Neil Young's 1973 "Time Fades Away" is one of the most remarkable live albums ever recorded.
Certainly at the time of release, it was almost unprecedented for an artist to release a live concert recording of previously unreleased material. Long out of print on vinyl, still unavailable on CD in the early 21st century and widely bootlegged similar to the original "Missing 6", the album is considered to be the "Holy Grail" of all Neil Young albums.
"Time Fades Away" is the first installment of the trio of albums known as the "Ditch Trilogy" along with his two other early 1970's materpieces Tonight's The Night and On The Beach. The edgy moody darkness of recording and brilliantly erratic song selection offer the portrait of the artist undergoing a deep catharsis and unraveling simultaneously. The tension is so palpable that most listeners turned away -- or worse -- ignored completely.
Critic Janet Maslin writes in a 1973 New York Times review on the film Journey Through the Past about "Time Fades Away":
Also Time Fades Away contains one of his all-time great songs, 'Don't Be Denied'; the song mixes autobiographical verses with a chorus that chants the title warning, all adding up to a wail of epic frustration."
Key to understanding "Time Fades Away" is the context within Neil Young's album discography. Furthermore, understanding "Time Fades Away" is key to decoding the far more well known followup releases Tonight's The Night and On The Beach. Released in 1973 following the massive success of the multi-platinum selling Harvest, fans were definitely expecting those folkie mellow hit tunes like "Heart of Gold".
While fans did hear such Harvest favorites as "Heart of Gold"'s sunny optimism, they also heard more than just a laid back vibe. Listeners got raw emotional lyrics and high amplification electric guitar. This was not the Neil Young music they were expecting to hear when they purchased their tickets.
In the often quoted hand written liner notes of Decade, Neil writes:
Young goes onto comment on "Time Fades Away
In a British Radio Interview with Dave Ferrin (Radio-2 FM, 6/5/1987) transcribed in the Shakey biography Neil comments:
I felt like a product, and I had this band of all-star musicians that couldn't even look at each other. It was a total joke."
Rock historian Pete Long writes in Broken Arrow:
"There is a chapter in Neil Young's history that is often referred to as his Dark Period. A time when his personal life appeared to gradually disintegrate amidst a series of mishaps and misadventures while critical career decisions seemed irrational and ill thought-out. Yet, paradoxically it has become recognized as one of the most artistically productive and critically, if not commercially, acclaimed periods of his life. A period that spawned a trio of outstanding released albums and a legendary unreleased album."
In a 1995 Neil Young interview with MOJO Magazine he was asked:
YOUNG: "Well, we didn't put any of Time Fades Away on Decade, if that's what you mean."
In a 1999 interview from Q magazine (Broken Arrow Magazine - November 2004 #96, p. 38):
Neil: "Probably "Time Fades Away" but only because it makes me so nervous. The whole tour was a nervous experience. It wasn't really a lot of fun. I kind of got into documenting that vibe. It's not something I want to listen to a lot and when I listen to it I'm not that impressed."
The album cover photo was taken by Joel Bernstein at the Philadelphia Spectrum on either January 26 or 27, 1973. Included inside of original vinyl pressings of the album is a large 48" by 36" news sheet poster of the handwritten lyrics to the albums tortured songs. One my twisted favorites is "L.A." , a paen to Los Angeles which was perversely performed at UCLA's Royce Hall with the lyrics:
From Robert Christgau's review of "Time Fades Away": "This is no desperate throwaway or quickie live album. Loud and dense but never heavy, singing with riffs concocted from the simplest harmonic components, it's squarely country, yet it never hints at nouveau-rockabilly good times."
Rustie David Skoglund writes in a Funhouse Review that:
Luckily, Neil Young has never done the safe thing."
The ever harsh critic Dave Marsh writes that "Time Fades Away" was "erratic, occasionally explosive, flying in the face of soft rock convention with more screeching guitars, scattered rhythms and a generally rowdy approach."
The Funhouse Review by David Skoglund provides an excellent context for the 1973 tour circumstances:
The start of the tour was right around the corner, so Young and company made the difficult decision to continue as planned. In early January, the band took to the road for a three-month trip that was scheduled to visit over sixty cities.
Audiences were treated to a show that featured an opening solo acoustic set followed by a rock set from the band. The material was drawn mainly from After the Goldrush and Harvest, along with a smattering of older songs and a batch of new songs. Part way into the tour Young's voice began to give out. Without the vocal support of Whitten, he was forced to carry more of the vocal chores than ever before. As the strain of the road and the grief of Whitten's death began to catch up to Young, the shows became more and more ragged and raw.
In addition to everything else, the road crew tried to negotiate for more money midway through - the temptation of seeing full arenas every night must have proved too great. A brief break halfway through provided a chance for Young to regroup; it was obvious that if the tour was to continue, something needed to be done. Young called up his friends David Crosby and Graham Nash for help, and they came onboard for the last month of the tour as backup vocalists and rhythm guitarists."
The reasons for Time Fades Away not being re-released on CD with the other "Missing Six" albums in 2003 remains a mystery. Here's Jef Michael Piehler of SideStreet Records take on the situation:
To reassemble the album, someone would need to sort through fifty or so ¼" and/or 2" multi-track reels & "a few" cassettes. Finding the right version by date would be easy enough, but at what stage would the mix be at? Raw recording? Truck monitor mix? Mono PA monitor recording? And what about necessary over-dubs ("L.A.", "Last Dance")? Where are Crosby's vocals? How'd they layer the voices like that? ...impossible."
For many fans, the tour and album Time Fades Away, marked a turning point in their perception of Young's music -- either turning away from forever or towards it with ever greater appreciation. From long time fan Mike "Expecting To Fly" Cordova's Albums in Order review series:
It is against this backdrop that we can begin to understand Neil's deteriorating mindset during the tour and how viscerally this comes across when listening to the album today. Even 30 years later through the crackles of my well worn vinyl record, I can only imagine what audiences must have thought upon hearing these songs.
The album's influence on long time Neil fans continues to this day. The band R.E.M. has cited the raw live sound of TFA as influencing their sound on 1996's "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" (Shakey - Neil Young Biography by Jimmy McDonough footnote p. 399).
The "Time Fades Away" concerts impacted fans much as Bob Dylan's going electric and hearing cries of "Judas!" at the legendary 1966 Royal Albert Hall performance:
"The concert has since taken on historical overtones similar to that of the 1913 Paris premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Like Stravinsky’s, Dylan’s avant-garde experiment was met with outright hostility on the part of the audience. But in the long run, both innovators were hailed as singular geniuses, dragging their respective audiences and genres kicking and screaming into theretofore new and unexplored territories which would prove artistically rich and fertile for themselves and others. Each in their own way were signposts that spoke eloquently of and to their times."
Similarly to Dylan's 1966 Royal Albert Hall becoming a coveted live concert recording avidly sought and widely bootlegged, Young's "Time Fades Away" concert recordings are regarded to be the "Holy Grail" among Neil fans.
From All Music Guide Review by Mark Deming:
Few rockers have been as willing as Young to lay themselves bare before their audience, and Time Fades Away ranks with the bravest and most painfully honest albums of his career -- like the tequila Young was drinking on that tour, it isn't for everyone, but you may be surprised by its powerful effects."
If you can, find it, listen to it and soak it in. Don't be denied.
More on the other "Ditch Trilogy" albums.
Also, see the Neil Young Appreciation Society's (edited by Scott "Surfer Joe" Sandie) Broken Arrow Magazine - November 2004 (Issue #96) featuring extensive information on the Time Fades Away Album & Tour.
Also, see a fan's review of Time Fades Away.
Also, see Artwork for the album.
Sign the Release "Time Fades Away" Petition
Reviews of Neil Young Albums
Neil Young Archives - Thrasher's Wheat