College Countdown: The First CMJ Album Chart, 7


7. Neil Young, Comes a Time

Comes a Time, released in October of 1978, was the ninth solo release credited to Neil Young. It was at once a departure and a return to form. After a batch of prickly, complex, critically lauded albums through the middle part of the decade, which were largely met with tepid sales, Young returned to the sparse, folk-inflected style that represented his strongest commercial prospects. Harvest, released in 1972, had topped the charts on its way to earning multi-platinum sales, and Comes a Time is obviously its kindred spirit, to the point that it comes across as a quintessential Young release as surely as the earlier hit record. Accordingly, it was his first release to make it into the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart since Harvest. In a way, it cemented a truism of Young’s career. No matter how many stylistic digressions he made from album to album, he could always come back to placing his wavering voice atop a plaintive acoustic guitar and satisfy a strong subset of his fandom.

Even so, the original conception of Comes a Time wasn’t necessarily an automatic cause for celebration for Young’s label, Reprise. Perhaps attuned to the fact that the top of album charts that in 1972 was the home to the likes of Carole King, Don McLean, and was six years later dominated by a very different sort of record, the label asked Young to beef up some of the songs. To that end, he brought in his regular backing band, Crazy Horse, to play on “Look Out for My Love” and “Lotta Love.” Neither of them exactly turned into a scorcher with the supplementary instrumentation. The latter track was even arguably overshadowed by the version Nicolette Larson released as a single almost exactly one month after Young’s album hit stores. (Larson also provided backing vocals on much of Comes a Time.) While Young didn’t get much traction with his two singles from the album, Larson managed to make it into Billboard‘s Top 10 with his song.

Young was closing in on his thirty-third birthday when Comes a Time was released, but he already sounds like an old man. Songs like album opener “Goin’ Back” and “Peace of Mind” are heavy with melancholic reminiscence, better suited to a guy who’s, well, the age Young is now. Of course, that’s been part of his charm from the get-go, that he arrived on the scene as a grizzled songwriting soul. It winds up being another way Comes a Time just makes sense and stands as a vital touchstone in the pantheon of Young’s wildly wavering career. No matter where he went musically (and his next album would be the raw and dark Rust Never Sleeps), this familiar weary journeyman was always in there somewhere.

An Introduction
–26: Darkness on the Edge of Town
–25: Give Thankx
–24: Caravan to Midnight
–23: Next of Kihn
–22: 52nd Street
–21: Crafty Hands
–20: Luxury You Can Afford
–19: Some Girls
–18: Mr. Gone
–17: Stage
–16: Pieces of Eight
–15: Bloody Tourists
–14: Along the Red Ledge
–13: The Bride Stripped Bare
–12: On the Edge
–11: Parallel Lines
–10: More Songs About Buildings and Food
–9: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
–8: Twin Sons of Different Mothers

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