Since blasting out of the Canadian prairies with Buffalo Springfield in 1966, Neil Young has been many things: productive, inconsistent, demanding, contrary. Many fun things. But as the decades pile up and the songs mount, what Neil determines is worthy of releasing gets muddier. Like Dylan, there are legendary songs that are known only to bootleg hunters. This list is by no mean exhaustive and purely subjective. If nothing else, this ought to get more than a few of you to scour Sugarmountain, Thrasher’s Wheat and Rust Radio for more of the untapped Neil. I’ve included a few of my favourite album cuts that don’t get the recognition they deserve. But ask me in a week, I might have a completely different list for you.
10. ‘Fountainbleau,’ 1976, from Long May You Run by Stills-Young Band
From a howler of an album, the unwieldy yawn that is Long May You Run there does arise a rare burp of creative energy. Here it is, the full four minutes that salvages an entire album. Probably could have used the Crazy Horse stomp, The Ducks pub-rock crunch or The Stray Gators lilt, but as it is this will do.
9. ‘Touch The Night,’ 1986, from Landing On Water
At the lowest peak of his career, Neil Young didn’t give a fuck. And the videos he was making with Tim Pope? Mind blowing. Too bad few people ever saw them. From the most divisive album of Neil’s career (I love it!), Neil donned nerd specks and one of Alex Trebek’s old jackets for a scathing commentary on the nature of modern day news media. Little it would seem has changed, but the portability of the gear.
8. ‘Lost In Space,’ 1980, from Hawks and Doves
A rare standout on an otherwise unimpressive album, ‘Lost In Space’ is one of the weirder nuggets rolling around Neil’s barn of unheralded songs. Here in this clip, the song is resurrected for a 2009 performance.
7.’Misfits,’ 1985, from Old Ways
A dabble of hallucinatory weirdness to close the first side of a country album? Sure, Neil. Whatever you want so long as Waylon Jennings is there. Only the mind of Neil Young could write something this bizarre, yet strangely evocative track. The album as a whole is unfairly maligned, too.
6. ‘Walkin’ To New Orleans,’ 2007, from A Tribute To Fats Domino
Neil doesn’t do many covers but this, by far, is his most gracious and heartfelt. Recorded for a Fats Domino tribute in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it finds Neil in great voice and backed by a stirring gospel choir.
5. ‘Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me,’ recorded 1983, released 1993, from Lucky Thirteen
Much can be said about Young’s love letter to 1950s rock and roll album, Everybody’s Rocking, but very little of it would be good. One of the albums that would lead to David Geffen‘s ridiculous lawsuit against Young, Everybody’s Rocking lead to an unusual tour: mixing a solo set with a set by The Shocking Pinks, a fictional doo-wop band lead by Bernard Shakey (Neil with a Duckass haircut) who all perished in a plane crash before they made it famous. Got that? These concerts featured only a smattering of Eveybody’s Rocking, much to the relief of the audiences. This unrecorded highlight of the tour eventually saw light in 1993, but it begs the question: was this the sound Geffen wanted? Could Neil have saved himself loads of legal fees if he’d dropped ‘Jelly Roll Man’ in favour of this barnstormer?
4. ‘Interstate,’ 1985, unreleased acoustic version
Almost as classic an obscurity as any of Young’s actual hits, ‘Interstate’ had bandied about for a few projects and in both stripped and pugged in versions before finally being released as a track on the vinyl release of the otherwise unspectacular Broken Arrow (1996).
3. ‘Cocaine Eyes,’ 1989, from Eldorado (Japan-only release)
An absolute skull-thumping rager. No, that’s not Crazy Horse, that’s Neil and his Freedom band, The Restless. (Get it? Young and the Restless?) Left off Freedom it was collected on an EP for the Japanese market, becoming an instant collectors item. Apparently written about Neil’s “old friend” Stephen Stills.
2. ‘Dead Man Theme’ – 1996, Promo-release only
Anyone who bought the score to the Jim Jarmusch Head-meets-Sergio Leone western were no doubt confused by 1/ the one-track sequencing, 2/ the mix of movie dialogue, poetry readings of Johnny Depp and Young’s random stabs of score and 3/ the lack of the movie’s theme song. This haunting piece has Young’s acoustic and electric sides duelling for supremacy.
1. ‘Pushed It Over the End’- 1974, with Crosby, Stills and Nash, unreleased
One of the most legendary songs of Neil’s, aided by Crosby, Stills and Nash. From an aborted CSNY album in 1974, here is a clip of the merry group, starring a barely-hinged, live-wire Neil – this was cut during his In The Ditch era, after all – with a song that, for no good earthly reason, has never officially released. With rumours of CSNY Wembley box set heating up, might this mofo get the proper release it (and we) deserve? As with many things Neil related, it’s best not to hold one’s breath.