Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I’ve never much been into guitar heroics. Little about it appeals to me. You can keep your Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Joe Satriani, Randy Rhoads, etc. I am not interested. There are a few guitarists that I love, however. Among them is Neil Young, and on this album, you get two of his best pieces of electric guitar work: the punk-inspired “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and the frontier epic “Powderfinger.” I find his playing lyrical, visceral, and emotive; it’s economical, propulsive, and creative. It’s all I ask for from a lead guitarist.

What I Think of This Album

Rust Never Sleeps is less a live album – typically something that showcases past hits – than a studio album recorded on the road. Every song on this album is new, and in fact, Young managed to edit out most of the crowd noise, so this doesn’t even feel like a concert recording. The first half is acoustic, and is very strong. The second half is electric – while oddly (to me) less strong, it does contain one of the best songs of Young’s career (and probably my favorite Young song of all time).

The album is bookended by the twins “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” These are essentially the same tune; each has its merits, but it’s hard not to prefer the longer, electric version, with its fat, distorted intro, bludgeoning beat, and extended soloing. Either way, the melody is excellent, as is the allegorical rumination on mortality and rock (as is well known, Kurt Cobain quoted it in his suicide note), and the contemporary reference to the Sex Pistols. The acoustic one does have some fine mournful harmonica. “Thrasher,” contrary to its title, is a beautiful song with delicately wrought lyrics; it is supposedly a reflection on the 1974 CSN&Y tour (“So I got bored and left them there / They were just dead weight to me”); the harmonica makes another welcome appearance here. Young as history buff returns in “Pocohantas,” a heartbreaking ballad with another first-rate melody. Young may have written his prettiest song, though, in “Sail Away,” (the harmonies from Nicolette Larson don’t hurt).

Then comes “Powderfinger,” a masterpiece of both songwriting and guitar playing. The cinematic lyrics tell a taut, tense tale full of foreboding that suddenly goes horrifically wrong, and Young unleashes absolutely marvelous guitar lines. This song needed to be at least three minutes longer. Beyond that, “Welfare Mothers” is dumb and borderline offensive, though the near-metallic riffing is fun. “Sedan Delivery” is similarly filler, with Young perhaps trying too hard to out-punk the youngsters he was obsessed with on this album. Along with “Ride My Llama” from the acoustic side, these songs can be ignored. Tidbit:  the title Rust Never Sleeps was suggested to Young by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo.

The Best Thing About This Album

I mean, fucking “Powderfinger,” man. Tragic, evocative, majestic, and painterly guitar soloing.

Release Date

June, 1979

The Cover Art

Average. It’s difficult to discern what’s going on, though it’s obviously a shot of the stage, but too far back to provide any meaningful information. The computer font for the artist name is weird.

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