Review #302: Tonight’s the Night, Neil Young

Karla Clifton
3 min readAug 5, 2022

#302: Tonight’s the Night, Neil Young

Neil Young is taking up a lot of space on the RS 500 list — six albums total. In fact we JUST saw him at #296, Rust Never Sleeps. Lucky for him, I’m hopelessly biased.

After recording Harvest, #72, “Everybody was hoping I’d turn into John Denver,” according to Young. Instead of doing that, he recorded a drunk, grimy record in tribute to two of his friends that OD’d. They recorded it over the course of a few tequila-heavy nights, which were described as a “wake” by several people.

The first friend was roadie Bruce Berry, who is the subject of both “Tonight’s the Night” and “Tonight’s the Night (Pt. II).” If the song is to be believed, he was a working man with a sparkle in his eye and his life in his hands. Young doesn’t sound sad — he sounds angry, especially on the second go round.

The second friend was Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who plays and sings lead on live “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” a song about buying the stuff they’re selling. Whitten’s drug abuse got him fired from the band, and, in Young’s own words, “That night the coroner called me and told me he’d died. That blew my mind. … I loved Danny. I felt responsible.”

So yeah, you could say this is a hard album to listen to.

The thing that really gets me is Neil Young’s voice. Sometimes the lyrics are benign, but Young’s vocal part is so heartwrenching that normal lines like I went to the movie the other night/ The plot was groovy, it was out of sight become painful (“Speakin’ Out”). Sometimes Young’s voice sounds like it’s about to bottom out entirely, like in “Mellow My Mind.” Penultimate song “Tired Eyes” contrasts a beautiful electric guitar solo with harsh, hateful lyrics about a coke deal gone wrong. Please take my advice, he says, sounding ripped up and in no position to give advice.

By the way, when he calls “Alright, Nils,” he’s calling to E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren, before Lofgren plays a kickass solo. That’s part of what makes this album a musical triumph, instead of just raw, unfiltered grief: it’s a bunch of intensely talented people getting wasted and playing awesome. (Nils also plays the piano on several songs, including the mysterious, searching “World on a String.”)

Young’s storytelling songs are captivating as always, albeit vague. Like “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” — what does that even mean? Is a number a joint? A song? I don’t know but I don’t care, I want him to roll me one. “Albuquerque” is a song about a road trip taken by someone in search of somewhere where they don’t care who I am, and “Lookout Joe” is a character study of a war veteran.

This is a record recorded in the darkness, but not every song is bleak. The beautiful “New Mama” is a short and optimistic song about having a newborn child. New mama’s got a sun in her eyes. It’s just a moment of relief on an otherwise relentless record.

Two Neil Young records left!

Fun Fact: “Borrowed Tune” is an icy, pastoral piano melody that Neil Young really DID steal from the Rolling Stones (“Lady Jane,” from Aftermath, #330), and got away with it.

Another Fun Fact: Neil Young is still not on Spotify, which makes my life about fifty times harder. Should I bite the bullet and get Apple Music? Or just keep checking out the CDs from the library like an old lady?

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