Neil Young’s Ditch Trilogy, Pt. 2

Neil Young – Time Fades Away

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a band would release an album – hopefully a good one – then go on a concert tour heavily promoted by the record company to solidify the record’s place in the music world, and in turn sell more records.  Occasionally a live album from that tour would follow.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Coming off his 1972 hit album Harvest, fans of Neil Young who bought tickets to see him and the Stray Gators on tour in early ’73 expected a show which featured that album and earlier hits.  But fans weren’t fully aware of the catharsis Young was undergoing at the time.  While the accepted truth that has developed over the years that concert-goers didn’t hear Harvest songs or any of their older favorites on this tour is a misnomer, neither the set lists nor the vibe of the shows were what they expected.


While rehearsing in late ’72 for the upcoming tour, Young dismissed guitarist and friend Danny Whitten from the group, giving him some cash and a plane ticket back to L.A.  Whitten, in the throes of heroin addiction, was simply unable to play.  Shattered, Whitten died of an overdose of Valium and alcohol the following day, sending an already unstable Neil reeling.

Danny Whitten

And with that, Neil Young and the Stray Gators set out on a three-month, 62 (!) show, tequila-soaked tour, combative with each other from the start.  Once the tour began, the band began demanding larger salaries, and as the nightly wake for Whitten wore on, Neil’s voice wore out.  Halfway through the tour, drummer Kenny Buttrey left and was replaced by Johnny Barbata.  Also, Young enlisted the help of old band mates David Crosby and Graham Nash to assist with vocals.

The resulting live album, Time Fades Away, was released on 10/15/73, and was met with positive reviews by critics, though many fans didn’t care for it at the time as it was seen as a complete departure from what he was known for.  Seven of its eight songs were written for that tour, the eighth a leftover from his solo 1971 tour.  It’s ragged and uneven, heavy but not overly loud.  It’s a perfect document of where he was emotionally at the time, but with the stress of the tour ingrained in his memory he considered it his worst album.  Young explained:

Money hassles among everyone concerned ruined this tour and record for me but I released it anyway so you folks could see what could happen if you lose it for a while. I was becoming more interested in an audio vérité approach than satisfying the public demands for a repetition of “Harvest.”

Eventually the album fell out of print and stayed there for years with Neil showing no interest in revisiting the tour.  Meanwhile, fan demand for its re-release grew until it finally reappeared on vinyl a couple of years ago, then on CD as part of the Original Release Series a year later.  As of this writing, it’s still not available on CD as a stand-alone release.  Thank goodness for bootlegs and good ol’ YouTube, since I refuse to re-purchase three albums I already own to get one I don’t.  Standouts on the release for me include Don’t Be Denied, L.A., Yonder Stands the Sinner, and the title track.

Neil has stated that his Archives Vol. 2 will include the title Time Fades Away II, with different material from the ’73 release.  While I like the original as it is, hopefully II would be a fuller example of what a typical show from the tour sounded like.  And again, that’s if and when it ever comes out.  Either way, the ’73 version is available to anyone who wants to hear it.  By the time it originally came out, Young was already further along in the ditch with another new batch of raw, beautifully grating tunes in his exploration of audio vérité.  He would continue to meet life’s demons head on, and for this fan it made for great art.


Side One:

  1. Time Fades Away
  2. Journey Through the Past
  3. Yonder Stands the Sinner
  4. L.A.
  5. Love in Mind

Side Two:

  1. Don’t Be Denied
  2. Bridge
  3. Last Dance






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