Friday Five: Neil Young Covers

Juli Thanki | November 12th, 2010

Today is Neil Young’s 65th birthday. Numerous country artists have covered songs penned by Neil Young (make your own joke about Southern men not needing him around, anyhow); here are some of my favorites.

  • Here With Me5. “Birds” – Holly Williams

    Williams covered this track from After the Gold Rush for last year’s Here with Me. Accompanied with gentle piano, she stays pretty faithful to Young’s original—why mess with a good thing, right?

  • Canadian Amp4. “Dreamin’ Man” – Neko Case

    This song can be found on 2001’s Canadian Amp, an album which also includes a stellar version of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken.” Though Case’s new stuff is largely in the realm of indie pop (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s nice to go back and hear her rootsier, alt-country stuff.

  • Unearthed3. “Heart of Gold” – Johnny Cash

    This cover of Young’s only #1 single can be found on Cash’s Unearthed box set. Young’s recording is a classic, but this one is a must-listen, as is “Pocahontas,” which can also be found on Unearthed.

  • Wrecking Ball2. “Wrecking Ball” – Emmylou Harris

    1995’s Wrecking Ball, produced by Daniel Lanois (who’s worked with U2, Brian Eno, and lots more), was something of a stylistic departure for Harrris. It’s also arguably the most engaging album of her career. In my opinion, she sings “Wrecking Ball” better than Young did. Just watch the video; she’s flawless. (PS. Don’t forget her version of Young’s “Long May You Run” found on the Last Date LP.)

  • Are You Ready For The Country1. “Are You Ready for the Country” – Waylon Jennings

    This song was originally recorded for Young’s 1972 record Harvest; Jennings made it the title track of a covers album four years later. The video below of the two men performing the song together may be a little blurry, but it doesn’t sound half bad.

  1. Paul W Dennis
    November 12, 2010 at 9:44 am

    The one thing all five of these have in common as that it is better to listen to these recordings than to suffer through Neil singing them. Outside of Bob Dylan and Vince Matthews, I cannot think of a singer I’d rather less hear than Neil Young

  2. Lewis
    November 12, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Willie Nelson’s 1987 version of Heart Of Gold is a great version though it wasn’t a huge chart hit and I can’t believe that wasn’t a mention of the song (only mention of the album) After The Goldrush and Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt did a stellar version of that song.

  3. Ollie
    November 12, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Great list. Other good Neil Young covers by country/Americana-related artists include The Trio’s cover of “After The Goldrush”; Linda Ronstadt’s covers of “Birds,” “I Believe in You,” and “Love is a Rose”; Willie Nelson’s “Heart of Gold,” Allison Moorer’s “Don’t Cry No Tears,” Gillian Welch’s covers of “Albuquerque” and “Pocahontas”; Lori McKenna’s “The Needle and The Damage Done,” Dave Rawlings Machine’s and Carrie Rodriguez’s covers of “Cortez the Killer”; The Wailin’ Jennys’ covers of “Old Man” and “Barefoot Floors”; Be Good Tanya’s “”For The Turnstyles”; and Kathleen Edwards’ “Lotta Love.”

    Can you tell I have a Neil Young covers playlist on my iPod? :)

  4. Leeann Ward
    November 12, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Great list. I also enjoy John Berry’s cover of “Heart of Gold” from his Songs and Stories live album.

  5. Erik
    November 12, 2010 at 11:29 am

    I really like Deana Carter’s cover of “Old Man”.

  6. Bob
    November 12, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Just read an old review by Matt Bjorke of John Berry’s Songs & Stories live album that Leeann mentioned. The album will be on my Christmas wish list. Soon it will be time to get out John’s Christmas albums, My Heart Is Bethlehem (my favorite) and O Holy Night.

  7. Barry Mazor
    November 12, 2010 at 11:35 am

    And the Sara Evans cover of “Powderfinger.” I love that.

  8. Susan K.
    November 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I agree Lewis on Trio’s “After the Goldrush”, with Dolly singing lead. That one’s right up there for me. I also like Gillian Welch’s version of Pocahontas.

  9. Chris N.
    November 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I’m partial to the Rascal Flatts version of “Like an Inca,” although Jason Aldean does a mean “Welfare Mothers.”

  10. the pistolero
    November 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Cross Canadian Ragweed did a great version of “The Needle and the Damage Done” on their 2-cd live set Live And Loud At Cain’s Ballroom.

  11. CMW
    November 12, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Angela Easterling does a pretty mean “Helpless.”

  12. Ollie
    November 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Also, K.D. Lang (remember Shadowland?) has done great covers of “Helpless” and “After the Goldrush.” And at this year’s Music Cares tribute to Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin & Emmylou Harris did a beautiful cover of “Comes A Time.”

  13. Barry Mazor
    November 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    All jokes and imaginary records aside–I think the real Young covers show that doing one of his songs is practically a no fail marker of being off in the or Americana end of the spectrum..

  14. Ben Foster
    November 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    How about Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “Love Is a Rose”? That’s what of my favorite things she’s ever done.

  15. Jeremy Dylan
    November 12, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I think KD Lang’s version of AFTER THE GOLDRUSH is pretty unbeatable – up there with Young’s original version.

  16. Rick
    November 12, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I prefer Neil covering Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” to others covering Neil’s songs. I liked Neil’s work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and then sort of lost interest (well, except for “Cinnamon Girl” now and again). In fact when “Ohio” came along I quit paying any attention to the anti-Viet Nam war, hippie leftist peacenik icon that Neil had become. Neil felt the same way about Nixon that I do about Obama, whom I wish was gone…

  17. Matt Bjorke
    November 12, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Bob and Leeann,

    The best part about that cover of “Heart of Gold.” (aside from sounding eerily similar to Neil – but with stronger voice) is the story he tells about his son’s reaction to the song when John was playing it in the truck.

  18. WAYNOE
    November 12, 2010 at 7:17 pm


    Neil is always against something. Same for Earle. They are seldom for anything, at least that’s worthwhile. Shame as both are very talented.

  19. Ollie
    November 12, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    @Rick: FWIW, Neil Young famously supported many positions of Ronald Reagan and was initially a supporter of the invasion of Iraq. His personal political views are complicated, or should I say, nuanced– he refuses to define himself as a Democrat or Republican.

    @Barry: In general, I agree with your comment that “the real Young covers show that doing one of his songs is practically a no fail marker of being off in the or Americana end of the spectrum” but I wish you had added the Seinfeld line– “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” :)

  20. Barry Mazor
    November 12, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Ollie, I was a senior editor at No Depression for ten years. I’ve got a “get out of explaining, justifying,r explaining OR endlessly praising & Americana free” card. Or maybe not.

  21. Ollie
    November 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Barry- I read your articles in No Depression for at least 7 of those 10 years and I don’t think I was asking you to explain, justify or “endlessly praise” or Americana music. My view is that some of the music which falls under those labels is great and some of it sucks…. And FWIW, I don’t think of John Berry, Deanna Carter, or Dolly Parton as or Americana artists (even though Dolly was once featured on the cover of ND) yet all of them have covered at least one Neil Young song.

  22. Noeller
    November 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    KD Lang’s version of Helpless is epic (as is her cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah) both of which can be found on her “Hymns Of The 49th Parallel” project.

    Loooooooooooove my Canadian artists!!

  23. Barry Mazor
    November 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    No argument about those folks, Ollie–though this is a good marker for being willing to stretch off the mainstream reservation, and/or possibly wanting to be seen doing so..

    I was kidding about commenting on (Sometimes, I’d just as soon not. ) But then, you very possibly didn’t actually want me to add the Seinfeld tag either..

  24. Leeann Ward
    November 12, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Agreed, Noeller.

  25. Dave D.
    November 13, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    The Trio’s “After the Gold Rush” should be disqualified solely due to the insertion of “And I felt like I could cry” in the lyrics.

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