5 Must-Learn Neil Young Songs For Guitarists

5 Must-Learn Neil Young Songs For Guitarists | I Love Classic Rock Videos

Neil Young live in 2009 - DrSalvadoctopus / Youtube

Neil Young has been influencing generations with his captivating songs since the 1960s. Throughout a career that stretches across decades, Young has dabbled in various musical styles, survived industry fluctuations, and continuously surprised listeners with his exemplary guitar skills. His close bond with his guitar, notably his cherished 1953 Gibson Les Paul named ‘Old Black,’ has given rise to some of the most profound and edgy tunes in rock history. Here are five essential Neil Young songs that all guitarists need to experience.

1. Down By The River (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1969)

“Down By The River” is more than just a song; it’s an emotional odyssey underscored by riveting guitar solos that express a raw dialogue of discontent and intensity. Neil Young, in collaboration with Danny Whitten, melds soft melodies with abrasive edges, crafting a complex spectrum of sentiments that engage listeners deeply. This iconic track is notable for its extended guitar solos that weave throughout the song, creating a powerful interplay between the two musicians. These solos aren’t just technical displays but are integral to the narrative of the song, making it a seminal work that demonstrates the emotional possibilities of electric guitar interplay.

2. Tell Me Why (After the Gold Rush, 1970)

After joining forces with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Neil Young kept the essence of folk-rock alive with “Tell Me Why.” This song is a reflective piece, marked by its soft, introspective acoustic guitar that subtly competes for attention, mirroring the lyrical questioning posed by Young. The track stands out for its poignant simplicity and the way it allows the guitar work to breathe—serving as a heart-to-heart conversation set to music. The gentle strumming invites listeners into a contemplative state, making it a perfect example of how minimalistic guitar arrangements can convey deep emotional landscapes.

3. Like a Hurricane (American Stars ’n Bars, 1977)

Beginning with an arresting guitar riff, “Like a Hurricane” captures the listener with its combination of ferocity and beauty. Neil Young’s guitar work on this track is nothing short of transformative, providing a whirlwind of emotion that oscillates between aggression and serenity, embodying the stormy imagery of the lyrics. The guitar solos are extended and improvisational, showcasing Young’s ability to convey complex emotions through his instrument. This song is often a highlight during live performances, where the raw energy and spontaneous nature of the guitar solos make each rendition unique.

4. Sedan Delivery (Rust Never Sleeps, 1979)

“Sedan Delivery” is fueled by the raw power of punk and showcases Neil Young’s ability to adapt and integrate different musical influences into his work. The track is loud, chaotic, and unapologetically messy, driven by a potent rhythm section and gritty guitar sounds that complement the intensity of the lyrics. The guitar work is aggressive and confrontational, matching the song’s high-energy beats and frenetic pace. It’s a testament to Young’s versatility as a guitarist, able to master both the refined sounds of folk and the unbridled noise of punk rock.

5. Tired Eyes (Tonight’s the Night, 1975)

The haunting “Tired Eyes” poignantly reflects themes of regret and sorrow, with lyrics that delve deep into the repercussions of life’s darker paths. Neil Young’s strumming, combined with Ben Keith’s mournful pedal steel guitar, creates a somber melody that perfectly captures the song’s desolate mood. These guitar elements work together to enhance the narrative, enveloping the listener in a musical depiction of weariness and lament. This song exemplifies how guitars can be used to support storytelling, providing a sonic backdrop that enhances the emotional weight of the lyrics.