One of the most uniquely fantastic live albums of the century, Neil Young’s 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps not only showcases Young and Crazy Horses’ live wonder, but epitomises the state of rock n roll in the 70s. Whilst not a concept album as such, Young looks onto the world of music, and the artists that die out- “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”- later referencing Elvis and even the Sex Pistols. Paul Nelson from Rolling Stone admires the album in that it “…tells me more about my life, my country and rock & roll than any music I’ve heard in years.” Following his 1978 release, “Comes A Time”, Young explained to director Cameron Crowe that he would “…hear it on the radio and it sounds nice…But I’m somewhere else now. I’m into rock & roll.”
The 9-track also touches base on American violence in history in its track “Pocahontas”, taking place during the slaughters of Native Americans in Jamestown, and spans to the issues of the present day: “And maybe Marlon Brando / Will be there by the fire / We’ll sit and talk of Hollywood / And the good things there for hire / And the Astrodome and the first tepee / Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me.” Young dapples in science fiction and comedic themes too, also relevant and necessary during some of the bleak periods of the 70s, with his tracks “Ride My Llama”, “Welfare Mothers”, and “Sedan Delivery”, creating a fun and wacky world of make-believe and happiness.
As previously mentioned, the album is not necessarily a concept album however is constructed in a way that forced the audience to reevaluate the state of the world at that current time, the cultural letdowns of the past, as well as the life and longevity of rock n roll. The title Rust Never Sleeps struck Young’s attention after having heard New Wave band Devo chanting it- which he brought his own meaning to, evolving it into the haunting image he finally created and had pushed himself to step up to a new age of Neil Young. It’s said that Young would begin the ‘Rust’ shows by walking over a pile of amps with an acoustic guitar for a solo entrance, with “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)”- haunting and flawlessly on par as the LP opens. Despite being technically a live album, most of the recordings were overdubbed, edited, and some even added from the 1975 cuts from the “Comes a Time” sessions. Following Young’s pivotal live recording, the music world has noted the album as one of the most important in rock history and even assisted in Young earning his title of the “Godfather of Grunge”
Its difficult to reduce or sum up the emotion captured from Rust Never Sleeps, with its creation and content as wacky, beautiful and inspiring as nothing seen prior. To this day, Young claims no one ever asked why he had even chosen to play with Crazy Horse, but my god we’re grateful he did.