Rust Never Sleeps is another album I experienced mostly through radio until I was in my late 20s. Experienced piecemeal, the songs are great. Pulled together, and given the dichotomy of the first and final tracks, it's even better.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse have a strong track record, but this is the one I'd run back into a burning building for – assuming it was the only copy, and I couldn't just head to Vintage Vinyl and pick up a new copy. Also why are they leaving the only copy with me? That's just irresponsible.
Rust Never Sleeps begins with "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" an acoustic number that shows off Young's ability to write (and play) folksy acoustic numbers. Young's voice is one of the most distinctive in rock, it's pretty clear it's Young the instant he starts singing. While not technically a great singer, he puts everything he's got into the song – and Young's all about feel over form anyway.
"Thrasher," "Ride My Llama," "Pocahontas," and "Sail Away" continue the acoustic theme on Rust Never Sleeps. Young touches on themes of Native Americans, homeless, and alienation. All of these are lovely songs, if not profound lyrically, at least evocative and well-delivered.
And then we turn to side two – or track six for uncultured savages like myself who listen to music on CD or lossy music formats like MP3.
The acoustics are put away and it's time to get loud. We walk into the heavy currents gently at first, with "Powderfinger" building steam until Young starts cutting loose a bit past the 1:40 mark. We're still well within sight of the ballads on side one, but starting to pull away from shore.
When that one wraps up, it's time to run for cover. All bets are off on "Welfare Mothers." This one isn't going to win any prizes for sensitivity, but I'm hoping this is Young being firmly tongue in cheek. This is a bar band brawler, as is "Sedan Delivery." Most of the time I'm listening to these I'm just soaking up Young's particular brand of guitar shredding.
And then there's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," the evil twin to Rust's opening track. This takes the music and lyrics from "My My, Hey Hey" and turns them into a feedback-laden punch in the ears.
The one-two-three punch to the power chord on this one could wake the dead, and then there's Young going completely unhinged on the solos. If I'm ever in a coma, play this one a few times. If I don't show any signs of life at that point, it's probably safe to unplug me. (See also; David Gilmour's solo on "Comfortably Numb," and also try applying a box of kittens.)
Instead of the hot mess that's Arc, I'd like to have a 35-minute piece of music that consists of Young's guitar solos off "Hey Hey, My My" and other pieces joined together in a more thoughtful way.
Young's relevance to the music scene has waxed and waned significantly since Rust came out in 1979. It's hard to keep up with his output, and anybody diving in now has an incredible mountain to climb with more than 36 studio albums between Young's solo work and work with Crazy Horse. (Not to mention Crosby, Stills & Nash, Buffalo Springfield, and a number of side projects…)
But this is the place to start. If you only have one Young album in your collection, this should be it.