Though the album was often billed as a live album, it was actually overdubbed in the studio. According to Young himself, the method was a way to experiment with different approaches to performing live. In other words, after recording much of the album at San Francisco’s Boarding House during a tour in 1978, overdubs would later be added, including removing as much of the audience noise as possible.
Rust Never Sleeps resulted in being half acoustic and half electric. It contained two different versions of Hey Hey, My My (which Young co-wrote with singer-songwriter Jeff Blackburn), with the acoustic version “Out of the Blue” being the opener, and “Into the Black” closing the album. Other highlights of the album include “Powderfinger”, “Pocahontas”, and “Thrasher”.
Rust Never Sleeps peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts, and sold over a million copies. Upon its release, the album received strong critical acclaim from and Robert Christgau and Rolling Stone, who would be among the publications who would place the album as one of the top of 1979 Along with the critics’ polls in the Village Voice and Pazz and Jop. The album would later be followed with a live album titled Live Rust, recorded during the Rust Never Sleeps tour.
Retrospectively, Rust Never Sleeps continued to do well. It was ranked number 351 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and other publications including Allmusic and Chicago Tribune have also bestowed their highest rankings on the album.