Neil Young's 'Time Fades Away' (1973)

Rediscovering lost music via the vinyl bins at secondhand stores

Album: Time Fades Away

Artist: Neil Young

Music critics use many words to describe Neil Young, including “eclectic,” “enigmatic,” and “eccentric.” Last year after paying $75 to see Neil Young from the worst seats in the house at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum, the word that popped into my head was “rich.” But it’s hard to begrudge the guy his fortune. Young has been a rock star for 50 years, and the quality of his work consistently has been very high, compared even to that of other lasting performers such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

Every time one is tempted to dismiss Neil Young as irrelevant, he roars back with a Harvest Moon or a Prairie Wind. Moreover, he has proven over the years to be a singularly decent man. He’s raised money for AIDS research, disabled children, and desperate farmers. And every few years he demonstrates his abiding loyalty to his friends by working with Crosby, Stills, and Nash. That fissile ensemble has been irrelevant for decades, but periodically Neil Young drags one or more of the fellas into the studio and teases some decent work out of them.

Young’s recent visit here reminded me that many years ago I found a copy of Time Fades Away at a local thrift store. I’ve forgotten which store and I’ve forgotten how much I paid. But I’ve never forgotten the album, and I revisited it last week when I learned from popular culture scholar Dr. Joseph Ellis at Wingate University that it is one of only two albums Neil Young has not released on CD.

Listening to the album helps explain the elision. The sound is terrible. If auto-tune and pitch correction software have opposites, this live album utilized them. Then there’s the palpable misery. The album’s front cover is grey and green and shows a horde of fans crowding a grim-looking stage with a lone rose resting on it. The rear cover shows a Hertz rent-a-truck speeding by on what appears to be a nondescript frontage road in some Midwestern hellhole. For an obvious contrast, check out the cover of Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan.

The music is similarly lugubrious. Young’s near falsetto sounds close to cracking on several occasions, at least once on every song here. “Journey Through the Past” and “Love in Mind” feature just Young and his piano, and at several points the elementary approach and simple lyrics belie the desperation. Young offers a not-at-all-original sentiment when he sings, “Jesus where is nature gone?” on the latter track, but his beleaguered rendering gives it surprising impact. Similarly, when he sings on “LA,” “uptight, city in the smog, city in the smog, don’t you wish that you could be here too?”, I was tempted to roll my eyes at the hackneyed observation that yes, Los Angeles has poor air quality. But his heartfelt puzzlement at how we could let this happen and how anyone (including him) could spend a great deal of time in L.A. resonates because Young gives the proceedings such emotional heft. There are rockers here, including the extended and erratic and febrile “Last Dance,” which finishes up the album. It packs an emotional wallop as it fades away. I won’t listen to this album again any time soon. But I’ll keep it in reserve; sometimes, just to feel intensely alive, I have the impulse to stare directly at the sun. Next time this happens, I’ll throw this record on instead.

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Comments » 4

SFtraveler writes:

I saw this tour in person, including some of the songs put on the album. Yes, Neil's voice was raspy and he could not hit the high notes because of a sore throat. But he was also depressed over the recent overdose death of Tim Drummond. But he decided to put out the album to show exactly how he felt.
It's one of my favorite albums.

Rustyneversleeps (Inactive) writes:

I just stumbled upon this article and I'm glad I did. Let me start by saying @SFtraveler^ He was dealing with the death of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry....not Tim Drummond. Now on to the article. This is one of Neil Young's best albums. I listen to it on a regular basis. If you don't like this album you'd probably rather be spooning your wife and listening to "Heart of Gold" like everyone else. If you are a real Neil Young fan you can appreciate how different TFA is. Also, your complaint about not having good seats at the Knoxville gig. Real fans get the tickets the day they go on sale and don't wait til that night to buy them. I was 3rd row and paid the exact amount you did. I'm confused as to why you would put energy into writing a negative review on "Time Fades Away" when it is one of his most hated albums already. Being thrown by the masses(you) into the "Ditch Trilogy". Whats funny about the "Ditch Trilogy" is that it contains "TFA" "Tonights the Night" and "On the Beach",three of his greatest albums. I guess you should sell a real fan your copy of "Time Fades Away" or trade him for something more mainstream like a Matchbox 20 CD or something.

Rustyneversleeps (Inactive) writes:

Correction: Neil's Knoxville gig was 2 years ago, not last year

musicfan1225 writes:

Ha Ha!!! The guy disagrees with you so he must enjoy spooning his wife! NathanJ you are a comedy genius. Where does the writer say he hates the album? Your logic seems to be, "Everyone else hates it, so there is no reason to write a review saying you hate it." That's kinda dumb. But also, he never said he hated it.

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