Neil Young opened up tired eyes and sent chills up and down the spine standing on the sound of this shaky searching salutation. In the wake of the deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten on November 18, 1972 and roadie Bruce Berry on June 4, 1973, Young recorded a live album of new material called 'Time Fades Away' during the tour for his blockbuster album 'Harvest'. His next project directly dealt with the deaths of his friends. Most of the album was recorded during August and September of 1973 at Studio Instrument Rentals in Hollywood' with The Santa Monica Flyers (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and the Crazy Horse rhythm section of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina). "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown" was recorded live with Crazy Horse at the Fillmore East in New York in March of 1970; and "Lookout Joe" and "Borrowed Tune" laid down at Broken Arrow Ranch in December 1972 and December 1973, respectively. "Lookout Joe" features his 'Harvest' band The Stray Gators (Jack Nitzsche, Tim Drummond, Ben Keith, and Kenny Buttrey) while "Borrowed Tune" is Neil solo. The album was produced by David Briggs and Neil Young with Tim Mulligan.
'Tonight's The Night' credits Neil Young on vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica, and vibes; Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar, vocals, and slide guitar; Nils Lofgren on piano, vocals, and guitar; Danny Whitten on vocals and electric guitar; Jack Nitzsche on electric piano and piano; Billy Talbot and Tim Drummond on bass; Ralph Molina on drums and vocals; Kenny Buttrey on drums; and George Whitsell on vocals. Reprise was not happy with the dark tone of the album and did not want to release it. In the meantime, Young recorded and released 'On The Beach' , but continued to pressure the record company to put out 'Tonight's The Night', which they finally did in June of 1975. The album went to number sixty-one in Canada, forty-eight in the UK, forty-two in Australia, and twenty-five in the US. Along with 'Time Fades Away' and 'On The Beach' , it is part of what is called Young's "Ditch Trilogy".
Young would confess: "The album 'Tonight's the Night' is the best I have ever made. It's recorded live. On one side there are four songs recorded in one take without stopping. In a hall belonging to Studio Instrument Rentals in LA. The owner of the firm, Ken Berry, is the brother of the former roadie Bruce and he let me use that hall. The atmosphere was so relaxed that we began recording immediately. And it's the most honest thing I have ever done. The guys I'm playing with at the moment make me feel relaxed and that's why I can be so honest. But I think the public thinks I'm trying to trick them ... Tonight's the Night is like an OD letter. The whole thing is about life, dope, and death. When we played that music we were all thinking of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry, two close members of our unit lost to junk overdoses. We played Bruce and Danny on their way all through the night ... All of these things happen to people, so I figured it happened to me so I'll write about this, and I'll just write from my heart, and if other people have this happen to them they'll relate to this."
"It's odd. I don't know why, it was a subconscious move, I think Tonight's the Night is the most grand example of that resistance [to success]. It was actually recorded in August of '73 at SIR [LA's Studio Instrument Rentals], where we had the party last night. Everything on Tonight's the Night was recorded and mixed before On the Beach was started, but it was never finished or put into its complete order till later. Everybody said that Harvest was a trip. To me I'd happened to be in the right place at the right time to do a really mellow record that was really open, 'cause that's where my life was at the time. But that was only for a couple of months. If I'd stayed there, I don't know where I'd be right now, if I'd just stayed real mellow. I'm just not that way anymore. I think Harvest was probably the finest record that I've made, but that's really a restricting adjective for me. It's really fine, but that's it."
"Tonight's the Night didn't come out right after it was recorded because it wasn't finished. It just wasn't in the right space, it wasn't in the right order, the concept wasn't right. I had to get the colour right, so it was not so down that it would make people restless. I had to keep jolting every once in a while to get people to wake up so they could be lulled again. It's a very fluid album. The higher you are, the better it is. And it really lives up to that, a lot of records don't … you should listen to it late at night...Those mixes were a little unorthodox. Like it's real music. Sometimes I'd be on mic and sometimes I'd be two feet off it. Sometimes I'd be lookin' around the room and singin' back off mic…we'd have to bring it way back up in the mix to get it. And you can hear the echo in the room. We were all on stage at SIR just playing, with the PA system and everything, just like a live thing.
"I got tired of … I think what was in my mind when I made that record was I just didn't feel like a lonely figure with a guitar or whatever it is that people see me as sometimes. I didn't feel that laid back – I just didn't feel that way. So I thought I'd just forget about all that … wipe it out. Be as aggressive and as abrasive as I could to leave an effect, a long-term effect, that things change radically sometimes, it's good to point that out ... At SIR, when we were playing, and these two cats [Berry and Whitten] who had been a close part of our unit, our force, our energy, were both gone to junk, both of them OD'd. And now we're playing in a place where we're getting together to make up for what is gone and try to make ourselves stronger and continue. Because we thought we had it with Danny Whitten. At least I did. I thought that a combination of people that could be as effective as groups like the Rolling Stones had been … just for rhythm, which I'm really into. I haven't had that rhythm for a while and that's why I haven't been playing my guitar: because without that behind me I won't play. I mean, you can't get free enough. So I've had to play the rhythm myself ever since Danny died. Now I have someone who can play rhythm guitar, a good friend of mine...Nils is a lead player, basically. And when I use Nils – like on Tonight's the Night I used him for piano, and I played piano on a couple of songs and he played guitar. In the songs where he plays guitar he's actually playing the way Bruce Berry played guitar. The thing is I'm talking about him and you can hear him. So Nils just fits in – he plays that hot rock'n'roll-style guitar...It's just that there was a lot of spirit flyin' around when we were doin' it. It was like a tribute to those people, you know? Only the ones we chose no one had really heard of that much, but they meant a lot to us. That's why it gets spooky. 'Cause we were spooked. If you felt that I'm glad because it was there...The first horror record, a horror record …"
'Tonight's The Night'
All songs written by Neil Young except where noted.
1. "Tonight's the Night" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 4:39
2. "Speakin' Out" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 4:56
3. "World on a String" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 2:27
4. "Borrowed Tune" (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Neil Young) 3:26
5. "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown" (live from the 1970 tour with Crazy Horse) Neil Young, Danny Whitten 3:35
6. "Mellow My Mind" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 3:07
1. "Roll Another Number" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 3:02
2. "Albuquerque" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 4:02
3. "New Mama" 2:11
4. "Lookout Joe" (with The Stray Gators) 3:57
5. "Tired Eyes" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 4:38
6. "Tonight's the Night" (with the Santa Monica Flyers) 4:52