Flashback: Rust Never Sleeps By Neil Young
Words By Jon Irvin
Whether it's an unusual innovative sound from a breakout band or the next studio album from your beloved group, listeners are always looking for new music. I’d like to use this opportunity to dust off some classic live albums that have helped pave the way for what the music scene is today. I’ll be flipping through the years as we'll be taking a look at some of my favorite prominent releases and hidden gems along the way.
Our first installment in this weekly series is Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps, an album that led folk rock into the ever-changing punk rock sound of the late 70s. Neil Young, known for his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, was faced with a problem: how do you change your sound without changing your message? The times had changed and a new harder sound had been ushered in by the likes of bands such as The Sex Pistols & the Clash. By the late 70s, Young had begun to fall out of the public eye, his last commercial success being 1972’s Harvest which brought us timeless classics including “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man,” and “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
In 1976, Young reunited with his former backing band, Crazy Horse, and embarked on a two-year ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ tour, a show comprised of two parts, a solo acoustic set and a full-band electric set. The album Rust Never Sleeps isn’t your typical live release but more of a ‘best of’ from the tour. Side One begins with an acoustic “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” a mantra that still holds meaning to this day. This tune is followed by several B-side classics including one of his many odes to the American Indian with “Pocahontas.” The second part of the show is where the spectators saw a raw and emotional Young taking a chance with his new harder sound.
Side Two begins with “Powderfinger,” a song originally penned by Young for his friend Ronnie Van Zant (Lynyrd Skynyrd) that was ultimately never released due to the tragic plane crash that took his life. Next we find “Welfare Mothers” and “Sedan Delivery,” both songs with deep down-to-earth lyrics played to a stiffer, faster tempo that we normally hear from the man from Canada. The album finishes with “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." The electric counterpart to the opening song is a piece that truly symbolizes the sign of the times with a slogan that has stood the test of time… “Rock and Roll can never die!”
Rust Never Sleeps was a huge success and was awarded the 1979 record of the year by Rolling Stones magazine. In 2003, the album was praised once again as it was voted #350 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of the top 500 albums of all time.