Over the course of our ESSENTIAL ALBUMS feature — where we ask artists to cite the music that's absolutely central to their sound —we've realized that there are a small handful of musicians who appear regularly. It's a tidy little metric of the voices who've most heavily influenced the day's music-makers. And few names recur with the frequency of Neil Young. It's not the craziest suggestion; just about every musician has a Neil Young cover in their repertoire.
Now, Uncle Neil turns 70 today. Would you believe it? We saw him play a three hour-set, no break this past summer. 70.
To celebrate, we've scoured our archives to trace the long, winding rivers and tributaries of his impact. Courtney Barnett, Sharon Van Etten, Spencer Krug and more discuss their favourite Neil Young albums and how they changed their idea of music for good.
Neil Young, Comes A Time (1978)
Sharon Van Etten: I grew up listening to Neil Young. His songwriting is amazing, his melodies are great. In general it was something that my dad always listened to. He has a massive vinyl collection from when he was a kid. I’m one of five kids and this was one artist, one record we all agreed on. I found [Comes A Time] later in life after delving in past the classic records. I can’t believe I didn’t find it sooner.
Neil Young, Le Noise (2010)
Spencer Krug: I was in the studio one day and my friend put on Neil Young, the one that he did with just guitar in the church. Immediately on hearing it I knew it was Neil Young, but I didn’t know the album existed, and that was a pleasant surprise.
Neil Young, On the Beach (1974)
Dry the River's Matt Taylor: It’s one of the first Neil albums I got and I think he kind of showcases all sides of him, to an extent. You’ve kind of got the groove of eras — blues, country, soul, jazz styles. Then the second half of it is really bleak, really intimate. That’s what I really like about that record. It’s something you don’t get with some of his earlier stuff: it’s a bit more moody. I’m obsessed with “Revolution Blues.” I just love that album to death.
Neil Young, Live at the Cellar Door (2013)
Band of Horses' Creighton Barrett: This one is cool because he’s so new to a lot of those songs that are fucking classic. Any of these acoustic live records, the vulnerability is the number one thing, especially if it’s a solo dude. And Neil, it’s maybe one of the first times he played “Old Man,” which is just crazy in your head to think that that song hadn’t been around. Even at that point it sounded like a true classic. Or playing “Cinnamon Girl” or “Down By The River” without Crazy Horse — that kind of shit is really cool.
Neil Young, Live at Massey Hall 1971 (2007)
Courtney Barnett: Somehow I only found out about [Neil Young] a couple of years ago. A friend gave me Harvest and told me I had to listen to it. For some reason, he'd not always been in my life. And when I heard this album, I kind of just died a little bit. It's just so beautiful and haunting. I don't know why, but I always just go back to it. Sit in front of the stereo, stare at it, and just listen to it.