Neil Young: Don't Be Denied
[out of print]
[Petition to Release Time Fades Away]
Neil Young should have been on top of the world in 1973. The previous year's Harvest was a smash, producing the number-one hit "Heart of Gold". But on the tour to promote Harvest, everything started falling apart. Neil assembled a band mostly made up of the studio cats who played on the album, plus Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. Danny was heavily into a heroin habit at the time, and even before the tour started, Neil had to fire him. He gave Danny money for a plane ticket home, but Whitten used the money to score some smack, ODed, and died. Neil was devastated, but the shows (65 dates) were already booked, so the show went on. Some of the studio musicians had trouble adapting to the grueling live concert schedule. Midway through the tour the drummer was replaced, and at the end of the tour Neil brought on erstwhile friends Crosby & Nash for moral and vocal support.
Neil played a clutch of previously unreleased, dark gems on this tour, and compiled them onto the his first live album, Time Fades Away. The public hated it, but over the years it has acquired a certain mystique among Neil affectionados, perhaps aided by Young's refusal to release it on CD. Many of the songs are solo piano numbers, but "Don't Be Denied" features the whole band. The song traces Neil's early history in Canada and ends with his disillusionment with the record industry. His voice is raw, and the emotion comes through. This is a guy in desperate need of a long rest.
It was the start of a difficult period for Neil that produced two other dark masterpieces, On the Beach and Tonight's the Night. You can pretty much tell how deep someone is into Neil by getting their opinion on the so-called "Ditch Trilogy".
How did fans come up with that moniker? In the liner notes to the Decade compilation, Neil put a maverick spin on this time in his life while discussing "Heart of Gold": "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there."