This review originally ran in Rolling Stone as part of a series that looked back at classic albums.
Part of the genius of Neil Young’s dark masterpiece Tonight’s the Night is that it could easily have sounded like shit: The soused bar-band stomp of Young’s backing outfit Crazy Horse constantly threatens to careen out of control, and Young sometimes sounds so depressed it’s a wonder he managed to tune his guitar. Recorded in 1973 but not released till 1975, Tonight is Young’s most hauntingly powerful album, full of cracked folkie ballads, ferocious rockers and bleak reveries inspired by the heroin deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. It’s a glorious mess, with Young and Crazy Horse thrashing through the wilderness and giving death the finger. More than most Young albums, Tonight is an uncanny blend of light and dark, delicate and heavy: Even when he mourns the death of the Sixties on the vicious “Roll Another Number,” his folk-schooled sense of melody and the heart-rending empathy in his thin voice shine through. The twin comedowns “Albuquerque” and “Tired Eyes” rank among Young’s most beautiful songs, with slo-mo choruses and cascading harmonies keeping his head above water. “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” plays like a creepy joke. It’s a rollicking live cut from 1970, with Whitten singing about good times not long before they killed him. By 1975, Young had been well recognized as a talented eccentric, but his early-Seventies output had been fairly clean-cut — long on straight-ahead jams and tidy country rock. With Tonight’s the Night, Young was becoming the weirdo genius he is today — a world-weary guitar poet following his whims, dreaming of a distant paradise and steadfastly refusing to go gently into that good night.