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30. Lizz Wright – Old Man

Funny how a skinny boy from Toronto and his folk songs can resonate with jazz-tinged soul singers. Usually portrayed as one of his more country early efforts, this perhaps demonstrates the deep kinship between R&B and C&W. Swap around the instrumentation and they are, believe me, the same thing. Lizz Wright’s “Old Man” just builds and builds, adding layer after layer, bringing perhaps more to the table than Neil’s barren simplicity. – Seuras Og

29. The Sour Notes – Harvest Moon


The Sour Notes’ “Harvest Moon” cover was a serious contender for 2018’s Best Cover Songs list until I realized they first released it in 2011 (it’s ok, the album it resurfaced on on ranked high on our Best Cover Albums list). So now it gets a proper spotlight. With a jammy take on dream-pop, this Austin trio nears the three-minute mark before beginning to sing, but the beautiful ambient build doesn’t waste a second. And the vocals, gorgeous harmonies by Jared Boulanger and Elaine Greer, are worth the wait. – Ray Padgett

28. The Pretenders – The Needle And The Damage Done

I don’t even know whether Neil has ever done this in full band mode with the Horse, but if he has, vocals aside, I bet it would sound a lot like this, verging on the scuzzy in all its tarnished brilliance. Like Neil, singer Chrissie Hynde also “lost her band” – or at least two of them – to needles, so to sing the lyrics can’t but wrench on her very heart. The emotion seeps out of her performance. Sometimes attitude carries more weight than expertise. Effortlessly cool, and never more chilling. – Seuras Og

27. Elizabeth Mitchell – Little Wing

There was a time when the bulk of children’s music was crap, but eventually, it became clear that parents raised on good music wanted something better than crap to play for their kids, and quality children’s music became more widely available. Some of the best in genre comes from Elizabeth Mitchell, who sang in college with Lisa Loeb and later formed Ida with her future husband. Her third kids album, You Are My Little Bird, is generally thought to be the only children’s record with a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On,” and it also has a sweet, gentle cover of Young’s “Little Wing,” an introspective song from Hawks & Doves that should not be confused with the Hendrix classic. – Jordan Becker

26. Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love

Nicolette Larson sang backup on Neil Young’s 1977 album American Stars ‘n Bars. When she found a “Lotta Love” demo tape on the floor of his car, Young reportedly said, “You want it? It’s yours.” Purists might have been appalled by Young approving, even tacitly, a disco-lite pop version of his song. But say this for it: it gets stuck in your head in way his own performances rarely do. – Ray Padgett

25. Boz Scaggs – On the Beach

The standout track on Scagg’s highly-recommended 2018 album Out of the Blues only just missed a spot in our year-end list. I could claim his cover confirms the ongoing relevance of Young to today’s audience, but Scaggs, like Young, is a man in his 70s. The Young album of the same name went unlauded at the time, but now seems most likely proclaimed to be the favorite of the hardcore Neil fan. Well, sorry, you guys, but I think Skaggs’ is even better. The world-weariness of the arrangement adds a wistfulness to the then more overtly strung-outedness of Young. One to play to folks who feel old people have no soul. Boz has it in buckets. – Seuras Og

24. Thea Gilmore – The Old Laughing Lady

In 2004, Thea Gilmore quietly released what remains one of the finest covers albums of the 2000s: Loft Music. Across ten diverse tracks, the singer-songwriter covered non-folkie songs in a folkie style (her “Bad Moon Rising” is a winner) and folkie songs in a non-folkie style. Her “The Old Laughing Lady” falls into this latter category, taking a song from Neil’s first album – as folkie as he ever got – and reinventing it as an electronic dream-pop ballad, like Mazzy Star meets James Blake. – Jane Callaway

23. Bettye LaVette – Heart of Gold

Even people who have never heard of Neil Young know “Heart of Gold.” Perhaps that’s why there are so many cover versions out there. Most of ’em are dire. However Bettye LaVette, who first sang this in 1972 before going on a 20-year hiatus, is not dire. She is terrific, a soul singer on a par with the Arethas of this world. She’s been on an astonishing run of classic cover fodder since 2004. This version chucks all kitsch out of the kit(s)chen window, imbuing the song with nothing but pure power as LaVette cascades through the notes like a hurricane. Originally a single on its release, it forms part of a thought-lost series of sessions released belatedly in 2000. It has had a remastering, as well, in 2006, with some success, but, for sheer majesty, matched by pathos, try this live version from 2011. – Seuras Og

22. Meklit and Quinn – Music Arcade


Even by Neil Young standards, 1996 album track “Music Arcade” is pretty damn obscure. Yet somehow I found myself with two competing covers for this list. Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb did a brilliantly weird cover that’s half jazz lounge, half poetry slam for the 2007 tribute More Barn. But even better is the tender, delicate duet between Meklit Hadero and Quinn DeVeaux on their 2012 covers album. This is how you make a deep cut sound like a greatest hit. – Ray Padgett

21. Pearl Jam – Rockin’ in the Free World

There are a number of live versions of Pearl Jam’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”, but their “Unplugged” version is visceral and raw in a way that transcends the rest. Eddie Vedder’s voice strains and cracks throughout his performance, but when he sings the elongated “world” in his Eddie Vedder way, it’s perfection. Combined with Mike McCready’s frantic solos and the signature “machine gun” drum break this version isn’t pretty, but it’s definitely rockin’. – Mike Misch

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  16 Responses to “The Best Neil Young Covers Ever”

Comments (14) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Surprised not to see the Polyphonic Spree’s Heart of Gold on the list.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuEAwLt39iY

  2. What about Type O Negative’s take on Cinnamon Girl..?

  3. Not one Widespread Panic Neil cover “Don’t Be Denied” “Mr. Soul” “Vampire Blues” “Walk On” and no Byrd’s “See the Sky About to Rain”

  4. Kudos on ranking Emmylou’s version of Wrecking Ball so high. I agree about the Byrds’ See the Sky About to Rain. Also, Linda Ronstadt did a beautiful version of Birds early in her career, and a nice version of Love Is a Rose.

  5. I hit the wrong button and almost missed the 2nd page of this post — was incredulous that Roxy Music’s rendition of “Like a Hurricane” didn’t make the cut. Luckily, I went back through the list to check again. That version is my all time favorite, and luckily, iTunes came along when it did, b/c the cassette tape I’d been dragging around with me for years was on its last legs.

  6. How about Type-O Negative’s Cinnamon Girl? Awesome cover that gives that song a pair of balls!

  7. I like this version of “New Mama” very much: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kova_IEojBw

  8. my second best version – beside Nick Cave – of Helpless – k.d. Lang
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjwR86IOQfo

  9. The Isley Bros version of Ohio is massive. Thank you for posting.

  10. Soul Asylum version for Barstool Blues is the best!

  11. Just for understanding: “Pocahontas” isn’t the insult, it’s “Fauxcahontas” to point out the hack politician who stole Native American identity for academic and career benefit. It’s too bad the joke is being mistold by that other dope.
    Cool list, BTW.

  12. Maybe you’d like to hear my version of “Harvest Moon” – solo, acoustic HARP!

  13. KD Lang’s version of Helpless is far superior to Black Label Society. She makes the words bleed with sincerity.

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