Home Music Music Lists

The 100 Greatest Neil Young Songs

From tender ballads to raging grunge, the songwriter’s nearly 60-year career has produced some of rock’s most enduring music

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images; Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images

“I’d rather keep changing and lose a lot of people along the way,” Neil Young told Rolling Stone in 1975. “If that’s the price, I’ll pay it. I don’t give a shit if my audience is a hundred or a hundred million.” Over the years, Young has turned that unapologetic sentiment into one of rock’s most durable credos, following his ornery muse wherever it leads him. He’s been a folk-rock superstar and a synth-rock pioneer, a country singer and a rockabilly revivalist, a left-leaning environmental activist and a Reagan supporter, a guy who’s been filling arenas since the Seventies even as he drives his fans nuts with his maverick musical detours. But whether he’s the tender soul singing “Heart of Gold” or the rangy crusader giving us a concept album about his awesome new electric car in 2009, Neil Young is always Neil Young – same creaky voice, same searching lyrics, placing him among the greatest songwriters in rock history.

Young first hit the scene with Buffalo Springfield in 1966, not long before Rolling Stone first hit newsstands. He’s been a regular in our pages ever since. We’ve covered his music for decades — hundreds and hundreds of songs spread over studio LPs, live albums, bootlegs, and tapes that Young has only recently begun to release on his Archives website. Some of them are beloved folk-rock hits; some sound like the work of a cult artist with little interest in hooks or high fidelity; some are just really fucking loud. We’ve narrowed that down to his 100 greatest songs, and tell the inside stories behind each one. Our list draws from every point in his career, proving, among other things, that Young is part of an elite group of Sixties rockers who’ve kept making great music long after their supposed glory days.

All these years later, Neil Young has neither burned out nor faded away. Instead, he’s built one of rock’s great careers by doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

From Rolling Stone US

Play video

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images


‘Silver & Gold’

One of young’s most heavily workshopped love songs, “Silver & Gold” dates back to at least 1984, when he started playing it live and tried recording it for his country album Old Ways. But he could never quite capture the homey feel he wanted; in 1992, he told a Cleveland crowd he would “probably never put it out.” Finally, in 2000, he nailed it, with a light, tender vocal delivery and a spry acoustic performance.

Play video

Gus Stewart/Redferns/Getty Imagees



The hallucinatory “Hitchhiker” is a furiously strummed, Daniel Lanois–produced ode to memory that dates back to the mid-Seventies. Young recalls smoking hash through a pen and compares himself to an ancient Peruvian. It ends with lines he penned decades after the rest of the song was written: “Thankful for my children/And my faithful wife.” Said Young, “The song never could have been done without those.”

Play video

Erica Echenberg/Redferns


‘Drive Back’

“Every good thing comes to an end,” Young sings on “Drive Back.” It’s one of Zuma’s most brawling songs, epitomizing the druggy beach-house garage-rock spirit of Crazy Horse at the time. “ ‘Drive Back’ is just the [Fender] Deluxe all the way up,” Young said. Frank “Poncho” Sampedro described his enthusiasm like this: “I’d go in the bathroom, do a bunch of smack between takes, and go, ‘Hey, I’m playin’ with Neil Young — holy shit!’ “

Play video

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images


‘Tell Me Why’

The glistening folk opener of After the Gold Rush was first introduced during the CSNY shows of 1970, and you can hear their influence in the song’s gorgeously ringing vocal harmonies. Young later said he stopped playing it live because he wasn’t sure if its famous lines “Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself/When you’re old enough to repay/But young enough to sell” meant anything.

Play video

Michael Putland/Getty Images



“As a document of what was happening to me, I think it was a great record,” Young said of the live LP Time Fades Away. “L.A.,” a tense, bitter rocker, is a sarcastic tribute to “the uptight city in the smog” that made him a star. It’s an especially vicious example of Young using the Time Fades Away tour to distance himself from his sensitive-singer-songwriter persona. He performed it 22 times on that tour, and a shocking one-off at the L.A. Forum with Promise of the Real in 2015 remains the only time he’s done it since.

Play video

Michael Putland/Getty Images


‘Last Trip to Tulsa’

Young capped off his debut album with a surreal nine-minute voice-and-guitar spirit quest. “You get a feeling from something that doesn’t make sense,” explained Young, “Like ‘Last Trip to Tulsa.’ ” Indeed, even if lyrics about working on palm trees for 87 years and “Indians in the corner” are pretty much impossible to make sense of, the winding melody and cyclical chord progression still exert a mysterious pull.

Play video

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’

Originally recorded by Young solo in late 1968, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” was totally reinvented months later, when he redid it backed by Crazy Horse. The first take was downright civil, with AM-radio keyboards and taut rhythm guitar. The newer version was incisive guitar rock. It’s the sound of an artist transformed.

Play video

Rick Diamond/Getty Images


‘See the Sky About to Rain’

Young began playing the soft, meditative “See the Sky About to Rain” at concerts in 1970 and considered putting it on both Harvest and Time Fades Away. But the first recording was by the Byrds, on their 1973 reunion album. Young finally got around to cutting it a year later, playing a warbly Wurlitzer piano himself and delivering the vocals with a tone that suggests tears.

Play video

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


‘Flying on the Ground Is Wrong’

One of the Buffalo Springfield’s prettiest songs, this was written around the time Young got his own L.A. apartment, with a fridge full of Cokes and Twinkies, as he notes in his memoir. “It’s about what happens when you start getting high,” he says on 1970’s Live at the Cellar Door. “And you find out that people you thought you knew, you don’t anymore — because they don’t get high, and you do.”

Play video

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


‘Will to Love’

Young said this “might be one of the best records I ever made.” He recorded it on a cassette player in a drugged-out haze in front of his fireplace, which can be heard snapping and crackling as he sings about being a salmon swimming upstream. He later added vibes, drums, and underwater effects, and pitched it to CSNY, who passed. “I realized there was no way I could sing the song again or perform it,” he wrote, “and I never have since.”

Play video

Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images


‘Over and Over’

“Over and Over” is a convulsive Crazy Horse guitar excursion that’s also a sweetly heartbroken Young reverie. Over distorted chords that repeat for eight minutes, Young sings about an evening spent reminiscing over “nights of love and that moment on the beach” and plays emotive, flaring solos. Yet despite its length — and because of its kinship with early-Nineties grunge — the song was a mild hit, reaching Number 33 on the mainstream-rock chart.

Play video

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


‘Journey Through the Past’

On the Time Fades Away tour, Young introduced this lovely piano ballad as “a song without a home.” Written in 1971 during the creative surge that produced much of Harvest, it’s a lonely guy’s dream of leaving L.A. for the comforts of Canada. Though the song didn’t appear on a studio album (or the 1972 soundtrack that shares its name), it’s the rare Time Fades Away song that still shows up in Young’s live set.

Play video

Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images


‘World on a String’

Almost 20 years after Frank Sinatra bragged about having the world on a string, Neil Young cut it free. “World on a string/Doesn’t mean a thing,” he sang on a dirge that sounds ragged and spontaneous, even on Tonight’s the Night. For the whole of the song’s two minutes, his voice quivers just outside the right pitch. “I like that one, but the singing is really out,” Young later said. He gave it another shot for his 1993 Unplugged set, but fittingly let it fall apart at the end.

Play video

Dick Barnatt/Redferns/Getty Images


‘The Old Laughing Lady’

Written in the mid-Sixties at a coffee shop in Detroit — “on napkins,” Young said — “The Old Laughing Lady” is sad, pretty, orchestral pop in which the title character seems to stand in for either death or booze. Jack Nitzsche’s layered production artfully made Young’s lyrics sound, in the producer’s words, “a million miles away but right there.” The results are California psychedelia with the sun sucked out.

Play video

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images


‘A Man Needs a Maid’

“It’s overblown, but it’s great,” Young said of this song. Featuring a dramatic Jack Nitzsche arrangement, “Maid” transcends its air of dated chauvinism to reveal a deeper core. Written for Young’s girlfriend Carrie Snodgress (who inspired the line “I fell in love with an actress”), it hangs on the fragile line “When will I see you again?” and remains a moving union of grandeur and vulnerability.

Play video

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images


‘Razor Love’

When Young played Saturday Night Live in May 2000 to promote his gentle new album, Silver & Gold, the first song he chose was “Razor Love,” a relaxed-fit country-soul ballad that he and his all-star band performed while seated, and SNL respectfully let him play the song in its six-minute entirety. Despite the violent title, “Razor Love” — which Young first performed on a 1984 tour — is one of his sweetest, simplest domestic ballads.

Play video

Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images


‘Opera Star’

Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina called Young’s 1981 album Re-ac-tor “a turkey, a one-legged turkey.” With its stark red-and-black cover and grinding, malformed songs, it struck fans as the punk-like rawness of Rust Never Sleeps gone horribly awry. Yet the album does have its enjoyably cranky moments, including its opening track, “Opera Star,” a nagging, perverse riff-crusher in which Young sings about a rock & roll fan whose girlfriend leaves him to go to the opera with “some highbrow.” In 2013, when Young and Crazy Horse started including it in their live sets (often coupled with “Prisoners of Rock ’n’ Roll,” another hard-driving Eighties orphan), it was a welcome surprise that didn’t seem all that out of place among his beloved guitar classics.

Play video

Ebet Roberts/Redferns


‘Borrowed Tune’

One of the many bummed-out ballads on Tonight’s the Night. Young wrote this in a Wisconsin hotel room during the ill-fated 1973 Time Fades Away tour. He recorded it solo, just piano and harmonica, copping his melody from the Rolling Stones’ 1966 “Lady Jane.” “I’m singing this borrowed tune/I took from the Rolling Stones/Alone in this empty room/Too wasted to write my own.”

Play video

Michael Putland/Getty Images


‘Pushed It Over the End’

On May 16, 1974, Young played a surprise set at New York’s Bottom Line featuring many unreleased songs. The legendary show opened up with a dreamy song he introduced as “Citizen Kane Jr. Blues,” and later retitled “Pushed It Over the End” when it resurfaced that summer on CSNY’s stadium reunion tour. Supposedly inspired by Patty Hearst, it would have been a highlight for most songwriters — Young hasn’t played it since.

Play video

Dick Barnatt/Redferns/Getty Images



Harvest is Young’s biggest album, but its title track remains a lesser-known gem in his catalog. That might be because the lyrics are oblique even by his standards: “Dream up, dream up/Let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.” But the music is the essence of easygoing stoner country, led by the straightforward piano of John Harris. As Young once put it, “’Harvest’ is one of my best songs. That’s the best thing on Harvest.”

Play video

AJ Barratt/Avalon/Getty Images



A high point of the acoustic side of Rust Never Sleeps — just Young and his guitar, brooding over his compulsive need to keep hitting the road. Still only 32, he worries about turning into a dinosaur and has a few harsh words for Crosby, Stills, and Nash (“They were just dead weight to me”). Young knows the thrasher is coming for him someday, but he faces mortality with no sentimentality, just a shrug.

Play video

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


‘Look Out for My Love’

This paranoid, menacing acoustic stomp is a Crazy Horse recording like no other. They cut it at Young’s ranch in 1976, at the tail end of a massive drug binge. “It was a marathon,” Frank “Poncho” Sampedro recalled. “Girls were there, makin’ us Mexican coffees, choppin’ lines.” They blew through this take at 6 a.m. As producer David Briggs said, “We knew we had nailed it. It had the spook.”

Play video

Henry Diltz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


‘Roll Another Number (For the Road)’

Woodstock was a mere four years in the past when Young debuted “Roll Another Number” while on tour in 1973, but there was already plenty of longing for that bygone era. “I’m a million miles away from that helicopter day,” he sang. The song became a defiant statement, closing out many gigs, perhaps as a kiss-off to fans who came expecting a night of hits.

Play video

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images



“Even Richard Nixon has got soul,” Young sang in “Campaigner.” He wrote this acoustic ballad while on tour, after watching a TV news bulletin about Nixon’s wife, Pat, being hospitalized, and debuted it onstage hours later. “Guess I felt sorry for [Nixon] that night,” he said. In the Decade liner notes, Young had a droll explanation for his surprising pardon: “Sort of a modern-day Cortez, you know.”

Play video

Frans Schellekens/Redferns/Getty Images



“There is no dearer friend of mine/That I know in this life,” Young sings on this moving piano ballad, originally written during 1976 sessions with the Stills-Young Band. Some have speculated that it’s about his at-times-tenuous friendship with Stephen Stills, but Young has said it’s about producer Jack Nitzsche, then struggling with drugs and personal issues. A live version with ghostly backing vocals and faint electric guitar was widely bootlegged. But it didn’t get officially released until Young performed it on Unplugged in 1993, showing new listeners an example of his songwriting at its most somberly powerful, while offering a gift to die-hard fans.

Play video

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


‘Comes a Time’

The homespun folk album Comes a Time arrived after a run of anguished rock records like Tonight’s the Night and Zuma, offering fans some of Young’s most amiable music in years. “It’s the first record I’ve released,” said Young, “where I’m actually facing the audience on the jacket and smiling.” Originally recorded solo-acoustic before being recut with a full band, the album’s title track features Rufus Thibodeaux’s lilting fiddle and Nicolette Larson’s warm backing vocal, which add porch-y ambience to Young’s wistful melody. When he sings “This old world/Keeps spinning round,” it’s resignation with a touch of contentment.

Play video

Peter Pakvis/Redferns/Getty Images


‘Be the Rain’

In 2003, at the height of America’s mood of blinkered Iraq War–era jingoism, Young released Greendale, a politically charged concept album he also spun into a graphic novel and film. It told the story of a fictional American town and a family struggling there. “I don’t think Americans felt holier-than-thou in the 20th century,” Young told Rolling Stone during the 2003 tour with Crazy Horse to support the album. “Something else is going on now. That’s what Greendale is about.” Greendale’s finale and highlight is a latter-day combination of a socially aware CSNY homily and a wailing Crazy Horse guitar jam. Leading a chorus in a call-and-response while hollering through what sounds like a megaphone, Young declares the need to “save Mother Earth” against Big Oil and corporate farms that are dumping toxic waste into rivers. “Don’t care what the governments say/They’re all bought and paid for anyway,” he shouts. “The energy [in “Be the Rain”], that’s youth rising out of this,” Young said, adding, “This period is the biggest breeding ground for revolution in this country since the mid-Sixties.”

Play video

Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images


‘Sample and Hold’

The experimentation of “Sample and Hold” is precisely the sort of gesture that inspired David Geffen to sue Young for releasing “unrepresentative” music. The Kraftwerk-inspired, synth-heavy tune, on which he sang through a vocoder, was unlike anything he had recorded up until that point. But he wasn’t just being an anti-corporate contrarian: Trans was inspired by his young son Ben, who has cerebral palsy and can’t communicate with language; Young wanted people to feel what it’s like to hear words without understanding them. “Sample and Hold” was partially inspired by a new digital system for controlling toy trains, a hobby Young would later share with his son.