Neil Young - Tonight's The Night
With Crazy Horse, The Stray Gators, and others.
Tonight's The Night was recorded in 1973, and was a fairly harrowing and shambolic album, especially compared to the more polished Harvest and After The Goldrush. After the deaths of roadie Bruce Berry and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, Young poured all his grief and emotion into these songs, and an equally dark tour, where he performed in a white suit with long hair and a scraggly beard. When the album was finished, however, Young decided that the songs were too personal to release (or perhaps the confused reactions of his audiences dissuaded him), and so he recorded the equally bleak On The Beach (an album which has only recently been released on CD) and released that instead.
After On The Beach, Neil seemed to have exorcised most of his demons, and recorded an album called Homegrown with various members of The Band and Crazy Horse. When the recording was done, they sat down in Neil's ranch to listen to the results, and discovered that Tonight's The Night was on the same tape. Listening to the songs again, Neil decided to release Tonight's the Night instead (because of "its overall strength in performance and feeling"), and Homegrown was shelved permanently, although most of the songs were subsequently released on other albums.
- Tonight's The Night (part 1)
- Speakin' Out
- World On A String
- Borrowed Tune (Young/Jagger/Richards, if there was any justice ;))
- Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown (Young/Whitten)
- Mellow My Mind
- Roll Another Number (For The Road)
- New Mama
- Lookout Joe
- Tired Eyes
- Tonight's The Night (part 2)
- Neil Young: vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, vibes
- Nils Lofgren: guitar, piano, vocals
- Ben Keith: slide guitar, steel guitar, guitar, vocals
- Billy Talbot: bass
- Ralph Molina: drums, vocals
- Kenny Buttrey: drums
- Tim Drummond: bass
- Danny Whitten: guitar, vocals
- George Whitsell: backing vocals
- Jack Nitzsche: piano, slide guitar
Produced by David Briggs
, Neil Young and Tim Mulligan
except track 10 produced by Elliot Mazer
"When I picked up the telephone, and heard that he died out on the mainline"
Tonight's The Night opens with a hesitant piano and guitar riff; then Neil Young's quavering voice and the bassline come in. It's more or less a eulogy for Bruce Berry, a man who lived his life in the fast lane, and who finally died of a heroin overdose; the second of Young's associates to suffer that fate in six months. Like most of the album, the word best-suited to describing this song is "shambolic"; it seems to be held together mainly by the steady drum beat and the bassline, with slightly messy piano, and meandering guitar lines underpinning Young's somewhat shaky vocal.
Next up is Speakin' Out, which seems to be about actress Carrie Snodgrass, Neil's second wife and the mother of his first son, Ben. Musically, it is another fairly ramshackle performance, with Neil's voice sounding quite croaky, but it's much more mellow than its predecessor. Lyrically, the track seems to be about Neil searching for some sort of answer or solace in his family; we aren't told whether or not he finds it, but Neil doesn't sound unhappy. It's followed by World On A String, which is a faster, and more "together" song. Yet again, it seems to be about Neil's search for meaning after all he's been through; he sees life as a game, and he reckons that his search has made him grow as a person; but he still hasn't found anything.
Borrowed Tune, track four, is Neil sitting at his piano, playing solo. Musically, it steals the tune of The Rolling Stones' Lady Jane, played on piano with some mournful-sounding harmonica parts. Neil even admits his theft - "I'm singing this borrowed tune/I took from the Rolling Stones/Alone in this empty room/Too wasted to write my own". The lyric seems to continue the theme of searching - "I'm climbing this ladder/My head in the clouds/I hope that it matters/I'm having my doubts". It seems Neil is beginning to wonder about his search, though spending most of his time in a haze of alcohol and cannabis fumes hardly helps. Track five in particular has a lot of pathos. Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown was co-written by Neil and Danny Whitten, who takes the lead vocal on the track. It's an upbeat, rocky number about going into town - probably to score drugs ("Sure enough, they'll be selling stuff"). The pathos comes, not only from the fact that Danny Whitten died of a drug overdose, but also that this is such a happy, lively-sounding song. The song was recorded live at the Fillmore East some time in 1970.
Mellow My Mind is the next song, and it certainly lives up to its title. It could be about Carrie Snodgrass again, but my personal theory is that it's a hymn to Mary Jane. It's followed by Roll Another Number (For The Road), which seems to be rather a tongue-in-cheek affair. Another mellow tune, I doubt Neil's trying to promote driving while stoned. The second verse seems to be about leaving his stardom behind; Woodstock was one an early peak of Young's career (in terms of popularity, although apparently he didn't enjoy the experience at all), when he played there with CSN&Y, but he acknowledges that he's left it behind ("I'm a million miles away from that helicopter day/No I don't believe I'll be going back right now") and has no desire to return to it just yet.
The next song, Albuquerque, is another mellow track, although somewhat more melancholy than the two previous songs. It's a song about escapism ("I'll find somewhere where they don't care who I am"), and Young wanting to get away from his fame, and be "independent from the scene". New Mama, track nine, is sung almost a capella, with a fairly minimal guitar and piano backing. It's a fairly slight song, and again could be about Carrie or about cannabis.
Lookout Joe comes next, which was performed by the Stray Gators. It's more rocky than most of the album, and lyrically it sounds kinda like a Lou Reed song - "A hip drag queen and a side-walkin' street wheeler/Comin' down the avenue". The song seems to be about the kind of people who end up hanging on to you, as a rock star - both a document of them and a warning, it seems. It's followed by Tired Eyes, which is about the town near Neil's ranch in California, which witnessed numerous drug deals, busts and killings - mainly to do with "harder" drugs, such as heroin and cocaine ("Well, he shot four men in a cocaine deal/And left them lying in an open field"). The final track on the album is a reprise of the first, only with a different arrangement. Tonight's The Night part two is a slower take on the song, with the bass more prominent, and Neil singing strangely off the beat.
To sum up, Tonight's The Night isn't exactly an easy listen, but what it lacks in accomplished musicianship, it more than makes up for in the feeling and emotion that all concerned put into the songs. Tonight's The Night was released on the 20th of June, 1975, and made #25 in the Billboard charts - pretty impressive for such an uncommercial album.
- http://www.hyperrust.org: the definitive Neil Young website.
- http://www.allmusic.com: Has a decent review of Tonight's The Night; also provided the chart position.
- http://human-highway.bosco.net/pages/album/TTN.html: Some interesting notes on the album.