#2. Neil Young -- Harvest
Easy, hippies, I'm not saying Harvest is a bad album. You can refrain from pointing your pitchforks at me and continue using them to plant hemp or whatever the hell. What I am saying, though, is that when it comes to Neil Young albums, Harvest is not even close to being the career high point that a lot of people make it out to be.
Yes, it features some of his most timeless songs ("Old Man," "Heart of Gold," "The Needle and the Damage Done") and even features two of my personal favorite Neil Young tunes ("Out on the Weekend" and the title track). When considering Harvest as a complete package, though, things get a lot less classic. Its main downfall is that practically every song that features anything more than Neil, drums, and a few guitars is an overwrought nightmare like this:
That song is called "There's a World," and if you aren't able to watch the video and have never heard it, just know that it sounds like the kind of orchestral bullshit you only hear if you watch movie credits in their entirety. And Harvest is full of that shit. Another great example is the absurdly sexist and just all-around corny "A Man Needs a Maid":
Even the racist-baiting classic "Alabama" plays like a needlessly dramatic version of the far superior "Southern Man," which he released a few years later.
In spite of all this, Harvest remains Neil Young's best-selling album and gets the most attention from casual fans and critics. Because it's always a good barometer of how wrong people are about things, I should mention that Rolling Stone lists Harvest at No. 82 on the list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Meanwhile, Nobody Talks About: On the Beach
It's not just Harvest that gets more respect than it deserves, but Neil Young's entire early '70s output kind of pales in comparison to the insane hot streak he went on in the second half of the decade. It started with 1974's On the Beach, an album so obscure in the big scheme of Neil Young's back catalog that it remained unavailable on CD for decades.
That wrong was righted in 2003, and the world is a better place for it. What makes On the Beach such a great album is that it's a rare example of Neil Young's two vastly different sides working together almost perfectly. All of the flubbed notes and general sloppiness of unhinged albums like Tonight's the Night are on full display, but like the best moments on Harvest, the songs are some of the prettiest and most accessible of Neil Young's entire career. Case in point, have a listen to "See the Sky About to Rain":
That's a good song, people. Really good. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of the most devoted Neil Young fans who would even think to mention it when discussing his "best" work. That's a shame, because from front to back, On the Beach is one of the most consistently great albums of Neil Young's entire career. Keep it on heavy rotation in your Volkswagen van and you'll close every patchouli-drenched prospect that comes your way.
#1. John Lennon -- Double Fantasy
If John Lennon's final studio effort, Double Fantasy, taught us anything, it's that being shot and killed mere weeks after your album's release date is a great way to deflect criticism. I won't bother mincing words: Double Fantasy is a mediocre album at best, and that's if I'm being super-duper forgiving. If you think otherwise, you either regard the Beatles too highly to be honest with yourself or you're Marion Gladstone. In either case, shut up, you're wrong.
For one thing, can we discuss for a second that half the songs are performed by Yoko Ono? When has that ever been listed as a positive attribute of anything music related?
Heads up, that's far and away her best contribution to the album. When you strip all of her filler away, you're left with seven songs performed by John Lennon. Sure, most of them are good songs, but that's still not a classic album's worth of music, right?
On top of that, the songs are anomalies in the Lennon catalog that, as my friend Harry Knuckles pointed out in a recent column, are basically replicas of the "silly love song" formula that Paul McCartney rode to success while Lennon mocked him mercilessly for it.
Gladstone says that was a brave move on Lennon's part. I say it's a sure sign that his music would have fucking sucked in the '80s like everyone else's. It's a shame we'll never get to find out for sure who's right, but for the record, I am.
Meanwhile, Nobody Talks About: Ringo
It's widely known and accepted that the undisputed solo album champion of the Beatles' first few years living apart was George Harrison. If anyone ever tells you there is a better Beatles solo album than All Things Must Pass, congratulations, you've probably just met Paul McCartney. Everyone else knows better.
That said, if there was a silver medal for early '70s solo albums by the Beatles, it should go to Ringo Starr.
That's right, I said it: Ringo Motherfucking Starr. That's his legal name, and he earned it in my book by way of two goddamn incredible singles that led up to an equally impressive album that is almost never mentioned when discussing the best Beatles solo albums.
First, let's talk about those singles. As was the custom for the Beatles, two of the strongest songs of Ringo Starr's solo career do not appear on any of his studio albums. The first, released in 1971, is called "It Don't Come Easy," and if hearing it does not make you at least a little happier than you were before, consider Zoloft.
The second, released in 1972, is called "Back Off Boogaloo" and features a guitar riff that's suspiciously similar to the one that briefly made Franz Ferdinand undeserving stars a few years ago:
Finally, in 1973, after having previously recorded an album of standards (Sentimental Journey) and a weird country album (Beaucoups of Blues), Ringo Starr released what he considered his first solo album, simply titled Ringo. While it doesn't feature the two previously mentioned singles, it does contain two more of Ringo's best, even if they were written by John Lennon ("I'm the Greatest") and George Harrison ("Photograph"). In fact, it's one of the few Beatles solo albums that feature all four members (Paul McCartney wrote and played on "Six o'Clock"). The only reason it didn't reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the U.S. was that it coincided with the release of Elton John's epic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album.
Ringo isn't just better than Double Fantasy -- it's better than most Beatles solo albums in general. If you're a Beatles fan and you don't own it, you're not really a Beatles fan.