Essay: Live Recordings and Neil Young’s Time Fades Away

Neil Young – “L.A.” from Time Fades Away (1973, live)

*This is something I wrote back in January of this year:

“I’ve been listening to a lot of live records lately. One must be wary of live albums because they usually have lower production costs than studio records and so it doesn’t cost a band much to put out a live LP. Take Pearl Jam for example: they put out hundreds of full concert recordings from their last few tours. By and large, Pearl Jam’s live bootlegs (recorded all professional-like) don’t add much to the studio albums (which have been astoundingly mediocre as of late).

Live records should, ideally, reveal something new and exciting about the band that may have been hidden by the strictures of the studio. I recently bought Led Zeppelin’s ‘How the West Was Won’ and it blew my mind. I always knew that Zeppelin was a powerful band but in this live album (of two L.A. concerts from Summer 1972) I heard a band that was fucking heavy. And so alive! I know they’re alive because I can hear the audience digging on it and the band feels it. Wow. New solos. New guitar tones. New, rawer vocals. Brontasaurian drum solos. It’s all very satisfying and worthwhile. Nevertheless, I have heard most of these songs before.

Not so on Neil Young’s 1973 live concert recording ‘Time Fades Away.’ I have not heard these songs before. Now, on a personal note, I know Neil better than I know anyone else I listen to. I cut my rock and roll teeth on his stuff and I thought that I knew what he was doing in the early to mid-70s. I understood his rise to fame with ‘Harvest’ and his celebration of depression on ‘Tonight’s the Night’ and ‘On the Beach’ but I did not know about these songs – about this lost Autumn. This album has not been pressed on CD. It was released on vinyl in ’73 after ‘Harvest’ forced a country-rock label on him. And I guess it’s pretty hard to find. I stumbled upon it in a Sunday flea market in front of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin while I was attending school there. Not having a turntable, I later gave it to a phonograph-possessing friend. And only now have I convinced him to rip it into formus digitalus for me. And it, sir, is a revelation.

Ostensibly, Neil went on tour to support 1972’s ‘Harvest’ but performed a load of these new songs which appear only on ‘Time Fades Away.’ Serious, they are nowhere else to be found (except the tune ‘Journey Through the Past’ which I’ve seen elsewhere). Now why would he isolate these songs like that? I’ve heard that he thought they were too personal or that the recording wasn’t of adequate fidelity. I’ve heard, that his memories of the tour were too bad to relive (apparently the band all hated each other, they all drank tequila like water, and they did more than 60 dates in about three months). But that doesn’t satisfy me because there are great songs here. The title track is so angry at the whole generation that it probably made those damn, dirty hippies run for the hills. ‘Journey Through the Past’ is his most beautiful song this side of ‘After the Goldrush.’ ‘Yonder Stands the Sinner,’ though not as experimental as the introduction to the song would suggest, has Neil straining to reach his notes. Indeed, on a number of these songs, Young’s impassioned screeching would have been a real pisser to those in the audience who came to hear the sweet soothings of ‘Heart of Gold.’ ‘L.A.’ rocks as unabashedly as anything off ‘Tonight’s the Night’ while ‘Love in Mind’ and ‘The Bridge’ are sweet and slow – the kind of songs that (had they been recorded in a studio and released as singles) probably could have had a lot of radio play. ‘Don’t Be Denied’ was my favorite song when I first heard the record more than three years ago. It’s a simple, topical ditty about Young’s ambitions to be a musician. It’s really touching and gives credence to the argument that the record was too personal for Young himself. The closer, ‘Last Dance,’ sounds like its from the ‘Everybody Knows..’ Crazy Horse days. Young’s band here, the Stray Gators, pours everything they’ve got into it but I couldn’t help but think that Crazy Horse would have done it better. Neil yelps ‘No no no’ over and over again at the end of the song. When it closes, someone onstage screams ‘Last Dance!’ and it fades out.

There are some reference points for the record in the albums that preceded it and in those that followed. However, the songs on ‘Time Fades Away’ stand alone among Young’s creations in their bitter energy. This live record not only reveals a new side of Young’s compositions, it provides an entirely new set of them. And from an artist who understood his own gift, it is difficult to say why Young has prevented the release of this album. And, make no mistake, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have found it. But I can’t help but think that I would not have appreciated it half as much had I simply bought it along with ‘Harvest’ and ‘Tonight’s the Night.’ Without an ounce of snobbery, I say that this is a mature record which requires a mature listening. And I still don’t think I get it. But maybe Neil doesn’t either.”

Go to Thrasher’s Wheat for more on the recording and sign a petition for its re-release.

Posted by Jordy

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8 Comments

Filed under 1970s, Live, Rock

8 responses to “Essay: Live Recordings and Neil Young’s Time Fades Away

  1. glennlester

    Jordy, this a great essay, and a great song. I’ve always been curious about Time Fades Away. “LA” moves from a “Cinnamon Girl” type groove to a drug-haze “Albuquerque” vibe–a telling transition that illuminates Neil’s mid-70s work.

    I think the live element here and on Tonight’s the Night really gives the songs an emotional heft.

    We should have more of these longer essays from time to time. I’ll start working on one about alt-country.

  2. Jordy

    Yeah – it could be a monthly thing.

  3. glennlester

    It’d be annoying to do it any more frequently.

  4. Ben Ward

    Any thoughts on the new Neil Young album?

  5. Jordy

    I’ve not heard it. You want to do a guest post?

  6. Ben Ward

    Well I haven’t heard it either. It’s on my list of albums to acquire. A list that’s getting rather long I might add.

  7. Yes, very nice essay this, about Neil and his many sides of poetry and music. I hated Harvest when it came out and I still think Heart of gold is very boring song, but I prefer playing that on the street instead of many other famous songs. I liked Neil Young before and after, then left him. Years later, when my son started listening to him, after the first chock, I had never told him about Neil Young, he played songs for me I never heard, and that was really nice. Being a poet myself, neil young is The rock poet for me. And a artist I always trust in politics as well, not unimportant these days.I just found the album Time Fades away among my sons records and will listen carefully.
    Thank you for a good blog, some work there, I am impressed !

  8. I bought this album when came out and have been a fan over 40 years. It was critically acclaimed then and one of my favorites. He didn’t want to release it because he wasn’t comfortable with it…he seldom was. Unfortunately I lost all his music and hundreds more in a house fire; you’re fortunate to have found it. Neil Young has always been a perfectionist and he worked this album for months

    before it was finally released. It’s just another brilliant set of his music.

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