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Monday, February 28, 2022

Comment of the Moment: Every Neil Young Studio Album, Ranked | UPROXX

A Few of Neil Young's "Studio"* Albums
(Click photo to enlarge)


This past weekend, we posted an overview titled "Every Neil Young Studio Album, Ranked" | UPROXX by Steven Hyden.

The UPROXX overview provided a very in depth look at Neil Young's career with a focus on studio album -- with a few exceptions* -- and it seemed most appreciated Hyden's efforts to attempt some type of "Big Picture" of Neil Young's wild career.

So, here is our Comment of the Moment on "Every Neil Young Studio Album, Ranked" | UPROXX by Dan:

I’m of the opinion that attempting to rank or categorize art (be it music, writing, painting, dance, compositions, etc, etc), is ultimately an exercise in futility. 

Concerning an artist as prolific as Neil Young, with his extensive body of work, everyone will obviously have their personal favorites, yet personal taste shouldn’t be equated into the overall value of such a vast output. Nor should numbers of unit’s sold, or a ‘Rolling Stone Magazines’ 500 greatest albums of all time list. A body of work this vast contains way too many variables to condense into a simple list.

There are different eras where Neil’s focus is represented clearly, and others where the results were more of a mixed bag of different textures. Neither one should carry more, or less weight when evaluating the whole. Each one has value. To dissect a fifty plus year career requires the ability to first accept the whole, and then begin to dig deeper into the individual works. Each one carries with it the times in which it was created.

There are internal and external elements that need to be considered before one can claim an understanding of the finished product. At the time the artist begins their work on a particular project there are things occurring within their personal lives. And in some cases those things may also be affected by historical events happening outside their personal lives. The health and well-being of the artist. Their relationships with family and friends. The current trends and fashions happening in their respective fields should also be considered. There are so many different aspects of creating works of art, and these outside elements can play a big part in the finished results. So they must be considered when assessing their individual worth, and how each relates to the whole.

As a body of work, I believe that Neil Young has created something truly extraordinary for future generations. Not only for them to enjoy, but also to learn a great lesson from. He’s an exemplary example of an artist who fearlessly follows his own heart, and refuses to be dictated by anyone else’s opinions or ideas of what he should, or shouldn’t do with his gift. He has always trusted and protected it from being infiltrated by outside forces, and this is one reason he has sustained such a long career. This may be his greatest lesson for future generations…. Stay true to yourself, first and foremost. Always trust your heart and follow the muse wherever it leads you.

When we look back on the history of art in all its forms, it has always been those who refuse to settle; pushing the boundaries of their craft. These are the artists we recall with the most admiration. The artists who are driven by their natural instincts to do the work. Not for monetary gain or public adoration, but because it must be done, because they are compelled to do it.

That is how I categorize Neil Young’s overall output, and the highest of qualities in which it exhibits for those willing to listen with an open heart and mind.


Thanks -- as always - for another CotM Dan! Many thanks for the careful thoughts and even keel.

The UPROXX review wasn't just another run of the mill catalog rundown. Again, not that anyone really needs another album review list, but this article makes a very sincere effort to capture both BIG NY and little NY albums. We found Hyden's review to be actually quite personalized. Kind of thought the Harvest review pretty much summed up the classic view on Neil ... as a romantic.

As we mentioned in the comments, one of the most enlightening observations was how Neil's 1980s albums don't seem so strange at all when compared to some of his post 2000 work. Afterall, look at how history has re-evaluated TRANS. TRANS has gone from the bottom of the barrel to the middle of the pack, thanks to FITR (which we love, of course.)

For us, we look at Neil Young's discography as fitting into 3 rust buckets:

  1. Essential
  2. Interesting
  3. Non-Essential

And if it really is all one song, then the song remains the same -- only it keeps getting longer and longer and louder and louder ... or something ...


Neil Young
Swedish TV Interview Discussing His Catalog - 2005


Also, see: 

(Click photo to enlarge)

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At 2/28/2022 08:34:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Just got a chance to read the Hyden UPROXX article, and truly appreciate Dan's well-considered take here. For one thing, it's incredibly challenging to even find an entry point to begin discussing, or structuring the discussion of, such a mammoth body of work as NY's discography. The "count-down" format strikes me as an easy, familiar way to give some kind of narrative arc or shape to the article.

To that end, I appreciate that Hyden seems to be stretching and deliberately questioning the ranking formula at various points. It's clear that certain albums were placed higher or lower for rhetorical effect, suggesting the rankings are not set in stone.

If nothing else, it's worth remembering to treat any such list as just one possible, subjective overview of Neil's catalogue. If we take them as descriptive rather than prescriptive--that is, as suggestions or even op-eds, rather than statements to be regarded as somehow definitive--these articles can be revealing and even fascinating.

In this case, while I don't think I quite agree with the overall "thesis", which seems to be that Neil's later albums are too topical and didactic, thus they all rank lower, there are plenty of sparkling moments and worthwhile observations in Hyden's concise, capsule-like entries on each album. It is possible I;m oversimplifying or missing nuance in Hyden's takes, in which case please feel free to correct my denseness! My intention is not to caricature or give short shrift to to anyone's ideas.

If anything, the format reminds me of what we in the academic field would call an annotated bibliography and/or lit review--except, I guess this one would be a discography. I wish the author had gone into greater detail on certain albums, especially those that only got a couple of sentences. This is understandable. I myself am guilty of giving some albums and periods more attention than others--yet proportionate and substantial consideration is the fairest approach when committing these ideas to writing.

I could nitpick certain points. One that really stands out is the curious comment that AYP? suffers from the use of horns--throughout the entire record, I believe there's one short section with a singular trumpet! Prairie Wind has more horns than AYP? If anything, AYP? is guitar-centered, albeit not in remotely the same way as the Pill.

On the whole, however, a worthwhile and inspiring read, as evidenced by the fact that it has me reflecting on some of my own strange opinions.

"Don't forget love."

At 2/28/2022 08:39:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Addendum: The very title of Prairie Wind should, perhaps, be seen with an emphasis on the "wind" part. I.e. The horns *are* the wind, the way I see it. There is often something of the elemental in Neil's work (earth/fire/water/air), a facet that isn't mentioned nearly enough.

At 2/28/2022 09:09:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Ian, thanks and I agree about Dan's comment.

But your point is also vital. Where does one get a place to enter? What is the criteria for a beginning? Our experiences with various records, as "what they mean to me"? I don't think so. There is no way to start without some aesthetic bar that is flexible enough to account for and even explain change. Good luck finding this in the usual "rankings." Where we even begin to give an account of the albums is close to impossible and beckons other great questions. Perhaps, for instance, is there any real standard to start with? Probably not with the all the hectic nonsense of contemporary culture. Some steady eye, with a vision of reality, and imagery/metaphor at the center of narrative, is not easy to find.

At 2/28/2022 10:35:00 PM, Blogger wsanjose01 said...

Oh jeez. Dan your bloated post seen as inspiration here is just more txt wack off.
When ever you or your boy Alan learn to be concise and not trying to sound smart. Put it in 1 paragraph. Youre sufferable by me ! Im suffering here . Me.

At 3/01/2022 02:39:00 AM, Blogger Steve L said...

Why the insults ?

Q for Thrasher: what criteria do you use to differentiate between Non-essential and Interesting?

At 3/01/2022 10:34:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Steve - well, good question.

If you take Everybody's Rockin, most would agree Non-essential. But also Interesting. Likewise REACTOR. Non-essential, but interesting.

So maybe just 2 categories? essential & Non-essential / Interesting

At 3/01/2022 12:52:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Abner, next question: what degree of rhetorical artifice are we willing to accept in the interests of saying something--anything--of value or interest? Dare I invoke the specter of strategic essentialism?

Of course, maybe we are all pissing in the wind. Nonetheless I feel the need to stick up for Dan, whose thoughtful, earnest response has been targeted with needless insults. Dan raises valid points, and it is unfair for anyone to dismiss them in such an utterly gratuitous and contemptuous way. It's also highly unusual around here, as heated as we can get, for folks to be outright rude.

Hope the fact that I split this comment into multiple paragraphs isn't too much of a burden on anyone's sensibilities.

At 3/01/2022 01:57:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I am in complete agreement with you Ian. Dan should be defended and for a number of related reasons. His comments are measured, thoughtful, and tolerant. He frequently voices excellent ideas. Dan is irreplaceable on these threads. If I say things that are at odds with his views, it is only about ideas.

Your first question has me laughing (a good laughter). Perhaps we have to grab hold of the strongest normative piece within what is said? For the most part, a normative claim or idea tends to hold the rest together. As in Thrasher's nice essential/interesting/non-essential triad. First we need some criteria for the basic categories, as in "what makes x essential"?

I have been brain dead lately, writing this long essay on the agricultural system in the midwest and I generally assume it is "of value" even if what I argue is just plain wrong. Being wrong is not sufficient for "no value" where I suspect "being incoherent" is?

Good to reconnect. Lots of new voices here!!

At 3/01/2022 02:47:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Abner, after some thought, it seems to me that what qualifies as interesting, valuable, and even coherent depends at least in part on the form or medium one is using in the attempt to express it. We can see this from NY's various albums, where a Crazy Horse record is operating within different aesthetics and expectations from Booker T. & the MGs or, again, from International Harvesters. And part of the listening experience, I should add, is how any and all of these albums challenge expectations.

Or in the literary sense, coherency may mean one thing for a scholarly review and something else entirely for a James Joyce novel. Granted, it's easy to argue using the most "extreme" examples of a genre, but the point stands that form and convention often influence value judgment.

In the end, I think the mojo is partly aesthetic form, partly historical or social context, and partly internal response from the critic. And I'm not convinced these are truly discrete factors, as much as we tend to break them down along these lines for ease of understanding.

"Don't forget love."

At 3/01/2022 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

No doubt, you are right Ian. All sorts of nuance needed.

At 3/01/2022 06:29:00 PM, Blogger Richie Cruz said...

Reactor is non-essential? Shots, Southern Pacific, Surfer Joe, T-BONE????? Non-essential???

Gimme a break.

There is no "non-essential" Neil Young music. You guys love to say it's all one song, and yet you're now labeling some of it "non-essential"?

No, this conversation should probably just end now. Personally I think this thread is non-essential. And I'll take Everybody's Rockin over The Visitor any and all days of the week. Just saying.

At 3/01/2022 07:19:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Richie, don't lump us all together when it comes to these points. I never liked the "it's all one song" business, because I don't know what it means literally or metaphorically. I was trying to say that we need criteria for essential, non-essential and interesting, and I don't think such criteria can be merely personal. It has to refer to some standard for judgment, even if opaque. On the other hand, I find Re-ac-tor to be a stinker, and the best songs are several notches beneath his top level songs. Of course, I am already assuming a standard. I just don't know how to articulate it at this point and would probably need hours to figure it out (hours which I do not have). At this point, call my standard "intuitive."

At 3/01/2022 09:57:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Richie, While we must agree to disagree on some points, I concur that there's no such thing as inessential Neil. On the other hand, if you were talking to a new Neil listener, it wouldn't be ideal to dump 50 albums in front of them and tell them to listen to everything. In that context, obscure delights like Rapid Transit can wait a while to be discovered.

It would be really interesting to see how a person would react if they were introduced to Neil's classics and newer stuff at the same time. How and when we meet our music makes a difference.

And there is so much more to The Visitor than Already Great. Almost Always, Change of Heart, Carnival, Forever all strike me as important songs, heavier hitters. Ranking this album below Monsanto Years is a head-scratcher to me.

At 3/01/2022 10:01:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Abner, the irony is, if it is indeed "all one song", we wouldn't know that yet, as Neil is still singing! If I do ever refer to that credo, I'm probably being laconic. It's admittedly lazy short hand for appreciating connections across Neil's body of work.

At 3/01/2022 11:04:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I always struggle over those kinds of slogans. I am constantly uncertain and then I need clarity. Cartesian dreams.

I had to listen to our brain dead governor spout fear laden cliches in a "response" to Biden's speech. And then she gave no response to any actual specific, she just checked off fear and loathing in middle America.

Like I said, a yearning for clarity and truth.

At 3/01/2022 11:06:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

By the way, I think Ian you are right about The Visitor. Change of Heart is a very good song and Carnival is brilliantly inventive.

At 3/02/2022 10:23:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Richie - happy to give you a break here.

So, Reactor is non-essential? As you note, several songs are vital like Shots, Southern Pacific, Surfer Joe.

But, as noted by Abner above, by what criteria?

OK, our criteria for an essential album is that ALL of the songs are vital. If you really have to pick and choose what to take or leave behind, you want albums with the highest ratios of outstanding songs. And no duds, fillers.

So with that criteria, can't see Reactor as essential.

But hey, to each his own, all one song, etc.

Speaking of ratios, not to get too esoteric here. But what other artist w/ 20 + albums has such a high ratio of essential albums? Afterall, Neil had a 10 year streak where he was batting close to 1000%?

Frankly, as Dan notes originally, all of these lists, Best of, Top 10, etc are really just exercises. yeah, maybe fun. Maybe useful. But not in the spirit of Neil's music at all. That's why we dug up that SPIN interview.

If even neil himself doesn't really give a crap, should we fans get all hot and bothered?

If nothing else, we do try and have a little fun around here. That said, Abner, Ian, Dionys, and others you guys have really taken some of the criticism to the next level making for enjoyable commentary here. And that keeps us going and the wheat flowin'.

Just saying.

At 3/02/2022 12:20:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Abner, Fear is a powerful motivator. Keep people angry and scared (and those two emotions tend to run together), and they'll keep voting against the perceived threat. Don't know specifics of your state, but I see a lot of abusing legitimate anxieties and grievances for political gain.

At 3/02/2022 03:42:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Fear is both a motivator and a "motivation killer." I have seen animals killed by fear.

At 3/03/2022 02:54:00 AM, Blogger Steve L said...

Thrasher asked:

Speaking of ratios, not to get too esoteric here. But what other artist w/ 20 + albums has such a high ratio of essential albums? After all, Neil had a 10 year streak where he was batting close to 1000%?

Nick Cave is a potential contender. His recent albums have been outstanding. He's not as prolific as Neil though, I think it's 22 albums so far, if you include Birthday Party and the Grinderman side project.

At 3/03/2022 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Steve L., what a great comment. I don't follow Nick Cave like I should. He is brilliant and his last album is heartbreaking. (I forgot the name of the album but I listened to it three or four times.)

I have recently been listening to Big Thief and they have made three or four in a row that are all album of the year quality. They will also break your heart. (It isn't just love that can break your heart.)

I have mentioned it here before but if you don't know it- listen to Nick Cave's version of Helpless. I honestly think it is better than Neil's original.

At 3/03/2022 02:44:00 PM, Blogger Steve L said...

Hi Abner

Thanks for the tip, I'm about to listen to a Big Thief album for the 1st time. I'm really grateful for suggestions such as that.

Re Nick Cave, it would likely either be Ghosteen (2019) or Carnage (2021) you are thinking of. Both address the guilt and heartbreak he's experienced following the death of his teenage son.


At 3/03/2022 03:24:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Steve, "Ghosteen"- I will listen to Carnage

At 3/04/2022 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Steve L said...

I've listened to Masterpiece and Capacity so far. Both very good albums. UFOF next.

I thought it was a weird coincidence that Masterpiece has a track called Interstate and Carnage has a track called Albuquerque. But neither are covers of the NY tracks with the same names.

I also just saw on the BBC news that Big Thief have been announced today as being part of this year's Glastonbury festival line up.

At 3/05/2022 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Steve, "Carnage" is amazing. Thanks for the heads up. I can't stop listening to Big Thief, they have incredible chemistry and the lead singer- whatever her name- is a spellbinding lyricist. The guitars sound like Neil and the Horse, I am sure there is some influence here, but they remain singular and original.

At 3/06/2022 07:55:00 AM, Blogger Steve L said...

Check out Skeleton Tree and Push the Sky Away, both very good albums from Nick Cave.

Thanks for the Big Thief tip. Apart from their first three albums I also listened to the Adrianne Lenker solo album Abysskiss yesterday, which was also very good


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