Tonight's the Night (Neil Young album)

Tonight's the Night is the sixth studio album by Canadian / American musician Neil Young, released in June 1975 on Reprise Records. It was recorded in August–September 1973, mostly on August 26[1], but its release was delayed for two years. It peaked at #25 on the Billboard 200.[2] In 2003, the album was ranked number 331[3] on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time; it was ranked 330th in the list's 2012 edition.[4]

Tonight's the Night
Neil Young TTN cover.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 20, 1975
RecordedAugust–September 1973 (mostly on August 26, 1973)
StudioStudio Instrument Rentals, Hollywood, CA except:
- "Come On Baby": live at the Fillmore East, NYC, March 7, 1970;
- "Lookout Joe": Broken Arrow Ranch, December 1972 and
- "Borrowed Tune": Broken Arrow Ranch, December 1973)
GenreBlues rock, country rock
ProducerDavid Briggs and Neil Young
with Tim Mulligan
Elliot Mazer (on "Lookout Joe")
Neil Young chronology
On the Beach
Tonight's the Night


Tonight's the Night is a direct expression of grief. Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and Young's friend and roadie Bruce Berry had both died of drug overdoses in the months before the songs were written. The title track mentions Berry by name, while Whitten's guitar and vocal work highlight "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown"; the latter was recorded live in 1970. The song would later appear, unedited, on a live album from the same concerts, Live at the Fillmore East, with Whitten credited as the sole author.

Fans have long speculated that an alternate version of Tonight's the Night exists. Neil Young's father, Scott Young, wrote of it in his memoir, Neil and Me:

Ten years after the original recording, David Briggs and I talked about Tonight's the Night, on which he had shared the producer credit with Neil. At home a couple of weeks earlier he had come across the original tape, the one that wasn't put out. "I want to tell you, it is a handful. It is unrelenting. There is no relief in it at all. It does not release you for one second. It's like some guy having you by the throat from the first note, and all the way to the end." After all the real smooth stuff Neil had been doing, David felt most critics and others simply failed to read what they should have into Tonight's the Night -- that it was an artist making a giant growth step. Neil came in during this conversation, which was in his living room. When David stopped Neil said, "You've got that original? I thought it was lost. I've never been able to find it. We'll bring it out someday, that original."

(See also Homegrown.)

The band assembled for the album was known as The Santa Monica Flyers. It consisted of Young, Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and the Crazy Horse rhythm section of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina. One track as stated above was taken from recordings of an earlier tour with Crazy Horse, and another from an earlier session with his band for Harvest, The Stray Gators.

Liner notesEdit

Included with the early original vinyl releases of Tonight's the Night is a cryptic message written by Young: "I'm sorry. You don't know these people. This means nothing to you."

On the front of the insert is a letter to a character called "Waterface"; scratched into the run-out grooves on side one is the message "Hello Waterface" while the run-out grooves on side two read "Goodbye Waterface". No explanation is given to this person's identity. In Jimmy McDonough's Shakey, Young says that "Waterface is the person writing the letter. When I read the letter, I'm Waterface. It's just a stupid thing—a suicide note without the suicide."[5] The picture of Roy Orbison in the insert is taken from a bootleg tape Young came across and, feeling bad that Orbison most likely did not know the bootleg existed, printed in the insert for him to see.

The back of the insert has some text superimposed over the credits to Young's On the Beach album, released a year earlier. This text is reportedly the lyrics to a Homegrown-era unreleased song titled "Florida", characterized by McDonough as "a cockamamie spoken-word dream, set to the shrieking accompaniment of either Young or [Ben] Keith drawing a wet finger around the rim of a glass."[5]

When unfolded, a whole side of the insert features a lengthy article printed entirely in Dutch. It is a review of a Tonight's the Night live show by Dutch journalist Constant Meijers for the Dutch rock music magazine Muziekkrant OOR. In 1976 Young said he chose to print it "Because I didn't understand any of it myself, and when someone is so sickened and fucked up as I was then, everything's in Dutch anyway." Meijers later spent a week at Young's ranch in California: during this visit, Young explained that he chose the article after some Dutch girls who were visiting him translated the story and made him aware of the fact "that someone on the other end of the world exactly understood what he was trying to say."

The Reprise Records label on the vinyl copy was printed in black and white rather than the standard orange color, a process Young undertook again on the CD label art for 1994's Sleeps with Angels. Early editions of the sleeve were made on blotter paper.

In Shakey, Young maintains that along with the inserts there was a small package of glitter inside the sleeve that was meant to fall out ("our Bowie statement"), spilling when the listener took the record out. However, neither McDonough nor Young archivist Joel Bernstein have yet found a copy of Tonight's the Night featuring the glitter package.[5]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic     [6]
Christgau's Record GuideA[7]
Rolling Stone     [9]
Rolling Stone Album Guide     [10]

Dave Marsh wrote in the original Rolling Stone review:

The music has a feeling of offhand, first-take crudity matched recently only by Blood on the Tracks, almost as though Young wanted us to miss its ultimate majesty in order to emphasize its ragged edge of desolation. [...] More than any of Young's earlier songs and albums—even the despondent On the Beach and the mordant, rancorous Time Fades AwayTonight's the Night is preoccupied with death and disaster. [...] There is no sense of retreat, no apology, no excuses offered and no quarter given. If anything, these are the old ideas with a new sense of aggressiveness. The jitteriness of the music, its sloppy, unarranged (but decidedly structured) feeling is clearly calculated.[11]

In a follow-up review published in the 1983 edition of The New Rolling Stone Record Guide, Marsh writes:

The record chronicles the post-hippie, post-Vietnam demise of counterculture idealism, and a generation's long, slow trickle down the drain through drugs, violence, and twisted sexuality. This is Young's only conceptually cohesive record, and it's a great one.

Chris Fallon of PopMatters said, "Tonight’s the Night is that one rare record I will never tire of."[12]

Track listingEdit

All songs written by Neil Young, except where noted.

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Backing bandLength
1."Tonight's the Night" The Santa Monica Flyers4:39
2."Speakin' Out" The Santa Monica Flyers4:56
3."World on a String" The Santa Monica Flyers2:27
4."Borrowed Tune"  3:26
5."Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown" (live at the Fillmore East, New York City, Mar. 7, 1970)Neil Young, Danny WhittenCrazy Horse3:35
6."Mellow My Mind" The Santa Monica Flyers3:07
Side two
No.TitleBacking bandLength
1."Roll Another Number (For the Road)"The Santa Monica Flyers3:02
2."Albuquerque"The Santa Monica Flyers4:02
3."New Mama"The Santa Monica Flyers2:11
4."Lookout Joe"The Stray Gators3:57
5."Tired Eyes"The Santa Monica Flyers4:38
6."Tonight's the Night" (Part II)The Santa Monica Flyers4:52


  • Neil Youngvocals; guitar on "World on a String," "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown," "Mellow My Mind," "Roll Another Number," "Albuquerque," "New Mama," "Lookout Joe," and "Tired Eyes"; piano on "Tonight's the Night," "Speakin' Out," and "Borrowed Tune"; harmonica on "World on a String," "Borrowed Tune," and "Mellow My Mind"; vibes on "New Mama"
  • Ben Keithpedal steel guitar, vocal on "Tonight's the Night," "Speakin' Out," "Roll Another Number," "Albuquerque," and "Tired Eyes"; pedal steel guitar on "World on a String" and "Mellow My Mind"; vocal on "New Mama"; slide guitar, vocal on "Lookout Joe"
  • Nils Lofgren – piano on "World on a String," "Mellow My Mind," "Roll Another Number," "Albuquerque," "New Mama," and "Tired Eyes"; vocal on "Roll Another Number," "Albuquerque," and "Tired Eyes"; guitar on "Tonight's the Night," "Speakin' Out"
  • Danny Whitten – vocal, electric guitar on "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown"
  • Jack Nitzscheelectric piano on "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown"; piano on "Lookout Joe"
  • Billy Talbotbass all tracks except "Borrowed Tune," "New Mama," and "Lookout Joe"
  • Tim Drummond – bass on "Lookout Joe"
  • Ralph Molinadrums, vocal all tracks except "Borrowed Tune," "New Mama," and "Lookout Joe"; vocal on "New Mama"
  • Kenny Buttrey – drums on "Lookout Joe"
  • George Whitsell – vocal on "New Mama"


Billboard (United States)[2]

Year Chart Position
1975 Pop Albums 25


  1. ^ Barker, Hugh; Taylor, Yuval (2007-02-17). Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. Norton. p. 211. ISBN 9780393060782. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b Tonight's the Night - Neil Young > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums at AllMusic. Retrieved 8 November 2005.
  3. ^ Levy, Joe; Steven Van Zandt (2006) [2005]. "331 | Tonight's the Night - Neil Young". Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (3rd ed.). London: Turnaround. ISBN 1-932958-61-4. OCLC 70672814. Retrieved 26 February 2006.
  4. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012.
  5. ^ a b c McDonough, Jimmy. Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography. New York: Random House Inc., 2002
  6. ^ Ruhlmann, William. Neil Young: Tonight's the Night > Review at AllMusic. Retrieved 6 November 2005.
  7. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: Y". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 23, 2019 – via
  8. ^ Richardson, Mark (25 June 2016). "Neil Young: Tonight's the Night". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  9. ^ Hoard, Christian (June 16, 2005). "Neil Young: Tonight's the Night > Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 26 July 2006.
  10. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). "Neil Young". The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. London: Fireside. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Portions posted at "Neil Young > Album Guide". Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  11. ^ Marsh, Dave (August 28, 1975). "Neil Young: Tonight's the Night Music Review". Rolling Stone (194). Archived from the original on 4 November 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2005.
  12. ^ Fallon, Chris (23 October 2003). "Neil Young (with Crazy Horse): Tonight's the Night > Review". PopMatters. Retrieved 11 December 2007.

External linksEdit