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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Neil Young Deep Cuts

See what managed to top “On the Beach,” “Expecting to Fly” and “Don’t Be Denied”

Neil Young

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 13th DECEMBER: Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young performs live on stage at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 13th December 1989. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Getty

Neil Young has released a ton of music over the past 50 years. Hell, in the past three years alone he's put out an astonishing five albums. He has enough famous tunes that it would be hard to pack them all into a four-hour concert, especially when you factor in his work with CSNY and Buffalo Springfield. But those songs still only represent a tiny sliver of his catalog. For every "Heart of Gold" there are 20 overlooked gems like "Stringman" and "L.A." To celebrate the impending release of his new LP The Monsanto Years, we had our readers vote for their favorite Neil Young deep cuts.

Tabulating the votes required a lot of judgement calls. It was a no-brainer to toss out votes for "Old Man" and "Cinnamon Girl," but "Cortez the Killer," "Powderfinger" and "Sugar Mountain" presented a minor conundrum. They aren't hits in the traditional sense, but the latter two appear on Decade while "Powderfinger" is his second most-performed tune (behind only "Cinnamon Girl.") We ultimately felt they were simply too famous to count even though they all got a ton of votes. Feel free to blast away in the comments section if you feel those were bad calls. 

Neil Young

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 13th DECEMBER: Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young performs live on stage at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 13th December 1989. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Getty

4

“Revolution Blues”

David Crosby got roped into playing guitar on this creepy On the Beach tune, but the tale of a Charles Manson-like figure freaked him out and to this day he says he doesn't care for the song. It's certainly hard to imagine the former Byrd writing a song from the perspective of a murderous psychopath with lines like, "Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars/But I hate them worse than lepers and I'll kill them in their cars." But it was a reflection of the difficult time when the (supposedly) peaceful 1960s had given way to the violent, coked-out 1970s. Young hasn't touched the song since a one-off Crazy Horse gig in 1987. 

Neil Young

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 13th DECEMBER: Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young performs live on stage at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 13th December 1989. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Getty

3

“Don’t Be Denied”

Neil Young had a rough childhood. His parents went through a nasty divorce and he was raised primarily by his mother, moving from town to town and constantly being the new kid in school. He poured these painful memories into "Don't Be Denied," a standout track from 1973's long out-of-print live LP Time Fades Away. "I wore white bucks on my feet," he sings. "When I learned the golden rule/The punches came fast and hard/Lying on my back in the school yard." It ends with the rise of Buffalo Springfield, and the realization that even success wouldn't make him happy. It's one of the most personal songs he ever wrote, and he's only played it three times since 1983. 

Neil Young

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 13th DECEMBER: Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young performs live on stage at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 13th December 1989. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Getty

2

“Ambulance Blues”

The second side of On the Beach wraps up with "Ambulance Blues," a stunningly brilliant, stream-of-conscious epic that ranks as one of Neil Young's greatest lyrical achievements, taking on everything from Richard Nixon ("I never knew a man could tell so many lies") to the sad state of Crosby, Stills and Nash ("You're all just pissin' in the wind/You don't know it but you are.") But it begins in a better place, looking back on the "old folky days" when "the air was magic when we played." But time made that magic fade away, and sorrow mixed with pity quickly seeps into the verses. The song sat dormant for a good many years, but in 1998 he made a shocking return at the Bridge School Benefit and then he played it every night on the 2007-'08 theater tour. 

Neil Young

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 13th DECEMBER: Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young performs live on stage at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 13th December 1989. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Getty

1

“Thrasher”

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young didn't do a lot of forward-looking work after 1970's Deja Vu, but their travails sure inspired Neil Young to write some great songs. The most devastating is 1979's "Thrasher," where he makes it quite clear why he walked away from the supergroup. "So I got bored and left them there," he sings. "They were just dead weight to me/Better down the road without that load." Ouch. Broadly speaking, it's a song about moving forward, even when it's painful and difficult, to avoid becoming a fossil. He also recalls watching "that great Grand Canyon rescue episode" of a TV show. Some people thought he was talking about The Brady Bunch, but it ran when he was a child so it's probably a 1950s western. 

Up until last year, Young hadn't played the song since the 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour, but then out of nowhere he busted it out at a Los Angeles theater show. "I haven't done it that much in my life," he said. "Because at a very vulnerable moment I read something about it. Just like the worst fucking review I've ever read. So, for all you reviewers, if you feel like your words don't mean anything, you're probably right. In that case, they were damaging." Well, maybe the fact it won this poll will reassure him that "Thrasher" is indeed a beloved song. 

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