(poll conducted by Lee Grove and Randy Lohr)
(Posted to The Rust List on September 20, 1998.)
Neil's 20 Greatest Songs: A Rust Survey
We thank everyone who contributed (especially those who included annotations to their lists), recognizing that there are more lists out there where these came from and that if we asked everyone to do it over, a whole different set of songs would probably be submitted. But on the whole, the final list presented indicates that there are a handful of songs (6 or 7) that a majority of people consider essential and then an assortment of about 20 songs that sort of orbit around the core (all of which spent some time in the top 20). To acknowledge this situation, we have included an appended list of the ten honorable mentions that have rounded out the top 20 throughout the process.
The "finalists" were culled according to three criteria:
A quick glance at the list indicates a preference at the top for the extended electric workouts with Crazy Horse -- the so-called "epic songs" (although many contributors preferred the live and acoustic versions).
Also interesting is the clustering of songs from decade-ending albums -- three from 1979's Rust Never Sleeps (four if you include Pocahontas), three from 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and two from 1989's Freedom. No song from the 1990s made the top 20, but three made the Honorable Mention list.
Although many lists included songs from Neil's 80's albums (Hawks & Doves through American Dream), none garnered sufficient support to rise to the top. None, that is, save Ordinary People, the single unreleased song in the top 20 and certainly one of Neil's most extraordinary compositions.
Otherwise, the list is dominated by Neil's 1970s work (no surprise, really), unquestionably his most consistent and critically-acclaimed period. In fact, 12 of the top 20 are songs that Neil himself chose for his mid-career overview, Decade, which might strike some people as either too predictable or being very faithful to the artist's own sense of his work. The songs that keep the list from simply being a Xerox of Decade (Don't Be Denied, Ambulance Blues, Ordinary People, Thrasher and the rest of the songs off Rust Never Sleeps and Freedom are representative of the kinds of gems that one will know only if they, like Neil himself, stop travelling in the middle of the road and head for the ditch.
In the end, the question we have is: How do these 20+ songs hold up when placed next to the 20-song lists of the other great artists of rock and roll, such as Dylan, Springsteen, the Beatles and the Stones? Is it only a matter of personal taste? Or does the breadth and depth of Neil's work -- in subject matter, style, and longevity -- make him the most essential rock and roll artist of all? And if so, how is it that he is all but ignored in Marsh's Rock Lists and ends up ranked number 30 in the VH-1 top 100 poll, behind the likes of The Police and Fleetwood Mac?
Or, if it is the ditch we're talking about, will Neil Young always be marginal for most folks? And if so, why make a big fuss about it? Interesting questions... I'm hoping the Rusties might have some answers.
With that said, and with no further ado, allow us to present The 20 Greatest Songs by Neil Young for your enjoyment and evaluation...