“You keep me searching for a heart of gold, you keep me searching and I’m getting’ old”
Yes, 1972 and “Heart of Gold” reached number one on the charts. The album Harvest
had also reached number one, people were flocking to Neil Young concerts, this album had people going nuts over Neil’s brand of soft folk rock that was suitable for the whole family. After 7 years of making records he finally had the audience in his the palm of his hand. The immediate response to a hit album is “why don’t I write a bunch of laid back folk tunes and score myself another hit record”. Instead Neil opted for the opposite response to his chart-topping album.
"This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I met more interesting people there."
And the ditch he did go. In 1973 he had material that needed recording and let’s just say that when Neil Young and his band are cooped up in a dark makeshift studio armed with a years supply of tequila the results will in fact differ from the album Harvest, they would differ enough to inspire Neil to write two more albums (On the Beach, Time Fades Away) and along with Tonight’s the Night
they would go on to form the much loved yet much criticized “Ditch Trilogy”. It was the first of the three written and recorded but due to complications with Reprise Records it would be released as the last installment in 1975.
From the opening tinkle on the piano, the soft guitar fill and the fade in of the vocals the listener can start to tell, this is not Harvest
. Tonight’s the Night
starts the album off with the raw vocal harmonies, scratchy vocals and the story about Bruce Barry, a roadie who had overdosed on heroin. “If you never heard him sing/ I guess you won’t to soon/ now people let me tell you it sent a chill up and down my spine/ when I picked up the telephone and heard that he died out on the main line” The lyrics tell quite a personal story about what heroin can do to a man. Heroin had already taken Crazyhorse guitarist Danny Whitten, who Neil was quite close with, in 1972.
After the haunting opening track the album slides into a more playful atmosphere with the song Speakin’ Out
. A typical blues song with Neil singing his non-sensical lyrics and providing a piano solo, while guitarist Nils Lofgren providing the first ever guitar solo on a Neil Young album that’s not by Neil Young himself. The album sets a pattern of sorts as they go to the more upbeat song with another raw vocal track, World on a String
than back to a softer song with the solo piano ballad Borrowed Tune
Again the soft song is replaced a straight up rock song, Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown
. The song was recorded live at the Fillmore East in 1970 and was put on the album as a tribute to the late Danny Whitten who takes lead vocals on this song with Neil singing back up. The song is followed up by, Mellow My Mind
, you guessed it another mellow song. (No pun intended) The song is followed up by 2 more songs, which are of the same mood and sound, Roll Another Number (for the Road)
. Chilled out rock music with Neil’s vocals in desperate need of over-dubs, slapped together vocal harmonies and the country tinged sound of Ben Keith’s lap steel guitar.
The next song, New Mama
has easily the best vocals on the album. The only instrumentation is an acoustic guitar and sparse piano. It has a flawless vocal harmony done with 3 other the band members and it is the clearest you will hear any of their voices on the whole album.
is another rock song not unlike Come on Baby Let’s Go Down Town
. The fun lyrics, the whole band joining in on the refrain, the shout out right before the slide guitar solo “Take it Ben!” And the pounding chords make this a great feel good song. Don’t get to comfortable though the mood is about to change again with the song Tired Eyes
. “Well he shot four men in a cocaine deal/ left them lying in an open field/ full of old cars with bullet wholes in the mirror” Neil half sings, half says telling the true story with a few fabrications of a man he knew in Topagna Canyon. Neil pleads over and over to “please take his advice and open up our tired eyes” to music that would immediately remind you of Albuquerque
The dark groove comes bursting out your speakers again! “Tonight’s the night, Tonight’s the niiiight”. Yes the final chapter to the album, the finale is Tonight’s the Night – Part 2
a reminder of the life of Bruce Barry that you can remember from the opening track. This is truly a great way to close the album.
Tonight’s the Night
World on a String