Only a perverse spoilsport could claim that Neil Young was not a giant among the North American singer-songwriters who emerged in the '60s. For this reviewer, he dwarfs all of them. Young is greater even than his hero Bob Dylan because he is more Heart than Head, more Body than Brain. There's something intuitive and primitively intense about Young's best music that Dylan rarely matches. More Dionysus than Apollo, Young puts music first, words second. And what music it is.
Only a perverse spoilsport could claim that Neil Young was not a giant among the North American singer-songwriters who emerged in the ’60s. For this reviewer, he dwarfs all of them. Young is greater even than his hero Bob Dylan because he is more Heart than Head, more Body than Brain. There’s something intuitive and primitively intense about Young’s best music that Dylan rarely matches. More Dionysus than Apollo, Young puts music first, words second.
And what music it is. In the 35 years that separate “Down By The River”, the first song on this collection, from “Harvest Moon”, its last, Young created a sonic language that was at once raw and graceful, angry and tremulous, powerful even when it was clunky. The key to Young’s greatness may be the permanent tension between his high, feminine tenor and the gritty machismo of his guitar playing. A lumberjack choirboy, Young juggles ethereal sensitivity with visceral energy in a manner that no one else has ever achieved.
What better way to start a best-of than with three tracks from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the ’69 LP where Neil threw down his Stones-meet-Dylan gauntlet. Like the late-’60s/ early-’70s Stones, Young’s purloined backing band Crazy Horse?disdained by Crosby, Stills and Nash among others?were never flashy, were always real. Next to the first CSN LP, Everybody…’s burning, churning “Cinnamon Girl” is pure punk rock. Even within the pompous confines of CSN&Y, Young was capable of something as livid and frills-free as “Ohio”, the 1970 response to Nixon’s “tin soldiers” gunning down four protesting students. That “instant protest song” is included here with the more histrionic, Crosby-esque “Southern Man”.
Inevitably a 16-track Greatest Hits aimed at the UK Yuletide market is going to lean heavily on his harvesting acoustic side. Big surprise that there isn’t a single track from the mordant “Doom Trilogy” of the mid-’70s (Time Fades Away, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night). So here are “Helpless”, “Heart Of Gold”, “Old Man”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “After The Gold Rush”, “Comes A Time” and “Harvest Moon”. Neil Young for grandparents!
To redress the mellow bias, Greatest Hits chucks in “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)”, “Rockin’ In The Free World” and the mighty “Like A Hurricane”, that most incandescent of Neil epics. But why “Hurricane” should be here and not, say, “Cortez The Killer” seems a matter of arbitrary judgement.
Does all this make for a fitting introduction to the man’s bulging oeuvre? Of course not: for any true fan, the ‘best’ of Neil Young is going to be the least obvious Neil Young. But almost any Neil is better than no Neil at all. In the greater scheme, Greatest Hits can only be a good thing.