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Monday, November 21, 2011

Neil Young’s Top 10 Greatest Guitar Tracks

#3 - “Cortez the Killer” - Rusted Out Garage Tour, 1986

Well, after the feedback from the posting on the Top 10 Neil Young Love Songs, why not Neil Young’s Top 10 Greatest Guitar Tracks?

From Gibson Guitar Tracks by Michael Leonard:
Apologies already, as this Top 10 might not include your favorite Neil Young song. But what to do? Over six decades, Neil Young has recorded so much music, he cannot be distilled into a small cup. Great songwriter, activist, conceptualist, rocker, balladeer, maverick guitarist, awful/inspired singer? You take your pick. Young, who turned 66 last week, is certainly one thing. He is unique.

His guitar playing is not “technical,” and he certainly won’t throw in a tricky mixolydian (EDITOR: wtf?!) lick when blazing passion fits the bill. Neil Young plays guitar from the heart. These 10 tracks might not be his “best” songs, but their guitars either sob with sadness or roar with aggression.

If you want to hear Neil Young play guitar, we humbly suggest you start here.

And who can argue with any of these tracks selected like #3 - “Cortez the Killer”?
Just as Young would never claim to be world’s best singer, he would neither argue to be the world’s most subtle guitarist. But “Cortez the Killer,” from 1975’s album Zuma, is an axe epic. This mantric guitar centerpiece (it has reached 14 minutes live) could only have been played by Neil Young. Three chords (again in DADGBD), droning melodies, stinging solos, harmonics, much Bigsby wobbling… in a druggy big nutshell, this is a 101 in how to play guitar like Neil Young. “Cortez the Killer” takes on extra weight when played live: the version on 1991’s live album Weld is super-heavy. “Cortez the Killer” manages to be mournful yet angry, beautiful yet bitter.

And your favorite Neil Young Greatest Guitar Tracks?

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At 11/21/2011 06:25:00 PM, Blogger asg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/21/2011 08:20:00 PM, Anonymous Alfonz said...

How Heart of Gold is on this list is beyond me.

And Cowgirl in the Sand from the Fillmore is the definitive Neil guitar workout, as far as I'm concerned. The author put in Down By The River, so how they couldn't put in Cowgirl is strange.

At 11/21/2011 09:32:00 PM, Blogger RSS said... 10? How about top 100. I always like No Hidden Path and Spirit Road from Chrome Dreams. Saw this live a number of times and they are both just awesome big guitar songs. Others on the list are absoutely great.... Powderfinger, Cinnamon, Hurricane are all awesome. Greendale has some great tunes too. Cortez is probably one of my favs......just too many to list. Top 100 for Neil!

At 11/22/2011 03:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winterlong - I Believe In You

At 11/22/2011 07:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd throw on Leave by Buffalo Springfield.
Also maybe Captain Kennedy and Sentimental Hygiene by Warren Zevon.


At 11/22/2011 09:31:00 AM, Anonymous set list thief said...

I recently acquired the 5/21/03Greendale show from Manchester. The acoustic performance of Cortez is nothing short of magnificent. Neil uses volume, tone, harmonics, percussion, lead fills, finger-picking, strumming, and silence to convey the emotional intensity of the song. At one point he even botches the lyrics, and plays right through it as if saying, "I meant to do that." He's the only guitar player I know of who can repeat three chords over and over for up to a half hour, and it never gets boring. When it comes to guitar players, the Vais and Santrianis of the world aren't even in the "same building" as Neil.

At 11/22/2011 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Old Black said...

My favorite recorded Cortez is from Weld - it starts out like the version on Live Rust (LP, not movie)but then moves on to some very sublime phrases. Neil's tone is at its very top, really featuring the Echoplex - a clean but compressed tone. And I like the fact that the quasi-reggae stuff is removed from the "Dancing across the water" bit at the end.

IMHO, the other song that comes close to that is No Hidden Path.

At 11/22/2011 01:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No hidden path live WOW!chrome dreams tour 2008 i nearly cried at the power and emotion which is captivated in true earth tapped energy that is neil young,i saw the near 30 minutes version on this site and it dont get much better,long may you run neil.

At 11/23/2011 12:58:00 AM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

I'll tell you what, if Dangerbird isn't on that list then it has no credibility whatsoever as far as I'm concerned. From the feedback drenched beginning, it just builds and builds until Neil is dangerously close to soaring to a place where even Billy and Ralph can't reel him back in. As with most Neil Young and Crazy Horse studio recordings, this was a one-take live recording where you can hear hooting and hollering in the background during the last solo as a testimony to the fact that those present were blown away as well. Of my 35+ shows that I've attended, this is one song that has never been performed live with the same passion and intensity as the studio take. It was quite simply a magical moment, frozen in time like a photograph. I pity whomever had the task of writing tabs or sheet music for the blistering solo .... it ain't happening. This was also the song that Lou Reed and Link Wray said was the greatest guitar work they have ever heard, so I'm in good company!

At 11/23/2011 01:04:00 AM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

Some Anon above that listed Winterlong and I Believe In You must obviously think that were still discussing 'Love Songs'? As fine as they are as love songs, theres no way they could be considered a 'Top 10 Guitar Song'?

At 11/23/2011 07:36:00 AM, Blogger tuned4life said...

I think that "Cortez" is probably My all time favorite. I heard "Cortez" live before it was ever released. And the live Weld version is My favorite recorded version. Of the 40 plus times I have seen Neil there were quite a few blown away moments. A few that stand out are, 1978 "Rust never Sleeps Tour" Rochester N.Y. when I heard Hey, Hey, My My for the first time before it was released. Greendale 7/4/2003 in Saratoga Springs "Falling From Above" "Carmichael", "Sun Green", Also before the CD was released. 3/11/2004 Greendale at the Convocation Center in Cleveland Ohio. The encore "All Along The Watchtower" Now this was a totally blown away moment. Maybe because I was in the front PIT row 5 feet from Neil. To say He was in a groove would be an understatement. He soared to a place that I don't think any other human being can go. What is most memorable, is after standing there speechless for 5 minutes after Neil left the stage- My late wife- without looking at Me touched My arm and said " OK,I understand now". From that day on She was one of the faithful. My most recent moment was on 5/11/2011 at Massey Hall. Again, front row seat. When Neil played "Cortez" on "Old Black" I was just in awe. I doubt anyone who witnessed it close up wcould argue that Neil and that guitar stand alone.

At 11/23/2011 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Untitled I said...

The fact that "Heart of Gold" (which has 0 guitar solos on it) is closer to #1 that "Down By the River" says it all. The creators of this are insane.

Anyway, here's how I think it should have been...

1. Pushed It Over the End
2. Danger Bird
3. Cowgirl In the Sand
4. Cortez the Killer
5. Change Your Mind
6. Slip Away
7. Loose Change
8. Big Time
9. No Hidden Path
10. Down By the River

At 11/23/2011 10:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are you kidding me! An absolute thrashing of ole black in the best of ways! Solos so long and chalk full of passion they could melt you soul! What an escape into a world of searing guitar power.

At 11/25/2011 05:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A thumbs up for Albuquerque and Fontainebleau.

At 11/26/2011 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Don said...

No particular order....because you can't.................

On the beach.....for the atmosphere and sense of isolation created by his guitar.
No hidden hear it live is like listening to Miles Davis playing guitar, the notes just float in the air#
Like a hurricane.....for obvious reasons.
For what it's worth....that single note adds menace to Stephen Stills lyrics.
Down by the river.....because it's my favourite NY jam song.
Loose change......hypnotising and you gotta admire the balls.
Danger bird.....listen to it and tell me no.
Powderfinger.....melody, melody, melody.
Pardon my heart......a perfect blend between acoustic and electric.

Neil's guitar is an extension of his voice....not technical thankfully but full of emotion

ps...whoops, just listening to zuma at the mo - cortez the killer - what a killer, what a f***ing killer.

At 11/26/2011 06:36:00 PM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

Zuma holds a special place in my heart as it reintroduced me to The 'electric Neil' after his brief absence of playing with Crazy Horse after the death of Danny Whitten. Of course, I loved Harvest and On The Beach, but Time Fades Away and Tonights The Night was lost on me until I discovered Zuma and since then, regardless of whatever Neil has done, I've followed faithfully. I'm grateful that Poncho came at the right moment and inspired Neil to carry on with the Horse and create the masterpiece that Zuma is till this present day. There's no telling what direction Neil could have gone as he emerged from the fog of that dark period and the subsequent recordings known as 'The Ditch Trilogy'. Among the magic resulting from the Zuma sessions came 'Dangerbird', a standard which I hold Neil to while other so called 'guitar gods' aren't even on the same page. While those other guys shred the fretboard a thousand notes a second, Neil can evoke more feelings and soul out of one note.

At 11/27/2011 10:24:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

Hurricane tops them all for for me, taking one to the outer stratosphere of guitaring and tantalizing the eardrums in a way rarely approached. Obviously many others are in there as well with the riff-hook actions we come to expect and appreciate. It's amazing the tempo's, arrangements and sheer uniqueness of Neil's playing within the bounds of general chord layouts and the (dare I say it) simplicity of his music. He touches more space inside the vibe than anybody.

At 11/30/2011 09:13:00 AM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run... said...

Hmmm, Poncho a catalyst? Are you saying he hasn't changed at all?

Interesting observation, BC.

Neil's a purist when it comes to sound, so it makes sense that he hung around with a core of people who were easy to control b/c they needed him. (It explains the parasitic-vampire theme that runs through his music during that time, too...)

It explains the love-hate, bittersweet relationship he had with many people during that time and why he ticked off a lot of people.

Top Ten Guitar Tracks? I can pick two from every album he made...

At 12/06/2011 06:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't care how good technically these guitar works are, I love how they sound, how Young performs and really all of them may blow your mind

- On the beach
- Down by the river
- Mellow my mind
- Cortez the killer
- Cowgirl in the sand
- My My Hey Hey (yes, the acoustic version)
- Like a hurricane
- Days that used to be
- Tired eyes
- Driveback


At 1/12/2012 04:41:00 AM, Blogger doc said...

for what its worth, my favourite 10 electric live Neil songs in no particular order are:



At 2/21/2012 04:20:00 AM, Anonymous electric heat pump said...

I'd throw on Leave by Buffalo Springfield.
Also maybe Captain Kennedy and Sentimental Hygiene by Warren Zevon.

At 5/15/2012 05:23:00 PM, Anonymous Bart said...

sure, Cow Girl, Cortez, Down by the River. But ... there is one which is now just a distant memory. I got rid of my vinyl Stills /Young album , but I recall a smoking,beautiful,CONCISE solo,on Neil's "Fountainbleu" haven't heard it in decades. Can i get a witness ?


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