Wednesday, June 2, 2010

essential: Neil Young - Time Fades Away HDCD

While today's record may seem incongruous from my typical blogpost, in all reality, it's not.

You see, your humble blogger has been a Neil Young fan for over 20 years. And while many of his songs are classic rock anthems, he's not been called the "godfather of grunge" for nothing. He once called Sonic Youth's "Expressway to Yr Skull" the greatest guitar song of all time, he's championed many an indie act via his annual Bridge School Benefit gigs to support the Bridge School (an organization set up by the Youngs in 1986 to help children impaired by severe physical and speech impairments), and he's never seen fit to kowtow to his fans or public.

Case in point is today's featured record, 1973's Time Fades Away.

On the back of the massive blockbuster success of his 1972 acoustic record Harvest ("Heart of Gold" among others), Young put together an all-star band and toured to an audience raptly anticpating recasts of the classic commercial Neil. However.... In his words: "'Heart of Gold' put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch."

Writing an entirely new body of work on the road, the Harvest tour soon saw Neil performing sets of never-before-heard material to audiences expecting "Heart of Gold". And the all-star band backing Young didn't get it - not like Young wanted them to, at least. But Young had an idea, why not make the next record a record of these new songs, played live in front of audiences completely unfamiliar with the material? So he did, releasing the results (assembled from a multitude of live dates) as Time Fades Away.

And he hated it, as did contemporary critics (though you'll not find a critic today who doesn't love the record).

It was a bad period in Neil's career, with the deaths of several musicians in the Young orbit from drugs hanging heavily on his back at the time. The music and the lyrics of this period (the oft-termed "Ditch Trilogy" series of LPs Time Fades Away, Tonight's The Night and On The Beach, recorded in that order from 1973-1974) reflect this entirely.

In an interview from 1987 with the BBC, Young stated that his "least favorite record is Time Fades Away. I think it's the worst record I ever made - but as a documentary of what was happening to me, it was a great record. I was onstage and I was playing all these songs that nobody had heard before, recording them, and I didn't have the right band. It was just an uncomfortable tour. It was supposed to be this big deal - I just had Harvest out, and they booked me into ninety cities. I felt like a product, and I had this band of all-star musicians that couldn't even look at each other. It was a total joke."

And that's the funny thing - it's absolutely NOT a bad record. In fact it's many a fan's favorite Neil LP of all time. Perhaps this is because the record's been out of print for nearly 35 years, and it's the sole remaining "canon" piece from Neil's extensive catalog not to see a CD release (in 2003, 4 of the 6 Neil LPs that up to then had not been on CD were finally issued as HDCD CD's by Reprise, though TFA and 1972's soundtrack LP Journey Through The Past were not).

I think Neil's recollection of this record is colored by the events of the time within his orbit. He's completely dismissing the fantastic songwriting on this record, and while the performances may not be up to par (which is completely fitting with Neil Young records, as any semi-serious fan will know), the record, as a piece, is stunning.

So as mentioned, this record - to this day - has never seen an official CD release anywhere in the world.

That being said........ in 1995, when Reprise Records first seriously considered officially issuing the "Missing 6" mentioned previously on CD, HDCD-encoded "test pressing" CDs of this - and several other at-the-time unavailable Young LPs - circulated. Not test pressings per se, more likely they were review copies or promo releases that escaped Reprise clutches before Young put his official DNR tag on the product. Of course the 1995 campaign ended with no Missing 6 CDs actually being released, but the escaped copies are still out there in the wild, and sound completely gobsmackingly fantastic.

You see, TFA was mixed by computer in 1972, as the songs rolled off the multitrack reels into the mastering house. There was no "master tape" per se, the mixdown was mastered direct to disk. Neil Young collector Jef Michael Piehler of SideStreet Records: "The problem with Time Fades Away is even worse, as it naively stated on LP labels: "This Recording Was Mastered 16-Track Direct To Disc (acetate) by Computer"; the multi-track master tape was recorded/mixed LIVE, leaving little room for remixing the "warts & all" tape hiss, bad notes & crowd noise. To reassemble the album, someone would need to sort through fifty or so ¼" and/or 2" multi-track reels & "a few" cassettes. Finding the right version by date would be easy enough, but at what stage would the mix be at? Raw recording? Truck monitor mix? Mono PA monitor recording? And what about necessary over-dubs ("LA", "Last Dance")? Where are Crosby's vocals? How'd they layer the voices like that? ...impossible."

So how'd they do it in 1995? Well, the record did see release on 8-track and cassette in the 70s, and it's presumed a backup safety reel of the live-as-she-goes computer mixdown was simultaneously made at the same time the LP was mastered, and Young may have used this to master the '95 HDCD encoding. But it's never actually been discussed, so we'll never know until the official release (if that ever comes).

So enjoy. I certainly do, this record, by leaps and bounds, is the most played Neil Young LP in my entire collection (and I've got most of 'em).

1995 CD:

1995 tray card inlay:

- - - - -

Time Fades Away
1973, Reprise Records

this version ripped from a 1995 HDCD-encoded mastering, subsequently withdrawn

*still entirely out-of-print*

01 Time Fades Away
02 Journey Through The Past
03 Yonder Stands The Sinner
04 LA
05 Love In Mind
06 Don't Be Denied
07 The Bridge
08 Last Dance

Get yer FLACs here!


  1. Thanks for this.

    I have an awful lot of NY some of which I like immensely and some of which I like less (I'm not overly fond of his singing on acoustic songs - even though he can convey alot of emotion through his voice, I find that he's best on the "heavier" stuff.)
    Perhaps the reason he doesn't like this record is because of the time at which it was made. Sorry for my English I've spent too long abroad!

  2. Thanks for this! Any chance of putting up the album cover & back inlay in a bigger size?

  3. TFA on CD, surely not?! A great, great album... x

  4. @KiDG: unfortunately I don't have those in a bigger size. I don't actually have this silver HDCD promo myself (I wish, but I don't own a mint or a gold mine), but this IS a lossless rip from a genuine copy.

  5. Thank you very much for this pearl. Time Fades Away was considered bu Uncut Magazine nº1 on a list of 50 Greatest Lost Albums. Of course it is what is is but still it is curious to see it surfacing again after 35 years lost in the vaults. It sure deserves an official release.

  6. This is unbelievable - my old LP sounds pretty good, but this.... Thanks!

  7. Thanks for the files. It's an amazing record, and the HDCD version sounds great.

  8. Thanks for sharing this really great piece of music, i was looking for time fades away in a great quality like this for years! But am I the only one who can't download part 2?

  9. Hi,
    Just here to say 'good job'.. you're always so detailed in what you do here..
    wanting an advice too...
    As I can see your remasterings sound so good about dynamic, I'd like to know:
    - what kind of software do you use to rip CDs?
    - what encoder do you use (LAME or something else? and which version to get the best sounds and results?)
    - what do you use to remaster CDs and tapes?

    Again... as not so long ago you asked about what topic you should lead the blog to.. I think a good idea could be teaching REMASTERING in several lessons so that everyone could spread good remastering all over the net...
    what can you say about it?

    Fab from Italy
    Your JD - Paradiso Gig Remastering was GREAT!

  10. @bibit: thanks for the kind words. If only audio engineering was so simple as a couple blog postings. I developed my skills over years and years, doing a lot of research, talking with colleagues, and most importantly trusting my ears.

    What do I use? EAC to extract from CD, LAME if posting MP3 and FLAC if lossless, and usually Adobe Audition for the editing.

    It's really all about trusting your ears and respecting the music.

  11. Thank you very much, your blog is great!

  12. Many thanks for the FLAC versions of these songs. I've cherished a vinyl copy of this record for 30+ years. It's been played nearly to death. I even ripped the songs to MP3 about 10 years ago on my old Mac 7600. I can assure that these tracks will receive heavy rotation once the DL is done. If this was available on CD, it would be in my collection.

    Also, thanks for the background on the recording. Some of the stuff was on Thrasher's Wheat, but not the detail about the recordings themselves. I had no clue there were so many parts to each track.


  13. not my favourite by Mr. Young, but certainly in the top five. i bought it when it came out and played the ass off it.
    coming on the heels of Harvest, it's one of those releases that spoke to his credibility as an artist to me, then and now. one can only imagine the pressure to produce another soft acoustic album, and he comes out with this harsh, brutally honest recording?...

    what's not to love?


  14. Thanks so much.
    I found some hi-res scans here:

  15. Very nice, that's fan made though. wasn't AOL Time Warner until 2001 and this HDCD is from 1995 when it was just Time Warner.

  16. The artwork is clearly fan made since it's copying the style of the type on the HDCD reissue of On the Beach from 2003. It's even got that same logo on the lower right corner. Works for me till someone finds the original artwork in high quality.

  17. Don't think it's fan made. I think they were about to release the others as well, already then, hence the same layout.

  18. Thank you SO much for posting this. I love it, and so happy to have a digital copy that's on par with my well-worn vinyl.

    By the way, I notice the FLACs are 16-bit files. Aren't HDCD files, in essence, 20-bit files ( I know programs like dbPoweramp will rip the 16-bit HDCD files as 24-bit wav files.

    Can these files be written to a disc as HDCD? That is, will it be an HDCD-encoded disc then? Or will it play like an HDCD when played in a disc player that doesn't have the HDCD chip? Thanks!

  19. @Paul: Could be. I did not rip it myself as I do not have an original HDCD of this, and do not have an HDCD player, so I have no idea how it will burn besides redbook.

  20. Many thanks for this fantastic album and olso for "FLAC"...

  21. I have one of the few original "silver" Japan Promo HDCD Pressings. It is AWESOME.!!! Neil is VERY strange when it comes to his refusal to release this on cd...I dont even think that NYAII will have it. I believe it will have some live stuff maybe from the era, but I just dont think he will ever release this cd. Too bad, because along with On The Beach, it is his BEST IMHO. I am glad I found this pristine HDCD Original, silver pressing though. I just wish he would release it for everyone else.

  22. Just a quick FYI from this 35 year long Neil Young Fan. Japan released SUPERB HDCD "remasters" of Neil Young (ST) through Reactor. The only cd missing of course, was Time Fades Away. In 2007 though, Neil was once again, due to the popularity of these Japanese releases, considering releasing Time Fades Away once again. He approved a handful of "Promotional only" silver, HDCD masters, to be sent to key market heads. These of course became INSTANT mega-collectibles. I happened to "steal" one on E-bay, for 60.00. The sound is EXACTLY like the other Japanese HDCD's, as well as the first 4 NY releases, as well as On the Beach, American Stars and Bars, Hawks and Doves, and Reactor. Journey Through the Past, Tonights the Night, Zuma, Comes a Time, Rust never Sleeps, Live Rust, as well as Stills Young Band, Long May You Run, are ALL REMARKABLE HDCD "Japanese Remasters". They are MEGA rare now, but keep an eye out on E-bay and Amazon. Copies periodically pop up, and will run you between 30 and 80 dollars U.S. usually. I HIGHLY doubt Neil will release these at all in the States, as the other 8 mentioned above, did not sell well in the U.S. market, and many can be found in the cut out bins now, which is VERY SAD. Along with the Eagles, Bad company Neil Youngs original cd's were in the MOST dire need of remastering. His U.S. fans should have made a bee line to these, JACKED up sales, which may have made him re-think releasing the other 6 mentioned above, though I still doubt he will EVER release Time Fades Away. Good hunting.!!!

  23. I can't get the files from the download site. Are there any technical problems?

  24. Yes, there is a technical problem. Being a techie, my expert analysis of this technical problem is there are no files to download. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

  25. Any chance of a re-up? Them files is gone! Did Neil hack in & remove 'em?

  26. Been searching for years, haven't been able to track this down. Please contact me or re-up, please!! :)

    1. I can re-up it if you like You have to give me your email addresses all of you.

    2. hi, I would be interested in a re-up, many thanks !

  27. Just checking to see if you're still there. It's