On October 21st, 1978, Neil Young released a new acoustic album. The music lovers who were into Young’s After The Gold Rush and Harvest albums sighed in relief. A look back at an ignored album within Neil Young’s entire body of work.
Neil Young in 1978
In 1978 Neil Young was a respected artist, especially in circles of music connoisseurs and lovers. After Harvest, the general public had turned his back on him. Time Fades Away, Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach were called the “Ditch Trilogy”, inspired by a text Neil Young wrote for the compilation album Decade: “‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch”. A period of heavy, depressive music followed. Sometimes Young fans call it “The Wilderness Years”. It made for beautiful, oftentimes dark music. Young did have a lot to process at the time, particularly by watching drug (mis)use and its (deadly) consequences. The guilt weighed heavy on Young.
Zuma and American Stars ‘N Bars prolonged the rougher sound, although the latter album did have some lighter moments. In between the ‘rough’ music Young did record acoustic, folky and country-like music (of which last year’s Hitchhiker bears witness), but never released it.
So when Comes A Time turned out to be a return to the quieter, laid-back Neil Young sound, the record company was ecstatic. The promotion department went into overdrive.
Comes A Time
Comes A Time is the ninth studio album by Neil Young, which was released on October 21st, 1978. The cd release of the album states that the album was released during the Spring of 1978. I use the date Young himself uses on his website neilyoungarchives.com. The album’s title song was released as a single.
At the time Young played the album to record company Reprise Records it was a solo (acoustic) album. When the execs cautiously suggested re-recording some of the songs and/or adding a rhythm section, Young actually agreed and (contrary to what was to be expected of Young) obliged.
On Look Out For My Love and Lotta Love Crazy Horse played backup. On other songs many of the musicians that had played on Harvest, Young’s biggest hit album to date, played along.
Human Highway had been around for a couple of years as it was offered to his colleagues in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1974.
Nicolette Larson can be heard all over the album. She sings many (beautiful) harmonies with Young.
For a while Gone With The Wind was considered to be the album’s title (in the credits all the non-core musicians are still called ‘Gone With The Wind Orchestra’).
Many reviewers reacted lukewarm to the new album: too romantic, too ordinary and not very exciting. The general public however, was very enthusiastic. Within a month Comes A Time had sold more than every record released by Young since Harvest combined.
But, did the critique have some merit to it? No, according to me anyway. The album sounds great and songs like Comes A Time, Look Out For My Love, Lotta Love and Human Highway are beautiful songs. The only song that maybe ‘over the top’ sentimentally, is Already One, but it still moves, because it’s dedicated to his (sick) son Zeke, who suffers from cerebral paresis (muscle control problems due to abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement).
Neil Young was extremely displeased with the sound of the first (vinyl) pressings of Comes A Time. The master tape containing the recordings used at the pressing plant had been damaged during transport. The problem was that some 200,000 copies had been printed before the mistake was discovered. Although, problem: not to Young. He personally bought every last copy.
So, what did Young do with those 200,000 copies? According to Young’s father, Young himself shot every last one of the copies, rendering them unplayable. During an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine in 2014, Young claimed he used the records as shingles for a barn.
Anyway, based on the sales numbers for the initial pressings alone, the album had reached gold status.
All songs written by Neil Young, unless stated otherwise.
- Goin’ Back
- Comes a Time
- Look Out for My Love
- Lotta Love
- Peace of Mind
- Human Highway
- Already One
- Field of Opportunity
- Motorcycle Mama
- Four Strong Winds (Ian Tyson
Neil Young – guitar, harmonica, vocals
Frank Sampedro – guitar, piano, vocals
Billy Talbot – bass, vocals
Ralph Molina – drums, vocals
Tim Mulligan – saxophone
Gone With the Wind Orchestra:
Nicolette Larson – harmony vocals
Ben Keith – steel guitar
Karl Himmel – drums
Tim Drummond – bass
Spooner Oldham – piano
Rufus Thibodeaux – fiddle
Joe Osborn – bass
Larrie Londin – drums
J.J. Cale – electric guitar
Farrel Morris – percussion
Rita Fey – autoharp
Grant Boatwright, John Christopher, Jerry Shook, Vic Jordan, Steve Gibson, Dale Sellers, Ray Edenton – acoustic guitar
Shelly Kurland, Stephanie Woolf, Marvin Chantry, Roy Christensen, Gary Vanosdale, Carl Goroditzby, George Binkley, Steve Smith, Larry Harvin, Larry Lasson, Carol Walker, Rebecca Lynch, Virginia Christensen, Maryanna Harvin, George Kosmola, Martha McCrory – strings
Triiad Studios, Ft. Lauderdale
Woodland Studios, Nashville
Studio, Broken Arrow Ranch
Wally Heider Recording Studios, Hollywood
Crazy Mama’s, Nashville
Sound Shop, Nashville
After Comes A Time
Like Young sings in Goin’ Back, “I feel like goin’ back, back where there’s nowhere to stay”, Young would change musical direction fairly quickly after Comes A Time. The next album was Rust Never Sleeps, an undisputed highlight in Young’s body of work, but nothing like its predecessor. After Rust Never Sleeps the 1980’s proved to be difficult for Young. It wasn’t until the end of that decade that Young would regain something of the status he once enjoyed.
It would take 14 years for Young to return to the Harvest idiom with the release of the fantasticHarvest Moon in 1992.
What do you think of Comes A Time? Let me know!
Neil Young – After The Goldrush image: afyccim.com
Neil Young – Comes A Time image: neilyoungarchives.com
Neil Young – Comes A Time – Gold record image: ha.com
Neil Young – Comes A Time – Ad image: superseventies.com
Neil Young – Harvest Moon image: neilyoung.warnerbrosrecords.com