Neil Young – Tonight’s The Night (1975)

AllMusic Review: Written and recorded in 1973 shortly after the death of roadie Bruce Berry, Neil Young’s second close associate to die of a heroin overdose in six months (the first was Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten), Tonight’s the Night was Young’s musical expression of grief, combined with his rejection of the stardom he had achieved in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The title track, performed twice, was a direct narrative about Berry: “Bruce Berry was a working man/He used to load that Econoline van.” Whitten was heard singing “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” a live track recorded years earlier. Elsewhere, Young frequently referred to drug use and used phrases that might have described his friends, such as the chorus of “Tired Eyes,” “He tried to do his best, but he could not.” Performing with the remains of Crazy Horse, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina, along with Nils Lofgren (guitar and piano) and Ben Keith (steel guitar), Young performed in the ragged manner familiar from Time Fades Away — his voice was often hoarse and he strained to reach high notes, while the playing was loose, with mistakes and shifting tempos. But the style worked perfectly for the material, emphasizing the emotional tone of Young’s mourning and contrasting with the polished sound of CSNY and Harvest that Young also disparaged. He remained unimpressed with his commercial success, noting in “World on a String,” “The world on a string/Doesn’t mean anything.” In “Roll Another Number,” he said he was “a million miles away/From that helicopter day” when he and CSN had played Woodstock. And in “Albuquerque,” he said he had been “starvin’ to be alone/Independent from the scene that I’ve known” and spoke of his desire to “find somewhere where they don’t care who I am.” Songs like “Speakin’ Out” and “New Mama” seemed to find some hope in family life, but Tonight’s the Night did not offer solutions to the personal and professional problems it posed. It was the work of a man trying to turn his torment into art and doing so unflinchingly. Depending on which story you believe, Reprise rejected it or Young withdrew it from its scheduled release at the start of 1974 after touring with the material in the U.S. and Europe. In 1975, after a massive CSNY tour, Young at the last minute dumped a newly recorded album and finally put Tonight’s the Night out instead. Though it did not become one of his bigger commercial successes, the album was immediately recognized as a unique masterpiece by critics, and it has continued to be ranked as one of the greatest rock & roll albums ever made. — William Ruhlmann

Track Listing

All songs written by Neil Young, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Backing band Length
1. “Tonight’s the Night” The Santa Monica Flyers 4:39
2. “Speakin’ Out” The Santa Monica Flyers 4:56
3. “World on a String” The Santa Monica Flyers 2:27
4. “Borrowed Tune” 3:26
5. “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown” (live at the Fillmore East, New York City, Mar. 7, 1970) Neil Young, Danny Whitten Crazy Horse 3:35
6. “Mellow My Mind” The Santa Monica Flyers 3:07
Side two
No. Title Backing band Length
1. “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” The Santa Monica Flyers 3:02
2. “Albuquerque” The Santa Monica Flyers 4:02
3. “New Mama” The Santa Monica Flyers 2:11
4. “Lookout Joe” The Stray Gators 3:57
5. “Tired Eyes” The Santa Monica Flyers 4:38
6. “Tonight’s the Night” (Part II) The Santa Monica Flyers 4:52

 

Schill Score:  4/10

 

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Neil Young – On The Beach (1974)

AllMusic Review: Following the 1973 Time Fades Away tour, Neil Young wrote and recorded an Irish wake of a record called Tonight’s the Night and went on the road drunkenly playing its songs to uncomprehending listeners and hostile reviewers. Reprise rejected the record, and Young went right back and made On the Beach, which shares some of the ragged style of its two predecessors. But where Time was embattled and Tonight mournful, On the Beach was savage and, ultimately, triumphant. “I’m a vampire, babe,” Young sang, and he proceeded to take bites out of various subjects: threatening the lives of the stars who lived in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon (“Revolution Blues”); answering back to Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose “Sweet Home Alabama” had taken him to task for his criticisms of the South in “Southern Man” and “Alabama” (“Walk On”); and rejecting the critics (“Ambulance Blues”). But the barbs were mixed with humor and even affection, as Young seemed to be emerging from the grief and self-abuse that had plagued him for two years. But the album was so spare and under-produced, its lyrics so harrowing, that it was easy to miss Young’s conclusion: he was saying goodbye to despair, not being overwhelmed by it. — William Ruhlmann

Track Listing:

Side one
  1. “Walk On” – 2:40
  2. “See the Sky About to Rain” – 5:03
  3. “Revolution Blues” – 4:02
  4. “For the Turnstiles” – 3:13
  5. “Vampire Blues” – 4:11
Side two
  1. “On the Beach” – 7:04
  2. “Motion Pictures” – 4:20
  3. “Ambulance Blues” – 8:57

 

Schill Score:  5/10

 

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Neil Young – Harvest (1972)

AllMusic Review: Neil Young’s most popular album, Harvest benefited from the delay in its release (it took 18 months to complete due to Young’s back injury), which whetted his audience’s appetite, the disintegration of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Young’s three erstwhile partners sang on the album, along with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor), and most of all, a hit single. “Heart of Gold,” released a month before Harvest, was already in the Top 40 when the LP hit the stores, and it soon topped the charts. It’s fair to say, too, that Young simply was all-pervasive by this time: “Heart of Gold” was succeeded at number one by “A Horse with No Name” by America, which was a Young soundalike record. But successful as Harvest was (and it was the best-selling album of 1972), it has suffered critically from reviewers who see it as an uneven album on which Young repeats himself. Certainly, Harvest employs a number of jarringly different styles. Much of it is country-tinged, with Young backed by a new group dubbed the Stray Gators who prominently feature steel guitarist Ben Keith, though there is also an acoustic track, a couple of electric guitar-drenched rock performances, and two songs on which Young is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. But the album does have an overall mood and an overall lyric content, and they conflict with each other: The mood is melancholic, but the songs mostly describe the longing for and fulfillment of new love. Young is perhaps most explicit about this on the controversial “A Man Needs a Maid,” which is often condemned as sexist by people judging it on the basis of its title. In fact, the song contrasts the fears of committing to a relationship with simply living alone and hiring help, and it contains some of Young’s most autobiographical writing. Unfortunately, like “There’s a World,” the song is engulfed in a portentous orchestration. Over and over, Young sings of the need for love in such songs as “Out on the Weekend,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Old Man” (a Top 40 hit), and the songs are unusually melodic and accessible. The rock numbers, “Are You Ready for the Country” and “Alabama,” are in Young’s familiar style and unremarkable, and “There’s a World” and “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” are the most ponderous and overdone Young songs since “The Last Trip to Tulsa.” But the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” remain among Young’s most affecting and memorable songs. — William Ruhlmann

Track Listing:

Side one

  1. “Out on the Weekend” – 4:35
  2. “Harvest” – 3:03
  3. “A Man Needs a Maid” – 4:00
  4. “Heart of Gold” – 3:05
  5. “Are You Ready for the Country?” – 3:21

Side two

  1. “Old Man” – 3:22
  2. “There’s a World” – 3:00
  3. “Alabama” – 4:02
  4. “The Needle and the Damage Done” (recorded in concert January 30, 1971) – 2:00
  5. “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” – 6:42

 

Schill Score: 7/10

 

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Neil Young – After The Gold Rush (1970)

AllMusic Review: n the 15 months between the release of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush, Neil Young issued a series of recordings in different styles that could have prepared his listeners for the differences between the two LPs. His two compositions on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu, “Helpless” and “Country Girl,” returned him to the folk and country styles he had pursued before delving into the hard rock of Everybody Knows; two other singles, “Sugar Mountain” and “Oh, Lonesome Me,” also emphasized those roots. But “Ohio,” a CSNY single, rocked as hard as anything on the second album. After the Gold Rush was recorded with the aid of Nils Lofgren, a 17-year-old unknown whose piano was a major instrument, turning one of the few real rockers, “Southern Man” (which had unsparing protest lyrics typical of Phil Ochs), into a more stately effort than anything on the previous album and giving a classic tone to the title track, a mystical ballad that featured some of Young’s most imaginative lyrics and became one of his most memorable songs. But much of After the Gold Rush consisted of country-folk love songs, which consolidated the audience Young had earned through his tours and recordings with CSNY; its dark yet hopeful tone matched the tenor of the times in 1970, making it one of the definitive singer/songwriter albums, and it has remained among Young’s major achievements. — William Ruhlmann

Track Listing

Side one
  1. “Tell Me Why” – 2:54
  2. “After the Gold Rush” – 3:45
  3. “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” – 3:05
  4. “Southern Man” – 5:41
  5. “Till the Morning Comes” – 1:17
Side two
  1. “Oh, Lonesome Me”  – 3:47
  2. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” – 2:56
  3. “Birds” – 2:34
  4. “When You Dance I Can Really Love” – 3:44
  5. “I Believe in You” – 2:24
  6. “Cripple Creek Ferry” – 1:34

 

Schill Score:  7/10

 

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Neil Young With Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

AllMusic Review: Neil Young’s second solo album, released only four months after his first, was nearly a total rejection of that polished effort. Though a couple of songs, “Round Round (It Won’t Be Long)” and “The Losing End (When You’re On),” shared that album’s country-folk style, they were altogether livelier and more assured. The difference was that, while Neil Young was a solo effort, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere marked the beginning of Young’s recording association with Crazy Horse, the trio of Danny Whitten (guitar), Ralph Molina (drums), and Billy Talbot (bass) that Young had drawn from the struggling local Los Angeles group the Rockets. With them, Young quickly cut a set of loose, guitar-heavy rock songs — “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” — that redefined him as a rock & roll artist. The songs were deliberately underwritten and sketchy as compositions, their lyrics more suggestive than complete, but that made them useful as frames on which to hang the extended improvisations (“River” and “Cowgirl” were each in the nine-to-ten-minute range) Young played with Crazy Horse and to reflect the ominous tone of his singing. Young lowered his voice from the near-falsetto employed on his debut to a more expressive range, and he sang with greater confidence, accompanied by Whitten and, on “Round Round,” by Robin Lane. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was breathtakingly different when it appeared in May 1969, both for Young and for rock in general, and it reversed his commercial fortunes, becoming a moderate hit. (Young’s joining Crosby, Stills & Nash the month after its release didn’t hurt his profile, of course.) A year and a half after its release, it became a gold album, and it has since gone platinum. And it set a musical pattern Young and his many musical descendants have followed ever since; almost 30 years later, he was still playing this sort of music with Crazy Horse, and a lot of contemporary bands were playing music clearly influenced by it. — William Ruhlmann

Track Listing:

Side one
  1. “Cinnamon Girl” – 2:58
  2. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” – 2:26
  3. “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” – 5:49
  4. “Down by the River” – 9:13
Side two
  1. “The Losing End (When You’re On)” – 4:03
  2. “Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)” – 5:30
  3. “Cowgirl in the Sand” – 10:06

 

Schill Score:  7.5/10

 

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