Neil Young

Tired Eyes

Composed by Neil Young

Song Review by

This is sort of Neil Young doing a little bit of Lou Reed, the Reed from his early Velvet Underground days. Having gone through the nightmare of some of his best friends dying of drug overdoses, Young wakes up to discover it's not a dream and chooses to send off his compatriots by drinking himself back to numbness with a group of friends and some tequila. Luckily for us, they had some instruments and let the tape roll. What we have on "Tired Eyes" is just such a narrator: in straightforward spoken-word verses, with Reed-like dryness, Young recounts the tale of a drug deal gone awry. Over the weepy pastoral sounds of Ben Keith's pedal steel guitar, a simple Nils Lofgren piano part, and Young's own trademark open-chord electric tones, the song opens with a scene straight out of a Sam Peckinpah film: "Well he shot four men in a cocaine deal/And he left them lying in an open field/Full of old cars with bullet holes in their mirrors/He tried to do his best, but he could not." And then, in an even more raw, wary voice, Young summons up the strength to sing, "Please take my advice/Open up your tired eyes," in three-part harmony with Ralph Molina and Lofgren. The stark, black-and-white cover photo of Tonight's the Night is indicative of the Spartan beauty within the record. One of his least-commercially successful records, it shows Young in baggy white suit against a deep black background, apparently on-stage, with long scraggly hair, sunglasses, and a finger waving in the air, as if physically gesturing along with the portentous message that is a recurring theme in the music. But Young is never didactic or preachy; "Tired Eyes" and the album have a feel of a documentary, a dose of reality from Young's point of view. He was still reeling from the recent deaths of CSNY roadie Bruce Berry, who died soon before the recording of the record, and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who died the year before (1972), both of drug overdoses. Whitten overdosed the night that Young fired him for not having his act together. He appears, ghost-like, on "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown," a live track recorded years before. The sessions for Tonight's the Night, though, were the first time that Young and Crazy Horse had gotten together since his death. The album is an elegy to both men and "Tired Eyes" is admonishment for others, even if it is somewhat ironically offered through a drunken, grieving haze. "Tired Eyes" epitomizes the late-night feel of the whole record. Young has warned in an interview with Cameron Crowe, "If you are going to put on a record at 11 in the morning, don't put on Tonight's the Night. Put on the Doobie Brothers." The song has the feeling of staying up all night, sobering up from being drunk just before dawn, knowing you will fall asleep somewhere in your clothes. Young recalled the recording scenario: "We'd go down to S.I.R. (the studio) about five in the afternoon and start getting high, drinking tequila, and playing pool. About midnight, we'd start playing. And we played Bruce and Danny on their way all through the night. I'm not a junkie and I won't even try it out to check out what it's like. But we all got high enough, right out there on the edge where we felt wide open to the whole mood. It was spooky. I probably feel this album more than anything else I've ever done." Though recorded in 1973, Young held up the release for two years, releasing the record On the Beach in the interim and recording a second record that did not come out. The '70s were a period of remarkable productivity even for the prolific Young, especially given the fact that he spent the better part of two years in bed with a back injury. He had experienced an increasing amount of commercial success both as a member of the supergroup CSNY and as a solo artist, peaking with the best-selling mostly pretty and acoustic Harvest. After that record's success, however, Young chose not to follow up with a sound-alike record; instead he had the freedom to be able to follow a muse that had him produce an avant-garde film and accompanying soundtrack, as well as releasing a live album of new material and a series of raw electric records, Tonight's the Night being one of them, if not the most notable. Contrary to his colleagues in CSNY, who seemed idealistic and intent on doing everything possible to foster the hippie mythology, Young realized early and wrote about the emptiness at best, and the far worse, darker side of the Woodstock dream, the side shown at the Rolling Stones' concert at Altamont in 1969: the violence, drug addiction, and so on. Tonight's the Night is one of the era's hangovers. His disgust and wariness on "Tired Eyes" is palpable.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Tonight's the Night 1975 Reprise / Warner Bros.
Decade 1977 Reprise / Warner Bros.