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Readers’ Poll: The Best Neil Young Albums of All Time

Your picks include ‘Ragged Glory,’ ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ and ‘Time Fades Away’

Readers' Poll: What Is Neil Young's Best Album?

Jan Persson/Redferns

Last week, Neil Young and Crazy Horse ended their eight-year break with a triumphant new tour kickoff in Albuquerque. We figured this was a good time to ask our readers to vote for their favorite Neil Young album. The results range over a 30-year period from 1969 to 1992, though the vast majority of the selected albums were released in the 1970s. It was an incredibly fruitful time for Young when he was recording albums at a faster rate than his label could even release them. Click through to see your top 10. 

By Andy Greene

10. 'Time Fades Away'

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10. ‘Time Fades Away’

In early 1973, Neil Young should have been on top of the world. His most recent record Harvest had propelled him to stardom, and the single "Heart of Gold" was one of the the most popular songs of the previous year. A 62-date arena tour was booked, and it should have been a triumphant victory lap – but painful back problems, the recent death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, band tension and Young's general unease with fame turned it into an endless slog. Young also decided to challenge the audience by playing a ton of unreleased material that wound up on the 1973 live disc, Time Fades Away. While songs like "L.A." and "Don't Be Denied" are absolutely brilliant, this wasn't the disc people were pining for and it sold poorly. He has yet to release it on CD. 

"Nobody expected Time Fades Away and I'm not sorry I put it out," Young told Rolling Stone's Cameron Crowe in 1975. "I didn't need the money, I didn't need the fame. You gotta keep changing. Shirts, old ladies, whatever. I'd rather keep changing and lose a lot of people along the way. If that's the price, I'll pay it. I don't give a shit if my audience is 100 or 100 million. It doesn't make any difference to me. I'm convinced that what sells and what I do are two completely different things. If they meet, it's coincidence. 

9. 'Ragged Glory'

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9. ‘Ragged Glory’

Neil Young spent much of the 1980s experimenting with different genres, from new wave and country to rockabilly and blues. While all these albums all have great moments, they weren't exactly what his fanbase was craving; label boss David Geffen even sued Young for recording "unrepresentative music." But in 1990, Young called Crazy Horse back into the studio and cut a rock disc that stands up to anything he did back in the 1970s. "Country Home," "Love to Burn" and "Fuckin' Up" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Rust Never Sleeps, and this was just the beginning of Young's huge comeback. A new genre of music would break big the next year, and journalists started calling Young the "Godfather of Grunge." 

8. 'Harvest Moon'

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8. ‘Harvest Moon’

From the minute Harvest hit the top of the charts in 1972, Neil Young faced pressure to record a follow-up record with the same country-rock sound. It took him 20 years to finally do it. "People had been asking me to do it for 20 years, and I never could figure out what it was in the first place,'' Young told Rolling Stone in 1993, adding that he wrote a bunch of songs in Colorado that evoked the old Harvest sound in his head. "That's when I discovered what the hell I was doing, but only because the songs made me do it. It just happened again, whatever it was that happened back then.'' The disc reunited Young with many of the same musicians he worked with on Harvest, including James Taylor and Ronstadt on background vocals. The disc was a huge success, firmly establishing Young as one of the few 1970s rock acts capable of creating work on par with their classics. 

7. 'Zuma'

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7. ‘Zuma’

Neil Young's association with Crazy Horse could have ended after the death of Danny Whitten in 1972, but just three years later, Young recruited guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro into the band and cut Zuma. Many fans see it as the high-water mark of his long career with Crazy Horse; songs like "Cortez the Killer" have been a regular part of his setlist for years since. "I've got all these songs about Peru, the Aztecs and the Incas," Young told Cameron Crowe in 1975. "Time travel stuff. We've got one song called 'Marlon Brando, John Ehrlichman, Pocahontas and Me,' I'm playing a lot of electric guitar and that's what I like best. Two guitars, bass and drums. And it's realy flying off the ground too. Fucking unbelievable . . . I think I'll call it My Old Neighborhood. Either that or Ride My Llama." He ultimately went with Zuma, and "Pocahontas" wouldn't see the light of day for another two years. By that point Watergate was no longer fresh in people's memories and he ditched the John Ehrlichman.

6. 'Rust Never Sleeps'

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6. ‘Rust Never Sleeps’

Neil Young and Crazy Horse went on the road in the fall of 1978, playing a mixture of classics and brand new tunes like "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," "Powderfinger" and "Sedan Delivery." They took the songs into a studio, overdubbed a little over them, and produced Rust Never Sleeps. Half acoustic and half electric, the disc doesn't have a single weak moment. The punk revolution was making many 1970s superstars seem like dinosaurs, but Neil Young seemed as current as ever. He even name checks Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten by name on "Hey Hey, My My." It would be another decade before Young would release an album this strong. 

5. 'On The Beach'

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5. ‘On the Beach’

For many, many years, On the Beach was Neil Young's great lost album. The LP didn't generate a lot of heat when it came out in 1974, and Young didn't release it on CD until 2003. Its absence from the marketplace turned it into somewhat of a mythical album, and those who dug it up in the pre-Internet days discovered an incredibly depressing album about the perils of fame. The opener "Walk On" confronts Young's critics, while the creepy "Revolution Blues" is told from the perspective of a Charles Manson-like serial killer. Side two is a more serene affair. "Ambulance Blues" and "On the Beach" are two of the strongest songs Young has ever written, and two of the saddest. 

"On the Beach is probably one of the most depressing records I've ever made," Young told Rolling Stone in 1975. "I don't want to get down to the point where I can't even get up. I mean there's something to going down there and looking around, but I don't know about sticking around."

4. 'Tonight's the Night'

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4. ‘Tonight’s the Night’

On the Beach may be a depressing album, but it's positively sunny next to Tonight's the Night. The disc was cut very quickly in late 1973, while Young was reeling from the loss of Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. It has a rushed,  haphazard vibe that you rarely get from a major record. "Putting this album out is almost an experiment," Young told Cameron Crowe in 1975. "I fully expect some of the most determinedly worst reviews I've ever had. I mean if anybody really wanted to let go, they could do it on this one. And undoubtedly a few people will." Like many of Young's mid-1970s albums, Tonight's the Night slowly grew in legend as the years went on and is now considered one of his best. 

3. 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere'

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3. ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’

When Buffalo Springfield split up in 1968, it was far from certain that Neil Young would continue to have a career. After all, he was just the guitar player from a one-hit wonder band. Richie Furay and Stephen Stills sang most of the songs. Neil was the guy in the fringe jacket that kept quitting. His self-titled debut in 1968 wasn't a huge hit, but just six months later he released Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It was the moment people realized Young was a major talent that wasn't going anywhere. "Cinnamon Girl" got him on the charts for the first time, and "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" were the beginning of a four-decade jam with Crazy Horse that's still going. 

2. 'After the Gold Rush'

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2. ‘After the Gold Rush’

Between the time he recorded Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush, Neil Young joined a little group called Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. To put it mildly, they were a big success and they dramatically increased Young's profile. People rushed out to buy After the Gold Rush when it hit in the summer of 1970, and they weren't disappointed. It's a brilliant showcase for Young's range, from the sci-fi piano ballad "After the Gold Rush" to the angry protest of "Southern Man." The tunes blasted out of every car and dorm in in the country for the next year or so.

1. 'Harvest'

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1. ‘Harvest’

No matter how much success Neil Young had before or after 1972, the lasting image many people have of the singer is of him singing "Heart of Gold" with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. The song shot to Number One that year and was inescapable. "Old Man" and the "Needle and the Damage Done" hammered the acoustic troubadour image home even further, even though Young spent the next 20 years doing everything he could do shake that image. The disc was cut in Nashville, London and at Young's California ranch with an all-star band dubbed the Stray Gators.  It was the beginning of a very long and fruitful relationship with pedal steel guitar player Ben Keith. In the liner notes of his 1977 compilation Decade, Young wrote about this time period. The quote has probably been regurgitated more times than anything else the man ever wrote, largely because it explains his next few albums with such clarity. "'Heart of Gold' put me in the middle of the road," he wrote. "Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch."