Certain Songs #1253: Neil Young – “Tired Eyes”

Album: Tonight’s The Night
Year: 1970

Recorded at S.I.R., Hollywood, on August 26, 1973

The heart of Tonight’s The Night, both figuratively and literally, was recorded in a single overnight session in Hollywood: “Tonight’s The Night,” “Mellow My Mind,” “World on a String” “Speakin’ Out” and “Tired Eyes” were all put away that night, along with massive quantities of weed and booze.

The first of those songs to be recorded was “Tired Eyes,” and you can just feel the wasted tone in nearly every single note, every single beat, every single vocal of Neil’s harrowing lyric about a drug deal gone wrong.

Well he shot four men in a cocaine deal
And he left them lying in an open field
Full of old cars with bullet holes in the mirrors
He tried to do his best but he could not

And, in fact, Neil isn’t even singing on the verses, he’s reciting the words like he’s talking to somebody on the phone about, with utter disbelief at how fucked up the whole thing ended up getting.

Well, it wasn’t supposed to go down that way
But they burned his brother, you know
And they left him lying in the driveway
They let him down with nothing
He tried to do his best but he could not

The music surrounding this is floaty and lazy: Billy Talbot & Ralph Molina barely playing a beat, Nils fluttering piano notes every which way, Neil strumming some chords in the background and Ben Keith’s steel guitar providing fog, as Neil heads into the chorus, almost pleading.

Please take my advice
Please take my advice

When he finally sings, abetted by Nils & Ralph, it’s raw and strangled — not quite as raw & strangled as the chorus of “Mellow My Mind” — and yet it’s also appropriate for what he’s trying to get across.

Please take my advice
Open up the tired eyes
Open up the tired eyes

With his voice almost giving out on the word “eyes” each time, the notable thing here is by singing “open up the tired” eyes instead of “open up your tired eyes,” he’s not lecturing us, but including himself in those who need to open up their tired eyes. Also, he’s pretty sure that noone is going to take his advice.

Meanwhile, in the last verse, he switches perspective: he’s not the guy telling the story, but rather the guy hearing the story, in utter disbelief.

Well tell me more, tell me more, tell me more
I mean was he a heavy doper or was he just a loser?
He was a friend of yours
What do you mean, he had bullet holes in his mirrors?
He tried to do his best but he could not

It’s weird: a song like “Tired Eyes” is incredibly heavy, especially on the lyrical end, and Neil and the band he dubbed “The Santa Monica Flyers” play it straight, but because of the wastrel gauze of the music, it never feels so heavy it doesn’t get off of the ground.

“Tired Eyes”

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