Neil Young is a true rock and roll legend, having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not once, but two separate times. With a career spanning over 45 years, Young has released 35 albums and is widely considered to be one of the best songwriters of our time. Young is known to be very outspoken, and a lot of his music has political lyrics. Here are 10 Neil Young songs which are not only great songs in their own right, but which carry a strong message as well.
1. Southern Man
“Southern Man” was released in 1970 on the album “After the Gold Rush”. The lyrics deal with the issue of racism, and Young ponders when the American South will make amends for their historical involvement in slavery.
2. War Song
You can’t really get much more political than “War Song.” This song was released specifically to support the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern against Richard Nixon, who Young was not a fan of.
3. Peaceful Valley Boulevard
“Peaceful Valley Boulevard” is one of Young’s songs with a distinctly environmental theme. It describes the settlement and subsequent environmental destruction of the Americas, and also touches on the wider issue of global warming.
4. Shock and Awe
The title of “Shock and Awe” refers to a military doctrine by the same name. It is a vehemently anti-war song in which Young’s lyrics draw up very vivid mental images of the damage wrought by war.
Pocahontas is a hauntingly beautiful and sad song. It begins by calling to mind serene images of an untouched landscape. It then describes the damage done to native communities by European colonizers, as well as the issues they face today.
6. Let’s Impeach the President
“Let’s Impeach the President” doesn’t pull any punches. Released on Young’s 2006 album “Living with War”, this song calls for an outright impeachment of then president George W. Bush. The song incorporated sound clips from some of George Bush’s speeches.
7. Cortez the Killer
“Cortez the Killer” is another song that focuses on imperial expansion into the New World. This song holds a position on both Guitar World’s list of greatest guitar solos and Rolling Stone’s list of greatest songs of all time.
8. After the Garden
“After the Garden” brings together both Young’s libertarianism and environmentalism. The “garden” referred to in the song is a reference to our whole planet, and Young wonders “where will people go?” after the garden is gone.
9. Rockin’ in the Free World
“Rockin’ in the Free World” was the first song in which Young took the opportunity to criticize a Bush president, which at that time was George H. W. Bush. Ironically, the song became an American anthem following the collapse of communism.
Ohio is perhaps Young’s best known politically-charged and activist song. The lyrics are in reference to the 1970 Kent State shootings. Young was highly critical of the event and attributed the horrors to then-president Richard Nixon.