The 10 Best Neil Young Covers, From Radiohead to Joni Mitchell & Beyond

Neil Young
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Neil Young photographed in Tokyo in March, 1976.

Neil Young isn't merely one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the 20th century – his steadfast commitment to staying true to himself has made him a patron saint of sorts for artists looking to maintain personal integrity in a difficult industry. So it's no shock that beyond the usual rock, folk and country acolytes, even metal groups and dance bands have taken a journey through the past to harvest material from his lengthy career arc.

With the news that Hipgnosis Songs has purchased 50% of his song catalog, we're rounding up 10 of our favorite Neil Young covers. Get ready to Shakey a leg.

Cowboy Junkies, "Powderfinger"

Any number of Neil originals would be a natural fit for the Cowboy Junkies' trademark brand of narcotically languid dream-folk; naturally, they opted to cover one of his most anthemic rockers instead. Still, thanks to singer Margo Timmins' elegiac vocals and Jeff Bird's distant-memory flourishes of gorgeous harmonica and mandolin in the background, the Junkies' "Powderfinger" turns one of Young's most beloved story songs into a mournful lament of wasted youth -- so devastating you don't even notice the absence of the original's signature guitar lick. -- Andrew Unterberger

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, "After the Gold Rush"

There are a LOT of "After the Gold Rush" covers, and although a number of them are quite good and/or interesting, you really have to clinch every second if you're gonna tackle this nugget and stand out from the pack of prospectors. An easy way to rise above 'em? Put Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris together and have them harmonize on this wounded ecological lamentation without ostentation or ornamentation. No need to get out that gold pan and start a-siftin' for more riches – thanks to this recording on their Trio II album, the mine is already tapped dry. -- Joe Lynch

Inter Arma, "Southern Man"

No shock that Virginia sludge metal epicists Inter Arma would do the self-righteous fury of "Southern Man" justice with their pummeling 2020 rendition, all thrashing guitars, blast beats and guttural shrieks. The remarkable thing is that, underneath all the instrumental frenzy, the searing riffer doesn't sound that different than it did on After the Gold Rush a half-century earlier -- or, unfortunately, any less relevant. -- A.U.

Buddy Miles, "Down By the River"

Buddy Miles, Hendrix's Band of Gypsys drummer, tackled Young's backwoods homicide odyssey for his solo debut Them Changes in 1970. Where Crazy Horse was ravage and relentless, Miles' band is eerily soulful, imbuing the verses and instrumental detours with a laid-back funk that makes the casually murderous chorus all the more harrowing. -- J.L.

Joni Mitchell, "Sugar Mountain"

Before Young or Joni Mitchell rocketed to acclaim as part of a crop of late '60s/early '70s singer-songwriters, the two were well familiar with each other and fans of each other's work. In 1967, Mitchell covered Young's "Sugar Mountain," perhaps his strongest '60s composition, on a Philadelphia folk radio program. The nostalgic melancholy for youth suits Mitchell beautifully – although it's funny to think about these two artists in their early twenties getting wistful about adolescence. -- J.L.

Poolside, "Harvest Moon"

A pulsing electronic cover of Neil Young's classic acoustic love ballad seems categorically ill-advised. Luckily, the permachill Poolside bros aren't interested in hyping up "Harvest Moon" so much as adding a head nod to go with the original's gentle hip sway, via insistently bubbling bass, clapping snare and immersive synth washes. If Neil had really wanted to see his beloved dance again, he would've deployed this stuff the first time out. -- A.U.

Radiohead, "On the Beach"

According to Thom Yorke, he was garnering comparisons to Young before he even knew who the guy was. When the BBC told a 16-year-old Yorke he sounded like Grandpa Grunge, the budding talent rushed off to the record store to figure out who the hell they were talking about. Radiohead has covered several young classics, but something about the harrowing, yowling falsetto of "On the Beach" suits Yorke particularly well. -- J.L.

Roxy Music, "Like a Hurricane"

Avalon might've been Roxy Music's full-pivot to lush adult sophisi-pop, but while touring behind the classic 1982 album, they proved that as a rock band, a detour to that idyllic Arthurian island hadn't blunted them on the battlefield. Their take on Young's "Like a Hurricane," recorded for posterity on their live 1983 EP The High Road, features Ferry's haunted croon augmented by a wailing backup trio, uneasy synths and occasional bolts of furious electricity courtesy guitarist Phil Manzanera. -- J.L.

Saint Etienne, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart"

English alt-dance outfit Saint Etienne scored their first record deal with this inventive reimagining of Young's 1970 single. With Moira Lambert handling vocals prior to singer Sarah Cracknell's entry, Etienne's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" maintains little more than the vocal melody of the After the Gold Rush original, allowing the group to concoct a witches' brew of crackling drum breaks and house-styled piano riffing for 1991's Foxbase Alpha. -- J.L.

Screaming Females, "Cortez the Killer"

One of Young's more popular rockers to cover, Jersey indie punks Screaming Females K.O. other would-be conquistadors with their loud-quiet-loud take on the Zuma standout "Cortez the Killer." Crazy Horse's approach to "Cortez" was languid and mournful, but Screaming Females bring a simmering indignation to their pendulous attack – and Marissa Paternoster's unearthly trill stays with you long after this abbreviated take on Young's 7.5-minute classic wraps. -- J.L.