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Neil Young is back on Spotify after removing his music from the platform in a boycott of podcaster Joe Rogan. Regardless of the reasons, one thing’s certain: “Uncle Neil,” we missed you!

This post is for those who think Neil Young is that “old guy” who plays music for “old guys.” My friend, Neil Young, is a monster not only in songwriting but also on guitar, and he was also backed by one of the greatest rock bands of all time, Crazy Horse. So buckle up because this ranking is for those who want to hear some serious rock!

10 Best Neil Young Hard Rock Songs (Ranked):

10. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ (1969)

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A rock classic, “Cinnamon Girl,” was released in 1969 on Neil Young’s album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” featuring his great band Crazy Horse.

While battling the bad flu at home, Neil Young wrote this catchy pop-rock song showcasing his strong collaboration with guitarist Danny Whitten. Their vocals intertwine throughout the song, creating a unique sound. Sadly, Whitten’s career was cut short due to struggles with drug addiction. He died in 1972 at 29 years old.

“Cinnamon Girl” is famous for its opening riff, which is considered one of the greatest ever. NME even ranked it on their “Top 50 Guitar Riffs” list. This powerful intro has also been praised by other musicians, with singer Beck calling it his all-time favorite.

Even today, “Cinnamon Girl” remains a favorite among Neil Young’s live show fans.


9. ‘Tonight’s the Night’ (1975)

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This song earns a top spot because it’s so profound, going far beyond a typical rock song. Both this song and the album of the same name are slow burns – they take time to reveal themselves, but after several listens, they become deeply ingrained.

Fueled by grief, Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night” grapples with the heroin overdose death of his roadie, Bruce Berry. The song opens with a raw and emotional core. The lyrics then shift to focus on Berry. Neil Young paints a picture of a hardworking man, “a working man” who “used to load that Econoline van.” But this description is juxtaposed with the tragic reality of Berry’s addiction, highlighting the destructive power of drugs.


8. ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ (1989)

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“Rockin’ in the Free World” is a scathing critique of American society in the late 1980s. With its powerful rock sound, the song questions the meaning of freedom in a world facing social issues. Young’s lyrics aim for the newly elected George H. W. Bush administration.

If you still doubt Neil Young’s live power, watch this fiery performance on SNL in 1989, one of the best live performances ever broadcast. No wonder grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were blown away by this performance, as Neil Young earned the nickname “godfather of grunge.” Epic.


7. ‘Danger Bird’ (1975)

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“Zuma” has become my favorite Neil Young album. One of the best songs on it is “Danger Bird.”

The music of “Danger Bird” provides an intense, brooding atmosphere that reflects the disintegration of Neil Young’s relationship with Carrie Snodgress, mirrored in the lyrics: “Cause you’ve been with another man/There you are and here I am.”

Lou Reed regarded the guitar work on “Danger Bird” as the finest he had ever heard, expressing his admiration by saying, “It makes me cry, it is the best I have heard in my life. The guy is a spectacular guitarist, those melodies are so marvelous, so calculated, constructed note to note… he must have killed to get those notes. It puts my hairs on end!

You’re not the only one, Lou. I feel the same way whenever I hear Neil Young’s guitar solos.


6. ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’ (1969)

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Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand” is another rock epic that closes out his classic 1969 album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”

Young wrote “Cowgirl in the Sand” at his home in Topanga, California. He crafted a spellbinding soundscape with distorted guitars and free-flowing jams. Despite never having visited Spain, Neil Young claimed the song captured his impression of “beaches in Spain,” adding to the song’s enigmatic quality.

Like “Down by the River,” the song features multiple guitar solos scattered throughout its sprawling 10-minute runtime, leaving Allmusic critic Matthew Greenwald to describe Young’s guitar playing as his “most barbed guitar excursions.”


5. ‘Like a Hurricane’ (1975)

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1975 was a defining year in Neil Young’s career, marked by personal upheaval and artistic triumph. On the one hand, Neil Young underwent surgery on his vocal cords and separated from his wife, Carrie Snodgress. On the other hand, he penned some of his most enduring songs, including the epic masterpiece “Like a Hurricane.”

The story goes that Young’s inspiration for “Like a Hurricane” struck during a night out when he became impressed with a local woman named Gail. Sitting at an organ with the girl on his mind, Neil Young poured his emotions into the song, crafting one of his most powerful and enduring guitar works.

Driven by Neil Young’s signature fiery guitars, “Like a Hurricane” became a staple of his live performances, a cornerstone of his “electric side.” It has been a regular feature of his tours since its release in 1977 on American Stars ‘n Bars, which is by far the best moment on a weak album.


4. ‘Powderfinger’ (1979)

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Clocking in at just over five minutes, “Powderfinger” packs a punch. Neil Young lets loose on his Les Paul, shredding a two-part guitar solo that’s pure rock magic. The song starts with a killer line: “Look out, Mama, there’s a white boat coming up the river.

Neil Young admitted there was some serious anger behind the song. He even tried to give it to Lynyrd Skynyrd before that awful plane crash in ’77. The song ended on his fantastic 1979 album with Crazy Horse, “Rust Never Sleeps.”

Rolling Stone called it Neil Young’s best song in a special issue in 2014!


3. ‘Cortez the Killer’ (1975)

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For personal reasons, Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have heard in many years. It almost moves me to tears.

At this stage, we can already say that Neil Young is an incredible guitarist and has written some of rock music’s most beautiful guitar solos. If anyone disagrees with this, show them this song.

Fun fact: Neil Young mentioned in concert that he wrote the song while studying history in high school back in Winnipeg. According to his notes for the album Decade, the song was banned in Spain under Francisco Franco’s regime. Interestingly, when “Zuma” was finally released in Spain after Franco’s death, the song title was “Cortez, Cortez.”


2. ‘Southern Man’ (1970)

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“Southern Man” is a powerful song featured on one of Neil Young’s most acclaimed albums, the 1970 “After the Gold Rush.” It addresses racism in South America, depicting the mistreatment of black individuals and referencing the Ku Klux Klan. Neil Young’s lyrics call for accountability and justice, challenging the South to confront its history of slavery and violence.

The song sparked controversy and inspired the response track “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Despite initial tension, Young expressed admiration for Lynyrd Skynyrd and their music. Over time, the artists found mutual respect, with Young occasionally performing “Sweet Home Alabama” in concert and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead vocalist wearing a Neil Young T-shirt during performances.

Neil Young later clarified that “Sweet Home Alabama” was not a direct response to “Southern Man” but rather to his song “Alabama.”

Controversies aside, this song secures its place on the podium for Nils Lofgren’s catchy piano and Neil Young’s powerful guitar solos.


1. ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ (1979)

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“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” is featured on the 1979 “Rust Never Sleeps” album. It’s paired with its acoustic counterpart, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).” But as we’re talking about rock here, let’s focus on the first.

The song’s inception came from Neil Young’s collaborations with Devo, particularly the band’s frontman, Mark Mothersbaugh. Neil Young collaborated with Devo on his film “Human Highway,” which featured a scene showing Neil Young playing the song with Devo. In subsequent studio sessions, Mothersbaugh added “Rust Never Sleeps,” which Young adopted as the album title. The song’s memorable line, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” garnered widespread attention.

Critics praised the song for its musical and lyrical impact, with Cash Box calling it a “grinding three-chord rocker” and Record World hailing it as a “perfect anthem.” It has been described as stylistically proto-grunge and has left a lasting legacy, being used as the title theme for Dennis Hopper’s film “Out of the Blue” and appearing on various compilations.

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” has been covered by numerous artists across different genres, including Oasis, System of a Down, and Dave Matthews Band. The song’s lyrics have also been referenced in literature and popular culture, including Stephen King’s novel “It” and the suicide note of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Despite initially vowing not to perform the song again after Kurt Cobain’s death, Neil Young later resumed performing it at the request of Nirvana’s surviving members.

A final note on the audience’s reactions in this video: It is phenomenal to see the pure joy of a concert 30 years ago. Uninterrupted by cameras, phones, or chatter, the fans were completely immersed in the music and the connection with the band on stage.


10 More Neil Young Hard Rock Songs: Honorable Mentions

“Down by the River”
This song, featured on Neil Young’s album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” is a guitar-driven classic with haunting lyrics about love, betrayal, and murder.

“Ohio”
Written in response to the Kent State shootings of 1970, “Ohio” is a protest song that captures the anger and frustration of the era with its raw, emotive vocals and powerful guitar riffs.

“F*!#in Up”
Known for its raw energy and profanity-laden lyrics, “F*!#in Up” is a standout track from Neil Young’s “Ragged Glory” album.

“Alabama”
Another politically charged song, “Alabama,” addresses the racism and injustice prevalent in the American South, with Young’s impassioned vocals and searing guitar work driving home the song’s message.

“Change Your Mind”
This is a track from Neil Young’s grunge era. It’s included in the album “Sleeps with Angels” and is characterized by its melancholic melody and introspective lyrics, which explore themes of regret and longing.

“I’m the Ocean”
A sprawling, experimental track featured on the album “Mirror Ball,” a collaborative effort between Neil Young and Pearl Jam. With hypnotic rhythms and cryptic lyrics, the song invites listeners to interpret its meaning while showcasing the synergy between Neil Young and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready.

“Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”
The title track of Neil Young’s second studio album, this song is a laid-back, country-tinged rocker with catchy hooks and a memorable chorus.

“Loner”
With its driving beat and gritty vocals, “Loner” captures the essence of Neil Young’s rebellious spirit. It is taken from his debut album, which was released in 1968. The song gained muscle when played live in the 1970s.

“Mr. Soul”
Originally recorded with Buffalo Springfield, “Mr. Soul” is a psychedelic rock classic characterized by its catchy guitar riff and cryptic lyrics.

“Love to Burn”
Emerging from Neil Young’s creative resurgence in the late 80s and early 90s, fueled by Crazy Horse’s ‘Ragged Glory,’ comes “Love to Burn.” This hard-hitting rock track features a relentless groove and scorching guitar solos. It perfectly captures the band’s raw energy and tight musical chemistry.


Spotify Playlist: 10 Best Neil Young Hard Rock Songs

Is just a guy who got tired of bothering his friends talking about music, and decided to create a blog to write about what he loves the most.
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