This review is part of “Your Song – Singer/Songwriters” group post put together by Danica. I’m honoured to be a part of something the includes so many amazing writers. You can check out the group poster over at her site, Living a Beautiful Life for a list of all of the bloggers involved.
Now, onto the review….
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 hit 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 in the ’70s, reaching gold status fairly quickly when it was released in ’73 on vinyl, cassette, and 8-track.
So, I was surprised to find out how obscure Time Fades Away was. 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 odd ball, 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” being 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 were in direct contrast with those who played on Neil’s mega successful 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 cut it in rehearsal due to a 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 THIS tour, a 65 shows in 90 days commitment, to slog through. 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 the 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. Really too bad it is buried on this album.
“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”, a personal tune that I think defines the “singer/songwriter” category. It’s 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 the Neil’s big jam tunes like “Cortez the Killer” or “Like a Hurricane”, you owe it to yourself to check out “Last Dance”. Lyrically the tune feels like an early demo:
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
And you light up the stove
And the coffee cup, it’s hot.
And the orange juice
is cold, cold, cold
Wake up, wake up,
wake up, wake up
Its time to go,
Time to go to work.
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 is unhappy with Time Fades Away, but perhaps his dislike stems from how it may rehash some bad memories. A few tunes have some rough edges, but overall I found an album that is good listen. I could only imagine what it must be like to write some of these songs and come away with: These are my “worst ever”.
Thankfully, it is so much easier today to check this one out for yourself than it was a few years ago. A CD of the album was finally released in 2017, although it only received a limited printing which makes it just as expensive as the LP is today. But it also made it to a few digital outlets like Spotify and whatnot. Or you can just giver a listen on YouTube for however long that may last.
For more on this album and the source for all quotes and facts head over to:
and the album’s Wiki page: