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Neil Young: Tonight’s The Night - Album Of The Week Club review

Delayed by a record company unhappy about its misery quotient, Neil Young's Tonight’s The Night is a stark tribute to departed friends

Neil Young: Tonight's The Night cover artwork
(Image: © Reprise Records )
Neil Young - Tonight's The Night

Neil Young: Tonight's The Night album artwork

(Image credit: Reprise Records)

Tonight's the Night
Speakin' Out
World on a String
Borrowed Tune
Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown
Mellow My Mind
Roll Another Number (For the Road)
Albuquerque
New Mama
Lookout Joe
Tired Eyes
Tonight's the Night (Part II)

Neil Young recorded Tonight’s The Night before On The Beach, but Warner Brothers deemed it too gloomy for an audience of fans eagerly awaiting the sequel to Harvest, and sat on the album for two years before they finally released it.

Informed by the deaths of Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry – and unveiled in all its booze-sodden glory before bemused crowds later that year – it’s an unnerving record with the stoned air of a private wake. 

Emotionally racked and set to the sparest of piano arrangements, Young is at his most candid on the stumbling title track and the pained Roll Another Number

"It was a very dark, intense but healing adventure," guitarist Nils Lofgren told Classic Rock. "Neil wanted to make a live record, extremely rough, to not even have the musicians know the songs too well, the antithesis of production. We recorded in this pretty funky little room in Hollywood. We’d get together at dinner time, shoot pool, sip some tequila, pretty much till midnight, talking about Danny and Bruce, commiserating, and then get round a table and Neil would start showing us these songs. 

"He’d kind of map them out a little, but we wouldn’t practise them a whole lot. David impressed on us to stay down on the tracks at all times, because the second Neil got a vocal that he liked, we’d be done. No one could fix a single note."

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Other albums released in June 1975

  • One of These Nights - Eagles
  • Red Octopus - Jefferson Starship
  • Initiation - Todd Rundgren
  • Stand Back - April Wine
  • Stills - Stephen Stills
  • One Size Fits All - Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention
  • The Basement Tapes - Bob Dylan & The Band
  • HQ - Roy Harper
  • Jasmine Nightdreams - Edgar Winter
  • Return to Fantasy - Uriah Heep
  • Rising for the Moon - Fairport Convention
  • Trying to Burn the Sun - Elf
  • The Tubes - The Tubes

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What they said...

"More than any of Young’s earlier songs and albums - even the despondent On the Beach and the mordant, rancorous Time Fades Away - Tonight’s the Night is preoccupied with death and disaster. Dedicated to the dead Berry and Whitten, its cover, liner and label are starkly black and white. The characters of the songs are shell-shocked, losers, wasted, insane, homeless - except for the ones who are already corpses." (Rolling Stone)

"Songs like Speakin' Out and New Mama seemed to find some hope in family life, but Tonight's the Night did not offer solutions to the personal and professional problems it posed. It was the work of a man trying to turn his torment into art and doing so unflinchingly." (AllMusic)

"Tonight’s the Night is shocking the first time you hear it because for a record on the receiving end of so much first-generation rock criticism focusing on its sorrow and grief, it often sounds like a raucous party being thrown by a bunch of lovable knuckleheads having the time of their life." (Pitchfork)

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What you said...

Alex Hayes: I've just been down and counted the number of Neil Young CDs in my collection. 23 of his studio albums, including Tonight's The Night, plus Neil Young And Crazy Horse Live At The Fillmore East. That's quite a lot of music, all purchased during a period of around ten years starting from sometime in the mid 1990s. Sounds impressive, but it's a body of work that I rarely listen to nowadays.

If I'd been writing this 20 years ago, I'd have been waxing lyrical about Tonight's The Night, unabashedly proclaiming it a masterpiece. I still think it's pretty damn good, but I'm now self aware enough to realise that any hyperbole would have been me desperately trying to convince myself of its greatness as much as anyone else. Hindsight can be a funny thing sometimes.

It's quite apt that Tonight's The Night is commonly thought of as one of the albums in Neil Young's 'ditch' trilogy, as it similarly came into my life during a difficult period for me personally. I won't elaborate too much, but I often think about a good chunk of the late 90s, although certainly not all of it, as being my very own 'ditch' years. Those weren't good days for me, riddled with different kinds of personal issues and subsequent bad memories. Sadly, listening to Tonight's The Night takes me right back there.

It was a hard, and largely inspiration barren, period for the inner rocker in me too. The rock and metal scene had shifted so radically at the time, ironically towards artists that openly, and quite rightfully, cited Neil Young as a major inspiration to them, that I suddenly found myself flailing around, looking for any music that I could still identify with and call my own. A fascination for singer-songwriters (Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon) was one of several things born out of that listlessness. All great artists whose music I now, unfortunately, struggle with, as it came to my attention at the wrong time.

I'd hardly call myself a fan of Neil Young's work across the board either, despite that large CD collection. His penchant for experimentation and improvisational spontaneity in the studio is admirable, but has created a discography that constitutes a mixed bag for me. For every After The Gold Rush and Rust Never Sleeps, we have a Re·ac·tor and a Trans.

I'm afraid I find much of Young's work rambling and aimless, particularly on the more free-form albums with Crazy Horse. I don't really get off on hearing Young pad out his songs with instrumental 'workouts' that have plainly just been thrown together off the cuff. Some of his critically acclaimed albums - Ragged Glory and Sleeps With Angels are good examples - bore me to tears through relying on that. That latter album contains a certain track, Change Your Mind, that is so tedious I'm incapable of sitting through it to the end. Incidentally, Sleeps... is kind of a sequel to Tonight's The Night.

Of course, I still greatly admire Neil Young as an artist. Who doesn't? Tonight's The Night is undoubtedly a fine, if ramshackle, album. I mean, come on, we've got the likes of Borrowed Tune and Albuquerque on there. It transports me back to some pretty difficult and lonely times though, and isn't the flawless diamond that I'd have been so itching to convince myself of back when I first heard it. I was out of sorts back then, and trying to be somebody that I'm not.

Hard album to review this one. Whilst undeniably strong from a creative standpoint, it's a bit of an uncomfortable listen for me. Wasn't that the whole point though?

Justin Edward Griffin: Always been my favourite Neil Young record. The record is like method acting except for the fact that it is completely authentic. Neil and the band here immerse themselves in drunken vulnerable sorrow and share it with us raw and real. A haunting and beautiful statement on grief and acceptance.

Gus Schultz: My favourite album from the ditch trilogy, and likely my favourite Neil Young album period. Although it’s tough to decide with his 70’s work being so good.

Adam Ranger: For me this is the best Neil Young album... and that is saying something from a Man who has such a great catalogue.

The first of the ditch trilogy, and his reaction to not wanting to go down the middle of the road and record another Harvest. The band were also dealing with the loss of Guitarist Danny Whitten and Roadie Bruce Berry (both from drug overdoses). So the album is at times bleak and mournful at time. But it is a thing of beauty all the same. World On A String, Mellow My Mind, Borrowed Tune, Tired Eyes and Albuquerque are, for me anyway, Young at his finest.

Neil Young can be hard to listen to at times, his music does not always hit the right notes for me, but Tonight's The Night is perfection, despite (or maybe because of) the bleak haunting nature. A solid 10 from me.

Jac De Boer: I got into Neil Young earlier this year. Have to say this is one of my favourite albums of his.

Guy Dickinson: A true classic album

Billy Master: Doesn't even need reviewing, but all the same, 100% worthy of all the plaudits that it will get.

Wade Babineau: Classic. This one was played a lot during my college days of late nights finishing up design projects. Always seem to be our go-to for those late sessions.

Evan Sanders: A really good album. Since I didn't start getting into Neil Young until Rust Never Sleeps, my appreciation for this one is more retrospective. Even though it's considered a dark album, many of the songs feel more like a loose jam session than an elegy. Its companion piece from many years later is Sleeps With Angels, which I believe still reverberates with sadness and anger. Tonight's The Night is a more mature Neil Young, foreshadowing his line from Thrasher in 1979, "how I lost my friends, I still don't understand".

Antoine Riguidel: The absolutely perfect Neil Young record. Gold songs. Hard time for Neil.

John Davidson: Apart from a brief flirtation when I first heard Rust Never Sleeps, I've never really had much time for Neil Young's solo work.

His brand of miserable, ramshackle Americana/ country rock just doesn't resonate with this Scottish lad, and it's not like he has the pipes to charm the unbeliever.

This album does nothing to turn those preconceived ideas and while it clearly has artistic merit, and a painfully honest assessment of grief, it still doesn't reach me.

Highlights are Borrowed Tune and Come On Baby. Lowlights are the likes of Mellow my Mind and Roll Another Number which are clichéd dirges to these ears.

Rocky Taylor: Neil Young is the king of doing exactly what the label doesn’t want, and we’re usually the better for it. Tonight’s The Night is no exception, a terrific blend of rockers and unplugged beasts that all but esques Young’s earlier folk and country-oriented tracks. It’s high among his highlights.

Greg Schwepe: So, here’s the great thing about this Album of the Week group; you’re asked to check out music you normally might not gravitate to. And sometimes, as in this album, you stumble onto something you like. I almost went “Nah, Neil Young this week, think I'll pass…” but decided otherwise.

Historically, I am not a Neil Young devotee. While friends in high school and college would gobble up everything of his that came out, I was ambivalent. Oh, I liked the true “Classic Neil Young” stuff that was played on the radio (Heart of Gold, etc.) and did own Rust Never Sleeps and his Decade anthology at one time, but have never really been interested in the rest of his very, very large catalogue.

That said, I did really like Tonight’s The Night. 7 out of 10 for me on this one. Besides knowing the release year (1975) and where it sat in his long list of releases, I knew nothing of where Young was at the time in terms of his career, state of mind, etc. That gave me the ability to just listen to a stand-alone album without the backstory.

For me, this contains all the Neil Young song moods I know of; folky, slightly rockin’, introspective, and melancholy. All spread out over this album. Just when it appears to be heading down the “slow lane”, the next song switches gears and picks up the pace a little.

And these songs all contain the Neil Young instrumentation hallmarks; electric guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica, piano, and pedal steel. All those put together create the right mood for what he’s trying to convey. I will say while I like pedal steel, I can only take so much of it. And when used on this album, it gets just to the limit on my “Too Much Pedal Steel” fuse, but does not trip it!

Overall, this was a good adventure into something I normally wouldn’t listen to. And I still think my Neil Young preferences run more to his loud rocking side, either solo or with Crazy Horse. But his strong acoustic songs draw me in as well. Good choice for album review. This won't turn me into a hardcore fan, but it was nice to check out.

Mike Canoe: For much of my music listening life I lived by the maxim that there were few things better than Neil Young electric... and few things worse than Neil Young acoustic.

So, based on the title track and Tired Eyes (the two tracks also on the compilation Decade), Tonight's The Night never held much interest for me. Additionally, similarly shambolic albums like Exile On Main Street or Sabbath's Vol. 4 soured me on albums celebrated primarily for the druggy and/or boozy state in which they were recorded. Finally, there's that album cover where Neil Young looks more like a bad stand-up comic than one of the most eclectic and interesting (albeit frustrating) songwriters ever.

As always, time is the ultimate mellower and I am now much more receptive to the album, in large part because I can now separate the music from the environment it was recorded in.

The Rolling Stones seem to be a big influence, both in terms of music and their attitude towards debauchery. Roll Another Number and Tired Eyes resemble the unrepentant wreck tunes in which the Stones regularly trafficked. And, of course, they supplied the tune that Young borrowed because, as he croaks, he was too wasted to write his own.

I also hear the love of noise and gallows humour that helped endear him to the grunge generation in songs like Lookout Joe and the more muscular take on the title track that closes out the album. Grunge also ended up spending a lot of time eulogizing fallen comrades in song. Nobody loves you when you're down and out - except for maybe the down and out. In what may be purposeful irony, the most upbeat track is the rattling country rock of Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown, recorded live with the late Danny Whitten.

Then there's the beautiful melancholy of Albuquerque, the type of song that manages to appear on even the most uneven Neil Young albums.

Neil Young has a vast discography. Much more vast than I realized when I realized he's made at least 22 albums since the 90's when I quit listening to his new stuff and started listening to the musicians he influenced instead.

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Final Score: 7.97⁄10 (74 votes cast, with a total score of 590)

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