Rust Never Sleeps is an album by Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young and American band Crazy Horse. It was released on July 2, 1979, by Reprise Records. Most of the album was recorded live, then overdubbed in the studio. Young used the phrase “rust never sleeps” as a concept for his tour with Crazy Horse to avoid artistic complacency and try more progressive, theatrical approaches to performing live.
The bulk of the album was recorded live at San Francisco’s Boarding House and during the Neil Young/Crazy Horse tour in late 1978, with overdubs added later. Audience noise is removed as much as possible, although it is clearly audible at certain points, most noticeably on the opening and closing songs. The album is half acoustic and half electric, opening and closing with different versions of the same song: “Hey Hey, My My”.
“My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”, “Thrasher” and “Ride My Llama” were recorded live at the Boarding House in early 1978 and all of side two was recorded during the late 1978 tour. Two songs from the album were not recorded live: “Sail Away” was recorded without Crazy Horse during or after the Comes a Time recording sessions, and “Pocahontas” had been recorded solo around 1975.
Young also released a film version of the album under the same title. Later on in 1979, Young and Crazy Horse released the album Live Rust, a compilation of older classics interweaving within the Rust Never Sleeps track list. The title is borrowed from the slogan for Rust-Oleum paint, and was suggested by Mark Mothersbaugh of the new wave band Devo. It is also an aphorism describing Young’s musical self-renewal to avert the threat of irrelevance.
In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau called Rust Never Sleeps Young’s best album yet and said although his melodies are unsurprisingly simple and original, his lyrics are surprisingly and offhandedly complex. “He’s wiser but not wearier”, Christgau wrote, “victor so far over the slow burnout his title warns of”.
Paul Nelson, writing in Rolling Stone magazine, found its first side virtuosic because of how Young transcends the songs’ acoustic settings with his commanding performance and was impressed by its themes of personal escape and exhaustion, the role of rock music, and American violence: “Rust Never Sleeps tells me more about my life, my country and rock & roll than any music I’ve heard in years.”
Rust Never Sleeps was voted the second best album of 1979 in The Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop critics poll. Christgau, the poll’s creator, ranked it second on his own list for the poll, as did fellow critic Greil Marcus. The album also won Rolling Stone magazine’s 1979 critics poll for Album of the Year. In a decade-end list for The Village Voice, Christgau named it the ninth best album of the 1970s.
In 2003, Rust Never Sleeps was ranked number 350 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In a retrospective review, Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune said that the acoustic and electric sides were both astounding.
AllMusic’s William Ruhlmann viewed that Young reinvigorated himself artistically by being imaginative and bold, and in the process created an exemplary album that “encapsulated his many styles on a single disc with great songs—in particular the remarkable ‘Powderfinger’—unlike any he had written before.” Rob Sheffield, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), felt that “Powderfinger”, “Pocahontas”, “Thrasher”, and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” were among Young’s greatest songs.
Ralph Molina (drums, background vocals)
Frank “Poncho” Sampedro (guitar, background vocals)
Billy Talbot (bass, background vocals)
Neil Young (vocals, guitar, harmonica, organ, percussion)
Karl T. Himmel (drums on 05.)
Nicolette Larson (vocals on 05.)
Joe Osborn (bass on 05.)
01. My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) (Young/Blackburn) 3.45
02. Thrasher (Young) 5.38
03. Ride My Llama (Young) 2.29
04. Pocahontas (Young) 3.22
05. Sail Away (Young) 3.46
06. Powderfinger (Young) 5.30
07. Welfare Mothers (Young) 3.48
08. Sedan Delivery (Young) 4.40
09. Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black) (Young/Blackburn) 5.18