When Neil Young Collected His Past on ‘Decade’
Even though Bob Dylan's Biograph is considered to be the first box set, Neil Young’s Decade – the three-LP, career-spanning retrospective that came out on Oct. 28, 1977 – is in many ways its precursor.
Before Decade, which gathered songs from Young’s early days with Buffalo Springfield through his most recent solo album, compilations were basically greatest-hits sets that collected a dozen or so of an artist’s most popular cuts. The Decade set wanted to tell a story. In essence, it’s a musical biography.
Starting with "Down to the Wire," a previously unreleased Buffalo Springfield song, Decade traced Young’s development over his first 10 years. In addition to key album tracks ("Down by the River," "Cortez the Killer") and singles ("Cinnamon Girl," "Heart of Gold"), the album included songs Young recorded with both Crazy Horse and as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, live tracks and several unreleased songs and mixes.
Decade remains Young’s sturdiest compilation, even though it covers less than a quarter of his career. Some of the songs aren’t available anywhere else, like a live B-side version of "Sugar Mountain" (later included on 2008's Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968) an edited "Soldier" (from the otherwise dismal Journey Through the Past) and a more scorching take of the American Stars ‘N Bars favorite "Like a Hurricane."
Young handpicked the songs on Decade, which, for the most part, chronicled every step of his career at that point (all but a couple of his solo albums were represented). His current Archives series – which so far has yielded only one collection that stops at 1972 – will eventually replace Decade as Young’s definitive history. But for 30 years it’s served as the most complete document of his most fertile period.