Song of the Week – Tonight’s the Night, Neil Young

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Neil+Young+1973+PhotoLast week’s post was about the first album in Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy” – Time Fades Away. The next is Tonight’s the Night. This may be somewhat confusing to some Young fans because TTN was released after On the Beach, even though it was recorded before. But it makes more sense to deal with them in chronological order in the context of the Ditch Trilogy story.

Part 1 of the this series dropped off with the live album Time Fades Away, recorded on the tour that began right after the heroin overdose death of friend and bandmate Danny Whitten in November 1972. A few months later, in June 1973, tragedy would strike again when Young’s friend and roadie Bruce Berry would also succumb to the drug.

This time Young reacted by pulling together that band to grieve and record. They would hang out at his ranch and play pool and party from early evening until the wee hours of the morning when they would turn their attentions to recording. The resulting TTN is a ragged set of cuts, even by Young’s standards. So the album was finished in just a few days in August 1973 at Studio Instrument Rentals, a rehearsal space owned by Berry’s brother Jan (as in Jan of Jan and Dean).

In Young’s book Waging Heavy Peace, he describes TTN as “a wake of sorts.” He admits the LP was “recorded in audio verite, if you will, while completely intoxicated on Jose Cuervo tequila.”

The SotW has got to be the title song.

You can feel the pain in Young’s voice as he bois the life and death of Berry, especially the way he yowls the lyrics in the final verse.

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

Well, late at night
when the people were gone
He used to pick up my guitar
And sing a song in a shaky voice
That was real as the day was long.

Early in the mornin’
at the break of day
He used to sleep
until the afternoon.
If you never heard him sing
I guess you won’t too soon.

‘Cause people let me tell you
It sent a chill
up and down my spine
When I picked up the telephone
And heard that he’d died
out on the mainline.

The mixing for the sessions was tortured. Ultimately the tapes were put away for two years before they were dusted off and finally released, thanks in part to The Band’s Rick Danko. Danko was previewing a tape of Young’s latest album Homegrown (still unreleased) in early 1975. The TTN recordings were on the same tape. When Danko heard TTN he said “You ought to put THAT out!” So he did, in June 1975.

In Waging Heavy Peace Young also says “The album was risky and real. It was a real mess of a recording, with no respect given to technical issues, although it sounds like God when played loud…”

Turn it up!

I’ll post he final installment of the Ditch Trilogy – On the Beach – next time.

Enjoy… until next week.

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