Time Fades Away (1973) is the one Neil Young album that he refuses to sanction for CD release and I do not understand why he thinks it is his worst album ever. For my money there are plenty of candidates for that status among his output over the last 30 years or so and if Silver & Gold could have been released in the first place there is no reason why Time Fades Away should not be released, even if Young cannot stand it. Anyway, he is plainly wrong if he believes it is such a bad album. It may not have turned out to be what he wanted for it, but for my money it holds up with anything he recorded in the Seventies and beyond.
Time Fades Away and On The Beach (1974) were the third and fourth Neil Young albums I ever owned because I bought them at a bargain price as part of a Warner Brothers "twofer" re-release campaign of the late Seventies or early Eighties, where they paired oldish albums by selected artists for mid-priced release. In this way I acquired not only the two Neil Young albums but also The Doors' LA Woman and 13 and Frank Zappa's Hot Rats and Waka Jawaka as double packs.
It took a long time for On The Beach to be made available on CD, perhaps because it has always been seen as a "difficult" album and not as commercial as the record company would have liked. To my mind Time Fades Away was the more exciting rock and roll album of the two and the one I found most immediately appealing. On The Beach needed more effort and time to appreciate.
Most of the tracks on Time Fades Away were recorded during Young's North American tour of 1973, in the wake of the huge success of Harvest, and the band is the Stray Gators, with David Crosby and Graham Nash on one or two tracks. From the visceral stomp of the title track to the ripping and roaring Last Dance, the album is a delight and a great record of what a Neil Young live show was like when it did not just feature the grungy mid-paced guitar workouts of Crazy Horse, but a band of varied musicians who could rock as much as they could be subtle and with songs that had melody and poetry.
I recorded the 2 albums on one side each of a C90 cassette tape and played that tape quite a lot back in the day when I still listened mostly to cassette tapes rather than CDs. Along with Rust Never Sleeps and Re-Ac-Tor those two albums made up the core of my Neil Young collection, until I eventually bought Harvest, and in die early Nineties started seriously collecting Neil Young on CD. I still believe that the albums from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere to Rust Never Sleeps probably represent the pinnacle of Young's oeuvre and is a body of work.
Never mind the "lost" years of Eighties experimentalism, the triumphant return as the Godfather of Grunge and the latter-day political and polemical approach, since 1979 and whether deliberately or through lack of inspiration, Neil Young has not much of anything that resembles a sturdy, long-lasting, worthwhile body of work. He can still rock out when he wants to, or go all country folk rock on us, but it seems to me that he writes lyrics just to be able to sing something or just say something and not because the spirit truly moves him. The melodies are still sublime and the voice always sends chills up my spine when he does the high lonesome thing, but over the length of any given album the trite and often baldly clichéd lyrics start to grate and one tries not to listen to what he say and concentrate on how he says it instead. For a songwriter who was thought of as something of a poet this is a terrible thing.
Over the past couple of years Neil Young has released a bunch of recordings from his archives, from a live set at the Fillmore East with the first incarnation of Crazy Horse to a solo concert in Massey Hall in Toronto to a whole box set of studio and live recordings of the very early years of his career when he was making the transition from folk rocker to folkie to rock star. Unless Young just wants to release everything so that one can get a complete picture of what he had done over the years, from juvenilia to mature work, one must believe that there was a selection process and that the stuff that is now commercially available is regarded as good stuff. This is a real journey through the past and I do not believe that every morsel is of the same high quality and some of it is pretty redundant, such as the various solo gigs. If you have Live Rust you pretty much have as much solo Neil Young as you need.
This vast project of trawling through the past makes it even more peculiar that Young refuses to allow a CD release for Time Fades Away. I know that album and it is pretty damn entertaining and no worse than, and really of a piece with, the period from After The Goldrush to Rust Never Sleeps and a damn sight better than Harvest Moon, Silver & Gold, Are You Passionate, Prairie Wind, and the like. In fact, I would like to see an expanded Time Fades Away with more songs from that tour as re-issue extras.