Friday, February 18, 2011

331. Tonight's the night- More tragedy courtesy of Neil Young.

Album: Tonight's the night
Artist: Neil Young
Genre: Rock.
Year: 1975


  1. Tonight's the Night
  2. Speakin' Out
  3. World on a String
  4. Borrowed Tune
  5. Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown
  6. Mellow My Mind
  7. Roll Another Number (for the Road)
  8. Albuquerque
  9. New Mama
  10. Lookout Joe
  11. Tired Eyes
  12. Tonight's the Night—Part II

Neil Young is one of music's survivors. He was around in the early sixties and he's still around now. Still playing, still recording, still touring and still being Neil. The problem with being a survivor is that you have to mourn the loss of the non-survivors. Musical immortality means attending the funerals of musical mortals who were claimed by the Rock and Roll lifestyle. The deaths of a bandmate (Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten) and crewmember (Bruce Berry) inspired Neil to pen a collection of sadly reflective songs that make up the bulk of Tonight's the Night. It's often held up as his darkest album which is no mean feat for a guy who rarely recorded much that was especially light-hearted and breezy (although he does have his moments). What seperates Tonight's the night from other records made in a state of grief is the underlying current of anger and self recrimination. Whitten and Berry both died from drug overdoses which always leave a fairly heavy burden on those left behind. The friends and colleagues of those who die with a needle in their arm are always left asking themselves if they could have somehow filled the void that their friend felt the need to fill with drugs. If only they'd said something or done something to arrest the downard slide into dependency their friends might still be around.

Consequently Tonight's the night isn't just sad or meloncholy it's reproachful and undercut with a sense of guilt. It's also gloriously ragged. It sounds like a group of sad and guilty individuals gathered together to make music to exorcise their pain. Nobody was thinking about the end product or the final sales, they were more interested in venting in the studio so they could sleep at night. And despite the fact that the fallen comrades they were mourning died of substance abuse it's clear that the players decided to drown their sorrows in bottles and other intoxicants. It's testament to how talented Neil is that this actually works. A group of sad and dejected people with self-recrimination on their minds and substances in their veins should not be capable of producing great music. Somehow Neil manages to round up their abilities and focus them on a great bunch of songs. They don't put in polished performances but that's definitely part of their charm.

The title track is a highlight in both it's forms. It opens the album in an acoustic arrangement and closes it in an electric version, a trick Neil was fond of pulling off. There's nothing crypic about Tonight's the night, it's lyrics are overtly and direct: "Bruce Berry was a working man/ He used to load that Econoline van/ A sparkle was in his eye/ But his life was in his hands." The real tragedy is in the picture that Neil paints of his friend. He sings of how late at night when everyone else had gone he used to play Neil's guitar and sing. There's something about Neil Young recalling how his roadie friend used to perform music of his own that makes the tale so much more poignant. Neil goes on to say that the listener won't have heard Berry sing and never will. Listening to Tonight's the Night you can't help but feel a genuine sense of regret.

There are other great tracks on the album as well, Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown is a live track featuring Danny Whitten and Albuquerque is a great song that doesn't reference Bugs Bunny but does feature the song title sung as it's own chorus thanks to Neils ability to make the "Al" part of Albuquerque last for a full seven syllables. If you're only experience with Neil has been through the radio hits then give Tonight's the Night a chance to persaude you that he's a great album artist as well.

Highlight: Tonight's the Night (both versions)
Lowlight: Borrowed Tune (but at least it's honest)

Influenced by: Despair, guilt and substances.
Influenced: Pearl Jam.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "It's obvious that most Neil Young fans are thrilled with him no matter what sort of dreck he comes up with. But speaking as a long-time (since Buffalo Springfield days; I saw the first CSNY concert) fan myself, I have to say that this one just doesn't cut it. "

-If this guy is telling the truth then he definitely has earned some credibility. The first CSNY gig was just before Woodstock.

So is Tonight the Night or would you rather it was any other night? Let me know below.

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