Coming in Second on the "Creative Outbursts" List...
I still plan on doing detailed posts on most of these albums. In fact, I’ve been saving them deliberately (“best for last”, just like my Mom always taught me). So, I won’t get into a ton of song-by-song description. However, in many cases, just listing the titles themselves will speak volumes.
EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE (May 1969) was comprised of seven Neil originals: “Cinnamon Girl”, the title track, “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)”, “Down By The River”, “(When You’re On) The Losing End”, “Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)”, and “Cowgirl In The Sand”. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this album laid the foundation for both “grunge” and “alt-country”. Or, at least, it dug the hole into which that foundation was laid. Long live the Horse!
The CSNY album DÉJÀ VU (March 1970) contained Neil’s classic “Helpless”. On May 4, 1970, the National Guard fired into a protesting crowd, killing four students at Kent State. Not long after, Neil wrote, and CSNY recorded and released, the classic single “Ohio”. This was followed by Neil’s AFTER THE GOLD RUSH (September 1970), which contains these classics: “Tell Me Why”, the title track, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Southern Man”, “Till The Morning Comes”, “Oh, Lonesome Me” (Don Gibson), “Don't Let It Bring You Down”, “Birds”, “When You Dance I Can Really Love”, “I Believe In You”, and “Cripple Creek Ferry”. It's obvious that 1970 was an amazing year for Neil.
HARVEST (February 1972) featured Neil in almost every style, although it became a mega-seller based primarily on its more country-rock tunes. The entire line-up was “Out On The Weekend”, “Harvest”, “A Man Needs A Maid”, “Heart Of Gold”, “Are You Ready For The Country”, “Old Man”, “There's A World”, “Alabama”, “The Needle And The Damage Done”, and “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)”. Neil’s lack of willingness to immediately follow this album with anything similar created a vacuum which The Eagles, among others, were all too willing to fill.
Instead, Neil went to work on directing a movie! Somehow, the soundtrack was released well in advance of the movie itself. This was JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST (November 1972), and it contained only one new song, “Soldier”. Neil then made the unprecedented move of releasing an album of previously unreleased material that had been recorded live in concert. The album was TIME FADES AWAY (October 1973), and it includes the title track, “Journey Through The Past”, “Yonder Stands The Sinner”, “L.A.”, “Love In Mind”, “Don't Be Denied”, “The Bridge”, and “Last Dance”. Is it rough, raw, and uneven? Hell yes. But, the songs, especially “Journey Through The Past” and “Don’t Be Denied” stack up pretty well with Neil’s all-time best.
Just in case the mood wasn’t dark (and anti-HARVEST) enough, Neil continued to deal with the deaths of roadie Bruce Berry and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten by recording TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT, though it sat unreleased by Reprise Records. Instead, the next album released was another brilliantly bleak and bluesy affair, ON THE BEACH (July 1974). It contains “Walk On”, “See The Sky About To Rain”, “Revolution Blues”, “For The Turnstiles”, “Vampire Blues”, “On The Beach”, “Motion Pictures (For Carrie)”, and “Ambulance Blues”. What an amazing album!
Apparently, at this point someone at Reprise realized that they might as well release TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT (June 1975), to complete the so-called “Doom Trilogy”. The songs were “Tonight's The Night - Part I”, “Speakin' Out”, “World On A String”, “Borrowed Tune”, “Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown” (Neil Young/Danny Whitten), “Mellow My Mind”, “Roll Another Number (For The Road)”, “Albuquerque”, “New Mama”, “Lookout Joe”, “Tired Eyes”, and “Tonight's The Night - Part II”. To this day, many of Neil’s most dedicated fans consider this his best album. It is a masterpiece of drunken sloppiness, and pure catharsis.
This was followed by ZUMA (November 1975), a guitar masterpiece of controlled feedback and distortion. The songs on this album (“Don't Cry No Tears”, “Danger Bird”, “Pardon My Heart”, “Lookin' For A Love”, “Barstool Blues”, “Stupid Girl”, “Drive Back”, “Cortez The Killer”, and “Through My Sails”) virtually gave birth to innumerable “alternative” bands, albeit after about a 10-year pregnancy.
Rather than try to explain away the whole “Stills-Young Band” thing, I’ll cut it off here. But, keep in mind that we might never know exactly how many unreleased songs were written during this same time period (’69-’75). Three of them ended up on AMERICAN STARS 'N BARS (1977). They were “Star Of Bethlehem” (Nov’74), “Like A Hurricane” and “Homegrown” (both Nov’75). (Yeah, that’s right. Throw in an all-time classic “Like A Hurricane” with everything else I've listed!)
“Little Wing” (not the Hendrix tune) from 1975 and “The Old Homestead” from 1974 both ended up on HAWKS & DOVES (1980). Other songs from this timeframe include “Deep Forbidden Lake”, “Love Is A Rose”, and the amazing “Winterlong”, all three of which ended up on DECADE (1977). And that’s not to mention the never officially released songs, such as “Dance, Dance, Dance”. Oh, yeah, and “Bad Fog Of Loneliness”, which finally saw the light of day on the RED ROCKS LIVE DVD (2000).
So, there you have it, seven classic Neil albums (not including JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST) plus multiple contributions to CSNY, as well as unreleased (or released later) songs galore, all in less than seven years. Now, it’s true that Hendrix fundamentally changed the way people approached playing the electric guitar. His influence is ubiquitous, even to this day. However, the number of imitators spawned by Neil Young, particularly his music of this time period, is staggering. (And I didn’t even extend the time period through 1979 to pick up RUST NEVER SLEEPS, which might well be my favorite, and Neil’s most imitated, album of all.) There’s clearly a reason that Neil was named “Artist of the Decade” for the 1970s (Click here for a cool article recapping Neil's entire decade of the '70s). Thus, I say, from early 1969 through late 1975, Neil Young had the 2nd greatest “creative outburst” in rock music history!