Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Masters: Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Top 5 Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.

For August The Masters focuses on the great Neil Young.

This month we already chatted about Neil Young's best studio albums, his best live work and now we tackle his studio work with Crazy Horse. The reason we broke all of these up is because if we didn't, the records below would have dominated all of our lists; there is no doubt that RtBE likes Neil Young best when he is backed up by Crazy Horse. 
With a new NY&CH album coming soon we couldn't be more excited to revisit these great records. As always this list is a discussion starter, not a final statement on the matter. Let's dip into it as the top album on this list is our favorite thing Neil has done and I guess could technically top all three of our previous lists....

#5 Broken Arrow - 1996

Before we dive into the top five, how about a few that missed out. In revisiting NY&CH for this post, RtBE was pleasantly surprised how the recent Psychedelic Pill has gotten better with age and distance (giving hope for the upcoming release) and were also reminded what a colossal let down Americana was, and found out that American Stars 'n Bars and Sleeps With Angels have their really high points but are just OK as full length records.

That last sentence could also describe Broken Arrow for some fansbut something about this album really hits home. The opening three songs just work perfectly as "Big Time" "Loose Change" and "Slip Away" have such a feel to them beginning the record on a superb note. A lot of this Crazy Horse stuff would normally just stomp through the less aggressive parts but there is a texture/nuance as well as those loud riffs augmenting the patented chunking, banging and soaring.

Broken Arrow feels a touch like On The Beach's melancholy filtered through the loud rock and roll of Crazy Horse as Young is channeling...something. "This Town" and "Music Arcade" speak to those disengaged feelings directly and the added bonus "Interstate" speaks to that allusiveness while the bootlegged "Baby What Do You Want Me To Do" would have been cooler with better sound, but that is Uncle Neil, always confounding expectations. RtBE goes back to this record, especially the first three tunes quite often when we want a NY&CH fix.

#4 Ragged Glory - 1990

Neil was reborn with 1989's Freedom and then dove in head first with Crazy Horse for the follow-up Ragged Glory. With the bubbling up of grunge, the godfather himself would get out in front with this bad ass record. While guitars and Neil go hand in hand let's take a second to shout out the rhythm section as well as Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina lay the foundation which allow the guitars to soar.

They are not Sly and Robbie or hell even Wyman and Watts, they are something totally unique a duo who lumber shift and push and pull forward almost collapsing but never quite giving into the madness around them. Ragged Glory and all Crazy Horse have this garage rock feel that has roots in punk, 60's rock and 50's roll.

The disk pushed The Horse into the modern age and gave them a whole new batch of tunes to pull from for their ripping live shows (see Weld). "Love To Burn", "Love And Only Love" are the big stand out jams, but "Over and Over" is dynamite as is "Fuckin' Up" and "Manison on the Hill". Their cover of "Father John" is fun and closer "Mother Nature (National Anthem)" warbles gloriously, every song stands strong and loud and the Horse returned yet again.

#3 Zuma - 1975

After his Ditch Trilogy, Neil teamed back up with The Horse to make their mid-seventies high point record (not their best of the decade, that would come later) as Young wrote songs about broken love and conquerors with equal grace.

Zuma is an interesting record which can feel pieced together but has some of the best tunes from NY&CH starting with "Cortez the Killer". While Young has released lots of live versions of this song the studio recording has its own magic, there was a final verse Young and Horse were going to record, but then a power outage struck the studio. The final verse was not recorded as the song fades out and Young himself said he never liked the final verse so it has never been heard. Anyway you slice it, Cortez is an all-time classic track.

RtBE would argue for one of our personal favorites on this album "Barstool Blues" as well as the dynamic "Danger Bird". Love tunes or at least brokenhearted tunes like "Pardon My Heart" and "Don't Cry No Tears" are dynamite and the only clunker is "Stupid Girl", but one misstep can be forgiven on Zuma, well two missteps, that cover art stinks...   

#2 Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere - 1969

While Neil released one record before this one, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is his first true winner and a fantastic album where the joys of newly hooking up with Crazy Horse for the first time are palpable through the speakers.

Like our top pick for best live Neil album, this record is highlighted by two killer jams, "Cowgirl In the Sand" and Down By The River" which are prime examples of the the interplay between Young and Danny Whitten. Every tune delivers as "Cinnamon Girl" gets the soon to be patented stomp of Crazy Horse rocking, "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)" injects some violins from Bobby Notkoff. In what would become a reoccurring tone, the rollicking off the rails Talbot/Molina drum bass combo locks in as well as they can as things rumble along.

The title track is so great for any small town kid wanting to get out, or big city dweller knowing that a place ain't the answer either. From that track to the final notes of "Cowgirl In The Sand", this album is a must hear and placed Young on his way to super stardom as he rode the Horse for the first time.

#1 Rust Never Sleeps - 1979

Should Rust Never Sleeps be classified as a live record? A Neil Young record? A Crazy Horse record? Probably a combo of all three but for RtBE's purposes we will put it a top this list and say it is our favorite thing Neil has been a part of.

Supposedly recorded live, but with major overdubs, Neil worked his magic, sometimes with Horse, but not on every track, things get confusing, but what isn't confusing is the majesty on the record. The opening classic "My, My, Hey, Hey", the acoustic rambling of tracks like "Pocahontas" the gorgeousness of "Sail Away", the folk drive of "Thrasher" and we haven't mentioned side two yet.

The rock and roll B-side is just mega. Each song is a blast and that guitar tone that crunches out during the closing "Hey, Hey, My, My" must have inspired a generation of noise rockers with the growl and roar. "Powderfinger" may be the best electric folk song ever while "Welfare Mothers" and "Sedan Delivery" speak directly to their time and place in 1979.

Whether you enjoy acoustic or electric Neil, Rust Never Sleeps has it all, is a joy to return to and shows off his and Crazy Horses talents with aplomb. RtBE's favorite Neil Young record.

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