Sunday, June 12, 2011

One Note Neil

Forever Young: When Ten Classic Songs Aren't Enough

Rolling Stone recently published its list of the Top Ten Neil Young songs, as selected by readers. They were invited to pick from anything he has played on from any time in his long career. While half of this list is undeniable, The Inky Jukebox would like to submit for consideration a slightly different Top Ten. For one thing, it’s a Top Fourteen. (We like to kick it old-school here at The Inky Jukebox.) Our list includes some classics that Rolling Stone's readers might have overlooked because others have the lead vocal; specifically "For What It's Worth" written by Stephen Stills, and "Almost Cut My Hair," David Crosby's hippie anthem whose fire is fueled by Young's incendiary electric guitar. 

In compiling this list, we noticed that you could slice it in half according to whether it was a Crazyhorse-type rock-your-face-off band number, or something Neil delivered best by himself.

The Fourteen Best Neil Young Songs 

Epic shredding battles:

Down By The River
Cortez The Killer
Southern Man
Cinnamon Girl
Almost Cut My Hair 

Transcendently melodic singing:

After The Gold Rush
The Needle and the Damage Done
Old Man
Heart of Gold
For What It’s Worth 

An old friend of The Inky Jukebox always called him “One Note Neil” due to his particular way of hitting the same note over and over in his solos. The Edge does the same thing. Listen to the opening notes of U2’s “I Will Follow” to compare.

The Inky Jukebox has enjoyed its share of loud concerts over the years, but by far the loudest was Neil Young touring with Crazyhorse. Man, they turned those amps up to 11 and melted the place down. It gives you new respect for an old dude who can rock out with that much passion. Did they do any softer numbers? Fuck no. Yours truly was deaf for days.

Like math geniuses, most of Young’s best were written before he was 30; nothing on this list was released later than 1975. Prodigious though he is, these are the songs folks want to hear him sing. Now of course, he has a touch of grizzly in his voice, but listen to those 1971 performances to hear how pure it once was.

One Note Neil isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; you either love him or hate him. But you can’t claim to be a real fan unless you have Zuma in your collection. Stories about how fucked up Young was when he wrote many of his early songs, but for sheer by-the-seat-of-your-pants recording, this album tops them all. People know it for “Cortez The Killer,” but “Stupid Girl” is notable too, for its punk-like avoidance of structure or logic of any kind. The cover must also count as the most half-assed in all of music history.

Speaking of reaching back to one's golden years (as opposed to entering them), Neil Young is currently touring with a reunited Buffalo Springfield, a band he last played with in 1968. You can read about it here

Decade is a good triple-CD set for anyone wanting to check out most of these songs in one place. The Inky Jukebox recommends it as an essential addition to your collection. One note is enough, if this note's for you.  

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