Neil Young - Tonight’s The Night - Review
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critics' view

Released in June ’75 almost two years after it was recorded; how strange for a set that was considered by Neil to be the best record that he’d made to date. So relaxed was the session, that four songs which found their way to the final edit were recorded in one take without stopping. Perhaps it was initially deemed too dark for release, too lo-fi. Almost thematically, Reprises’ normal orange label was replaced by a black one. Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and Young’s friend and roadie Bruce Berry had both died of heroin overdoses in the months before most of these songs were written. The genuine grief is palpable throughout this intimate affair; evidenced immediately on the title-track which opens up the album memorably by sharing some love for the latter’s character:

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.

The band assembled for the album was known as the Santa Monica Flyers and consisted of Young, Ben Keith (pedal steel), Nils Lofgren (piano), and the Crazy Horse rhythm section of Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums). Said the singer at the time: “The atmosphere was so relaxed that we began recording immediately. And it's the most honest thing I have ever done. The guys I'm playing with at the moment make me feel relaxed and that's why I can be so honest.

Danny Whitten is honoured and remembered on “Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown”; for this, Neil opts to dig back into the vaults for a live recording from 1970 which highlight’s both guitar and vocal work by Danny, who co-wrote the song with Neil. The Santa Monica Flyers line-up as stated appear on 9 of the 12 tracks; a fine exception is made for “Lookout Joe” on side 2, a high quality out-take from the “Harvest” sessions, with the band known as the Stray Gators.

Following this is “Tired Eyes” which, it seems to me, is a plea to get off the road to destruction, to wake up and smell the coffee. A bad drug deal leads to a double-murder in Topanga Canyon, Neil’s own neighbourhood: “Please take my advice, open up those tired eyes.” The Santa Monica Flyers are his brothers in arms on this one and feel it with him all the way.

They could have closed it right there, but chose instead to serve a reprise of “Tonight’s The Night”, this time angrier, messier and sloppier. If there was any doubt the non-glamorous nature of hard drug culture then it was surely blasted right here on Neil’s aurally diarized outpouring of grief. He took to the written word in the liner notes with an apology:

I'm sorry. You don't know these people. This means nothing to you.

Dunno about that Neil, pretty sure there’ll be more strangers than me feeling it for Bruce and Danny…

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