Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
"Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)"
Single by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
from the album Rust Never Sleeps
B-side "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)"
Released August 27, 1979
Format 45 RPM Record
Recorded October 22, 1978, The Cow Palace, San Francisco
Genre Rock, proto-grunge
Length 5:18
Label Reprise
Writer(s) Neil Young
Jeff Blackburn
Producer Neil Young
David Briggs
Tim Mulligan

"Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" is a rock song by Neil Young. Combined with its acoustic counterpart "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", it bookends Young's successful 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. Inspired by proto-new wave group Devo, the rise of punk and what Young viewed as his own growing irrelevance, the song today crosses generations, inspiring admirers from punk to grunge and significantly revitalizing Young's then-faltering career. The song is about the alternatives of continuing to produce similar music ("to rust" or — in "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" — "to fade away") or to burn out, as John Lydon of the Sex Pistols might be considered to have done by abandoning his Johnny Rotten persona.

A part of a lyric from the song, "it's better to burn out than to fade away," became infamous in modern rock after being quoted in Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's suicide note. Young later said that he was so shaken that he dedicated his 1994 album Sleeps with Angels to Cobain. Because of Cobain's suicide, in live concerts he now emphasizes the line "once you're gone you can't come back".



The song "Hey, Hey, My, My..." and the title phrase of the album, "rust never sleeps" on which it was featured sprang from Young's encounters with Devo and in particular Mark Mothersbaugh.[1] Devo was asked by Young in 1977 to participate in the creating of his film Human Highway.[2] A scene in the film shows Young playing the song in its entirety with Devo, who clearly want little to do with anything "radio-friendly" (of note is Mothersbaugh changing "Johnny Rotten" to "Johnny Spud"). While the famous line "It's better to burn out than it is to rust" is often credited to Young's friend Jeff Blackburn of The Ducks,[3] its sentiment is also similar to an adage by President Millard Fillmore: "It is better to wear out than to rust out."

Some reviewers viewed Young's career as skidding after the release of American Stars 'N Bars and Comes a Time. With the explosion of punk in 1977, some punks felt that Young and his contemporaries were becoming obsolete. Young worried that they were right. The death of Elvis Presley that same year seemed to sound a death knell for rock, as The Clash gleefully cried, "No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones in 1977!," in the song "1977".[4]

From Young's fear of becoming obsolete sprang an appreciation of the punk ethic, and the song was born, initially an acoustic lament that became "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)". Upon embarking on a tour with his backing band Crazy Horse, the song took on new life in a rock arrangement, punctuated by Young's guitar solos that would go on to inspire players of the proto-grunge scene, including Sonic Youth, The Meat Puppets, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.


Upon its release, Rust Never Sleeps was hailed as a commercial and critical revitalization for Young, and the successful, bizarre tour (featuring oversized amps, road crews dressed as Jawas from the then-new Star Wars film (called Road-eyes), sound technicians in lab coats, audio recordings from Woodstock played from disintegrating tapes, etc.) earned him a new generation of fans and good will, buoyed mainly by "Hey Hey, My My".

As Young's commercial popularity waned in the 1980s, an underground rock movement began to embrace the artist. At a time when glam metal and bubblegum pop saturated commercial airwaves, disaffected bands used Young as a prime example of the perfect blend of noise and melody, braggadocio and vulnerability, folk and hard rock. J Mascis' guitar style, was based on Young's trademark screech captured in "Hey Hey, My My". A collection of Neil Young covers emerged in the late eighties, featuring a veritable who's-who of the pre-Nirvana grunge scene. When Nirvana appeared on the national stage with Nevermind, Cobain and Young took to acknowledging one another in the press.[clarification needed]

"Hey Hey, My My"'s most memorable impact on modern rock comes from the line "It's better to burn out than to fade away" (actually only spoken in full in the acoustic "My My, Hey Hey" and the Human Highway film recording). Kurt Cobain's suicide note ended with the same line, shaking Young and inadvertently cementing his place as the so-called "Godfather of Grunge".

Ex-Beatle John Lennon commented on the message of the song in a 1980 interview with David Sheff from Playboy: [5]

Sheff: You disagree with Neil Young's lyric in Rust Never Sleeps: "It's better to burn out than to fade away..."

Lennon: I hate it. It's better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. If he was talking about burning out like Sid Vicious, forget it. I don't appreciate the worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or dead John Wayne. It's the same thing. Making Sid Vicious a hero, Jim Morrison - it's garbage to me. I worship the people who survive - Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo. They're saying John Wayne conquered cancer - he whipped it like a man. You know, I'm sorry that he died and all that - I'm sorry for his family - but he didn't whip cancer. It whipped him. I don't want Sean worshipping John Wayne or Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean, it's garbage you know. If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn't he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I'll take the living and the healthy.

Young would reply two years later when asked to respond to Lennon's comments:

"The rock'n'roll spirit is not survival. Of course the people who play rock'n'roll should survive. But the essence of the rock'n'roll spirit to me, is that it's better to burn out really bright than to sort of decay off into infinity. Even though if you look at it in a mature way, you'll think, "well, yes ... you should decay off into infinity, and keep going along". Rock'n'roll doesn't look that far ahead. Rock'n'roll is right now. What's happening right this second. Is it bright? Or is it dim because it's waiting for tomorrow - that's what people want to know. And that's why I say that." [6]

The song also had an impact on Britpop artists. Most notably Oasis covered the song on their 2000 world tour, including it on their live album and DVD Familiar to Millions. Not coincidentally, the band acknowledged Cobain's attachment to the song by dedicating it to him when they played it in Seattle on the sixth anniversary of his death.[7] Scottish band Big Country recorded a version, which can be heard on their Under Covers album. It is also used as live-intro to System of a Down's "Kill Rock 'n Roll" in some live performances.

The song still frequently appears on FM radio today, most often on stations formatted for "classic rock". Young's penchant for bookending an album with the same song in different renditions, which had already been utilised once on Tonight's the Night, returned on his second "comeback" album, Freedom, in 1989, with "Rockin' in the Free World".

Young performs the song at nearly every concert in one form or another. It is included on his Greatest Hits.

Def Leppard begins their song "Rock of Ages" with the lines "I got something to say / It's better to burn out than fade away"; the same lines were used in the movie Highlander by The Kurgan.

In the video game Unreal Championship 2 one of Sobeks taunts is "It's better to burn out, than to fade away".

This song was covered by System Of A Down before "Kill Rock´n´Roll" in the Festival of Hurricane in 2005.

The Mexican rock & roll band El Tri covered the song in spanish on the album El Niño Sin Amor in 1986.

The Argentine rock band La Renga covered this song on the album La Esquina del Infinito in 1999. Only the title was sung in English, the remainder of the song was translated into Spanish.

The Finnish glam rock band Negative recorded a cover of the song on their 2004 album Sweet & Deceitful entiltled "My My/Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", which was also released as a single.

Dave Matthews Band included the song on their album Live Trax Vol. 13.

New Zealand band Die! Die! Die! have a song titled "Out of the Blue" in which the repeated singing of the lyrics "Out of the blue, into the black" make up the chorus.

The song is also the title theme of Dennis Hopper's movie Out of the Blue.

The song was included at #93 in Bob Mersereau's book The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

A cover of the song by Battleme appeared as the closing track of the Sons of Anarchy Season 3 finale.

The song was covered by an unidentified group in the film Desperate but Willing.

Nomeansno covered the song for the FUBAR soundtrack.

Cross Canadian Ragweed released "Live & Loud At the Wormy Dog Saloon" in 2001. It contains a live version of "Hey Hey My My".


  1. ^ Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, Jimmy McDonough, 2002, Anchor
  2. ^ Oh Yes, It’s Devo: An Interview with Jerry Casale Brian L. Knight, The Vermont Review, Retrieved December 15, 2007
  3. ^ Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, Jimmy McDonough, 2002, Anchor, pp. 534-535
  4. ^ The Last Gang in Town: The Story and Myth of the Clash, Marcus Gray, 1996, New York: Henry Holt and Company, pp. 187-188
  5. ^ http://hyperrust.org/Rust/TheBeatles.html
  6. ^ http://hyperrust.org/Rust/TheBeatles.html
  7. ^ "Oasis Pay Tribute to Cobain". NME news. 2000-06-04. http://www.nme.com/news/oasis/3035. Retrieved December 15, 2007

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