Cheat Sheet: Neil Young's Best Live Albums, Anthologies and Collaborations
by Justin Farrar | October 31, 2012
Neil Young is one of those bigger-than-life musicians whose studio albums only tell a part of his story. In order to fully understand all the complex twists, turns and loops he has undertaken since the late '60s, one must dig deep into the slew of live albums, anthologies and related works strewn across his career.
This is particularly true of his work with longtime pals (and oftentimes adversaries) Crazy Horse. Though the 1969 classic Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere features the original lineup of Young with bassist Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina and guitarist Danny Whitten (who would die tragically just three years later), it's a mere snapshot of an ensemble still in the process of gelling. In order to experience what they would evolve into in the heady months following the record's release, one has to spend time with the archival set Live at the Fillmore East, which before its 2006 release remained something of a missing chapter in the early story of Crazy Horse's collective evolution.
Yet another key example that speaks to the importance of this particular aspect of his discography is Decade. Though an anthology, it is as beloved by fans as any one of his proper albums, including every one of the genuine heavies (Harvest, Rust Never Sleeps, Tonight's the Night, et al). At the time of its release in the fall of '77, it set brand-new standards for what the format was expected to accomplish. Rather than have his label, Reprise, throw together a simple greatest-hits package, Young personally oversaw the title's meticulous curation. What he wound up producing was the story of the first 10 years of his career as told by the musician himself. Everything from the handwritten liner notes to the arresting artwork to the unconventional track sequencing serves as a vital component in this sprawling narrative. Needless to say, it's an extremely personal statement.
Last but certainly not least, if you've never bothered to check out Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield, then you're totally missing out on a release that helps document the earliest of steps in the evolution of Young's singular vision.