Neil Young Offers His Entire Catalog of Music Free Online (Until June), at the Highest Digital Audio Quality Possible

Neil Young has always been an artist in con­ver­sa­tion with the world around him—a trou­ba­dour, truth-teller, town crier, and chron­i­cler of the excess­es and evils of his age. His is not always a sub­tle art, but is often all the bet­ter for it. When he speaks out in song, peo­ple lis­ten. And though Cana­di­an, he’s done as much as any Amer­i­can song­writer of his gen­er­a­tion to crys­tal­ize the U.S.’s seem­ing­ly per­pet­u­al domes­tic and for­eign con­flicts.

Young often works quick­ly and to spec, so to speak, to the needs of the moment. (He wrote his clas­sic After the Gold Rush album in three weeks.) 1970’s Kent State-shoot­ing response “Ohio” is plain-spo­ken and spare, its most indeli­ble line a stark news­pa­per head­line: “Four dead in Ohio.” It’s such an effec­tive­ly poignant treat­ment that the song still res­onates deeply forty-sev­en years lat­er in a recent cov­er by Gary Clark, Jr.  Young report­ed­ly wrote the song in fif­teen min­utes.

His ear­ly 70s songs “South­ern Man” and “Alaba­ma” inspired one of the most famous, and famous­ly mis­un­der­stood, feuds in rock his­to­ry when Lynyrd Skynyrd respond­ed with “Sweet Home Alaba­ma.” Ron­nie Van Zandt claimed he wrote the song as a joke, and he and Young were always mutu­al admir­ers and friends. But Young’s deserved­ly angry lyrics made mil­lions of peo­ple furi­ous in return. (He has since looked back on “Alaba­ma” with some regret, call­ing it, “not ful­ly thought out” and say­ing it “ rich­ly deserved the shot” Van Zandt took at him.)

As a long­time fan of Young’s loose, noisy, abstract psy­che­del­ic garage rock and of his ten­der acoustic bal­lads, I feel that it’s pro­found­ly reduc­tive to call him a protest singer. He’s had a long and incred­i­bly var­ied career, which he now invites us to sur­vey, all of it, with the release of the Neil Young Archives, a smart, chrono­log­i­cal­ly-orga­nized online cat­a­log span­ning over 50 years, 39 stu­dio albums, records made with Buf­fa­lo Spring­field and CSNY, ten unre­leased albums, and a few unre­leased films.

The archive, Young says, “is designed to be a liv­ing doc­u­ment, con­stant­ly evolv­ing and includ­ing every new record­ing and film as it is made.” All of this music is cur­rent­ly free, until June 30th, though you’ll have to cre­ate an account. After that date, users can sub­scribe for an unspec­i­fied but “very mod­est” cost.

The breadth of Young’s song­writ­ing inter­ests is on full dis­play, from gen­tle love songs to dusty west­ern sagas. In each decade, how­ev­er, he has nev­er hes­i­tat­ed to get polit­i­cal when he feels the call. And when Neil Young writes a protest song, he goes all in.

He’s tak­en in the past few years to writ­ing entire protest albums. There’s the 2006 Iraq War protest, Liv­ing with War, a rush release Young penned quick­ly and record­ed in only 9 days after see­ing a USA Today head­line. It went on to earn a Gram­my nom­i­na­tion.

There’s the 2015 The Mon­san­to Years, record­ed with his recent band Promise of the Real (which includes Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Mic­ah). Record­ed in live ses­sions at a con­vert­ed movie the­ater, the album prompt­ed Bill­board to solic­it respons­es from the cor­po­ra­tions Young takes to task, includ­ing not only Mon­san­to but also Star­bucks, Chevron, and Wal­mart.

The Vis­i­tors, Young’s new album with Promise of the Real, released just yes­ter­day, may not be a full protest album, but it does have some straight­for­ward protest songs, “Already Great” (top) con­tains the lyrics “You’re already great / You’re the promised land / You’re the help­ing hand” and ends with chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” The track “Chil­dren of Des­tiny,” with its earnest­ly patri­ot­ic video (above) recalls, in some respects, Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “The Ris­ing,” but with unam­bigu­ous­ly lefty mes­sag­ing ref­er­enc­ing, among oth­er things, the bru­tal­ly repressed Stand­ing Rock protests and the need to “stand up for the land.”

Young looks around him and looks ahead even when he’s look­ing back, seek­ing out new sounds, styles, record­ing tech­niques and tech­nolo­gies. Fit­ting­ly, on the day of The Vis­i­tors’ release, Young announced the Archives, which pro­vides, as he wrote in a tweet, “fans & music his­to­ri­ans with access to all of my music and to my entire archives in one loca­tion.” True to his for­ward-look­ing vision, he has updat­ed the sound qual­i­ty of these record­ings to suit the needs of a dig­i­tal age.

Rather than suc­cumb­ing to the trend of stream­ing ser­vices’ low qual­i­ty mp3s—a phe­nom­e­non he has long fought—Young offers all of this music at the high­est qual­i­ty pos­si­ble, “not com­pro­mised,” he writes on the site, “by com­pres­sion schemes to save mem­o­ry.” He promis­es “the clar­i­ty rich­ness, trans­paren­cy, and detail of the orig­i­nal per­for­mance.” He doesn’t promise that the hun­dreds of live, stu­dio, and unre­leased songs in the archive mer­it this care­ful, high-tech treat­ment, but if you’re a Neil Young fan, you’re already con­vinced most of them do, from the most earnest polit­i­cal anthems to the qui­etest bal­lads and most rau­cous free-form jams.

Vis­it the Neil Young Archive here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Neil Young Per­forms Clas­sic Songs in 1971 Con­cert: “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold” & More

Great Sto­ry: How Neil Young Intro­duced His Clas­sic 1972 Album Har­vest to Gra­ham Nash

The Time Neil Young Met Charles Man­son, Liked His Music, and Tried to Score Him a Record Deal

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (10)
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  • M says:

    You have to cre­ate an account to even read the TOS, so the music isn’t “free,” and my data’s not either, not any­more.

    Btw, regard­ing your site, I won’t turn off my ad block­ers, I’d rather donate. What’s your street address, I’ll write you a check.

    The web is get­ting ugli­er and ugli­er.

  • Mike Gauthier says:

    Yes, I had to log into either my Google account (free) or my Face­book account (equal­ly free) to access the music. I HATE it when I have to do any­thing to get free stuff. Unfair!

  • John says:

    WTF? I click on “Free Music” and am tak­en to some­thing I have no idea what it is. No indi­ca­tion where the web­site leads to, so I am not tak­ing that path!

    WHAT A LETDOWN get­ting jerked around.

  • Vanessa says:

    I real­ly enjoy lis­ten­ing to music free (and no cred­it card info required). I don’t find it so wrong to reg­is­ter for free stream­ing. I mean the peo­ple pro­vid­ing the stream­ing are pay­ing for the set­up. So worth it if you are a fan. And you can pur­chase songs on the site as well.

  • Jonny V says:

    Appre­ci­ate this, not too dif­fi­cult, as I already have a high end Audio card installed through opti­cal cable into my Sur­round Sound sys­tem, so it sounds bloody great. Play­back is pret­ty smooth. Guess peo­ple will com­plain about free any­thing, and since each song is linked to a “buy” link in most cas­es, go ahead and press “buy” if you can’t hack lis­ten­ing for free.

    More inter­est­ed in the his­tor­i­cal aspects of this archive any­way. My sis­ter used to col­lect records from this band called “Buf­fa­lo Spring­field”, and lat­er CSN and then CSN&Y. And bunch­es of Neil Young solo albums. I used to spend my time read­ing the lin­er notes from these records, so this goes a step beyond that. So I’ve heard most of this stuff from when I was a kid any­way. Just like to read about the when and how some of the songs came into being.

  • Atilla Garay says:

    Yes, very much a let down. “Sor­ry offer is not valid on mobile. Please come back when you’re on your com­put­er.” WTF is up with that!? My phone has more mem­o­ry and ver­sa­til­i­ty than any com­put­er, I’ve ever used!

  • B says:

    does­n’t work

  • DangerMaus says:

    Strange­ly enough, I can access it just fine on my Android mobile. I sim­ply use Chrome and select the “Desk­top Site” set­ting…

    Can’t believe peo­ple area moan­ing about being giv­en free access to such an amaz­ing archive.

  • Steve Burgas says:

    Well, you’re a right twat, aren’t you?

  • Steve Burgas says:

    Yes, it bloody well does work.

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