Jan 312019

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40. Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo – Look Out for My Love

A folkie cover of a song from Comes a Time, one of Neil’s folkier albums, hardly seems radical, but Emily Barker and her band hit the sweet spot on a gorgeous “Look Out for My Love.” Accordion, a cello, and a violin duo help lift this cover above so many similar-sounding Neil renditions, but the true magic comes when the menagerie of instruments drops out near the end and the six-person harmonies take center stage. – Ray Padgett

39. Cowboy Junkies – Powderfinger

The Cowboy Junkies version of “Powderfinger” is a hazy, late-night club, with jangly guitar and easy accordion. Given the heavy weight of the lyrics, it’s an interesting interpretation, more of a melancholic lament than the original’s intense storytelling. The accordion and guitar make for a lovely duo, even if they can’t quite match the frantic brilliance of Young’s guitar solo. – Angela Hughey

38. Roxy Music – Like a Hurricane

Breathing the seductive air of Avalon, Roxy Music of the ’80s was a different animal than its art-glam incarnation from a half-dozen years before. But their edge was never dulled, just hidden, and on the stage it came back out with a vengeance. The cover of “Like a Hurricane” they performed on their 1982 tour featured great star turns from guitarist Phil Manzanara and saxophonist Andy Mackay, and when Byran Ferry sings “Dancing on the light from star to star,” he makes it hard to believe he didn’t write that line himself. – Patrick Robbins

37. Gillian Welch – Pocahontas

It is hard to believe that in modern politics, the name of Pocahontas is used as an insult, but that is more likely the result of the insulter’s ignorance than any deficiencies on the real Pocahontas’s part. In any event, Young’s song “Pocahontas” is one of his hidden gems, an acoustic ballad first released on Rust Never Sleeps, although it had been recorded earlier for the never-released Chrome Dreams. It offers both a realistic reflection on historical mistreatment of Native Americans and a fantastic meditation on modern attitudes towards them, referencing Marlon Brando, who had sent Sacheen Littlefeather to the Academy Awards a couple years before to decline his Best Actor Award due to the “poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry.” Gillian Welch’s version, recorded live with David Rawlings, is faithful to the original, and is highlighted by Welch’s timeless voice. – Jordan Becker

36. Nick Cave – Helpless

The secret of a good Neil Young cover is in the vocal. As in, don’t ape the original. Ever. Nick Cave positively owns “Helpless” for that reason, slowing it into a quasi-religious experience. By enunciating his baritone around the words, he finds a pathos all but unseen in the original. I’ll be honest, it was a song I had sickened of by its sheer ubiquity around its original appearance on CSNY’s Déjà Vu. Cave restored all my faith at a masterstroke. And it didn’t even once remind me of “Knockin’ On Heavens Door.” – Seuras Og

35. The Waco Brothers – Revolution Blues

“Revolution Blues” is a tough-as-nails number no matter how you play it. Even Neil’s solo performances of it feel like the sound of punching old leather. The Waco Brothers lean into that grit, roaring through a quick-paced run. Their best and most radical new addition is the quick instrumental dropout at the end of each verse when they all holler the last line like an actual gang of vigilantes. – Ray Padgett

34. Buddy Miles – Down By The River

I’d like to have heard Hendrix take a crack at the Neil Young songbook, and this is perhaps not unlike how it would sound. Erstwhile Hendrix drummer Buddy Miles takes a mighty fine crack at the song, instrumentally at least, with a fabulous Steve Cropper production. The vocals are, at best, I accept, a little thin, perhaps confirming the adage that drummers should seldom sing. True to the original in some ways, like its meandering length and the spiky instrumental middle, it is likewise so different, the emphasis more on the rhythm, unsurprisingly. Just try and imagine Jimi’s vocal over this backbeat. – Seuras Og

33. Jon Batiste, Leon Bridges, Gary Clark Jr. – Ohio

Jon Batiste, Leon Bridges and Gary Clark Jr. recently teamed up to cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 protest anthem “Ohio” for a Spotify playlist inspired by the Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War. The song, written by Young in response to the Kent State massacre, is one of the definitive tracks from the Nixon era. Batiste, Bridges and Clarke (BBC, perhaps?) slow the song down, drop the heavy guitar licks and sing it as a quiet, bluesy, piano-driven ballad. While the original is filled with rage and frustration, this version turns it into a mournful remembrance of the horrors of the recent past. An elegant cover for an uncivilized age. – Curtis Zimmermann

32. Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld – Hey Hey, My My

With four releases to their credit, Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld have had a fruitful partnership together. The fact that the fruit tastes of ashes and pulp may deter the casual listener, but it’s good ashes and pulp! Witness “Hey Hey My My,” which replaces the rockin’ exuberance of Neil’s original with plenty of sturm, not to mention drang. Rock and roll will never die, as long as the likes of Teho and Blixa are around to fend off any threats to it. – Patrick Robbins

31. Wilco – Broken Arrow

Wilco first played this cover of “Broken Arrow” during a Neil Young tribute concert in 2010. While we could have complied a entire list of Wilco and its various subsidiaries covering Young songs, we chose this track because it delivers multiple covers for the price of one. The original recording, on Buffalo Springfield’s aptly-titled sophomore album Buffalo Springfield Again, opens with an excerpt from another Young-penned Springfield song, “Mr. Soul.” It also includes a snippet of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” a flourish of drum rolls and an instrumental jazz interlude. The various moving parts are held together by the lyrics, which mix Native American imagery with Young’s meditations on fame and royalty. With their cover, Wilco managed to effortlessly glide through the tune’s different sections. Following the tribute concert, the group went on to play it 11 more times in 2010 before dropping it from their repertoire. Here’s hoping they bring it back for an encore. – Curtis Zimmermann

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  29 Responses to “The Best Neil Young Covers Ever”

Comments (27) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Surprised not to see the Polyphonic Spree’s Heart of Gold on the list.

  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

  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.

  14. Did I miss Grace Potter’s Cortez the Killer

  15. How about Linda Ronstadt’s “Look out for my love”?

  16. The Isley Brothers’ Live version of “Ohio/Machine Gun” gives one shivers. Ten times greater than the studio version, which is also great.

  17. No “After the Gold Rush” by Dolly, Linda, an Emmylou? Ouch.

  18. Poolside , Harvest Moon

  19. Wow, I expected Built to Spills live version of Cortez the Killer at #1, minimum top 10. UNLISTED?? wow.. No accounting for taste I guess, though we’re all Young fans, so maybe just ignorance? Very few, if any bands can match the emotional intensity of Crazy Horse, Doug Martsch/Built to Spill come the closest

  20. There’s also Annie Lennox’s cover of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” from the movie American Beauty. Sonic Youth should be closer to the top.

  21. It’s criminal that Trio’s (Dolly Parton/Linda Ronstadt/Emmylou Harris) version of “After the Gold Rush isn’t on this list. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykMzS6ugnPI
    And I have a fond spot for The Constantines version of “Shots”, which I can’t find online.

  22. What about C.C. Grace’s tribute album? I actually like a couple of her covers better than Neil’s versions!


  23. Here are a few more.

    The Be Good Tanyas//For the Turnstiles

    Jeff Healey//Like a Hurricane

    Johnny Cash//Four Strong Winds (technically, not a Neil song, but he owns it)

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