Top 10 Neil Young Songs

Neil Young was born in Toronto, Canada November 12, 1945. His father was an author, journalist, and sportswriter and his mother could trace her ancestor’s roots back to their involvement in the American Revolution. Neil contracted polio when he was 7 years old and his parents brought him to Florida in 1951 to recover where he first became infatuated with cars.

He began playing ukulele when he was 13 and after moving to Winnipeg with his mother he began his first band the “Jades.” When he was 17 in 1963 he joined the “Squires” and 2 years later met Stephen Stills. Young then played in an R&B band called the “Mynah Birds” which featured Rick James and was signed to “Motown Records” but failed to record.

After driving his 1953 Pontiac hearse named “Mort II” with bassist Bruce Palmer to Los Angeles, he ran into Stephen Stills and Richie Furay. This led to the formation of the folk rock band Buffalo Springfield. It was during this time period that Neil was diagnosed with epilepsy which resulted in seizures that even took place on stage. When he began performing and recording as a solo artist he also joined Crosby, Stills and Nash when they performed at “Woodstock” in 1969.

Since then and over the next 53 years he released over 40 studio albums and a dozen live and compilation albums as both a solo artist as well as with “Crazy Horse” and other band configurations. At the same time, he’s been on three studio albums with CSN&Y as well as touring with them on and off for over five decades. He’s been inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame twice as both a solo artist and a member of Buffalo Springfield. In 2020, he became a US citizen after living there for 50 years while retaining his Canadian citizenship. His voice is one of a kind and his guitar playing proficiency is phenomenal as both an acoustic and electric performer but his electric dissonant feedback drenched compositions are especially enticing.

Here are Blues Rock Review’s top 10 Neil Young songs.

10. “Southern Man”

“Southern Man” appeared on After the Goldrush which was released in 1970. It is one of his most controversial songs because it directly criticized Southern American race relations as a Canadian citizen. “It spoke in generalizations and Young even said at a later time that he didn’t care for some of the lyrics in the song in retrospect. Lynyrd Skynyrd responded to Young with “Sweet Home Alabama” which had the line

“I hope Neil Young will remember,

A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”

There wasn’t really any animosity between the two artists because Ronnie Van Zandt often wore a Neil Young T-shirt on stage during Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts and Young performed “Sweet Home Alabama during his set on occasion and even said “I’m proud to have my name in a song like theirs.”

9. “Mr. Soul”

“Mr. Soul” appears on “Buffalo Springfield’s” second album Buffalo Springfield Again which was released in November of 1967. Young is said to have written it after he experienced his first epileptic seizure while performing with the band on stage. He wrote the words on a discarded newspaper, which was something that he commonly did at the time while living in a cabin in Laurel Canyon. It was released as a B side on the band’s 45 rpm single release of “Bluebird” prior to the album’s release in July.

8. “Ohio”

“Ohio” was released as a 45 rpm single on June 4, 1970 a few months after CSN&Y’s Déjà vu release in March. It first appeared on an album as a live cut on CSN&Y’s 1971 release 4 Way Street but not as the studio recording until So Far in 1974. It was a direct reaction by Neil Young after reading the May 15, 1970 issue of “Life Magazine” about the May 4 Kent State Massacre. Within 20 minutes after reading the article he wrote the song about the shooting, in which four Kent State University student protestors were killed. The tragedy took place when Ohio National guard troops fired into the gathered crowd for breaching Martial Law. The protest was over the escalation of the war in Vietnam by President Nixon; when it was found out that he secretly bombed the North Vietnamese operating in Cambodia.

7. “Cinnamon Girl”

Young wrote it while he was sick with a 103 degree temperature along with “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” He has never disclosed who the “Cinnamon Girl” was but the reference to finger cymbals in that time period immediately brought to mind 1960s folk singer Jean Ray. She was a friend of Phil Ochs who Young referred to by name in his liner notes on his 1977 compilation album Decades. Phil Ochs wrote the title song for Jean and her performing partner Jim Glover’s second album Changes that the song appeared on.

 6. “Cowgirl in the Sand”

“Cowgirl in the Sand” appeared on Everybody Knows This is Nowhere Young’s second album which was released in May 1969 before he appeared at “Woodstock” with Crosby, Stills and Nash. It’s another enigmatic composition whose actual interpretation has never been divulged by Young. It features a raw unrehearsed feedback drenched guitar assault that established him as an amazing master of the guitar in his own rite.

5. “Down by the River”

“Down by the River” appeared on Neil Young’s second studio album but his first with his backup band “Crazy Horse” in the spring of 1969. “Crazy Horse” was a folk rock band called the “Rockets” when he first began to play with them and the band was comprised of guitarist Danny Whitten, bass player Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. They enjoyed playing long instrumentals and when they were recording “Down By the River” it was the first one with Young. They began recording it the day after “Cinnamon Girl” and when they were having trouble making it work, Molina and Talbot suggested slowing it down to ½ time which worked.

4. “Rockin’ in the Free World”

“Rockin’ in the Free World” appears on Young’s 1989 studio album Freedom which was released in October only a month before the East German “Berlin Wall” fell and the city and country were united for the first time since WWII ended and 20 years after the wall was erected. Neil wrote the song in February 1989 just after President George Bush Sr.’s inauguration and it was inspired by two things. First all the political events of the day from the new President to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni who issued a death fatwa against author Salman Rushdie and Russia’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan. The title was inspired by the second event which was a failed cultural exchange between Russia and the USA where Neil Young and Crazy Horse reciprocated with the Russian Ballet. The promoter in Russia that was putting the deal together ran off with the money and everyone got burned. Guitarist Pancho Sampedro then told Neil, “Man I guess we’re just gonna have to keep on rockin’ in the free world.” Neil liked the line and told Poncho that he wanted to use it for a song which they wrote on a tour of the Northwest in Portland, Oregon.

3. “Song X”

“Song X” is from From Mirror Ball which was released in 1995 with Neil Young as a solo artist using “Pearl Jam” as his backup band. The song is a classic guitar driven Neil Young 6 string orgy as the band repeatedly repeats the chorus.

“Hey ho away we go

We’re on the road to never.”

It was at the height of the “grunge” craze in the Pacific Northwest with Portland and Seattle as their centers. Neil and “Pearl Jam” toured together and they acted as his backup band for a tour and even played at his annual “Bridge” benefit concert.

2. “Cortez the Killer”

“Cortez the Killer” first appeared on Zuma recorded with “Crazy Horse” in 1975 and is a history lesson about the conquest of the Aztec’s and Mexico by the Spanish Conquistador Herna`n Cortez. Neil’s feelings about the subject are summed up in the song’s title. He once attributed the inspiration for the composition as indigestion after consuming six hamburgers one night when he was in high school studying history.

1. “Like a Hurricane”

“Like a Hurricane” first appeared on American Stars `n Bars in 1977. The song was inspired by Neil’s intense infatuation with a woman after failing to connect with her at a bar. It was during the period after he broke up with Carrie Snodgress and before he met his wife Pegi Morton.

“Once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar

Dancing on the light from star to star”

He wrote the melody immediately after the incident but wrote the lyrics later starting with two lines on a piece of newspaper in the back seat of his friend Taylor Phelph’s 1950 DeSoto Suburban after snorting cocaine. It took 10 days to work it out with “Crazy Horse” at the ranch and was recorded later because Neil was recovering from throat surgery at the time.

of his friend Taylor Phelph’s 1950 DeSoto Suburban after snorting cocaine.

Bob Gersztyn

As a teenager in Detroit, Michigan during the early 1960’s Bob Gersztyn saw many Motown and other R&B artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. After his discharge from the army in 1968 he attended school on the GI Bill and spent the next 3 years attending concerts and festivals weekly. It was the seminal period in Detroit rock & roll that Bob witnessed spawning the MC5 and Stooges along with shows featuring everyone from Jimi Hendrix and the “Doors” to B. B. King and John Lee Hooker. In 1971 He moved to Los Angeles, California to finish his schooling where he became an inner city pastor promoting and hosting gospel concerts. He moved to Oregon in 1982 and began photographing and reviewing concerts for music publications. Since that time he has published myriads of photographs, articles, interviews, and contributed to 2 encyclopedias and published 6 books on everything from music to the military. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Bob%20Gersztyn His rock & roll photo art is available for sale on Etsy @: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ConcertPhotoImages?ref=seller-platform-mcnav Bob may be contacted personally at bobgersztyn@gmail.com

50 thoughts on “Top 10 Neil Young Songs

  • January 13, 2022 at 8:53 am
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    Should have considered more than just the “hits”. There are many deep cuts that need more recognition. “Stupid Girl”, “Barstool Blues”, and “Revolution Blues” immediately come to mind. Looks like you took the safe route of listing radio friendly hit songs to gain the approval of the “sometime fans”.

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  • January 13, 2022 at 10:11 am
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    “Old Man” was a radio tune but it was also a favorite-classic Neil voice. “Hey Hey My My(Out of the Blue)” should be included-acoustic then electric versions

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  • January 13, 2022 at 1:40 pm
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    Do not agree with most of the songs selected. Broken Arrow should definitely feature.

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  • January 13, 2022 at 2:55 pm
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    Es sollte heißen die Top 100 mindestens.

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  • January 13, 2022 at 4:05 pm
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    Powderfinger is Not listed. list is pure bs.

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  • January 13, 2022 at 6:59 pm
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    Will to love, On the Beach, Flying on the ground is wrong, Cortez the killer, Change your mind, Dangerbird, Expecting to fly, Come on baby let’s go downtown, For the turnstiles. A pretty good and varied alternative 10. I would put Will to love in my top 5 Brilliant track!

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  • January 13, 2022 at 7:35 pm
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    When people ask me what my favorite Neil Young song is my reply would be. Whichever Neil Young song I am currently listening to. I love them all.

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  • January 13, 2022 at 8:51 pm
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    I would include:

    Powderfinger
    Pocahontas
    After The Gold Rush
    The Needle And The Damage Done
    Out of the Blue and into the Black

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  • January 14, 2022 at 1:22 am
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    How about “ Country Girl” ?.?

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  • January 14, 2022 at 1:34 am
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    I agree with John. Whatever song I am listening to. I love them all.

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  • January 14, 2022 at 1:46 am
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    No real problems with the songs listed but 10 is far too few.
    What about
    Powderfinger
    Revolution Blues
    Running Dry
    Alabama
    Etc

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  • January 14, 2022 at 5:49 am
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    Birds
    Expecting to fly
    Will to love
    Cortez
    Little wing
    Ambulance blues
    On the beach
    Hurricane
    A dream that can last
    On the beach

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  • January 14, 2022 at 5:54 am
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    Followed Neil since BS.. so many great songs in great moments of time for him the listener so i still take lots of Neil every year on long holidays, where i can listen in the sun and reminise of young days, lost loves and old friends, can’t be bothered with a top ten too many, most of the time i like Accoustic songs but now and then the old black beauty demands attention, i loved the Berlin set he did ie the trans, his last track was called after berlin and on video i turn it right up and get lost in sheer pleasure..

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  • January 14, 2022 at 6:02 am
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    Not much from last albums or POTR ? No surprises there.

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  • January 14, 2022 at 8:50 am
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    Let’s just say “Decade”!

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  • January 14, 2022 at 9:17 am
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    I personally think “For what it’s Worth” is better than “Like a Hurricane”

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  • January 14, 2022 at 9:51 am
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    For the post(er) that likes For What It’s Worth better than Like A Hurricane; problem is For What It’s Worth is a Stills song, not Young.

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  • January 14, 2022 at 10:52 am
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    I understand that you have to pick 10 songs that Neil gas done and thank you for writing this article. The real losers are Joni Mitchell and David Crosby who lost his friendship and the Fan’s who will never hear CSN&Y

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  • January 14, 2022 at 11:17 am
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    Am I the only person in the world who likes Sugar Mountain?

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  • January 14, 2022 at 2:31 pm
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    what about heart of gold?????

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  • January 14, 2022 at 2:38 pm
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    Best “Love on my mind” “Tonight’s the night” and Zuma are the elite of a true song and voice man with ral life living. He helped me alot.

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  • January 14, 2022 at 3:01 pm
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    He is and was a big part of me in the years I was forming my life

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  • January 14, 2022 at 4:09 pm
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    Re Southern Man, it’s kind of sad that a song criticising slavery and racism should be considered controversial.

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  • January 14, 2022 at 4:28 pm
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    The author may have obviously likes NY’s Long songs with great guitar solos and jamming, why he left out Hey Hey My My (Into the Black) I’m not sure, it’s one of the great R&R anthems ever. But a little off the radar, one of MY top 10 is Fontainebleau. It’s another great high gain electric song like Hurricane.

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    • January 15, 2022 at 3:58 am
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      Yes, Fountainbleau is great!

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  • January 14, 2022 at 5:43 pm
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    I agree with most of the other people 10 songs is far too few a hundred wouldn’t be enough LOL

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  • January 14, 2022 at 5:43 pm
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    Heart of gold is the best ever.

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  • January 14, 2022 at 6:02 pm
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    He has done so many great songs I’m sure that if I listed my top 100 people would still be arguing about what had been missed out 🙂

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  • January 14, 2022 at 6:45 pm
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    To begin with I mean Neil fan for 46 years see you in a minute I’m so low with the horse csny promise of the real never got a chance to see him with the Springfield my quick pick for 10 Cortez the Killer will to love Like a Hurricane on the beach Revolution Blues throw your hatred down a slow down a little Philadelphia Southern Pacific is pretty awesome don’t let it bring you down and of course there’s so many more just the way everybody else feels the closing there’s some much music he’s put out over the years that constantly grabs me by the throat one of the Epic piano tunes that did just that was Soldier just like I miss Sidney Poitier now to know he’s not in the world anymore it’s going to feel that hard when Neil Young’s time comes one day hopefully many 1 days to come

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  • January 14, 2022 at 7:28 pm
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    Forget a couple of my favs
    “Powderfinger” (Live Rust or Weld version)
    “After the Gold Rush”
    “Love and Only Love” Weld)
    Agree “Like a Hurricane” must be #1 (WELD Rust version plz)
    A live version of “Like a Hurricane”is to Neil Young as Catch the Rainbow is to Ritchie Blackmore.

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  • January 14, 2022 at 9:53 pm
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    En mi bagage aporto unas lágrimas.
    Concierto en Madrid Neil Young.

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  • January 15, 2022 at 1:21 am
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    Harvest moon,one of my all time favorites

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  • January 15, 2022 at 2:52 am
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    Falta una estupenda canción ..
    “Harvest Moon”. Sin duda

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  • January 15, 2022 at 4:10 am
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    Biggest songs are on album “noise”!

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  • January 15, 2022 at 9:40 am
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    She’s Always Dancing from Psychedelic Pill is on my top 5 list.

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  • January 15, 2022 at 11:23 am
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    Fan since I first heard him in the 70s. Understand the list of only 10 songs was compiled by the opinions of a certain majority bunch and understandable that many songs would be missed but even throughout everyone’s comments, unless I missed it somewhere, I didn’t see “Don’t let it bring you down”. Always was deeply emotionally affected by his songs inspired by his “use”. “Needle and the damage done”, always thought the song ended sort of abruptly as his way of conveying that you either stop or YOU’RE GOING TO STOP, FOREVER.

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  • January 15, 2022 at 11:57 am
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    Inca Queen has to be there. please!

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  • January 15, 2022 at 1:49 pm
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    I’m a fan of Sugar Mountain too

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  • January 15, 2022 at 9:20 pm
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    Old Man, Harvest Moon

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  • January 16, 2022 at 7:25 pm
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    Agree. Cortex and Hurricane are the two top worse songs on Neil’s hits list

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  • January 17, 2022 at 9:19 am
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    Words….. (amazing but well underrated)
    Like a Hurricane
    Berlin
    Alabama
    Cortez the Killer
    Sugar Mountain
    Cinnamon Girl
    Everybody knows this is nowhere
    This notes for you.
    Powderfinger… ( my favourite)

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  • January 17, 2022 at 1:21 pm
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    Neil Young must be the prolific musician that I have experienced…As many of you folks have said has written so many heart breaking songs, songs that will always resonate within me…indelibly stamped
    Eldorado, all of Psychedelic Pill, Landing on Water,and a lot of the Stray Gators et al…may he reign sup remember…cheers

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  • January 18, 2022 at 10:03 am
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    I know this is difficult because a Neil ‘Top 10’ list really will include dozens of songs. There are songs here that are not his greatest work while many that were are not here; i.e., Song X vs Danger Bird, or Pocohontos, or Only Love Can Break Your Heart or many others? Silliness and lack of listening to his catalog. Like the author thinks linking Neil to Pearl Jam means this author was diligent and hip. Sorry, what the author did not consider,?which gives their ‘opinion’ here no credibility is that this author played it safe in their choosing, and Neil has a claw hammer guitar playing style and sledges hammer metaphor that he used in Springfield through today to bash the bystanders on the safe road and that is why he is the only relevant and credible artist to remain with nearly a sixty year career. This author is ‘hiding behind hay bales’ so ‘I got bored and left them their’. I believe this lyric os evidence to my point.

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  • January 18, 2022 at 11:12 am
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    Lookin’ for a love Zuma!

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  • January 18, 2022 at 11:17 am
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    Took my then girlfriend to Zuma Beach and I found my love.. we have been married 13years!

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  • January 18, 2022 at 11:27 am
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    Ramada Inn
    Be the Rain
    I’m the Ocean are in my top 10

    My oldest son now 37 named Neil.

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  • January 20, 2022 at 8:35 am
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    All of the above, but don’t overlook or forget Neil’s heart-rending melancholic lyrical honesty in ‘Motion Pictures’ (from On The Beach), and, for absolute way, way out there weirdness, ‘Last Trip to Tulsa’ and ‘For the Turnstiles’. And I love the Ragged Glory Album too.

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  • January 20, 2022 at 4:17 pm
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    Trashers
    Natural beauty

    Reply

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