Neil Young is simply beyond common musical criticism. Certainly among all of the classic folk, folk-rock and rock the man has recorded over the past 50 years, there have been some clunker albums. However, the sheer breadth of Young's influence on an amazing array of artists in several differing genres is fairly mind-boggling.
In honor of the man playing not one, but two shows, tonight and tomorrow night at The Meyerson, here is a respectful attempt to list 10 gems that only begin to skim the surface of the greatness that is Neil Young.
1. "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" Off 1979's Rust Never Sleeps, the bone-crunching riff of the album's closing track still resonates some three decades after the fact. Offhandedly dedicated to the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten, "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" is a song that introduced Young's older audience with a whole new generation of punks.
2. "Tonight's The Night" The title track to young's 1975 effort, "Tonight's the Night" is a ragged tribute to friends lost to drugs. It's a sad, yearning mess of a song; one that still gives me goosebumps.
3. "For the Turnstiles" From 1974's On the Beach, "For the Turnstiles" features one of Young's best vocal performances. With banjo in hand, Young dives into a harsh Americana territory that refuses to kowtow to the banalities of folk and/or rock.
4. "Powderfinger" Yet another from Rust Never Sleeps, "Powderfinger" is a song about defending your family that gloriously opened the rocking side of the original album. Some say the rocking songs from Rust were Young's attempt to keep up with punk. If so, thank you punk rock.
5. "Down by the River" An epic from 1969's Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, "Down by the River" is a murder ballad supposedly written when Young was delirious with fever. In any case, it's a wonderfully warped and distorted extended jam that always seems to end too soon.
6. "Cortez the Killer" From 1975's Zuma, "Cortez the Killer" is a long, fascinating tale of the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. Just for the guitar solo alone, the song delivers the goods.
7. "The Needle and the Damage Done" From 1972's Harvest, "The Needle and the Damage Done" is Young's warning about the dangers of hard drugs. The song's simple chords belie the emotionally charged tone of its message.
8. "Pocahontas" Another winner from Rust Never Sleeps, "Pocahontas" is simply a beautiful song about the mistreatment of Native Americans that also happens to mention Marlon Brando (and the Astrodome).
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9. "Cinnamon Girl" Another great cut from Everyone Knows This is Nowhere, "Cinnamon Girl" features a classic Neil Young riff that makes the song an instant classic. Perhaps a bit overplayed in its day (and definitely over-covered), the song is still one of Young's signature tunes.
10. "Union Man" From 1980's Hawks & Doves, "Union Man" is a lost classic from an unheralded album. On the original vinyl release, "Union Man" appeared on the "Hawks" side and the song's lovely leftwing bent fits that label to a T.