I first became interested in Neil Young when he released ‘Living with War’ in 2006. It was and still is, as far as I’m aware and please correct me if wrong, the only album by a western musician that’s entire message is anti-war. I loved it on its release and found it comforting that someone of cultural significance was railing against the seeming consensus that war was actually good. Released during a war, when the majority of the American public were pro war it didn't seem like an easy position for a musician to take and I was glad that he did. He said at the time to the New York Times that
"I was hoping some young person would come along and say this and sing some songs about it, but I didn't see anybody, so I'm doing it myself. I waited as long as I could."
Like much of what I would consider Young's best work, it seemed to piss a lot of people off. To cement that point, it pisses me off too. Living with War features the track ‘Looking for a Leader’ a song that naively suggests that if Bush wasn’t the president then all would be well in the world. This apparent total forgetting of the history of all American presidents (Democrats as well as Republicans) and their well documented love of invading countries, is quite the memory blip. To further inflict pain on me, he has updated and re-released this in the build up to the 2020 elections asking people to vote for Biden. It feels low level facism to me (or maybe just incredibly naive) to suggest an all powerful leader can turn up and sort out complex problems, whatever they may be.
The 80s were a period where much of what Neil Young released, pissed people off. Including his record label, Gefen, who infamously sued him for making music "unrepresentative" of himself. Experimenting with different styles, it mostly sounds like someone having a really good time. I may be inherently contrarian, but much of his 80s music sounds good to me. Or at the very least - it hasn't dated half as bad as you would expect a folk rock singer playing electronic and rockabilly music in the 1980s should.
I decided to listen to every Neil Young album to create a playlist of what I thought were his best songs. After much editing and thought (‘Sample and Hold’ is a great name for the playlist but is the song itself good enough to get on the actual playlist?’ etc) here is Sample and Hold a playlist of the best bits of Neil Young. Hope you enjoy! Though there's a good chance I may have missed something - If so please let me know.
SIDE NOTE - I recently made a Neil Young T-shirt inspired by his love of trains.