Neil Young Discography Part Five - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)
My apologies for the lack of updates over the last few days. I've been rather busy, out lots and doing a multitude of other things, which is no excuse really but alas I know you miss me when i'm gone. Today I'm going to look at Neil Young's second solo LP, and his first unquestionable classic: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It was also the first to feature a group of men that would become his most legendary backing band; Crazy Horse, whose contribution Neil found so important that he credited them on the albums cover. Crazy Horse have contributed to 23 Neil albums, as well as releasing five records on their own, and to most Neil fans they're regarding as one of the great underrated rock bands of all time.
Formerly known as The Rockets, the band had been touring for a number of years and released one self titled LP before Neil took them under his wing and forced them into a touring and recording schedule so tight that they had little choice but to give up their own career, take a new name and for the time being become his full time backing band. Luckily for us, them and Neil, this would prove one of the most timely and rewarding collaborations in rock history, perhaps only nearly equalled by the first run of albums featuring Springsteen and the E Street Band. This time around (five months after his solo record had been released to some acclaim but not great sales) Jack Nitzsche was nowhere to be found, and David Briggs was able to take over as producer (along with Neil), with some stunning naturalistic results.
The album opens with the instant classic that is Cinnamon Girl. Handclaps tied to one of Neil's best riffs soon join up with lyrics that straddle the line between hippie and romantic without much mess, and along the way provide some really choice lines, such as; 'A dreamer of pictures, I run in the night'. My personal first classic moment on the record comes with the pre-solo 'Pa sent me money now, i'm gonna make it somehow' stanza, which is the first time we really get to hear the AMAZING Horse/Neil vocal harmonies that would become a trademark. The song reached number 54 on the Billboard pop charts. Next up is the title track. It's maybe my favourite song on the album, and was used briefly but very nicely by Cameron Crowe in Almost Famous. Starting to bring some more country sounding guitar riffs into proceedings, the lyrics are simple yet affecting and pretty darn understandable by most people. Neil by this point was really defining that lonely troubled troubadour image in far more mature ways than he had before.
I've only very recently come to appreciate Round & Round (It Won't Be Long). Maybe it's because it slows the momentum a bit too much after the first two songs, i'm not sure, but the more I hear it, the better it sounds, but I still think it's a tiny bit out of place amongst the generally more upbeat material on the rest of the record. The backing vocals from Robin Lane work very well, and are far far less unobtrusive than the stuff I was complaining about on the review of the first record. Another slight complaint would maybe be that it last for nearly six minutes with not quite enough variation occurring after the first two or three minutes, but its a very minor complaint about what is otherwise a very lovely piece.
Down By The River, another of the albums instant classics, is nine minutes of utter perfection, and perhaps one of the most influential songs of all time on the guitar work we hear today in most types of alternative and indie rock. It's one of two songs (Cowgirl In The Sand being the other) that Neil wrote in one night when he had a 39.5 degree fever. God. Damn. His. Greatness. So how to describe this song in original terms, considering that there aren't really that many guitar bands that I like that haven't ripped it off a hundred times? Every riff, note, vocal is perfectly placed, the construction is faultless, and it lasts for over nine minutes! Not many bands can pull that sort of thing off, and not with such nuance and intelligence and depth of feeling. It's something truly special. And the live versions are even better (see the recent Live At Fillmore record for some evidence). There are sounds and guitar lines and effects here that Sonic Youth are still mining (bless 'em!).
The Losing End (When You're On) is similar to the title track, if perhaps a little slower paced. It's another of those tracks that may not initially hit you in comparison to the heavier stuff on the record, but after a while it starts to impress itself upon you in rather a nice way. Some lovely vocal harmonies again. Perfect music for a sunny day (which it's trying to be here but not really managing it!)
Running Dry (Requiem for The Rockets) is probably my favourite song on the record that isn't one of the holy four (Cinnamon, Everybody, River, Cowgirl). Its a dirgey folk ballad with some divine echoed guitar and violin from sometimes Rockets member Bobby Notkoss. This song would be absolutely perfect in the hands of Will Oldham or Espers, and i'm really surprised it hasn't been covered more often. Perhaps its due to it being followed by...
Another big one. The album closer. Cowgirl In The Sand is another ten minutes of sheer expansive guitar based majesty. It's very similar in fact to River, both stylistically and actually in terms of the melody and some chord sequences, but to be honest both tracks are so great that it hardly matters that we get another 10 minutes. Think of it a bit like Shine On You Crazy Diamond if you like. My favourite parts? That quiet intro with Talbot's harmonics plinking away in the background. The way the band burst in. The way it takes them a while to get going. That fuzz. The loping bassline. The guitar interplay (fucking divine). Vocal harmonies. 'Can I stay here for a while'. 'Makes you want to PLAY THIS GAME!' AND EVERY OTHER THING.
So what would come next? A pretty damn big collaboration, and an even better album. But more on that when we come to it. Here are some songs. Enjoy the hell out of them!
Neil Young - Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)
Neil Young - Cowgirl in the Sand