It seems like, more than any other artist, NY's "best" albums are a matter of personal preference rather than a consensus. For example, Dylan's top albums are pretty agreed upon (B on B, Highway 61, B on the Tracks, Time out Mind) and just their relative order would change depending the listener.
So, with that, here are Neil Young's top 10 albums in my mind:
1) Everybody Knows this is Nowhere 2) Zuma 3) Tonight's the Night 4) Rust Never Sleeps 5) After the Gold Rush 6) Silver and Gold (I much prefer this to Harvest Moon, and it's my favorite "acoustic" NY album) 7) Greendale (I know there's a split on this one, but I fall in the category of thinking it's fantastic) 8) Harvest (maybe should be higher) 9) Ragged Glory 10) Are You Passionate (many don't care for this album, but I like it quite a bit)
Honorable mention: Le Noise (may creep into the top 10 eventually)
If you don't mind me adding a recent "Live" archive release...
1. After the Goldrush 2. Harvest 3. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere 4. Live Rust 5. Live at Massey Hall 1971 6. Harvest Moon 7. Rust Never Sleeps 8. On The Beach 9. Time Fades Away 10. Tonight's The Night Zuma Neil Young (tied)
1A. Tonight's the Night 1B. On the Beach 3. After the Gold Rush 4. Zuma 5. Time Fades Away 6. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere 7. Harvest 8. Rust Never Sleeps 9. Ragged Glory 10a. Greendale 10b. Sleeps with Angels 10c. Neil Young
That is somewhat in order, but the order can change any given day depending on mood. Neil is so diverse that he's basically like ten different artists all rolled up into one to create the greatest musical genius to ever live, in my opinion. 6.
This is highly subjective and in the order I happened to think of them. If I made a new list tomorrow there would be a few changes. I like the Greendale, Prairie Wind (officially "Harvest"), Berlin, and Live at Red Rocks movies / DVDs too.
After the Gold Rush On the Beach Hawks and Doves Time Fades Away Le Noise Freedom Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere Zuma Trans Rust Never Sleeps
I think my most disappointing new album listening experience ever was Harvest as a follow-up to After the Gold Rush.
After the Goldrush Neil Young Harvest Sleeps with Angels Rust Never Sleeps Trans Chrome Dreams II Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House Greendale Broken Arrow
... Like many, those choices might change tomorrow, and I admit the selection process is likely biased by my desire to bring some forgotten gems to attention. I like On the Beach a lot, too, but couldn't switch it out for Greendale. Likewise, Broken Arrow is simply more interesting to me than Ragged Glory, or the nonetheless excellent Weld. Actually, Neil's live albums tend to be highlights. Pretty much all the archival releases so far have been great and it was hard to choose just one of them, but Canterbury is the one that stands out right now. Road Rock also has its detractors, but I think that album may actually contain my favorite versions of Cowgirl in the Sand, Tonight's the Night, and Words. Live Rust was pretty good, too, though I think that performance is best appreciated via the DVD, which includes the additional Welfare Mothers, one of my favorites, and a charming rendition of the brilliant acoustic Thrasher, complete with Neil flubbing a line and being utterly non-chalant about it. But no, the album release had to retain Lotta Love instead, presumably because it was a hit.
I should also say, if I may be so bold, that some of the albums often considered classics only stand out to me for one for a few tracks. 'American Stars' is an obvious example, being most well-known for 'Like a Hurricane. 'Everybody Knows this is Nowhere', however, I remember as the 'Cowgirl in the Sand' album (along with the underrated Round and Round and Requiem for the Rockets, which easily beat out the other electric numbers for me), while I remember Zuma primarily for Cortez and Danger Bird, while the rest doesn't stick with me as much. Maybe that's just what happens when you have one or a couple excellent tracks that overshadow the rest of an album.
Either way, sorry if I've caused any offense, but there you have it.
... Like many, my choices would probably change tomorrow.
I agree, but isn't it interesting that at least for me I find Barstool Blues on Zuma to be the gem. Almost every Neil album, including Le Noise, there are at least a couple of memorable tracks that carry the day. I am not sure that Le Noise will be considered a classic. I don't care for Angry World or Sign of Love much, but Peaceful Valley Boulevard and Hitchhiker are first class Neil songs.
Although this seems kind of silly, I will play along with you all. If trapped on a deserted island, here are the 10 NY albums, in chronological order by release date, that I would want with me. This assumes, I have the proper playback equipment and power source on the island as well.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere - for me, Neil's definitive sound on mostly well written strong songs. Zuma - Just a great collection of songs that rock. American Stars and Bars - Side 2 by itself makes this album inclusion critical. Comes A Time - more "Harvest" here than "Harvest". Neil's cover of Four Strong Winds is essential. Rust Never Sleeps - Side 1 is probably the closest to perfect Neil has ever come. Trans - hasn't aged as well as the others, but this has always been a favorite of mine. Sample and Hold could very well be Neil's best love song ever. This Note's For You - stylistic, but it works. Freedom - some of Neil's finest songs on one album. Ragged Glory - Neil really stretches out here giving us great guitar solo workouts that hadn't been heard since EKTIN. Sleeps With Angels - The duplicity of this album always keeps me coming back.
Honorable Mention - Living With War - This actually works as a concept album and the songs all tie nicely together. Let's Impeach the President is a gem.
Notable exclusions - Harvest (not that strong of an album - listen to it again), Tonight's the Night (unaccessible album and likely included on lists because people think they need to like it), On the Beach (I like it well enough, but it is a weak album overall).
good choice Joshua...but I can add a few to the list... Harvest Harvest Moon Tonight's the night Freedom Ragged Glory Sleeps with Angels Decade Weld(best live Album-bar none) Broken Arrow and maybe,Chrome Dreams 11,also after one listen,Le Noise could break into the ten!! Neil is such a versatile artist...there is other c-d's that can make the cut.
After Danger Bird and Cortez, Barstool Blues is the next one from Zuma that would pop into my head. Danger Bird, though, is the favorite for me on there.
On Le Noise, Sign of Love isn't one of my favorites, either, though Lanois' production helps it a bit. Angry World has kind of grown on me. It's not hugely complex, but then again, summing four different world views that concisely can be a virtue. So far, the favorites are Walk With me, Someone's Gonna Rescue You, Love and War, and Peaceful Valley Boulevard. Hitchhiker's pretty good, too. Rumblin' keeps getting more interesting. Love and War, though--that's the one I keep wanting to hear again: one of the most moving and substantial songs he's done in a while, and the guitar work suits it perfectly. Walk with Me was another immediate success story: "I feel your love/I feel your strong love" really grabbed me at first, not to even mention that bombastic first chord that rams into your ears when you turn the CD on.
I'd also clarify regarding Ragged Glory: I think the feeling and the overall sound, but when it comes to the songs, the quality runs the gamut from Love to Burn to Farmer John. I don't think all the *songs* on that album were really great. Which is where 'Weld' does a great service by hitting some of the highlights, combining them with the even stronger classic material. (And a really moving and all-around brilliant cover of Dylan's 'Blowin' the Wind'.)
For fans of the Horse, I'd also recommend reconsidering Broken Arrow and the accompanying live 'Year of the Horse'--some good jams there. I especially like Loose Change, Slip Away, and the acoustic Music Arcade. If memory serves, there are also excellent versions of 'Danger Bird' and 'Mr. Soul' on YOTH. 'Barstool Blues', too. A lot of 'Broken Arrow' felt a natural continuation of 'Sleeps with Angels' to me (SWA being one of my all-time favorite Neil Young records for future reference.) In retrospect, the '90s was a pretty good decade for Neil, especially where the psychologically unstable equine was concerned.
Interesting, Steve. About Tonight's the Night, when I think of it, I tend to agree and wonder if it's the case with a lot of the classics, hence another reason neither TTN and OTB is on my list. OTB got close. Like I said, Greendale edged it out. I've talked about Ragged Glory--great sound, variant songs, enough said.I absolutely agree with about Sleeps with Angels, though. Really brilliant album I find myself gravitating to again and again. I actually like Broken Arrow a good bit, too, but SWA is the Crazy Horse masterwork of the '90s for me. The songs are substantial enough almost to swamp you with their depth, and certainly with their compellingly heavy and labored sound. 'Blue Eden' gives me different mental images every time. 'Driveby' is tragically beautiful, with some of Neil's most touching music. 'Prime of Life' is grippingly enigmatic with a driving melody and intriguing flute part, 'Change Your Mind' one of the most passionate pieces of rock music I've ever heard-- an anguished yet exquisite plea--a real show of compassion for the suffering of one's fellow human beings.
The bookend songs I could go on for paragraphs about. Suffice it to say that 'A Dream that Can Last' is one of the most uplifting, simultaneously exhilarating and comforting things my ears have ever taken in. See, I think that's one issue with Tonight's the Night. It finishes where it started out, quite literally. In the sphere of fiction writing, this phenomenon would be known as a flat character. Sleeps with Angels, by comparison, has a real resolution. One makes a journey from the beginning to end--namely, from desolation to hope--which makes it "round" as opposed to "flat". Sacrilege though this may be, I think that also makes it the more interesting, valuable, and lastingly relevant of the two. I always have thought it odd that an album seemingly so bleak from the outset should come around, by the time of its conclusion, to be a monument to hope--that most priceless spiritual commodity. I'm sure Neil is as aware of the theme's universal applicability as the attentive listener.