Release date: July 2, 1979
Producers: Neil Young, David Briggs, Tim Mulligan
Track listing: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Thrasher, Ride My Llama, Pocahontas, Sail Away, Powderfinger, Welfare Mothers, Sedan Delivery, Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
Musicians: Neil Young (guitar, harmonica, organ, vocals), Poncho Sampedro (guitars, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) with Nicolette Larson (vocals), Karl Himmel (drums), and Joe Osborn (bass) on "Sail Away".
This album is about the Jeff Blackburn and the Ducks. This album is about Neil making a movie with Devo. This album is about Neil reacting to punk rock. This album is about life, death, the past and the future. It's a solo acoustic album that slowly morphs into one of Crazy Horse's loudest, dirtiest, most distorted albums. This is a live album which was later overdubbed in the studio (and unlike the heavily modified "live" albums of KISS, Neil opted to remove crowd noise instead of add it).
The story begins in the spring of 1977 when Neil Young joined a Santa Cruz based bar band called the Ducks. The band consisted of Jeff Blackburn (vocals, guitar), Bob Mosley (bass), and Johnny Craviotto (drums). They played some old rock and roll songs by artists like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, some early Neil Young material (including a version of Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul" which Neil has said was better than the original), and songs from the repertoires of Jeff Blackburn (The Jeff Blackburn band) and Bob Mosley (Moby Grape). Over the summer of 1977 they played a series of $3 bar shows at various small clubs around Santa Cruz. This was because Neil had a contract which stated that he would only tour with Crazy Horse. The Ducks never played outside of Santa Cruz and by the end of the 1977 the Ducks disbanded and Neil went to on the Comes A Time album. It was during this time that Neil and Jeff Blackburn wrote the start of what would later become "Hey, Hey, My, My" [Here's a Ducks Bootleg if you're interested].
At the beginning of 1978, Reprise Records wanted Neil to tour Comes A Time, but just like after Harvest, he had already grown tired of the over produced Nashville sound. Instead, Neil hit the road with Crazy Horse playing a lot of new, previously unreleased material (kinda like Times Fades Away minus the Stray Gators). Neil had begun to notice that many of his friends, contemporaries, and the whole the hippy baby boomer culture in general, was morphing into bland easy listening AM radio schmaltz (too bad he didn't notice this when he made the horrific Stills-Young Band). Meanwhile rock and roll was once again renewing itself in the younger generation: the punks. This time around the sound was heavy, louder, and sloppier than ever before.
Finally, it was also around this time that Neil befriended Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and began working a film which would evolve into the rock and roll comedy The Human Highway (1982). It was Mark that came up with the title of the album, Rust Never Sleeps, a slogan he borrowed from the Rust-Oleum paint company. The title is said to describe Neil's fear of irrelevancy and his rock and roll rebirth incorporating new sounds, new ideas, and theatrical elements (note: Neil also made a film version of this album which is also called Rust Never Sleeps, but features alternate versions of the songs from this album and the following Live Rust album).
Okay... that's the background context of this album. Oh wait, I should mention two songs, "Pocahontas" and "Sail Away" weren't recorded live. Pocahontas was recorded years earlier in 1975 and "Sail Away" was a Comes A Time outtake and features Karl Himmel (drums), Joe Osborn (bass) and Nicolette Larsen (backing vocals) instead of Crazy Horse.
The reason I really went into an extensive background this time is because I really think it's an interesting story that youhear being played throughout the album. It begins with a concept Neil originally used on Tonight's the Night album, beginning and ending the album with alternate acoustic and electric versions of the same song. This time that song is "My, My, Hey, Hey". Seriously, I could write a separate blog article about this song which would end up being twice as song as the introduction I just spewed out. But, I'll save you that for now. The important thing to note is that the "Out of the Blue" version shows us where Neil came from: the Toronto coffee house folkie scene. The "Into the Black" version shows us where Neil is going: somewhere loud, messy, and explosive.
Side A, the acoustic side, presents some Neil's best acoustic material in my point of view. I love the stripped down sound and the lack of backing band. Take "Thrasher"; Dylanesque rambling lyrics played with the simple three chord structure that unifies country western music and punk rock. "Thrasher" shows us that at the roots, all forms of American music share a primitive feeling which is simply indescribable and undecipherable. Maybe "Ride My Llama" and "Sail Away" aren't going to make my list of favorite Neil songs, but still prefer them compared to the type of acoustic songs featured on Comes A Time.
Side B, the loud side. Holy shit. That's really all I have to say about this side. "Powderfinger" is unquestionably one of the best songs ever written by a living organism in the 13.8 billion year history of the planet Earth. If you disagree, you are wrong and confused. It's quite simple really. Just listen to this song and try not to explode. It's impossible, unless you are heartless robot. Similarly, "Welfare Mothers" and "Sedan Delivery" are unstoppable forces of nature. Crazy Horse is really at a great moment here. They took the foundational groundwork of Zuma and used it to build a a monument on par with either the Egyptian and Aztec pyramids in it's importance in the cultural evolution of the human species.
In case you still don't understand: I like this album a lot. Listen to it often, listen to it loud, and tremble in the wake of its greatness.
NEXT WEEK: Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Live Rust (1979)