Neil Young: Transformer Man
After a disappointing Crazy Horse album, re*ac*tor, Neil switched labels and signed with Geffen Records for most of the '80s. It didn't take long for the two to butt heads. With it's synths, robotic beats and vocoder-heavy vocals, one can only wonder what Geffen thought when he first heard Trans. Many of the songs stem from Neil's attempts to communicate with his son Ben, who has cerebral palsy. There are some beautiful melodies hidden in the album, like this track, which he would recast in an acoustic setting for his turn at MTV Unplugged eleven years later.
Neil & The Shocking Pinks: Kinda Fonda Wanda
While touring is support of Trans, Neil came up with the Shocking Pinks concept. Talk about a 180-degree turn! After a turn at futuristic electro-rock, Neil set the time machine for the 1950s and gave us a 25-minute album of rockabilly. It could have been interesting, but the '80s production values and the dopey backing vocals really sabotaged the album. But live, the band started to stretch out, and set the seeds for the Bluenotes five years later. But first...
Neil Young: Get Back to the Country
Where to go from there? How about a pure country album? Neil had played country-rock on and off for years, most notably on Harvest, his biggest album. The promise of a return to that sound must have made David Geffen smile, but the more Geffen pushed Neil to make it sound like "Neil", the more country Neil went. Here he pretty much took it to the extreme, with the dopey "boing" of the Jew's harp pushing it over the edge. Live, the band once again started to stretch out and really rock. So naturally...
Neil Young: Weight of the World
...he went all synth-rock on us. Recorded with studio pros Danny Kortchmar on guitar and synths and Steve Jordan on drums and synths. The music can be brutal, with the drums in particular seemingly in your face. It's not an easy listen.
Neil Young & The Bluenotes: Married Man
After that, Neil toured and released an album with his old friends Crazy Horse. But during that tour, he started adding a blues mini-set, and that lead to the Bluenotes. I've written about this before, so I'll just say that this is a very underrated period in Neil's career, and the beginning of Neil getting back on track. (His next album included "Rockin' in the Free World", one of his best songs.)