The Top Ten Best Neil Young Albums

The Man himself

Neil Young is one of my three favorite songwriters of all time. He represents a lot of different moods and mental states in my opinion, but the one overall quality I love about Young is his stubbornness–no, obsessiveness–to be nothing but himself and what he wants to be at that given moment. Granted, this can make for horrible as well as amazing moments. For now, I’m focusing on the amazing ones–here are the Top 10 Best Neil Young Albums.

10. Time Fades Away (1973)
Neil Young himself has called this “the worst record I ever made – but as a documentary of what was happening to me, it was a great record.” There was a lot of tension within the band (not Crazy Horse, but The Stray Gators), and it’s easy to tell at times. But songs like “Journey Through The Past”, “Love in Mind” and “Don’t Be Denied” are vintage Young tunes that still resonate. Unfortunately, it’s the only Neil Young record that has not been given the old reissue/remaster treatment.

9. Harvest (1972)
Here it is, the Neil Young album that everyone knows about, and for a good reason—it’s really damn good. It seems any album containing “Needle and the Damage Done” is going to just bust some heads open, and that’s pretty much what Harvest did. Looking back on Young’s catalog, however, it’s not the Holy Grail. Many of Young’s records are more consistent and memorable—shall we take a look?

8. On The Beach (1974)
An early sign that Young was not your average assembly line, Brill Building style songwriter, On The Beach was Young putting his defenses up, letting the world know that he would create the sort of music that he damn well wanted to and that we shouldn’t have any expectations of him. I’d personally like to thank him for that, because now, I don’t feel like I need to buy all of his records—just the ones I like! I really love this one, though. “Walk On” and “Ambulance Blues” are both killers, and “See the Sky About to Rain” is one of my favorite Neil Young songs.

7. Zuma (1975)
This is the most rocking Neil Young and Crazy Horse album that is strictly a studio album. Ragged Glory could be up there if it had more good songs, but Zuma nails it on all fronts. Save for a couple slower acoustic jams (which are amazing), every track on this album is a scorcher, especially the unforgiving “Cortez the Killer”. It also has some of Young’s best bad vocals ever, notably on the awesome “Barstool Blues”.

6. Sleeps With Angels (1994)
I appreciate the weirdness of this album, and it helped me to wrap my head around what Young was all about a little more. Sleeps With Angels is more a pastiche of fragmented ideas than a traditional album, but this is effective in presenting the musical version of a dream-like state, where randomness just kind of floats around. Plus, Young and Crazy Horse are simply on FIRE in these recordings. Check out the near-15-minute “Change Your Mind” for proof.

5. Harvest Moon (1992)
No, not Harvest. This is the better album. The one-two opening gut-wrench of “Unknown Legend” and “From Hank to Hendrix” is the stuff classic albums are made of, and here Young did it so late into his career, the album alone probably made a bunch of old rockers wish they hadn’t given up so soon. Kids, watch the movie Rachel Getting Married to see the lead singer for TV on the Radio sing “Unknown Legend” a capella so you can justify going out and buying this amazing(ly uncool) record.

4. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)
It’s gotta be in the top five, at least, since it has “Cinnamon Girl”, the title track, “Down by the River”, and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. That’s more or less a whole album’s worth of classic material right there. The other songs may not be as good, but they are most certainly still great. It’s a little too produced by the standards Young later set for himself, but that doesn’t keep it from being a monster.

3. Tonight’s the Night (1975)
One of those unique albums that transcends any sort of label, Tonight’s The Night is not the catharsis, but what happens on the way to that catharsis—whether it be grieving, insanity, depression, anxiety, or country ham. Dedicated to a roadie (Bruce Berry) and band member (Danny Whitten) who both died of drug overdoses, the album has an appropriately drowsy, haphazard vibe.

2. Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
This one may as well be tied with number one. It’s just such a perfect record. One of the best things about it is how it showcases Young’s dichotomy as a songwriter—side one is solo acoustic, side two is with Crazy Horse. It’s all live, but all the songs were new to the audience, which is a move totally worthy of Neil Young. Maybe he just didn’t care that they had never heard the material before; OR, maybe he knew it was so damn great that no one would give a shit.

1. After the Gold Rush (1970)
This is a perfect album, and easily one of my top 5 or 10 favorites of all time. It represents that moment when Young first started realizing where his strengths lie in the studio and stripped everything down to the bare essentials. And, most notably, no more vocal overdubs! More importantly, the songwriting is so consistently great, you almost don’t even notice there is a cover in there! (Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me”)

Here’s a wicked performance of “Down by the River” by Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Note Crosby’s gnome-like rock moves.

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35 Responses to “The Top Ten Best Neil Young Albums”

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  5. GLENN DAVIS Says:

    I always give a little chuckle. when someone brings out a top 10 listing of a singers albums!
    Let’s face it, everyone has a different bench mark, or measuring stick, and so their opinion is purely subjective!
    They same applies too, when someone touts a particular guitarist as being the best!
    The best?……..compared to who?
    We all have favourite albums by particular groups or singers, and for whatever reason that may be, it all comes down to individual taste and preferences.
    For example, the guys top 10 for Neil Young.
    For me Harvest is a lot better than After the Goldrush!
    So already there is a conflict of opinion.
    But hey, we live in a Democracy right, and we are all entitled to that!!:)

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Glenn!

      I totally agree with everything you’ve said here (well, not that thing about Harvest, obviously, but that should go without saying). Everyone does have different preferences, different opinions, etc. about what makes great music, great films, great writing, or great anything. For me, this is exactly the reason why I write stuff like this. I have always been fascinated by a good little debate, especially in the topic of music. Music is history, expression, fiction and non-fiction, introspection (religious and otherwise), and it just encapsulates the human experience so well for me. Thus, I tend to go on these little rants about stuff I really like, or don’t like for that matter. For instance, I can’t for the life of me understand how so many people actually FORM THEIR MUSICAL TASTES based off of what singers are on American Idol. If you are one of these people (which I assume you aren’t because you obviously are a Neil Young fan, and I can’t imagine many NY fans being that into American Idol), I apologize if I have offended you. I apologize if any of my top ten offended you. But for me, one of the most fun and important aspect os music is expression, and that includes expression from the listener and experiencer of said music. And I’d also like to point out that Harvest IS #9 on the list…it made the top ten, and for a guy like Neil Young who has recorded almost 60 albums, that’s pretty damn good! Again, thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Glenn Says:

        Thanks Sir for your site!:)…How I wish there were more enthusiasts who did this sort of thing, to the degree you are!..Keep this site running, and let so many people enjoy your love and passion for this great Artist!

      • recordgeekheaven Says:

        You are welcome, good sir! Thanks very much for reading and supporting. 😀

      • ray ford Says:

        Hey mr record geek: if thats your real name? I found it
        interesting you name ‘see the sky about to rain’ one of your very favorites. A very good song, nice distorted keyboard. but it’s a little too long and the drumming on the chorus sounds uninspiring.A song that long needs a bigger dimension to it. However Young’s ‘Alburqurque’ is the most beautiful slowburn ballad one could possibly experience. From the “cascading harmonies through the chorus to the dramatically heartfelt harmonica break. With an emotionally filled steel guitar delivering great depth to this masterpiece.This song tipifys a person coming to terms with loss. but the realization life must go on, and find those “fried eggs and country ham”.

      • recordgeekheaven Says:

        Hey Ray!
        Again, I appreciate you reading and commenting. What are you trying to convince me of, exactly? That “Albuquerque” is a better song than “See the Sky”? Aren’t we kinda splitting hairs at this point? They are both amazing tunes.

  6. rastronomicals Says:

    Here’s a vote for On The Beach # 1

  7. tylerdaviddurden Says:

    Thanks recordgeekheaven, I really enjoyed reading that.
    I’ve only just got into Neil Young and I’m loving discovering his great music! I can’t believe such great music was here all along and I’m only really finding out about it now.
    I love the ‘Harvest’ album, it’s got so many great classic tracks such as ‘out on the weekend’, ‘old man’, ‘the needle and the damage done’ and the brilliant ‘heart of gold’, so I have to say that’s my favourite at the moment followed closely by ‘Everybody knows this is Nowhere’ and ‘After the Goldrush’.
    I love that video of ‘Down by the River’ with Crosby,Stills and Nash!
    The BBC Sessions from 1971 are equally brilliant and worth watching and another favourite of mine is the Helpless video from the Bands’ Last Waltz.The backstory of this video is very amusing with Martin Scorsese having to airbrush a glob of cocaine from Young’s left nostril.The song features beautiful backing vocals from Joni Mitchell who sung from behind the stage.She performed three songs with the Band later in the night and was hidden of the stage during Young’s performance in order to give more impact and surprise to her appearance later in the night.Apparently the backstage area was a completely white room wherein there were copious amounts of cocaine.The room was decorated with plastic noses and an audio cassette played noises of sniffing noses in the background.

  8. Larry Says:

    I’ve never listened to 10, 8, or 6 beforeother than what songs might have been on decade..The other records would be on my list too.Harvest Moon over Harvest.I wouldn’t have thought that when HM first came out but it has stood the test of time and is now a classic in itself.

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  10. Blondie Says:

    Wow, “Comes A Time” couldn’t crack your top ten, nor “Live Rust”?

    There’s a couple on your list I need to hear, clearly. Cheers.

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      Thanks for the comment! I love quite a few songs on “Comes a Time”, but not enough to push it into my top ten. Great album, though. As for “Live Rust”, I count that more as a compilation album than a proper album – obviously it doesn’t matter that it’s live, since many of Neil’s proper albums are (like “Rust Never Sleeps” for example, which is my #2), but it does contain all previously released material. It is definitely one of the best live albums ever released, though.

      • Blondie Says:

        Yeah, I thought a little more after posting that comment; if side 2 of Comes A Time was in the same league as side 1, it would be Neil’s best, but as it stands it (side 1) is simply one of the best sides ever recorded, but not the entire album.

  11. Travis Says:

    I think MirrorBall is underated, especially being recorded again very late in his career. But great list, Neil is a genious and a true artist.

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Travis! I don’t hate Mirror Ball either – “I’m the Ocean” is a really great tune. But honestly, not much else comes to mind for me. If I think of a NY record and can only think of one or two songs I like right away, I know it’s not one of my faves cuz my fave Neil albums are good all the way through!

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  14. Al Says:

    As disgusted as you may be, I actually nearly place 1982’s Trans into this mix. Sorry about that.

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      Thanks for reading! I’m not disgusted at all, actually. I completely understand why people love that record. I think there has been a burgeoning school of music forming over the last decade or so that is completely different from anything I have grown to know and love over the years – one that focuses on electronics and digital machines as a means of creating music. It has been frustrating for me to put my tastes out on a limb in this environment, because this school is getting bigger and more widespread, and I feel as if it is becoming more relevant to modern music listeners than the school I have grown up in. However, one must always continue to attempt to learn and grow and develop thier tastes, if anything as a way of facing one’s own pre-conceived notions of things. I’ve gotten so many negative comments about putting Trans on my “worst of” list and leaving it off the “best of” that I am thinking I should go back and revisit it…however, I have listened to it more than a few times, and I still think it’s pretty much just not my bag. One never knows what different moods and tastes the years may bring, however. Thank you so much for your comment!

  15. lejournaldupeintre Says:

    dont forget “dead man ” one of
    his best record ;

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      Thank you! I do love the music he made for that movie…I might like it better than the actual film, honestly.

  16. AJbach Says:

    I actually googled a top ten list for Neil Youngs best albums because my favorite is “after the gold rush”! Go figure…
    A close second is “harvest moon” mostly for nostalgia purposes.

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  18. ray ford Says:

    After nearly 100 listens to Tonights the night’, all i want to do is hear is again. what other lp on the planet can one say that about. I have Harvest’, unfortunately it was severly overproduced and Ive been over-it years ago. After the Gold rush’ has Young in folky whiny mode. Songs appeal but it has a feel of just going through the motions. (he was still Green)
    Young peaked with Tonights the Night, the raw honest gritty sound and the underproduction, enhance the products durability. this lp is why he’s known as the godfather of Grunge. Vocally he’s much cleaner, enhanced with genuine emotion. As more of a concept lp
    this allowed Young a clear direction of the subjects at hand. This lp to me is not just my fav Neil Young Lp; it’s my fav Lp of all time.

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      Hey Ray! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Obviously, I relate with your passion for the TTN album. It was part of the initial chunk of NY records that I got into back in my teenage years, and it will always be one of my favorites. It’s one of the most brutally honest and unflinching records of all time. I’m not sure if I agree with you that “vocally, he’s much cleaner” on this album – it has some of his most off-the-cuff vocals ever, in my opinion – but that’s not a bad thing. I love that about it, actually. And I disagree about him being “green” on Goldrush – I think that was the record where he really started to come into his own. It was the first one where he recorded all the vocals live, and all of those now-classic NY sounds really started to take shape on that record. However, I did have TTN at #3 on my list, and while that might not be high enough for you, it’s excellent placement when you consider the man has recorded almost 60 albums or something ridiculous like that. Thanks again for your comment!

  19. Daniel Droukis Says:

    As with the list of the worst Neil Young recordings I also applaud you for you efforts in the listing of the best. I am happy to see Time Fades Away and On the Beach here. I only disagree with the choice of Sleeps with Angels which I was not impressed with and would not include it in my all time favorite top ten. Again, thanks for your efforts.

    • recordgeekheaven Says:

      I have gotten a lot of flack for including Sleeps With Angels, and for the life of me, I cannot understand why. I think it is one of his most courageous albums. “Change Your Mind” is one of my all-time favorite NY songs, and I love how there are song fragments that just kind of float around the album and appear and re-appear in all these strange places. In a way, it feels like the blueprint of an album, or an almost-finished one, but that’s what I love about it. It is pure NY – he always wants things to feel off-the-cuff and spontaneous, and I think he rolls with that on SWA more than any of his albums other than Tonight’s The Night. It was also one of the first NY albums I ever heard, so maybe I just have a soft spot for it. Once again though, I really appreciate you reading and commenting!

  20. Daniel Droukis Says:

    I don’t really dislike Sleeps with Angels, its just that it wouldn’t be on my top ten, yet wouldn’t be on my hated list either. Like I said, there is a lot to choose from over an extremely long period. Its just that when you listen to some of the stuff he never recorded its rather disappointing that many of those were not recorded yet lousy albums were recorded instead.

  21. Novella Says:

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  22. Rodrigo de Marqui Says:

    My Top 10

    1 – Rust Never Sleeps
    2 – Tonight´s The Night
    3 – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
    4 – On The Beach
    5 – Harvest
    6 – American Stars N´ Bars
    7 – Psychedelic Pill
    8 – Zuma
    9 – Sleep With Angels
    10 – After The Gold Rush

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