Neil Young's Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

As his music returns to Spotify, it's the perfect time to revisit his massive catalogue

Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished Mar 22, 2024

There's simply no musician this side of Miles, Bowie and Madonna who took larger swings with their art. When Neil Young's music connects, it's exceptionally honest, vulnerable and powerful. But when he misses, it's still a spectacle.

With Young's music having returned to Spotify, there's a chance for a new wave of fans to discover (or rediscover) his enormous catalogue, making now the perfect time for a deep dive.

We've ranked each of Neil's 43 albums of new material (40 studio albums, 2 covers albums and a live recording of newly written songs) — from the outstanding failures to the indisputable masterpieces. This includes his collaborative albums with Crazy Horse, Promise of the Real and others.

43. Neil Young
Old Ways (1985)


Nothing says "I've got nothing left to offer" like going country. Even guests Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson couldn't save Young's brazen attempt to pander to the countrypolitan movement. Pitched to Geffen as Harvest II, Young's 17th LP sounds more like an over-the-top parody of that era.

Standout track: Hampered by slick 1980s honky-tonk instrumentation and production, a respite comes with the raw and moody "Are There Any More Real Cowboys?"

42. Neil Young
Landing on Water (1986)


One of only two completely irredeemable albums in his catalog. After a puzzling stretch that prompted Geffen to sue Young for making "unrepresentative albums," he attempted to return to the electric guitar with this set of plastic, stiff and dated synth-addled slogs.

Standout track: Although it nearly cops the same rhythm and beat as opener, "Weight of the World," the only track that demonstrates forward-moving momentum is the unfortunately-titled "Hippie Dream."

41. Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks
Everybody's Rockin' (1983)


By the time he recorded his second LP for Geffen, the label was already asking for a "rock" album. Young's response was to create an entire recording purely out of spite. The 25-minute doo-wop- and rockabilly-themed release is way more interesting in theory than it is on wax.

Standout track: Although most of the record meanders into cliché, the most focused effort is "Wonderin'" and its assailable shuffle.

40. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Broken Arrow (1996)


After a ramshackle 1980s, Young enjoyed a career resurgence, filling the following decade with a slew of terrific albums — except for this one. The first recording after the death of longtime producer David Briggs is somehow directionless and meandering. His worst of the 1990s.

Standout track: What saves this LP from being a complete mess is the strength of the first three tracks, with the strongest being the incredibly grungy "Slip Away."

39. Neil Young and Booker T. & the M.G.'s
Are You Passionate? (2002)


Despite the fact that it includes the much-maligned 9/11 anthem, "Let's Roll," Young's 27th LP is not a complete misstep, even if it's his weakest of the 2000s. This faux-soul album's greatest flaw lies in Neil's failure to get the most out of his backing band, Stax legends Booker T. & the M.G.'s.

Standout track: It's no surprise that this record's finest track is the only one he recorded with Crazy Horse, the sludgy nine-minute jam "Goin' Home."

38. Neil Young
Peace Trail (2016)


Young recorded LP number 39 in just 10 days with session musicians Paul Bushnell (Faith Hill, Tim McGraw) and Jim Keltner (Bob Dylan, John Lennon). This oddly laidback recording melds vocoder and robot samples with poignant lyrics — and remains the most head-scratching of all his 2010s output.

Standout track: For much of the album, Young lags behind the rhythm section (or vice versa), but the record's finest moments mimic the adventurousness of opener and title track "Peace Trail."

37. Neil Young  + Promise of the Real
The Monsanto Years (2015)


Young's 38th is practically a concept album examining the perils of corporate greed. Teaming up with Willie Nelson's sons, Lukas and Micah, Neil overstuffs these primitive arrangements with lyrics chosen to deliver his righteous message. Unfortunately, there's little concern for structure or melody.

Standout track: While many of his peers have lined up to lick the boots of big business, it's refreshing to hear Young tenaciously stand up for working farmers on "Monsanto Years."

36. Neil Young
Storytone (2014)


The first album since his debut not to chart on the Canadian Billboard list, this Neil-plus-orchestra project failed to connect with audiences and critics. With over-the-top love songs for new partner Daryl Hannah mixed into his standard political fare, Young too often comes off like a crooner without the croon.

Standout track: An ode to his 1959 Lincoln Continental converted to run off Carbon-Neutral Cellulosic Ethanol, Young sounds completely joyous and carefree on "I Want to Drive My Car."

35. Neil Young
Silver & Gold (2000)


The 2000s stand as Young's second-weakest decade. Much like his infamous 1980s, Neil was again searching for an identity. Written at the same time as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's anemic Looking Forward, this mostly acoustic affair is amiable, but often swirls around the same themes and patterns.

Standout track: Strangely left off Old Ways, Neil adds a genuine all-timer into his songbook with the sweeping and introspective piano shuffle "Razor Love."

34. Neil Young
Hawks & Doves (1980)


Matching a decade as strong as Young's 1970s would be a near-impossible feat for any musician. Nonetheless, the drop-off here was dramatic. Busy tending to Ben, his son born with cerebral palsy, the unfinished and scattershot nature of his rootsy 12th LP is understandable.

Standout track: Hoedown fiddle, chicken-scratch guitar, lyrics about workers' rights, and call and responses about "bumper stickers" (?) shows Young jubilantly at his strangest with "Union Man."

33. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Re-ac-tor (1981)


Although the addition of Crazy Horse makes this gritty and punk(ish) recording an upgrade over Hawks & Doves, it's still half-baked. However, this would be his last LP before signing his infamous five-album deal with Geffen, so it mostly goes downhill from here.

Standout track: Considering the chortles in "Opera Star" and train horns on "Southern Pacific," the shotgun SFX that melds with Young's over-distorted guitar feel inventive on the solid "Shots."

32. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Life (1987)


Knowing he was nearly out of his contract, Young straightens out and flies right — despite the album's dated production style. Recorded live with studio overdubs, there's a raw energy to these songs — something that was greatly lacking from much of his 1980s output.

Standout track: Neil comes clean on his disastrous five-album Geffen deal ("They try to change us and ruin our band / That's why we don't wanna be good") on the supremely noisy "Prisoners of Rock 'n' Roll."

31. Neil Young & the Bluenotes
This Note's for You (1988)


His first album with Reprise after eight years ended up being a commercial comeback — partly because Young hasn't sounded this lively in a long time, and partly because he so freely borrowed the horn-drenched, blues rock sound that was all the rage during the era of Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Standout track: Described by Young as the "most idiotic fucking song I've ever written," the title track and MTV Video of the Year winner is a Zappa-esque shot at commercialism.

30. Neil Young
Fork in the Road (2009)


Young's ode to his LincVolt electric car is straight-up goofy. But it's goofy in that charmingly naïve and earnest way Neil can often be. Somehow, Young manages to make these songs about gas prices, the stock market and his mechanic sound nearly important and certainly beautiful.

Standout track: Young has spent the last 15 years railing about our failure to protect the planet, but he's often done it in remarkably optimistic ways, one of the best examples being the gentle "Light a Candle."

29. Neil Young + Promise of the Real
The Visitor (2017)


As assumed, Young's initial album after the election of Donald Trump is bursting with vitriol. His second and most recent studio recording with Lukas and Micah shows Young's newfound love for uncommon instrumentation, as his songs move in different directions thanks to mandolin and glockenspiel.

Standout track: A response to Trump's "Make America Great Again" sloganeering, Young comes off fierce and perceptive in his best response song to date, "Already Great."

28. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Americana (2012)


Fans who waited nine years for Young to reunite with his greatest collaborators were left perplexed by Americana — a covers album largely focused on traditional songs from the 1800s. Stripping instrumentation down to bare guitars and drums, Young crafts this LP to sound like vintage Crazy Horse.

Standout track: Much like his renditions of "Clementine" and "Tom Dula" (a.k.a. "Tom Dooley"), Young makes these songs his own, most notably on the garage rock arrangement of "Oh Susannah."

27. Neil Young
Trans (1983)


There's a misconception that Young's foray into techno was his nadir. The truth is, this vocoder and Synclavier-based LP was originally celebrated and stands as one of the best from his 1980s output. His label may have hated it, but Rolling Stone and The Village Voice begged to differ.

Standout track: Though it doesn't compete with Devo's and Kraftwerk's best, it came from the heart — especially moments inspired by technology designed to assist his nonverbal son, like "Sample and Hold."

26. Neil Young
Chrome Dreams II (2007)


Naming his 31st LP after the legendary unreleased late-1970s era album Chrome Dreams is a misdirect, as most of these songs were written a decade later. This mixed bag never truly wavers, but there's nothing that comes close to rumoured Chrome Dreams material like "Pocahontas" or "Powderfinger."

Standout track: Originally slated for Freedom, Young shreds fearlessly alongside a brilliantly melodic horn section and crashing drums on the epic 18-minute look at human imperfection that is "Ordinary People."

25. Neil Young
A Letter Home (2014)


Recorded directly to vinyl in Jack White's refurbished Voice-O-Graph booth, Young's second covers album seems like an oddity upon first listen. But crackled renditions of tunes by his heroes (Willie Nelson), peers (Bob Dylan) and favourites (Bert Jansch) demonstrate an emotional and delicate look into Young's spirit.

Standout track: Turning the confident and cocksure folk song into a trembling, fragile display of yearning, Young gives a nod to his compatriot with his version of Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind."

24. Neil Young featuring Pearl Jam
Mirror Ball (1995)


Inducted into the Rock Hall the same year, Young looked to show he was no nostalgia act. Partnering with Pearl Jam, the "Grunge Godfather" delivered a colossal-sounding LP that matched the current 1990s epoch. Although the songwriting is only above average here, the energy is beyond compare.

Standout track: A live staple for Pearl Jam, their pairing manages to match the spirit of Crazy Horse on "Throw Your Hatred Down."

23. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
American Stars 'n Bars (1977)


When your weakest work of the 1970s is something this ambitious, you know you've had a hell of a decade. Melding together tracks from his abandoned Homegrown sessions with new Crazy Horse recordings, Neil's ninth LP only suffers because of its wild stylistic inconsistencies.

Standout track: Back-to-back with a fire-crackling ballad about salmon, "Will to Love," Young delivers an all-time classic, featuring some of his best vocal melodies, on "Like a Hurricane."

22. Neil Young
Living with War (2006)


Concept albums aren't Young's forte, but seeing soldiers needlessly dying in Iraq drew something out of him. This Grammy- and JUNO-nominated album comes off as effortless and refreshingly simple in its intense execution and message — something Young would struggle to duplicate over the next decade.

Standout track: There are several highlights here, including the poignant "Let's Impeach the President" and "The Restless Consumer," but the crown goes to his ode to a war casualty, "Roger and Out."

21. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
World Record (2022)


The two LPs recorded so far during this decade point to a newfound passion for Young: reflection. Neil knows we've passed the point to save our planet and turned to lamenting what we've sacrificed for convenience. His 43rd and most recent album musically finds inventive ways to tell this sad story.

Standout track: Although Young tells you everything you need to know about his outlook on humanity, perhaps the direct line to his heart lies in his 15-minute ode to his electric car, "Chevrolet."

20. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Greendale (2003)


Something akin to a rock opera, Young's 28th LP was accompanied by a film, comic book and a corresponding tour, with actors enthusiastically pantomiming pensive songs about corporate greed. It's a shame a project so ambitious and insightful was primarily ignored (and even denigrated) by fans.

Standout track: Defined by a megaphone call-and-response urge to save the environment, Young wraps up his opus with the nine-minute Crazy Horse jam "Be the Rain."

19. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Barn (2021)


Young's first of this decade spawned a glowing long-form review from NPR. But curiously, there's not much found on this fiercely gritty album that would please public radio listeners. Young's 42nd LP is the closest he's come to crafting a back-to-basics, lo-fi home (or rather, barn) recording in decades.

Standout track: Despite its terrible name, there's something extremely immediate, primal and satisfying about the austerity of "Canerican."

18. Neil Young
Neil Young (1968)


Young was no newbie when he released his debut. Incorporating songs originally written for Buffalo Springfield, Neil would assemble legendary musicians (Ry Cooder, Carol Kaye, Earl Palmer) for a collection of peace-loving folk numbers that promptly set the stage for one of rock's greatest runs.

Standout track: Among several sweeping, string-laden attractions, Young defines his pre-"Ditch Trilogy" era with the swirling guitar number "The Loner."

17. Neil Young
Prairie Wind (2005)


Recorded while recovering from a brain aneurysm and the death of his father, Young turned uncertainty and tragedy into his finest album of the 2000s. The clarity Young brings to these string-and-piano numbers makes it a worthy successor to Harvest and Harvest Moon.

Standout track: On an album of bleary-eyed gentle songs, Young rarely sounded as vulnerable as he does on the masterful "It's a Dream."

16. Neil Young
Le Noise (2010)


It was surreal to see Young so celebrated in his sixth decade. But this is exactly what happened with the release of this Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed LP. His only album to date recorded with Daniel Lanois is perhaps Young's most sonically rich and raw since Rust Never Sleeps.

Standout track: That Young and Lanois manage to make these songs so noisy and moody without being needlessly heavy and loud makes Le Noise remarkable, and they perfect the style on the haunted "Hitchhiker."

15. Neil Young
Harvest Moon (1992)


In the midst of a creative renaissance, Young undertook the impossible. Bringing back his backing band, the Stray Gators, Neil attempts to recreate the crystalline warmth of his classic LP, Harvest — and somehow totally nails it.

Standout track: Young's not known for his romanticism, but he manages to hold the presence and intimacy of a doe-eyed crooner on the title track, "Harvest Moon."

14. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Colorado (2019)


After the retirement of Poncho Sampedro, Young reunited with guitarist/keyboardist Nils Lofgren after a 37-year break. Pulling double duty with the E Street Band, Lofgren helps Young deliver a characteristically strident and gripping Crazy Horse album that sounds remarkably fresh.

Standout track: Although much of the album focuses on brute force over melodies, its finest moment comes from Young's inventive falsetto that defines "Milky Way."

13. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Psychedelic Pill (2012)


Young's greatest album of the 2010s reminds listeners of what made his 1970s era so bulletproof. Those who love what Crazy Horse adds to Young's compositions get it in spades here. Clocking in at 88 minutes in length, most of his 35th LP stands as an unbridled and inventive meditation.

Standout track: With three of the album's nine tracks running over 15 minutes, Neil weaves songs that bond together like suites, the highlight being the marathon "Ramada Inn."

12.  Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Sleeps with Angels (1994)


Often described as his "grunge album," these songs navigate a deeper layer of sorrow and despair than many Seattle acts were willing to. Although he surrounds himself with frequent collaborators (Crazy Horse and Briggs), Young sounds determined to push his craft past a 1990s rock comfort zone.

Standout track: Written about Kurt Cobain, who quoted Young in his suicide note, there's a loveliness in the lo-fi, messy and eerie delivery of the title track, "Sleeps with Angels."

11.  Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Ragged Glory (1990)


Recorded live off the floor of his California ranch, Young and Crazy Horse would base their next 33 years together on the muddy rock style laid out on this 1990s zenith. A spiritual successor to Zuma, Young nearly equals its predecessor's defiant, back-to-basics brute force.

Standout track: Pearl Jam would later close shows off with it, and Swervedriver would steal its swirling riff, but no one sounds as desperate and primal as Neil does on "Fuckin' Up."

10.  Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Zuma (1975)


Young emerged from his "Ditch Trilogy" of melancholic albums with a modicum of hope. It's also his first real genre-hopping statement, melding country-folk numbers with crashing Crazy Horse jams. But no matter where he takes it, this "imperfect masterpiece" delivers on the most primeval level.

Standout track: The album's penultimate song is so ambitious in its writing and delivery that seven minutes seems almost too short to pull off something as grand as "Cortez the Killer."

9. Neil Young
On the Beach (1974)


Just because tracks from Young's sixth LP rarely show up on "hits" collections doesn't mean it is lacking classic material. Bringing in members of Crazy Horse, Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Band to help record his second in the "Ditch Trilogy," On the Beach is as ambitious as its credits suggest, despite its vulnerable veneer.

Standout track: Young can pull out lengthy rockers anytime, anyplace — but it's a marvel that he expands a completive acoustic and harmonica ballad into nine minutes with "Ambulance Blues."

8. Neil Young
Freedom (1989)


Young recovered from a confounding decade with his best album of the 1980s — not to mention one of his best albums, period. Ostensibly holding back his superior material during his creative standoff with Geffen Records, Young's 20th LP is a joyous outpouring of piecemeal genius.

Standout track: Although top-tier tracks like "Eldorado," "Wrecking Ball" and "Too Far Gone" are worthy contenders, this album is synonymous with his finest political anthem, "Rockin' in the Free World."

7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)


On his second album and first with Crazy Horse, Young grows by leaps and bounds. Over seven near-flawless songs and just 40 minutes, Young creates the dusty blueprint for everything that makes this pairing magnificent. Young and Crazy Horse have rarely been this immediate, hungry and impactful.  

Standout track: Predating punk and new wave, it's incredible how Young can make a masterpiece of a song with something as simplistically constructed as "Cinnamon Girl."

6. Neil Young
Comes a Time (1978)


After switching gears from pure folk after the release of Harvest, Young went on a run that included some of his darkest and murkiest albums. His ninth LP benefited from the wealth of material Young was saving for this glorious foray back to earthy sounds.

Standout track: This may be his most under-appreciated album due to a lack of singles, best he rarely sounded so content and buoyant as he does on the fiddle-assisted would-be-classic "Comes a Time."

5. Neil Young
Time Fades Away (1973)


Young is notorious for his "lost" albums, but none are as prevalent and important as this live set of brand-new material recorded during his Harvest tour. Out of print for decades, the legend of this brooding but mercurial set of purposely uncommercial material has only grown.

Standout track: After the death of guitarist Danny Whitten, Young fell into a depression, leading to an affecting display of regret and yearning in an ode about leaving L.A. for Canada, "Journey Through the Past."

4. Neil Young
Harvest (1972)


The LP that changed the perception of Young and altered Young himself. A chart-topping single, massive sales and accolades (although every generation reevaluates it as either a "masterpiece" or "overrated") took its toll. Critical opinion aside, Neil's introspective folk opus is undeniably impactful and essential.

Standout track: Because of its omnipresence, it's easy to take for granted just how game-changing (and often-copied) Neil's Americana sound was on the brittle and memorable "Heart of Gold."

3. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Rust Never Sleeps (1979)


Neil's 11th LP has been so celebrated and revered mainly because it distills everything potent and poignant about Young and Crazy Horse without being precious about it. Recorded live with studio overdubs, Young makes the sonic highs utterly unreachable and the emotional lows so relatable.

Standout track: From "My My, Hey Hey" to "Pocahontas," this album is full of classics. But there's a reason why everyone from Johnny Cash to Cowboy Junkies has covered the glistening "Powderfinger."

2. Neil Young
Tonight's the Night (1975)


While polished MOR rock, prog and Europop were emerging, there was nothing in 1975 that sounded more intense and honest than Young's raw and ambling masterstroke. Examining grief, the Vietnam War and his own struggles with fame, Neil's chaotic seventh LP is infinitely rewarding and devastating.

Standout track: Written after the overdose of his roadie, Bruce Berry, it's awe-inspiring how Young manages to make a song so fragile sound so joyous on title track "Tonight's the Night."

1. Neil Young
After the Gold Rush (1970)


This is not only Neil's magnum opus, but also one of the greatest works in recorded music. Pulling together his best musical contemporaries (Crazy Horse, Lofgren, Stephen Stills), Young's artistic and expressive apex embodies everything that made him, and continues to make him, rock's finest collaborator.

Standout track: It's no hyperbole to say every track is a masterpiece — from "Tell Me Why" to "Cripple Creek Ferry" ­— but nothing's musically, lyrically and thematically sophisticated as "After the Gold Rush."

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