It goes without saying that Neil Young has been a tremendous influence on indie and alternative rockers the world over. Elements of his distinctive too-high Canadian howl, less-is-more guitar antics and sludgy noise-carpet weaving can be heard in just about every guitar-based band these days. He’s like this shaman who saw the shape of things to come before any of his ‘60s cohorts were even close. And he’s still at it, all these years later -- putting out albums of his liking, critics be damned. To honor this towering figure, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 indie, alt-country and mainstream rock acts that owe Neil Young a drink -- if not 10 -- at the nearest watering hole. We’re sure we’ve missed a bunch, so plant them in the comments section below.
The Foos are a not-so-obvious choice, but as far as we’re concerned, any artist that tunes his low E to a D on any song owes a great debt to Neil Young, who should just patent the EADGAD and DADGAD tunings. Sure, some bluesman was using it back in the 1940s, but Young made it famous and accessible on songs like ‘Ohio’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl.’ ‘Everlong’ uses the single-dropped-D tuning to great effect, and of all the Foos albums, you can hear Young’s influence clearest on ‘There Is Nothing Left to Lose.’
It’s hard to think of Radiohead as a band influenced by anyone, because they have such a unique, otherworldly sound. But there are definite Young-esque elements in the Radiohead equation: Thom Yorke’s acoustic ballads nod to post-‘After the Gold Rush’-era Young, while Johnny Greenwood’s rambunctious, out-of-control guitar licks mirror Young’s signature minimalist solo heroics. Just listen to tracks like ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ from ‘The Bends’ or ‘Electioneering’ from ‘OK Computer.’ The band has also made their Young worship public, performing ‘After the Gold Rush’ and ‘Tell Me Why' in concert.
Of the mainstreamers on this list, Beck may be the most obviously Neil-influenced, given his early streak of alternately tuned weirdo acoustic ballads -- something that Young has been churning out since his days in Buffalo Springfield (see ‘I Am a Child’). Check out ‘Mutations’ (1998) tracks like ‘Nobody’s Fault But My Own,’ or just the entire album ‘Sea Change’ (2002), and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
OK, so Eddie Vedder doesn’t sport a phony Canadian accent -- one of PJ’s pluses is that distinctive set of pipes on its lead singer. But strip away the guitar heroics on a lot of their uptempo songs, and you get that nuanced Neil Young guitar flavor that he’s made so popular throughout his career. Oh, and then there’re those two albums Pearl Jam recorded with the Godfather of Grunge -- ‘Mirror Ball’ and ‘Merkin Ball.’
Frontman J. Mascis is certainly a more accomplished shredder than Neil Young could ever dream of being. But the fantastically sloppy, slacker vibe present in most Dino Jr. jams nods to plugged-in, pissed-off solo Neil and the wall of noise that he and Crazy Horse are able to conjure up. Dig into DJ's earliest albums like ‘Bug’ for the gnarliest Neilisms.
Putting aside the obvious, epic ‘Cortez the Killer’ cover Built to Spill did on their 2000 live album, it’s easy to hear the Neil in lead singer Doug Martsch’s indie-slacker delivery. For anyone who plays the guitar and listens obsessively to Young, it’s pretty much impossible not to end up sounding a little bit Canadian.
Carved from the same stone as Son Volt and early Wilco, this alt-country band is the brainchild of lead guitarist/singer Brian Henneman, who guested on two Uncle Tupelo records and would often come out for the band’s encore cover of ‘Cortez the Killer,’ a classic Native American-mode Neil burner. The Rockets have that vibe of the first Neil Young and Crazy Horse album, mixing understated acoustic folk numbers with face-melting, uptempo, guitar-heavy rockers. Think ‘Cinnamon Girl’ with more spice.
Mark Kozelek is nobody’s fool when it comes to his slack-tuned classical guitar stylings and poetic lyrics, but the band’s sound couldn’t be more indebted to Young. Take recent tunes like ‘King Fish’ on 2012’s ‘Among the Leaves,’ with its detuned, drone-y, distorted guitar work and freakout outro solo (i.e. the Neil Young Formula).
We were devastated when we heard the news about Jason Molina, and he has left quite the legacy for future generations to discover his musical footprint. And it goes without saying that Molina’s music was heavily influenced by Neil Young -- you can hear it most readily in his voice and on tunes like ‘Even the Dark Don’t Hide It,’ which could pass as a Neil Young & Crazy Horse outtake any day.