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Release "Time Fades Away"
Listen to MP3 clip of Tonight's The Night
Neil Young's 1975 "Tonight's The Night" is considered to be his 'darkest' album - both literally and figuratively - and the last of the "Ditch Trilogy" (along with Times Fade Away and On The Beach). The album explores the depth of Neil's pain over the heroin overdose deaths of Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry.
Although released in 1975, the album was actually recorded in 1973 after the disastrous Times Fade Away tour. Chronologically, "Tonight's The Night" is actually the second of the "Ditch Trilogy" albums.
The darkness of the songs even continues to the album packaging with it's black & white cover and liner notes and black label instead of the normal orange reprise records label.
The bookends of Tonight's The Night are the title track which opens acoustic and concludes electrically. This unplugged and plugged approach which Neil pioneered in 1973 was continued again later with the acoustic "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" and electric "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" on 1979's Rust Never Sleeps and again on 1989's Freedom's "Rockin In The Free World" acoustic and electric version. The unplugged theme would later become a phenomenon in the 1990's with MTV's Unplugged series.
One of the most revealing parts of the album is the liner notes themselves which are in Dutch. For most, the clues in Dutch were a mystery for most. Thankfully, a translation has been done which reveals some insights into Neil's despair during the period. It certainly reveals the importance of tequila and understanding the meaning of Tonight's The Night. From the liner notes:
Another fascinating aspect to the original vinyl album was the writing in the run out groove. On Side A the phrase "Hello Waterface" was written. And on Side B the phrase "Goodbye Waterface". There's been a great deal of speculation and rumor about what these cryptic phrases might mean. One theory is that it refers to either Danny Whitten or Bruce Berry. If this is the case, "Waterface" most likely refers to Whitten. Whitten has been described as an emotional person who was prone to bursts of sobbing. Hence, Danny's crying might be the "Waterface".
The liner notes refer to "BB", which is clearly Bruce Berry. The note includes the line "Tell Waterface to put it in his lung and not in his vein." This line is an anti-heroin reference and speaks to Neil's loss of Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten and long time roadie Bruce Berry's heroin overdose deaths.
Another bizarre aspect to the album is the liner insert. The cryptically strange "On The Beach" album overlay has the story of a Florida town - presumably Miami Beach - and some odd happenings. Along with a photo of Roy Orbison, the meaning and significance of the story remains a mystery. Here is a transcription of the "Tonight's The Night" album liner notes.
From a 1995 interview in MOJO Magazine with Neil he was asked about the rumor that he tried to produce a Broadway play based on the record:
The legend of the album continued to grow with Lynyrd Skynyrd 's album 'Street Survivors', where you can see Ronnie Van Zant wearing a 'Tonight's the Night' t-shirt on the cover which was taken shortly before he died in a plane crash.
A final note regarding the album package. Look closely of the liner photo of the band. Along the bottom of the photo Neil captions each band member -- including Danny Whitten's name in the blank space on stage where he would have stood had he been still alive.
Also, here's a collection of album reviews and commentary of Neil Young's Tonight's The Night.
Analysis of lyrics of Tonight's The Night
Tonight's the Night Liner Notes Translation from Dutch to English
The cryptically strange "On The Beach" overlay liner notes for the "Tonight's The Night" album.
Tonight's The Night - Longtime Rustie Mike "Expecting 2 Fly" Cordova review
Tonight's The Night - The importance of Song Sequence by Tired Eyes
Robert Christgau's review
Sleeps With Angels - Sequel to "Tonight's The Night"?
This album's coarseness complements the deep honesty with which he has imbued these songs. Young has an uncanny ability to convincingly set a specific mood and Tonight's the Night, with all its atmospheric amp-buzz, crackles, somber themes, and full-tilt rockers is his finest achievement in this regard. It implores you to get out your bottle of whiskey, roll another number, pull up a stool, regret the loss of friends, exult the dawn of life, revel in anonymity and envisage a life that, perhaps, you were initially not meant to have. Unfortunately for Neil Young he never really escaped the clutches of fame -- thank God for us, though, that he didn't."
The music draws us in, with the wonderful guitar line crashing through the ominous "Lookout Joe," with the steel guitar on "Albuquerque," the almost folkish suggestion of melody that drives "Tired Eyes" but—and here is where it is new—it also spits us back out again, makes us look at the ugliness on the surface and beneath it."
I was fucking with the audience. From what I understand, the way rock and roll unfolded with Johnny Rotten and the punk movement - that kind of audience abuse - kinda started with that tour. I have no idea where the concept came from. Somebody else musta done it first, we all know that, whether it was Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard, somebody shit on the audience first."
'You can't underestimate Young's influence on that whole scene,' says journalist Richard Byrne.
'I would say the main reason I got what was happening was because I was a huge Tonight's the Night fan, and Tonight's the Night was the album for all of these guys, for Brian Henneman, for Jay Farrar, for Jeff Tweedy. They were hearing the country and folk stuff that they grew up around, and they were listening to all their SST punk records, and Neil crystallized it for them.' "
From Jimmy McDonough's book Shakey: A Neil Young Biography on recording Tonight's the Night:
Listen to MP3 clip of Tonight's The Night
Reviews of Neil Young Albums
Neil Young Archives - Thrasher's Wheat