I was asked by a pal to recommend some records, this is what I wrote up, maybe it'll help you.
His stuff varies so much, it's hard to rate numerically, so let's go down
the discog in order and make some comments:
-- Neil Young Neil Young 1969 Reprise
The last LP he did using studio overdubbing techniques, he went all live
(except for some background vox) after this. Has a real soft Van Dyke Parks/Jack Nitzsche song-symphony kinda vibe; he wasn't confident in his voice yet. Some nice songs that turn up better in later redos (Old Laughing Lady) but not essential.
-- Everybody Knows...Nowhere Neil & Crazy Horse 1969 Reprise
You got; pretty much "default" Neil, the one everyone gets first usually cos of the classic rock radio hits.
-- Deja Vu C, S, N, & Y 1970 Atlantic
Get for a buck, you can find it.
-- After The Gold Rush Neil Young 1970 Reprise
You got; his first real moves into acoustic folk. Some good songs (Tell Me Why, Don't Let It Bring You Down, Birds).
-- 4 Way Street C, S, N, & Y 1971 Atlantic
Don't get cos of Neil, but get to laugh at Stills' anti-Nixon piano/scat tirade. Get Crosby's first solo LP instead (really!--Neil's on some cuts and it's a good psych record, f**k those SoulStrut naysayers).
-- Harvest Neil Young 1972 Reprise
The thing that makes this record is Ben Keith's pedal; Neil wtd it to sound big and wide like a midwest horizon.
-- Journey Through The Past Neil Young 1972 Reprise
An anomoly: his OST to his rare flick of the same name, a real doper film (played the Midnight Movie circuit up here); kinda patchworky; get cheap.
-- Time Fades Away Neil Young 1973 Reprise
The success of Harvest weirded him out, so in all defiance of expectations
(i.e., Harvest II) he made a live album of all new songs in a shaggy rock
mode...kinda pissy and passively venomous; includes good tunes like Don't Be Denied; cover photo was recreated in ALMOST FAMOUS; one of his "grower" LPs.
-- On The Beach Neil Young 1974 Reprise
I just got this on CD this year, and haven't heard it, but it's considered a forgotten masterpiece of some sort, so you should find it.
-- Tonight's The Night Neil Young 1975 Reprise
Ahh, TTN...the story is, he made a double LP called Homegrown, that was
largely inspired by his rocky marriage w/ actress Carrie Snodgrass; he
considered it very personal, and when he played it (along w/ the TTN tapes) at a party Rick Danko suggested he release the latter instead, which he did. TNN was made in response to Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten ODing after being kicked out of the band. Everyone thinks this record is real dark, moody, and druggy, but it's really not! It's obviously made drunk as hell (sloppy as all get out--Tammy HATES it) and the vibe is one of a drunken laugh with a taste of regret rather than a musical chase down Heroin Highway. Get it, some great songs. (BTW, you can make your own version of Homegrown with the songs released on later LPs + some boots; there are at least 3 or 4 other unreleased LPs).
-- Zuma Neil & Crazy Horse 1975 Reprise
Sound-wise it's a follow-up to Everybody Knows, they kick out the rock jams; this is the one w/ Cortez The Killer.
-- Long May You Run Stills/Young Band 1976 Reprise
Have it but don't know it; Neil skipped off the tour half-way and left a "dear john" note to Stills!
-- Decade Neil Young 1976 Reprise
Some good songs only appear here, so get it.
-- American Stars & Bars Neil Young 1977 Reprise
A weird one; it's a Frankenstein combo of two projects: a country album, and a rock album about the bar culture. Inconsistent, but it's got Like A
Hurricane, plus good stuff like Will To Love.
-- Comes A Time Neil Young 1978 Reprise
Probably his most underrated record, the real follow-up to Harvest, it's a
country rock record with a real rural flavor, and some awesome tunes: Comes A Time, Lotta Love, Look Out For My Love...
-- Rust Never Sleeps Neil & Crazy Horse 1979 Reprise
Back to the rock w/ CH; includes My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue), Powderfinger (AWESOME live song), and Welfare Mothers.
-- Live Rust# Neil & Crazy Horse 1979 Reprise
Another everyone gets (you gotta have EVERY '70s double-live rock LP anyway, right?); get it cheap.
-- Hawks And Doves Neil Young 1980 Reprise
He starts getting weird here; have it but don't know it.
-- Re-ac-tor Neil & Crazy Horse 1981 Reprise
Have it but don't know it.