|"Rust Never Sleeps", by Neil Young|
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".
"Out of the blue and into the black" was a Vietnam War-era phrase that originally referred to jumping out of the daylight into the darkness of a Vietcong tunnel, and was later generalized to refer to various situations, including death.
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".