One of my favorite albums of 2020 so far was actually recorded in 1974: Neil Young's Homegrown, which features seven previously-unreleased tracks and musical accompaniment from Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson. In October of 2018, I wrote about some of Neil's buried treasures. In honor of Homegrown, here are four more great, often overlooked albums from Young.
Journey Through The Past (1972)
Neil’s movies are generally a jumbled mess, and this—his directorial debut—sets the garbled template for the many that have followed. The soundtrack is similarly unorganized, a mishmash of Harvest outtakes, tracks from a CSNY 1970 Fillmore East show, dialogue from the movie, and a single previously-unreleased track (“Soldier”). And yet it's still well worth checking out because it includes sixteen-plus glorious minutes of “Words (Between the Lines of Ages)” being rehearsed/taught to the Stray Gators inside the barn at Neil’s famous Northern California Broken Arrow Ranch. I’ve spotted Journey Through The Past in the used bins at Bart’s many times. It's required listening for Rusties with its collection of classics (“Ohio,” “Find The Cost of Freedom,” “Alabama”), and the best version of “Words” Neil’s released.
Mirror Ball (1995)
Crazy Horse is generally regarded as Neil’s most rocking backing band, but Pearl Jam staked their claim to that perch with this record. Mirror Ball rocks hard from start to finish—no time for soft ballads when you’re leading a group of grunge gods—and features the classic lyric “People my age don’t do the things I do,” part of the epic “I’m The Ocean” that builds through seven minutes like the tide incessantly crashing on the rocks. Pearl Jam lead vocalist Eddie Vedder is unsurprisingly largely absent throughout, but when he appears on the chorus of “Song X,” the backing vocals of “Act of Love” and the soaring coda of “Peace and Love,” he leaves a memorable mark. Mirror Ball isn’t just for fans of Neil or Pearl Jam; it’s for all lovers of hard rock and is criminally underrated.
Prairie Wind (2005)
This is Neil's “I nearly died” LP, in which he recovered from a near-fatal brain aneurysm with some of his softest, most reflective music and lyrics. Young staged the album at Nashville’s famous Ryman Auditorium for the film that would become Heart of Gold and enlisted many of his most notable backing musicians, from singer Emmylou Harris to steel guitarist (and Grandpa in Greendale) Larry Craig. Whether he’s describing his view of the almighty (“The Painter, ” “When God Made Me”), thanking then-wife Pegi for her support (“Falling Off the Edge of the Earth”), or memorializing an old pet (“He Was the King”), Neil is in a highly nostalgic frame of mind. “It’s a Dream,” probably my personal favorite here, is a gorgeous melody with an orchestral accompaniment that rivals “There’s a World” and “A Man Needs a Maid,” the orchestral selections on Harvest.
Psychedelic Pill (2012)
While Neil has since reformed and performed with a revised Crazy Horse lineup (Frank Sampedro out, Nils Lofgren in), Psychedelic Pill is Neil’s last great album with the band (sorry, Colorado). The album features autobiographical songs (“Born in Ontario”) and concise rockers (the title track) but is most noticeable for the extended jams that allow for nonstop soloing and distortion galore. “Driftin’ Back" (at over 27 minutes), “Ramada Inn” (nearly 17 minutes) and “Walk Like a Giant” (also nearly 17 minutes) are each longer or nearly as long as some entire records, and match Crazy Horse’s grunge glory of the Seventies. Rust never sleeps indeed.