In the pantheon of Neil Young rock anthems, a number of tunes vie for that coveted #1 slot. There are Girls, both Cinnamon and Cowgirl In Sand varieties, as well as a Southern Man. There are Hurricanes, Powderfingers, Words, and Country Homes. You can go for My My, Hey Hey or possibly Hey Hey, My My. And there’s another baker’s dozen that would probably be any other band’s finest moment of ragged glory. But, my favorite of all is unique in the Young pantheon because it’s not available to the average Neil fan. (I’m not trying to be a dick here saying this. It just happens to be out of print because Neil Young is difficult.) Of course, I’m talking about the title song of today’s post, “Don’t Be Denied.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the tune chances are it’s because it’s trapped on Time Fades Away, a wobbling, feisty document of the ill-fated Time Fades Away tour, where Neil defied audience expectations of easily digestible Harvest material. No, no, we’ll have none of that, sir. What audiences got, and what that monster of an album captures wonderfully, was an exercise in nightly demon-purging. And while the album has a rep for being legendary drunk rock, it was really half rock, half folkie introspection, and the album went out-of-print approximately 47 minutes after its release. The reception to the album was not unlike that of the tour: veering between disappointment. Here’s a few reviews unearthed by my crack research team:
“Where’s the ‘Heart Of Gold’? Where’s the ‘Old Man’? Doesn’t Neil know he represents the folk/pop genre???”
–D Geffen, Los Angeles
“I’ll wait for the CSNY reunion, thankyouverymuch. At least there I know I’ll get a little honest music-making.”
–D Crosby, Los Angeles
“Is he drunk? On dope? Totally unprofessional. This is 1973, not Woodstock!”
–D Geffen, Los Angeles
And so on. For all its flaws, acne scars, and tuneless tumult, Time Fades Away is as honest a recording as you’ll hear. “Don’t Be Denied,” in particular, is both one of folk music’s most searing moments and one of rock music’s most honest moments. It’s a no-flinching, no-bullshit account of an innocent made cynic, the dream of becoming a rock star fulfilled and discovering precisely what that means. “A millionaire through a businessman’s eyes.” Fucking brilliant.
Neil Young – Don’t Be Denied
I long thought this would be the perfect song for a kickass rock band to sing at an awards show, preferably unannounced a la Elvis Costello on Saturday Night Live. Of course, that was back when people actually watched awards shows. Tell me this wouldn’t have been perfect for The Replacements circa Don’t Tell A Soul, about the time they were getting invited to awards shows and dealing with the trappings of (relative) fame themselves. Now … I don’t know. Maybe a My Morning Jacket could do this justice, but I don’t think they’re really struggling with fame. They, in fact, seem to enjoy it. That’s the key. The discomfiture with the public eye combined with the narrow-minded expectations of a mass audience drove Neil to write “Don’t Be Denied,” and that reality is what gives the song its balls.
For those of you interested, check out Thrasher’s Wheat, a Neil Young fan site that has started a petition to release Time Fades Away on CD. Interesting that the post to which I’m linking is dated April 2009. Apparently, this petition comes to us from the future, which is both creepy and comforting. They may be spying on us, but at least there is a future. Personally, I think if Neil wants to reissue this album, he should do so on 180 gram vinyl. Remaster it a little bit, include the lyric sheet, and maybe some other LP-sized goodies. This is a recording meant for analog, so if you’re gonna do it, do it right.