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Neil Young’s Greatest Hits: The Greatest Ever?

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To say that Neil Young’s latest release – and probably his last on the Reprise label – is the greatest greatest hits package ever released might be your typical reviewer hype … or a fan’s hagiographic overkill.

But say what you will about Young’s Greatest Hits, it undoubtably will cement his status in the singer-songwriter Hall of Fame. The disc’s first 11 cuts are — to you use the most cliched reviewer phrase of all time — classic. But really. Look at these titles that we’ve all heard 100’s of times:

1. Down By The River
2. Cowgirl In The Sand
3. Cinnamon Girl
4. Helpless
5. After The Gold Rush
6. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
7. Southern Man
8. Ohio
9. The Needle And The Damage Done
10. Old Man

11. Heart Of Gold

All of these songs were written and recorded during the stunning period between January 17, 1969 and February 8, 1971. This amazingly prolific two year period captures Young at the height of his creative genius. And this is a guy that wrote both “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand” on the same day!

Remarkably, these are only 11 songs from this incredible period — mainly from the three albums Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After The Goldrush, Harvest.

Has any artist during such a short period produced such an enduring impact?

Fans might quibble with what is and is not included. The CD jacket states that the 16 song selection is “Based on original record sales, airplay, and known download history.” Chronologically presented, it really is hard to argue with the selection of these essential Young songs from his canon representing 9 albums over a 20 year period.

While nothing from the Ditch Trilogy period (‘Time Fades Away’, ‘On The Beach’ and ‘Tonight’s The Night’) is represented, the selection clearly favors Young’s earlier work. Only two songs are post-1978: Rockin’ In The Free World (1989) and Harvest Moon (1991). This is mainly due to the fact that this a Reprise release and could not include any Geffen label cuts. All but four of these songs are available on the three disc Decade, the Godfather of Greatest Hits packages.

The DVD-stereo sound does seem to be improvement over the conventional CD format, although only listening on a state art sound system can one expect to hear the differences. At the opening of the bonus DVD, Neil writes of the experience as “high resolution listening”. Riding around town with the CD playing in the car stereo really doesn’t do justice to the DVD-stereo mix. But hey, when else are you going to be listening? “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” from Rust Never Sleeps is so pristinely grungey that Neil’s guitar sounds like power lines snapping from overload.

The bonus DVD is really astounding in a number of respects. Each song is featured with video of a turntable playing the song in real-time! Spin the black circle, Neil.

Also included are two music videos for “Rockin’ In The Free World” and “Harvest Moon”. In addition to the photo gallery are lyrics, and album artwork.

So is the Greatest Hits disc something for the die-hard fans? A Thrasher’s Wheat Neil Poll on the Greatest Hits package indicates that fans are still holding out for the long awaited and ever delayed Neil Young Archives Box Set. But with the audio upgrade and bonus video, maybe so? For the casual fan or as an introduction to the vast body of Neil’s work? Definitely.

As Joel Selvin writes in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Nobody’s greatest are any greater.”

Originally published on Thrasher’s Wheat. See review for photos from DVD.

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About Thrasher

  • Obviously it seems a silly stretch to classify a two year period for Neil’s whole ‘greatest hits’, but it makes for a great period piece. Here are pieces that I would consider critical to a Neil collection:
    After the Gold Rush
    Harvest Moon

  • Eric Olsen

    great job Thrash, like you say, it’s basically a distillation of Decade, with a few newer tracks tossed in, but that’s not a bad thing and it’s fine to see what is considered the best of the best in one place at one time.

    I hate to see “Powderfinger,” “Don’t Cry No Tears” and “Four Strong Winds” left off, though

  • I agree with Lono, the dude has been recording for 3 decades and its now pigeon holed down to 2 years. Granted though, when i read the list, i was like, yea, yea, yea, yea…..all the way down the line…im gonna get it..

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Of course, these songs are all hardcore rock canon beyond argument, but what a boring, right-down-the-middle bunch of choices!
    This one’s clearly for the really casual fan. Like most folks my age (b. 1967), I’ve owned Harvest, Rust, Gold Rush and EKTIN for most of my life now.
    Neil apparently has taped just about every note he has played for about 30 years. Let’s have some of that, please. Bring on the Archives!
    Or I guess I’d rather he just make another record. I’ve really liked the last couple.

  • Vern Halen

    This is like the original Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest HIts. An artist of Young’s or Springsteen stature just isn’t done right by a single disc hits package. Neil needs the equivalent of Springsteen’s Tracks box, which wasn’t comprehensive either, but better than nothing.

  • Eric Olsen

    exactly, which really means updating Decade to Three and One-Half Decades

  • Lono,

    Just to clarify what might me a mis-conception. The review lists only 11 of a total of 16 tracks on the CD.

    So don’t get the wrong impression that CD covers only a 2 year period.

    My point was that Neil grabbed 16 songs, 11 of which he wrote during 69-71. And what a hot streak that was!

    Keep on Rockin!

  • Mr. Thrasher, sir,

    I put this up on Advance.net, slightly abbreviated.

    Neil is one of the best ever. I didn’t realize Harvest Moon and Rockin .. were so recent.

    Your review can be found at this link.

  • Since I’m particularly disposed to “ARC” (the remix of the “Weld” tour”) it is somewhat difficult to talk about Neil Young’s career in terms of “hits”. So, it is fitting that period in his career would make up the majority of this collection. After that, he just didn’t give a goddamn about hits.

    Certainly the turning point where he declared his intentions was with “Rust Never Sleeps”. Since I already have “Decade”, and most of his subsequient albums, I guess this is mostly for people who want only one Neil Young album. To which I would point them at “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”.

  • Jim – Yes, I’d agree that the word “hits” and Neil Young are somewhat of an oxymoron.

    Aside from “Heart of Gold”, Neil hasn’t really had any “hits” — not in the sense of #1, radio play, big sales, etc.

    I suppose part of the reason is that neil refuses to play the “game” – do interviews, tour an album, make music videos, etc.

    But hey, that’s what makes his music interesting afterall!

  • Neil truly ranks as one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time, and sits comfortably alongside Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison for exceptional creative longevity.

    My only quibble is why put together a Neil Young collection based on “original record sales, airplay, and known download history.”

    One of the most phenomenal aspects of Young’s career is that he almost never writes and records material primarily to please a commercial audience. He is a true original, and I would hope for more creativity in a document designed to represent his career.

    Aside from that, you can’t go wrong with anything included here, but please, please dig deeper into his back catalog. There are many many treasures to be found.

  • Eric Olsen

    perhaps this collection was to point out how important and pervasive Neil truly is to the culture, up there with Dylan, Springsteen, whomever; and by putting the most “popular” together in one place the light of reason would shine on those stumbling about in the twilight of their ignorance

  • Since the Pixies began their touring return with a cover of “Winterlong” (which they originally did for “The Bridge” one of the first tribute theme albums – also notable for Nick Cave’s cover of “Helpless”). ah, where was I?

    Oh, yah, Neil Young. Considering his most recent album is more obscure than Pere Ubu, let’s talk about influence than “hits”. But then I want to see a Geffen-era lawsuit “uncommercial work” version. “Trans” isn’t that bad, and I’m surprized the Reichwing retards haven’t clasped “Hawks and Doves” to their wives fake breasts.

  • Obviously a Geffen era “greatest hits” album would consist of one song: “This Note’s For You”.

  • Eric Olsen

    the identify-the-genre period was rather fallow

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I like Old Ways from that period.

    Also, here’s a greatest hit:
    “I Am the Ocean” from Mirror Ball, the one with Pearl Jam. With long-running, changeling artists like Neil, there just can’t be an agreed-upon GH. RThat’s why it’s fun to argue.

    That said, I still think these choices are very boring. Is the sound mix enough better for me to buy it, considering I’m no audiophile by a long shot?

  • The most amusing part of Neil Young interviews is when he starts on about audio quality. From a man who has spent 40 years standing right in front of Marshall stacks.

    I’m sure it sounds real good right there, but for my stereo, I don’t think so.

  • Which reminds me of the band I worked with who customized their guitar amps and cabinet stacks to read “aRsehole”.

  • It seems like a lot of folks are having trouble with the track selection — not for what is included but for what is missing.

    A couple of items to keep in mind. As is normal, when an artist leaves a label they often put together these sorts of packages.

    Given that Young has more unreleased music than released, there is a staggering quantity of songs that fans have been clamoring for for years.

    Eventually this material will appear on the Archives Box Set. Eventually. But don’t hold your breath on it being released anytime soon.
    Heck, I’d love to hear “Ordinary People” or “Stringman” as much as the next guy. But this one is for the masses – not the fans.

  • sjaak van berkel

    I saw recording dates and recording studios on the inner sleeve of the Greatest hits CD. I wonder, is there a book or website where I can find more recording dates and studios of Neil Young’s music? I’m looking for it a long time

  • sjaak – Try Sugar Mountain at

    for a comprehensive listing of Neil’s work over the years.

    Keep on Rockin!

  • Jo

    I’ve followed Neil since ’72. He has saved my spirit many times. Greendale is Brilliant! What’s up with the DVD of greatest hits? Really brought me low. First dissapointment from Neil EVER.

  • Frank S

    The DVD is a ridiculous ripoff !! Just an overhead view of a record spinning on a turntable. The Only thing that changes is the record. That this came out in November just before Christmas makes it all the more clear that this is just a bad ripoff product. Shame on you Neil !!

  • Eric Tom Rocha

    Well i think the songs in the album are pretty basic. But i could never put his greatest hits in one album. would require, apart from the common musts as “heart of gold” (for a greatest hits) “powderfinger” “albuquerqe” “unknown legend”, “out on a weekend” “from hank to hendrix” “cortez the killer”, oops, there’s just too many.

  • Without “Sample and Hold” from Trans, this collection is woefully incomplete.