I'm not considering his "Ditch Trilogy" as a barren period as "Time Fades Away", "On The Beach" and "Tonight's The Night" rank amongst his finest work even if they fell a long way from the commercial heights of "Harvest".
More thoughts on "On The Beach" here.
More on "Tonight's The Night" here.
Instead I'm turning to Neil lost decade, the Geffen wilderness that was the 1980s.
Even the most ardent Neil Young fan would struggle to claim that any of his work from "Hawks 'n' Doves" in 1980 through to the 1988 reunion with Crosby, Stills and Nash on "American Dream" ranked amongst his finest, but there are some gems.
Chief amongst them was the blues/soul of "This Note's For You", the title track of his first album back in the comforting arms of Reprise after the Geffen disaster. The video gained some notoriety at the time for it's mocking of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, along with the vehemently anti-corporate message of the song.
It is the vivacity and energy which had returned to Young's writing and playing that is most evident, even more so on the 2015 Archives release "Bluenote Cafe" that documented the tour supporting this album. That double disc release is the better choice if you want to listen to the Bluenotes-era Neil as it has the advantage of including the stunning "Ordinary People" a song not officially released until "Chrome Dreams II" in 2007. Only Neil would sit on a song that good for so long; needless to say it was widely available on bootlegs for years beforehand! It is easily in my top ten Young songs. Given the paucity of what had come in the eight years before the omission is all the more staggering. ("Landing On Water" anyone? I thought not.) Have a listen if you don't believe me.
The album version of "This Note's For You" is short, sweet and to the point. Stabbing horns, fiery lead guitar and cutting lyrics all wrapped in just over two minutes of, ironically enough, ad-break sized perfection. It showed that better things were on the way from Young as "Freedom", "Ragged Glory" and "Harvest Moon" would soon show.
This note's is indeed for you...