Neil Young: 20 Insanely Great Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know - Rolling Stone
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20 Insanely Great Neil Young Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know

Listen to lesser-known gems from Young’s catalog

Neil Young

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Neil Young has spent over 50 years writing songs. But even with 35 albums, there are a ton of tracks that have fallen by the wayside over the years. Some are from albums that never came out, while others were only played live a handful of times before disappearing completely. Here are 20 of our favorite lesser-known songs that are either unreleased or under-appreciated.

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“The Last Trip to Tulsa”

By the standards of most songwriters, Neil Young’s 1968 self-titled debut is an enormously strong album. Songs like “The Old Laughing Lady,” “The Loner” and “I’ve Been Waiting for You” are absolute classics. Still, expectations were extremely high for this disc and there’s a few too many clunkers like “String Quarter from Whiskey Boot Hill” and “Here We Are in the Years.” It wasn’t a huge hit and Young wouldn’t really become a superstar until he joined CSNY the following year. That means many people have forgotten the last track on the first album, a nearly 10-minute long, psychedelic trip called “The Last Trip to Tulsa.” We don’t know what Young was smoking when he wrote lines like “The servicemen were yellow/The gasoline was green,” but we want to try some.

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“Opera Star”

Re*act*tor remains one of the most underrated albums in Neil Young’s catalog. Recorded with Crazy Horse just two years after the Rust Never Sleep tour, it kicks off with “Opera Star,” the story of a fuck-up that learns he’s not meant for the world of high art. “You were born to rock,” Young sings. “You’ll never be an opera star.” The song came out of a long hibernation last year when Young toured Australia with Crazy Horse.

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“Sample and Hold”

Trans is the album that made David Geffen so angry that he ultimately sued Neil Young for recording “unrepresentative music.” Apparently he wasn’t paying much attention in the 1970s when Young bounced around between genres on most every release. Trans is a New Wave record where many of the lyrics are obscured by the use of a vocoder. “Sample and Hold” sounds like it could have been cut for a Kraftwerk album, though it was completely transformed at Young’s 1993 Unplugged concert.

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“Prisoners of Rock and Roll”

Neil Young fans were justifiably a little wary when Life hit shelves in the summer of 1987. His last few albums had been some of the worst of his entire career, especially the dismal Landing on Water from 1986. But those that didn’t give Life a chance really missed out. It’s a pretty stellar Crazy Horse record. The best moment is “Prisoners of Rock and Roll,” which is essentially Crazy Horse’s anthem. “We never listen to the record company man,” Young sings. “They try to change us and ruin our band.”

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“Over and Over”

Life may have been a strong album, but Neil Young and Crazy Horse truly returned to their glory days three years later with the release of Ragged Glory. It stands up with anything they did in the 1970s. "Over and Over" sounds like it was nailed on a single take on a perfect full moon night. After 22 years, Young finally brought it back onstage at a Red Rocks gig in August of 2012. It still sounded absolutely perfect. 

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“Change Your Mind”

The death of Kurt Cobain struck Neil Young extremely hard. Not only did the Nirvana frontman quote from “Hey Hey, My My” in his suicide note, but Young had been trying to reach the singer at the time of his death. He got the sense he was going through a very hard time and he wanted to give him advice. “Change Your Mind” was written before Cobain passed away, but it’s still basically the conversation that Young hoped to have with him.

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“Goin’ Home”

In 2001, Neil Young and Crazy Horse entered a California studio and attempted to record an entire album. For whatever reason, Young was unhappy with the results and he brought in Booker T. & The MG's to re-record the songs. The lone surviving Crazy Horse song from the eventual album, 2002's Are You Passionate?, was "Goin' Home." It's a spiritual cousin to "Cortez the Killer," and the single best song on the album. A few years back, Young made a pledge to release the Crazy Horse sessions on an album called Toast. We're still waiting to hear that thing. 

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“Sixty to Zero”

Unlike most of his peers, Young has never been afraid to try out unreleased songs in front of a live audience, even if the song isn't completely done. This was the case with "Sixty to Zero" in the summer of 1988, which was reworked the following year as "Crime in the City" on Freedom. The original was a full 20-minute epic played a mere 13 times in 1988. Thankfully, camcorders were a running and it's survived. For years it was only available for viewing on third-generation VHS tapes, but YouTube is an incredible thing. 

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