A Letter Home (and the Top 5 Neil Young Songs You’ve Never Heard)
Between 1968 and now, Neil Young has penned and released an incredible 34 studio albums. That doesn’t even include the records he did with Crosby, Stills and Nash, or indeed any of his live albums and compilations – if you add all those in it takes his tally to well over 50, making him one of the most prolific artists in the modern era. After a vinyl-only release for this year’s Record Store Day, next week studio album no. 35, A Letter Home, hits the shelves on general release.
Recorded in Nashville at Jack White’s Third Man Records Studios, A Letter Home is a selection of cover versions by the likes of Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Bert Jansch and Ivory Joe Hunter, to name a few. White himself even appears on two tracks from the album, contributing vocals and piano on renditions of The Everly Brothers’ ‘I Wonder If I Care As Much’ and Willie Nelson’s ‘On The Road Again’, one of the album’s highlights.
With such a vast back catalogue there are any number of well-known hits in Neil Young’s repertoire - 'Cinnamon Gir','Harvest Moon', 'Rockin’ in The Free World' – the list goes on and on. But for every chart-busting hit there are several songs from each of his albums that are far less well-known, particularly from the material released during the 1980s while he enjoyed – or endured – a tumultuous relationship with his label at that time, Geffen.
So, with that in mind, we decided to dig out five of the best Neil Young songs you’ve (probably) never heard. Here goes…
(taken from Re-ac-tor)
Featuring on Young’s 1981 album Re-ac-tor, this track is nine minutes of glorious, stomping blues riffing whose only lyrics are as follows: “Got mashed potato / Ain’t got no T-bone.” Grungy, gritty and utterly self-indulgent, but who cares when it's this good?
Sample and Hold
(taken from Trans)
1982’s Trans is without doubt one of the weirdest and most experimental records Neil Young ever released. Very much on an electronic vibe, Trans is awash with vocoders, synthesizers and drum machines. Of all the tracks on it, 'Sample and Hold' is the album’s highlight. The record didn’t go down too well with Geffen, who insisted that his next record must be a ‘rock & roll record’. Young duly delivered by following up with 1983’s Everybody’s Rockin’ – a proper, 1950s-style rock & roll album. Probably not what Geffen had in mind…
(taken from Old Ways)
By the time 1985 rolled around, Young switched directions again, this time releasing a country record in the shape of Old Ways. Thoroughly fed up with Young’s dabbling in different genres, Geffen were so enraged by this point they actually sued the veteran songwriter for making ‘unrepresentetive music’, whatever that means. Despite this, it’s still a pretty great record and ‘Misfits’ is one of the standout tracks. A slow number with a thudding bassline, sonically it falls somewhere in between Talking Heads’ ‘And She Was’ and The White Stripes' version of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ and there’s a fragility to Young’s voice that makes this track quite endearing.
(taken from Le Noise)
Taken from 2010’s Le Noise, this track is equal parts fuzzed-up, distorted rhythm guitars and jangling leads that form an odd but beautifully balanced soundscape, underpinning a delicate vocal the belies its cutting lyrics. Recorded in Los Angeles, there’s no backing band, just Neil Young on his own with vocals and guitars, and it’s both very cool and rather beautiful.
(taken from Broken Arrow)
Featuring on 1996’s Broken Arrow, this is a bit more of a straightforward Neil Young song, albeit one that’s quite lo-fi. It conjures up images of bands like Pavement with it’s lazy slacker groove accompanied with a blue-eyed, catchy melody. Why it isn’t more popular, we don’t know, but we love it all the same.