#407: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young & Crazy Horse
We’ve seen six Neil albums so far, one with CSNY, and this is the earliest. Neil Young’s solo debut didn’t make a real splash. This one, his sophomore effort and his first with Crazy Horse, did. Crazy to think that he wrote three of the songs in bed with a high fever.
Young has a bit of a reputation for breaking up bands. Young left Buffalo Springfield and CSNY for a variety of reasons, but according to Young, the reason was mainly that “the love [and music] was suffering because the situation wasn’t right” and he “wanted to take the love somewhere else where it would do better.” Such a Neil Young thing to say. And in fairness, there’s no reason to stay in a band that you don’t want to be in.
What impresses me is that Young technically broke up a band that he wasn’t even in, who had only been playing with Young for 8 weeks when this record was recorded. The three members of Crazy Horse were poached from a band called the Rockets, which led to the breakup of the band. There’s even a tribute to them, “Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets).” The most prominent Rocket/Crazy Horse here is Danny Whitten, who sings backup on virtually every tune and co-lead on “Cinnamon Girl,” one of the biggest hits the band ever had. Whitten eventually got hooked on heroin and died, causing Young to write the song “The Needle and the Damage Done.” (Tonight’s the Night is also partially dedicated to him.) “Needle” is one of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar. I was only fourteen and had never met a hard drug user, and certainly didn’t appreciate Neil Young.
But the more I listen to Neil Young, the more I realize why I’ve always been drawn to his music. Young was called “the Godfather of Grunge,” and that title finally clicked for me on this record, and not just because he’s wearing flannel on the cover. From the plain, rough vocal mix on “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” to the extremely simple yet furious guitar solos on the ten-minute jams “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” Young finds a way to make everything sound grimey and dark. So much fuzzy guitar, so much warbly tenor vocals. It’s not as hardcore as a grunge album — too many slow cowpoke-flavored songs (see “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” and “The Losing End (When You’re On)”) — but you can hear the seeds of grunge being planted.
I’m sad that this is the last we’ll see of Neil Young. He’s quickly become one of my favorite artists to see on the RS 500 list. I knew his music before, but doing this deep dive into his discography has helped me truly appreciate him. (He also happens to be my favorite artist that’s not on Spotify, and if anyone wants to get me some NY records for my birthday, I will happily accept.)
Side Note: Wow, CSN was really inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame without Y?? That just seems petty.