Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal
Neil Young – Time Fades Away 1973
No particular reason for starting my Neil Young musings with this one – it was just there and I fancied listening to it again. This was his first album of new material following the mega success of Harvest. Any normal artist would have released a follow up of similar material and counted the proceeds. Young is not a normal artist and this album is as far removed from Harvest as he could go at the time. For one thing it is a live album, you don’t release new material as a live album – I am sure his record company didn’t expect that. A pleasant live drift through some delightful acoustic tracks might have made them feel better but not on here. The songs are loose to say the least and Young sounds manic, almost deranged in his delivery. The band is there but not necessarily playing the same song Young is belting out. An extraordinary album by any standards – even 50 years on.
I did not come to Young with Harvest and for that I am thankful. My first introduction was ‘Everybody Knows this is Nowhere’ and I was hooked. Harvest I have to say was a disappointment at the time but I have mellowed in that view over the years. ‘Time Fades Away’ I absolutely loved, the raw power and emotion was the perfect antidote to ‘Harvest’ and the start of a trilogy of dark albums from Young. If he had produced the expected anodyne follow up to ‘Harvest’ then his career would probably have petered out after it. Fifty years on he is still going strong because of sticking to making the music he wants.
‘Time Fades Away’, Young considers to be his worst album. It was not released on CD for well over 40 years and the vinyl became history also. I have a copy thankfully. There would be plenty of contenders for his worst album to come, especially when he was winding up his record company executives. The first of the ‘Doom’ trilogy is one of his best loved albums with Young aficionados. There is a degree of that fascination with passing the scene of a car crash about listening to this. The mammoth US tour that this album is taken from was Youngs least enjoyable, a nightmare tour for him. He was in constant pain with a long standing back problem. It then had a nightmare beginning with Danny Whitten being fired for his inability to hold it together. Dying after spending the money given him to get home on drugs and alcohol, Young was shattered, distressed, blaming himself for this tragedy. The tour still took place.
As a big star the band and crew thought Young would be a soft touch for extra pay-outs above the agreed contracts. He wasn’t and the bad vibes never relented. A fine band had been assembled but as Young recalled they couldn’t bear to look at each other. Young retreated into loner mode and drinking his mood away in his hotel rooms, staying aloof on the hired private plane. In various stages of sobriety on stage most nights his venom came out in his delivery and driving the band to hopeless places night after night. His Harvest cohort Kenny Buttery started out on drums but even though his hand bled he couldn’t get the power Young demanded in his maniacal pursuit of some impossible desperate sound. So, he fires his friend off and calls up Johnny Barbata from the CSNY stable. Given twenty minutes rehearsal after a mad plane dash he takes the drum sticks. I love the description a critic made that on the ‘Time Fades Away’ track he sounds like he is hammering away in the background building a shed. I was more along the lines of the Muppet Show but you get the idea.
‘Journey through the Past’ is almost a quiet, restrained interlude at the piano before he launches into ‘Yonder Stands the Sinner’. After a background introduction from David Crosby who he had brought in along with Graham Nash to try and keep some semblance of order to proceedings for the rest of the tour, Young goes off into the realms of madness. Goodness knows how this looked on stage. Youngs vocal verges on the demented as the band thrash away somewhere on stage. If Crosby and Nash expected some gorgeous soaring harmony parts, then they were soon disillusioned.
‘LA’ is a Young rant as he rages about his adopted home city. ‘Love in Mind’ calmed the mood on stage but not his anger and resentment.
Then one of his greatest songs – ‘Don’t be Denied’. His autobiographical journey through his childhood into his blossoming as an artist that the bullies of the playground can only look up and admire now. The band somehow hit the spot perfectly on this driven track, a performance of raw emotion and power with a delivery sent out with total conviction. The three-word chorus is breath-taking.
I first saw Young in 1974 at Wembley stadium with his mates CSN. There were many highlights that day, Joni Mitchell being an obvious one. Two things stand out though, still in full Technicolor after all these years. We were sat in line with the wide walkway that led to the side of the stage and come showtime what can only be described as a tribe of musicians, wives, girlfriends, children, agents, corporate hangers on slowly moved along to the stage with CSNY in amongst them. I remember the scene well, but my abiding memory is of this one person standing out in the crowd as it made its way to the stage – Neil Young. Of all the scores of people he was the only one that your eye focused on. On stage it was even more apparent that really only one person was dominating this show and he stalked the stage as if he was playing a solo gig. When he played ‘Don’t be Denied’ it was so wonderful that you almost felt it was time to go home, that was the peak.
Back to the album. It staggers to a conclusion that even by the standards of what has gone before is off the scale crazy. ‘Last Dance’ is again delivered in angry admonishing style and Young sounds manic as he gives a cursory introduction, slurring ‘this is the Last Dance’ before the band launch into ten minutes of sheer bedlam. No music scores on stands here. It runs out of steam and heads to a conclusion as the participants start to lose interest but Young then goes into a truly frenzied hyper state as he picks up an impromptu chorus of NO,NO,NO that he repeats endlessly, getting more agitated with each delivery. The band has nowhere to go and Nash cries out ‘Sing with us’ – who to and what they were supposed to sing is anyone’s guess. Whipping boy drummer Barbata finally encroaches in , trying to wind the madness up and succeeds, presumably because someone has got Young in a straightjacket. Good to end on a high.
This is not one to play in polite society but as a timepiece and a piece of social history as Young makes the transition from potential middle of the road artist to one that will plough his own creative furrow it is one of the most remarkable live albums. Go listen.
Young would always divide opinion – especially amongst his fan base. Those that came in on ‘Harvest’ find it hard to take his other work as being by the same artist. The reverse it true – a Crazy Horse lover will prefer that but will still enjoy his acoustic work in a quiet moment of solitude. I last saw Young on his Crazy Horse tour of 2013 in Newcastle, England. This was the tour when it was reported he famously shouted at ‘Harvest’ lovers leaving for the Tube station at the O2 Arena that they would still hear him there anyhow. It was no different at Newcastle. Young was in spiky mode and a good many punters were restless including a few near us who wondered when the acoustic stuff would start. It wouldn’t, except for one crowd pleaser before reverting to type. He took no prisoners as he harangued the ‘folkie’ sections as to why they came – Neil Young and Crazy Horse it said on the ticket and just as a can of beans contained beans this contained noise, long solos and driven vocals. Indeed, just why were you there?
It has been a most entertaining ride.
Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal