Neil Young – Comes A Time

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

Here’s a copy of Comes A Time that actually delivers the kind of Tubey Analog Magic you get from the good pressings of his earlier albums.

This superb Demo Disc has been overlooked by the audiophile press for thirty years. The best sounding Neil Young records — just look in our Hot Stamper listings to find them — have Demo Disc sound to beat the band. I defy anyone to play me a better sounding record than Zuma or Gold Rush. Analog doesn’t get any more magical.

On the best copies, all the Demo Disc qualities are here: breathy vocals with solid body; huge amounts of ambience; super-transparency; dynamics; note-like punchy bass — the list goes on and on.

What the best sides of Comes A Time have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1978
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Mellow Magic

There’s one very special quality that this recording has that few of Neil’s others do: lovely female vocal harmonies. Nicolette Larson is all over this record, adding an extra layer of mellow magic to the proceedings. Maybe it’s the woman’s touch that makes this album so relaxed and heartfelt. Neil is completely and utterly in the zone here, so whatever put him in that special state of mind is fine by me. (To quote Mr. Young himself, A Man Needs a Maid.)

As for the music, all of side one is wonderful from start to finish; I wouldn’t change a note. Side two is not as strong musically, but in our experience the sound can be every bit as good if you’ve got the right pressing.

But the right pressing is an elusive commodity. So many copies we played just sounded kind of flat, with dull guitars and hard vocals. Some made Neil sound like he was singing from the back of the studio. Still, others noticeably lacked leading edge transients of any kind, blunting the attack of the various stringed instruments. Believe me, a Neil Young record with dull guitars is not worth playing, owning or writing about. You won’t find one on our site.

What We’re Listening For on Comes A Time

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitars and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The All Music Guide is right on the money with their four and a half star assessment. We also wholeheartedly agree that this is the True Successor to Harvest, and would add that it’s the only Neil Young album to merit that distinction. To be blunt about it, Harvest Moon is no Comes a Time.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Goin’ Back
Comes a Time

If you hear an echo of Cripple Creek Ferry from After the Gold Rush in the lovely strings that form the backdrop for this one, you’re not alone. Since that’s one of our favorite tracks on ATGR, take it for the high praise it surely is. That sweet sensibility is what makes this entire side so special.

Look Out for My Love
Lotta Love
Peace of Mind

Side Two

Human Highway
Already One
Field of Opportunity
Motorcycle Mama
Four Strong Winds

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Six and a half years later, Comes a Time finally was the Neil Young album for the millions of fans who had loved Harvest, an acoustic-based record with country overtones and romantic, autobiographical lyrics, and many of those fans returned to the fold, enough to make Comes a Time Young’s first Top Ten album since Harvest.

He signaled the album’s direction with the leadoff track, “Goin’ Back,” and its retrospective theme augmented with an orchestral backup and the deliberate beat familiar from his number one hit “Heart of Gold.” Of course, Young remained sly about this retrenchment. “I feel like goin’ back,” he sang, but added, “back where there’s nowhere to stay.”

Doubtless he had no intention of staying with this style, but for the length of the album, melodies, love lyrics, lush arrangements, and steel guitar solos dominated, and Young’s vocals were made more accessible by being paired with Nicolette Larson’s harmonies. Larson’s own version of Young’s “Lotta Love,” released shortly after the one heard here, became a Top Ten hit single.

Other highlights included the reflective “Already One,” which treats the unusual subject of the nature of a divorced family, the ironic “Field of Opportunity,” and a cover of Ian Tyson’s folk standard “Four Strong Winds” (a country Top Ten hit for Bobby Bare in 1965).

More on Comes a Time

The Classic Greatest Hits

The song Comes a Time is on the Classic Records 2 LP set of the Greatest Hits on Heavy Vinyl. Do you think it sounds even remotely as good as it does here? Of course it doesn’t.

Lucky

We got into this shootout the way we’ve gotten into so many over the years. A while back I just happened to pick up a clean copy of Comes a Time for cheap at a used record store and figured I’d drop the needle on it and see what happened. What happened was that sweetly Tubey Magical sounds started emanating from the speakers, better sounds than I had ever associated with these songs. That set us off on a buying frenzy, picking up copies wherever we could find them, preparation for the big shootout that was sure to come.

And it did! These superb pressings are the result. Take one home. Then you can put Comes A Time on your list of All Time Best Sounding Rock Records.