely followed by Reactor and Everybody’s Rocking.

  48. old ways should be top 5 best

  49. Thanks so much for introducing me to American Stars n Bars!!! I somehow missed that album.

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