Thursday, March 16, 2006

"tell Waterface to put it in his lung and not in his vein"

I've finally made it to the end of my album-by-album journey with Neil Young. TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT (1975), which I listened to back in January for the 1st time in more than a decade, was actually the impetus for the entire "project". However, the next album I chose to re-discover was TRANS, which was the subject of my 1st post. So, have I saved the best for last? Many Neil fans would say I certainly have. For me, it's more complicated. Suffice it to say, though, that this is definitely "Top 5" material.

The album was recorded in 1973, while Neil mourned the loss of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. I've read conflicting accounts of why it was shelved for 2 years before release. Some say Neil didn't want to release it (he certainly has been known to sit on material for years before ultimately releasing it). Most accounts, however, say that the record company folks were mortified by what they heard, and blocked its release. In any event, we should all be thankful that it finally saw the light of day, and thus became the 2nd recorded and 3rd released member of the so-called "Ditch Trilogy".

All songs written by Neil Young, except as noted:

Side I
Tonight’s The Night (4:39)
Speakin’ Out (4:56)
World On A String (2:27)
Borrowed Tune (3:26)
Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown (3:35) - by Danny Whitten & Neil Young
Mellow My Mind (3:07)
Side II
Roll Another Number (For The Road) (3:02)
Albuquerque (4:02)
New Mama (2:11)
Lookout Joe (3:57)
Tired Eyes (4:38)
Tonight’s The Night – Part II (4:52)

This has to rank right up near the top of the list of sloppy, alcohol-fueled rock albums, surpassed (possibly) only by the Stones' EXILE ON MAIN ST (1972). However, T.T.N. is raw and cathartic to a degree that even Exile can't quite match. I'll just say if you're taste veers toward studio tricks and slick production, you're probably in the wrong place. If you like music with gut-wrenching emotion, here's your holy grail.

Here is where Neil 1st employed the device of beginning and ending an LP with different versions of the same (or VERY similar) songs, starting more acoustic and ending more electric (although the acoustic/electric differences are not as pronounced here as with RUST NEVR SLEEPS or FREEDOM). The opener is an all-time classic Neil Young song, included on DECADE and played in concert approximately 1 billion times. It's so stark, hauntingly beautiful yet horrific, and just plain good that it defies all logic. I mean, "Early in the mornin'/At the break of day/He used to sleep/Until the afternoon", could that make any less sense semantically? Of course one cannot actually sleep until the afternoon at the break of day. It's nonsensical when taken literally. But, so what? It conveys a mood and feeling. The guy was out all night partying and now he's passed out sleeping through the morning. Moving on.

"Speakin' Out" has Neil noodling away at the piano, with some great bluesy guitar by Nils Lofgren. (By the way, I totally forgot to mention Nils in my post on AFTER THE GOLD RUSH, like how he was only 19 freakin' years old when Neil found him!!!!) "World On A String" has Neil back on guitar, and man does it sting ("No, the world on a string/Doesn't mean a thing/It's only real in the way/That I feel from day to day"). Neil later included a version of this song in his UNPLUGGED set.

"Borrowed Tune" is all Neil (piano, harmonica & vocal), sung to the tune of "Lady Jane" by the Rolling Stones ("I'm singin' this borrowed tune/I took from the Rolling Stones/Alone in this empty room/Too wasted to write my own"). This is quite simply a soul-baring motherf-cker of a song. The perfect follow-up is "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown", which is just a balls-out ROCKER featuring Danny Whitten's raw vocals. It was recorded live at the Fillmore East. Side I ends with "Mellow My Mind", which has Neil on guitar and employing the rawest, most screechingly hoarse vocals ("Something so hard to find/A situation that can casualize your mind").

Side II opens with "Roll Another Number (For The Road)" which feels like a laid-back hangover of a song. A live version of this song ends WELD. "Albuquerque" is a strung-out ode to joint-smoking road trips in New Mexico ("Well, they say/That Santa Fe/Is less than ninety miles away/And I got time/To roll a number/And rent a car/Oh, Albuquerque"), and getting away from it all ("I'll find somewhere where/They don't care who I am").

On "New Mama", Neil gives us a great, haunting acoustic guitar intro that yields to harmony vocals that some might describe as sounding like "CSNY on crack". It's pretty damned sweet ("New mama's got a sun in her eyes/No clouds are in my changing skies/Each morning when I wake up to rise/I'm livin' in a dreamland"). "Lookout Joe" is a chunky rocker with Neil on guitar and Ben Keith on slide ("pick it, Ben").

"Tired Eyes" is the other song from this album that Neil deemed DECADE-worthy. It's definitely the slower, hung-over vibe again ("Please take my advice/Open up the tired eyes"). The album ends with the bass-heavy "Part II" version of the title track.

Bottom line: This is a dark, harrowing classic. But, it's certainly not all doom & gloom. Or, at least, it won't necessarily bring you down when you listen. In fact, it can be quite a nice way to fight through a down mood.

PS - This is literally a "dark" album. The cover, inner sleeve, and even the fold-out insert are all in black & white. Most notably, however, the label itself is black with silverish lettering (as opposed to the typical Reprise orange with black lettering that is on EVERY OTHER known album on that label - Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, etc.). The inner sleeve has a picture of the band with "Danny Whitten" written under an empty spot on the stage. The fold-out insert is just crazy. It's got a picture of a Huck Finn/Opie Taylor-lookin' kid with a straw hat. It's got extensive notes in a foreign language (someone said Dutch?). It's got a picture of the inner sleeve from ON THE BEACH with a crazy typewritten story over the top of it. It's got a picture of a scrap of newspaper that included the following, "For Players and hustlers, tonight's the night." It also has text written as if it were a letter, that includes the words used as the title of this post. That same "letter" includes the following, "I'm sorry. You don't know these people. This means nothing to you."


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Please take my advice -- don't listen to me.

11:24 AM, March 19, 2006  
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