[Editor’s note: This review was originally published on Mar 3rd, 2018 for BuriedOnMars.com]
I remember finding Neil Young’s Time Fades Away at a record show back in the early ’00s for only a few bucks. I was only beginning to dive into Neil’s catalog at the time; reaching further than the greatest hits and my beloved Ragged Glory. The album was full of tunes I hadn’t heard of before and I gave it a spin when I got home. There didn’t seem to be any top 40 hits in the mix, but I thought a few of the tracks were good enough for “classic rock” radio. Despite the lack of a hit single, the album sold very well when released in ’73, reaching gold status fairly quickly.
So, I was surprised to find out how obscure Time Fades Away had become. It had yet to make its way onto Compact Disc and its digital scarcity made it one of Neil’s most bootlegged albums. Even in 2003 when Neil was putting a lot of his oddball, experimental albums from the ’80s on CD for the first time, Time Fades Away was not invited to the party. After digging a little further, I found the reason why: Neil hates it.
The album is a collection of concert recordings from various venues in 1973 (“Love in Mind” is the only exception as it was recorded in ’71). Apparently, Neil was drinking heavily at this time and wasn’t in the best frame of mind. To make matters worse, audiences during the tour were lukewarm to his supporting band, The Stray Gators. Their heavier, electric edge was in direct contrast with those who played on Neil’s mega-successful folk-rock album Harvest.
Neil adamantly didn’t handle things very well due to his own alcohol abuse and the recent death of his friend/Crazy Horse rhythm guitarist Danny Whitten. Danny was to be with Neil for this tour but was unable to cut it in rehearsal due to heroin addiction. After Neil handed him his walking papers with $50 and a plane ticket back to LA to get cleaned up, Danny passed away within a few hours from mixing his arthritic medication with alcohol. All the while Neil had a commitment to 65 shows in 90 days tour. Wow.
In 1987 Neil labeled it as “the worst record I ever made”.
The album opens up with the title track, Time Fades Away. The tune has a country groove with some harp and pedal steel action added in. The lyrics are about a father who is advising his son to not waste his time with drugs because life is too short. (Or perhaps Neil is talking about Danny.) I dig the slide work on this one.
Neil is solo on the piano for the next track, Journey Thru The Past. The tune is about Neil and his lady friend taking separate nostalgic journeys through their own respective pasts. He wonders if they will still be together when they reunite. Neil wrote it at the same time he was writing the soundtrack for the film Journey Through the Past. He included it here instead of the soundtrack since, as he states “I found out that they had nothing to do with each other.” Neil makes an audible mistake during a chord change, but man… this is a downright gorgeous tune.
“This will be kinda… experimental…” That is how Neil’s CSN&Y buddy David Crosby kicks off the track Yonder Stands the Sinner. The tune is about conflict and it feels like it could have used some more time in the oven. Not a bad song, but Neil is pushing the vocals here.
L.A. is the only track with its own Wikipedia post. Most likely because it was covered by The Black Crowes in 2006. The tune is of Neil’s vision for a post-apocalyptic L.A. with lyrics that are a wee bit too much on the nose for my taste. Not bad by any stretch but again probably needed more time to cook.
The solo piano is back for the shortest track on the album, Love In Mind. Barely not reaching the 2-minute mark, the lyrics are a poem that moves from questions of love to life itself. Deep stuff. Past the dutchie on the left-hand side.
Neil has his electric out for Don’t Be Denied. The lyrics are about some major moments in Neil’s life where he doesn’t give up. Getting beat up at school after moving to Winnipeg as a kid, playing guitar with his friends, leaving Canada, playing in L.A. Great tune. Probably my favorite on the album.
Neil is solo on the piano and harp for “The Bridge”. The song is about a broken relationship built on lies. Both involved are trying to build “a bridge” back to each other. Another one with lyrics that are too on the nose. It’s OK, but I’m guessing this might be one Neil wasn’t happy with.
If you’re a fan of Neil’s big jam tunes like Cortez the Killer or Like a Hurricane, you owe it to yourself to check out “Last Dance”. Lyrically, it is not great:
You wake up in the mornin’
And the sun’s comin’ up.
Its been up for hours
and hours and hours
And hours and hours and hours
It’s been up for hours
and hours and hours
Oof. But if you can look past that, you’ve got a-rockin’, almost 9-minute jam with Graham Nash joining in on a six-string and backing vocals. It doesn’t exactly have that signature “Crazy Horse” groove, or a monster guitar solo from Neil, but it does plug along nicely while doing its own thing.
Neil says he is unhappy with Time Fades Away, but perhaps his negative vibes are a product of bad memories. A few tunes were probably not ready for prime time and needed work, but I found an album that is a good listen overall. Neil at his “worst” is greater than most at their best.
[Editor’s 2nd note: Time Fades Away did finally get an official CD release in August 2017, but it is part of the CD version of Official Release Series Discs 5-8 boxset. It is not available to buy separately. As of 2021, you can stream the album on Spotify, Apple Music, and download it in high-resolution audio on the Neil Young Archives website.]