Behind The Songs – Blog 5

Tonight’s The Night – Neil Young

After Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young went their separate ways at the end of 1971 they all settled down to record solo albums with the intent on starting solo careers. All of them made solid albums but it was Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ that proved he was probably the most talented of the former super group. Released in 1972 ‘Harvest’ went to number 1 in the UK, USA and Australia. Based around mainly acoustic, melodic songs it catapulted Young to international stardom and positioned him as one of the world’s greatest singer – songwriters. His future looked set and fans looked eagerly towards Young’s next offering expecting more of the same. However, two significant events drastically changed Young’s mind-set, the deaths of his back up band Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten (November 1972) and long time friend and roadie Bruce Berry (June 1973) both from heroin overdoses. Young was greatly affected by the loss of his two friends and his music changed as a result. His 1974 follow up album to Harvest, “On The Beach” showed Young had lost some of his former wit and replaced it was angst but it was the 1975 offering “Tonight’s The Night” that saw Young descend into the culmination of his period of mourning for Whitten and Berry. It was a demanding, uncompromising album which documented the rock wastelands of the 70’s in a extremely harrowing style, and at no point did it make any concessions to commercial appeal. The tital track was particularly chilling as it name checked Berry and the events of his death (“Bruce Berry was a working man/he used to load that Econoline van/a sparkle was in his eyes/but his life was in his hands”) and later (“cause people let me tell you/it put a chill up and down my spine/when I picked up the telephone/and heard that he died out on the mainline”). The album was dedicated to Whitten and Berry. The album sleeve featured a picture of Crazy Horse with an empty space where Whitten should have been. The tour following the album was bizarre with “Tonight’s The Night” being played up to two or three times a night with each rendition even more chilling than the one before. Young’s commercial standing suffered through this period with Tonight’s The Night selling 50% less albums than Harvest. By the time 1977 arrived Young seemed much more a ease in his personal life and returned to commercial success with the “Comes A Time” album which saw him return to his more acoustic, gentler routes.

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