Neil Young - Time Fades Away
Neil Young is known for making unconventional moves, so it stands to reason that this, his first live album, would be so odd. It was recorded on his 1973 tour following the smash success of his fourth album, Harvest; a tour that was by all accounts a complete mess. Young dismissed original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten before the tour and he died of a heroin overdose soon thereafter. Young, understandably crazy with grief over Whitten’s loss, proceeded with the dates anyway, wasted on tequila, playing an unwieldy Gibson Flying V instead of his regular Les Paul, cancelling sound checks and fighting with his backing band, the Stray Gators, who were demanding exorbitant amounts of money from Young for putting up with all this. His drummer, Kenneth Buttrey, quit and was replaced with the Turtles’ drummer John Barbata, whose style of playing sounds like someone hammering on a shed. David Crosby and Graham Nash were called in to assist, which is never a good sign. Young hated the resulting album but said, “I released it anyway so you folks could see what could happen if you lose it for a while.”
No small wonder, then, that what you have here is brilliant, and the reason for this is simple. This is a rare thing; a live album of all new songs, and the eight songs here have remained unique to this album. From the outset, Young sounds angry, beginning the title track with the memorable, shouted opening line, “14 junkies too weak to work!” The material here also displays a startling amount of range; you’ve got barn burners like the aforementioned “Times Fades Away” and “Yonder Stands the Sinner,” tender ballads in “Journey thru the Past” and “Love In Mind,” and an apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles in “L.A.” And that’s just on the A-side. The B-side gets much more epic and angry, particularly “Don’t Be Denied,” which sees Young describing his parents’ divorce: “When I was a young boy. My mama said to me. ‘Your daddy’s leavin’ home today. I think he’s gone to stay.’”
It’s never been released on CD (the chaotic nature of the recording make it nearly impossible to remaster) but, unlike what its title implies, is indelible. It sharply changed the tone of Young’s discography to that time and formed a loose trilogy with his next two albums, On The Beach and Tonight’s the Night, which saw Young grappling with the death of the hippie dream—itself always doomed. The guy on the cover of Time Fades Away, flashing a peace sign from the front row of a packed, dreary-looking concert hall, pretty much said it all.