Neil Young is pretty much alone in his peer group of
sixties hippie rockers, because he has been able to stay relevant and iconic
without sacrificing his artistic viewpoint. In a career spanning
almost four decades now, his albums are still an event, he is revered in
concert and known as an inspiration to hundreds of younger bands.
While his specialty has always been country-folk-rock songs, he has
experimented in styles and genres.
Surprisingly, though, he has been the subject of very
few compilations, probably the best of which was the 1979 vinyl multi-disk
set Decade. This new compilation is a terrific starter's course
in Young's music, giving the biggest hits and some important album tracks.
Undoubtedly the best song here is probably one of the
best known, and one of two that were not solo songs (it was released as
Crosby Stills Nash & Young.) "Ohio" is simply the perfect protest
song, written in a passionate burst in the days after the massacre of hippie
protestors at Kent State University. The song is a history lesson and
an angry cry of injustice packed into three minutes of raging guitar and
"Southern Man" is a wicked protest of ignorance,
violence and racial hatred, and the song pissed off the young southern band
Lynyrd Skynyrd so much that they wrote the song "Sweet Home Alabama."
("Well, I heard Mr. Young sing about her/Well, I heard old Neil put her
down/Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/ A southern man don't need him
"The Needle and the Damage Done" is a heartbreaking
tribute after the drug-related death of Danny Whitten, his friend and leader
of his sometime backing band Crazy Horse. (Whitten also wrote the song
"I Don't Want To Talk About It" which became a hit for Rod Stewart.)
Of course, it isn't all protest songs, there are
wonderful love songs (like "Cinnamon Girl," "Only Love Can Break Your
Heart," "Harvest Moon" and "Heart of Gold"), wistful story songs ("Old Man"
and "After the Goldrush") and some surprisingly rocking tunes ("Hey Hey My
My [Into the Black]" and "Rockin' In the Free World.").
If there is one complaint here, it is that for a singer/songwriter with such a huge catalogue and
respected body of work, it is nearly impossible to boil three-and-a-half
decades of songs down into a single disk. Neil Young's Greatest
Hits does it as well as possible, however you can't help but
notice all the things that are missing. Where are "Powderfinger"
or "Cortez the Killer?" There are only two songs from post-1978
(the proto-grunge "Rockin' In the Free World" and the lovely retro "Harvest
Moon"), and while they are both completely worthy of inclusion, it seems to
be selling his later work short.
There is nothing less than twelve years old on here.
What about his Pearl Jam duet "I Got Id?" How about the
gorgeous falsetto movie title track "Philadelphia"? What about his stylistic experiments
of the early 80s? Granted, they were somewhat inconsistent, but there
were songs like "This Note's For You," "Little Thing Called Love" or the vocoderized remake of his own early "Mr. Soul" from Trans. And,
speaking of "Mr. Soul," there are a couple of his Crosby Stills Nash & Young
songs on here, couldn't that original or another of his Buffalo Springfield
songs be included? Perhaps had they skipped the first two songs on the
disk, "Down By the River" and "Cowgirl In the Sand," both of which are fine
but clock in together at just under 19:30 long, they could have fit more
songs from throughout his career.
Oh well, for all that I guess we'll have to wait for
them to wise up and put out a box set, or at least a two-disk compilation.
Until then, Greatest Hits will do the job of summing up Neil Young