Twenty Greatest Classic Rock Albums: Rust Never Sleeps
May 12, 2013

Twenty Greatest Classic Rock Albums: Rust Never Sleeps

I will be counting down the twenty greatest classic rock albums of all time using the greatest scientific and technical methods available: my opinion. It is important to define what I mean by classic rock. I am taking albums that were created during the 60’s on up to the 80’s. And it will only be rock, not heavy metal, new wave, etc; just pure rock.

Number 19 on the list is Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s epic 1979 album, Rust Never Sleeps. The album, primarily recorded live, would become certified platinum and was Young’s revival in what seemed a time where his career was floundering. The punk boom began in 1977 and, with the Beatles extinct, along with the death of Elvis, more and more people were going punk. Neil Young described that time period as him becoming “irrelevant” and he started admiring the punk scene, thus Hey Hey, My My was born.

All the tracks on the album, of which the title was suggested by Mark Mothersbaugh of the band Devo, are good and catchy; but the song Hey Hey, My My would become iconic. Half the album is acoustic while the other half is electric. The acoustic version, My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) opens the album, and the rock version, Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) closes the album; both versions would become legendary.

I love the acoustic version as it takes on a whole new feel, one of almost nostalgia. The electric version I listen to at least once a week, and it gives a feeling of freedom, a tribute to the power of rock n’ roll, and I get the overwhelming urge to head bang or thrash my imaginary hair around that, believe it or not, I used to possess.

Neil Young also gives us two legendary solos in the song and shows he can thrash on the guitar with the best of them. Paying homage to the Sex Pistols, part of the lyrics include; “This is the story of Johnny Rotten”, followed by what would become the controversial lyric, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

In the acoustic version, the line, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” (in the electric version it’s “…burn out, rust never sleeps”) created controversy a couple of times in music history. The first time would be when John Lennon took issue with the lyric, stating in a 1980 interview with David Sheff from Playboy; “I hate it. It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. If he was talking about burning out like Sid Vicious, forget it…”

Two years later, hey the man was busy, Young stated; “The rock n’ roll spirit is not survival. Of course the people who play rock n’ roll should survive. But the essence of the rock n’ roll spirit to me, is that it’s better to burn out really bright than to sort of decay off into infinity…Rock n’ roll doesn’t look that far ahead. Rock n’ roll is right now. What’s happening right this second? Is it bright? Or is it dim because it’s waiting for tomorrow – that’s what people want to know. And that’s why I say that.”

The second bout of controversy is when Kurt Cobain closed his suicide letter with that same quote. Neil Young was highly affected by this and since then, during live performances of the song, he puts emphasis on the line, “…once you’re gone you can’t come back.” It was also at that time that Young was dubbed “The Godfather of Grunge.”

Parallel to the success of Rust Never Sleeps was the uncanny tour that featured oversized amps, a giant microphone, Jawas popping up on stage (major props to Neil for implementing Star Wars on the tour), audio recordings from Woodstock played in-between some of the songs, men in white lab coats, some announcer talking about rust-o-vision (3-D glasses were given to attending audience members), and a keyboardist was dressed as some sort of disco-wizard. At some point during the concert it can be assumed that the viewer has to ask themselves, wtf?

The concert, just like the album, starts soft, ends heavy, and listeners and viewers walked away knowing, rock and roll will never die.

The following video is the version they used on the album and was recorded at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1978, and yes, you get to see the Jawas. Read number 20 on the list by clicking here.

Image Credit: Reprise Records

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