Neil Young's 'Rust Never Sleeps:' A '60s Rocker Kicks Ass In '79

By | July 30, 2019

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Left: Cover art for Neil Young's 1979 album 'Rust Never Sleeps.' Right: Young with Dennis Hopper on the set of 'Human Highway,' directed by Dean Stockwell and Neil Young. Sources:; Caterine Milinaire/Sygma via Getty Images

On July 2, 1979, Neil Young and Crazy Horse released Rust Never Sleeps, a meditation on the ephemeral nature and importance of rock and roll. The record came to define the sound of rock for a generation -- and it was recorded by a guy who'd played Woodstock a decade earlier. Blending his folkie past with the exuberant chaos and fuzz of punk, Neil Young blew up his sound and came out on the other side with one of the greatest records of the 20th century.

Recorded during a theatrical tour and taken into a studio where the audience was edited out while tons of overdubs were added, the record thumbed its nose at the concept of a “live” record while showing listeners exactly what Neil Young was capable of. 

'Rust Never Sleeps' Was Young's Mantra On Tour

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The title “Rust Never Sleeps” is something that Young heard while he was hanging out with none other than the post-punk weirdoes Devo. He first saw the band when they played at the Starwood Club in LA in 1977. The band gave a performance that absolutely floored Young, turning him into a fan for life. Even though he didn’t want to devolve (as Devo preached), Young knew that if he wanted to stay relevant he had to tap the band’s energy and do something new.

While working with the group on the film Human Highway, Young overheard the members of Devo saying the phrase “rust never sleeps,” an old slogan for Rustoleum paint. The phrase stuck with Young, suggesting that complacency is a creeping threat to an aging artist's credibility. 

As he put together the tour and the album that followed Young kept the phrase in mind with an intent to shake things up.