Neil Young is one of the greatest and most prolific rock songwriters of the 20th century. His string of albums in the late ’60s through the 1970s, in particular, are loaded with so many fantastic songs and “deep cuts” that it’s something of a misnomer to call any of Young’s tunes “lost.” Nevertheless, I’ve picked 10 songs that don’t get much hype but have remained personal favorites since I first heard them.
1. “Emperor Of Wyoming” (from Neil Young, 1969): The first track off Young’s first solo release is a bucolic instrumental, with a lovely country-western lilt. It’s a musical march across the mountains and high plains of the Cowboy State.
2. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” (from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1969): Young’s second album brought his on-and-off-again backing band Crazy Horse into the mix and made him a solo star. “Cowgirl In The Sand,” “Down By The River” and “Cinnamon Girl” get all the attention, but the title track is a wonderful and quirky burst of country-rock longing.
3. “Birds” (from After The Gold Rush, 1970): A beautiful and fragile song about lost love with a very young Nils Lofgren at the piano.
4. “Country Girl” (from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu, 1970): A hauntingly orchestrated masterpiece of saloon music.
5. “Journey Through The Past” (from Time Fades Away, 1973): Heartfelt tribute to Young’s Canada home from a very overlooked live album, and marks a point where Young was composing more and more on the piano.
6. “Ambulance Blues” (from On The Beach, 1974): My favorite Young song of all from my favorite Young album. Enigmatic and as atmospheric as they come – the dropped guitar tuning lends the tune a muddy earthiness that sounds timeless.
7. “Mellow My Mind” (from Tonight’s The Night, 1975): Features Young’s bleakest vocals on his bleakest (and maybe greatest) album ever. Listen to the strain as he sings “I’ve been down the road and I’ve come back/Lonesome whistle on a railroad track.” Incredible.
8. “Hey Babe” (from American Stars ‘N Bars, 1976): A sweet, gentle country-folk tune that dances around the ears as soft and comfortable as an old flannel shirt.
9. “Four Strong Winds” (from Comes A Time, 1978): This definitive cover of Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” has become something of a second national anthem in Canada. “Think I’ll go out to Alberta…”
10. “Thrasher” (from Rust Never Sleeps, 1979): One of Young’s greatest works addresses the changes he was going through, the changes the world was going through and his reactions to contemporaries stuck in neutral. There’s some terrific acoustic guitar playing, too.