Monday, 28 April 2014
Neil Young and Crazy Horse
"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" (1969)
Cinnamon Girl/Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/Round and Round (It Won't Be Long)/Down By The River/The Losing End (When You're On)/Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)/Cowgirl In The Sand
The three Buffalo Springfield albums are superb but they're not the 'real' Neil - they're a combined vision with Stephen Stills as the leader ('but we all are'). Even the first 'Neil Young' album - which is also superb by the way - isn't the 'real' Neil but producer Jack Nietzsche's idea of Neil. 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' is, at last, the 'real' Neil and the first record in his canon that's clearly, unmistakably, him. Typically, it took a band Neil had never met and no one else had heard of, a manager he still wasn't sure of and some terribly radio-unfriendly extended jamming sessions to find his voice. Neil being Neil, we won't get a true follow-up to this album until as late as 1975 and 'Zuma', but few fans would argue that it's here where the Young we know and love falls into place. The vocals are loud and proud, right in the middle of the mix, the backing is slow to the point where everything sounds big and best of all Neil has found his life long instrument soulmate in 'Old Black' Gibson guitar (a sound that's as intense and powerful, yet strangely vulnerable, as Neil himself) . In stark contrast to the finicky detail of 'Neil Young', practically every recording here is a first take - and some are from the rehearsals (the take of 'Round and Round' used here was taped simply to check the tapes were running OK). By retreating back to the raw essence of his music - all the wild fury and desperation - Neil finds not only his vocal 'voice' (which 'fits' these songs better than any more accomplished singer could have managed) but his writing 'voice'. After an un-charting album Reprise knew would be a flop (that's why they made it a 'guinea pig' for a new mixing technique that never quite came off) and a reputation for un-stability (the Buffalo Springfield were together less than three years and yet Neil still managed to leave the group on no less than five occasions!) everyone who heard this album just knew Neil was going to be a 'star' after all. The problem was getting anyone who might be interested to listen...
Crazy Horse may be the least accomplished of the dozens of bands he's worked with over the years, but there's a reason why their name is featured on the sleeve alongside Neil's own - they simply bring more to the table than any of Neil's other bands, especially in this first most brilliant line-up. If you doubt the difference Crazy Horse made to Neil's work then have a listen to the alternate versions of some of this album's songs - 'The Losing End' and the title track (recorded for 'Neil Young' and featuring the same session musician line-up and overdubbing) and 'Cinnamon Girl' (which for a while - a very short while - was a CSNY song). All three are pleasant enough, but without the crunch of raw power or the large open spaces for Neil to fill. Neil met the band after hearing their first album, back when they were still a six-piece band known as 'The Rockets', and falling in love with it. Now, I have that album and it's a pleasant enough psychedelic album that already shows Danny Whitten to be a promising songwriter ('Hole In My Pocket' being the hit the band never had but deserved to get). However if I'd been in Neil's shoes I'd never have worked with the band on the back of the album - while rougher and less lush than 'Neil Young' (what isn't?!) it's clearly after the same kind of polished, thoughtful mood. The only musician who comes close to the 'Crazy Horse' sound is eccentric violinist Bobby Notkoff, whose fiddle shrieks are the Rocket equivalent of 'feedback' (apart from one guest appearance on this album he never plays with the band again once Neil 'poaches' them). Neil clearly heard something in them, however, jamming with The Rockets one night at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in late 1968 and discovering an instant telepathy with the band (the Whisky was immortalised by The Byrds as their hang-out, but it was a key club for the Springfield too, who often supported The Byrds there). Recording an album together seemed natural, but first Neil needed some songs that would work in this new setting.
Illnesses aren't often harbingers of good omens - as a sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome I know that being ill is absolutely the worst state to do anything in, never mind work. And yet it was extremely lucky break that Neil caught a fever sometime round the end of 1968. Holed up in bed and faintly delirious (his temperature was reportedly 103 degrees if you believe Neil's sleeve- notes in his 'Decade' compilation), he hurriedly wrote three songs in quick succession, covering his sick bed in 'scraps of paper'. The three resulting songs: 'Cinnamon Girl' 'Cowgirl In The Sand' and 'Down By The River' are the cornerstones of this album and the early ragged and so real Crazy Horse sound. The latter, especially, was outrageous for the day, a murder taking place before your ears across nine whole minutes of will-he, won't-he? angst punctuated by guitar solos (it sounds like a man with a fever, even before you know the story behind it). Even the parts of the album that weren't written this way sound fevered, slightly deranged and more than a little dangerous and on the edge (Neil's made many a 'real' recording in his career, but none are quite as spookily, unnervingly in-your-face as 'Down By The River' or the guilt-ridden 'Running Dry'). So much for this album being the sound of 'nowhere' - most of these songs are so 'real' Neil could probably have drawn you the co-ordinates had you asked him (as a side comment, this is why I'm so furious with Crazy Horse for making 'Greendale', a fictional soap opera that's anything but real - Neil should have kept it for one of his other bands and kept the horse intact).
If there's a theme on this album, it's one of escape and longing. Neil was still trapped in his difficult first marriage to Susan Avecedo (see 'Neil Young' for more on why this older, almost mother figure was the best thing that could have happened to Neil in the short-term but possibly not in the long-term), but clearly knew it was over, even if he hadn't actually got round to telling his wife that yet. People have wondered whether 'Cinnamon Girl' was a real person - yes she was, but not someone Neil actually knew (described as a 'city girl on Peeling pavement coming to me through Phil Oches' eyes' on 'Decade's typically unhelpful sleevenotes, 'which was hard to explain to my wife'. Cinammon Girl has often been assumed to be folk singer Jean Ray by fans). The fact is Neil didn't care who she was - it's the idea of escape, of being with someone different who might just turn out to be his lifelong soulmate that was important (if Cinnamon Girl is anybody it's surely Pegi, who Neil meets in 1976and marries shortly after).'The Losing End' is treated like a comedy here but at its heart is a tragedy, full of wishing that the wrongdoing girl could treat the narrator just a little bit differently but knowing he'll never be able to tell her. 'Round and Round' with its subtitle 'It Won't Be Long' is about yearning to escape the drudgery of a routine and experience something new. 'Cowgirl In The Sand' may well reflect Susan and Neil badgering each other to get married for much of their relationship and then both realising they made a mistake ('Old enough now to change your name', which in this reading is ironic given that Neil was a 'young 23' when they got married and Susan a worldly wise 31). 'Running Dry' is a regretful, mournful song where Neil feels guilty for having such feelings and imagines a future where he's lost and alone and - worse still - lost the inspiration he needs to write. Most obviously 'Down By The River' terminates a relationship in the most brutal way possible, by murder, though studying the song closely you reckon the narrator would have been able to prove to a jury either that he was provoked or that he was unhinged at the time (The starkest lines in the Neil Young catalogue: 'Down by the river! I shot my baby! Down by the river! Dead! Shot her dead!') Neil longed denied the 'murder' theme, by the way, telling one bemused audience early on that 'it's about blowing your thing with a chick', but recently he's been adding a pre-amble to the song that's even scarier ('One night the darker side came through...he took her down to the water's edge...') No wonder this album caused so many ripples - there are better albums in the Neil Young catalogue but none are this intense.
For all that, though, 'Everybody Knows' is quite a fun album too. Desperate to get away from the 'arty' image of 'Neil Young' (a full-on watercolour painting commissioned by Susan and painted by a friend of hers), Neil turns in a grimy, low quality photograph of himself with his dog 'Art', as if to say 'the closest thing to art this time around is my dog - this time things are real' (Graham Nash once memorably gave a quote to a reviewer who asked him about his ideas on CSNY records in relations to art: 'The only Art I know is a dog on Neil Young's ranch'). My favourite part of the cover art is the back page, which features a close-up not of Neil or Crazy Horse but two trees, in the same grainy texture as the front (No wonder this is 'nowhere' - you can't see the wood for the Neils). Even the inner sleeve is fun, members of Crazy Horse taking it in turns to sit in Neil's throne' chair he kept in his Topanga house. The music has similar moments of hilarity. 'The Losing End' may read like a sad song but it's treated as a comedy hoedown (something Neil won't try again until 'American Stars 'n' Bars') and Neil and Danny are clearly tickled by the incongruous setting ('Alright, brother, hit it!' Danny mischevously retorts going into the solo). Best of all, 'Cinnamon Girl' is a song so sucked up by the bright colourful horizon that stretches beyond it and the fact that - shock horror - the Cinnamon Girl has agreed to a dance that Neil turns in easily his greatest guitar solo and one of the all-time AAA classics (it made #1 on our solos lists in fact): a peal of ringing notes all played on one note, as if the narrator can't get enough of this new good thing in his life. The darkness in this album works as well as it does because it comes in shadow to the brighter parts of the record and it's hard to imagine that we'll be starting the 'doom trilogy' just three albums from here.
The biggest problem with this album is clearly that it's intended as the first course in an ongoing banquet. Neil probably assumed that Crazy Horse were going to be the band he used for the rest of time, but sadly - unbelievably - it's the only record Neil and Danny completed together ('Everyone gets one shot at playing with a musician they're born to play with' Neil once said sadly to biographer McDonaugh 'Danny was my guy'). The pair's guitar interplay is what makes so much of this record great, with Neil sounding 'cloned' but in a better way than the multi-track fest of 'Neil Young' and it's amazing to think that the pair knew each other barely a few months when they recorded this album quickly and on the hop. At times the pair do the musical equivalent of finishing off each other's sentences, criss-crossing each other's lines in a wonderful hazy dance of co-ordination and skill. His replacement Frank Sampedro is another great player, one whose just about reaching the level of interplay the Horse depends on during the past couple of albums and tours - but Neil and Danny shared this bond from the very beginning. Danny's story is a truly sad one (which we chronicled a bit more fully in our review of the first 'Crazy Horse' LP), a sudden drug addiction that came out of nowhere causing him to die in 1973 at the age of just 27. While Danny does play on parts of 'After The Goldrush', this is the one and only record on which you can hear the pair truly fly into the stratosphere together. Had Neil not been persuaded into joining CSNY (and thus cutting Crazy Horse's career off short - albeit temporarily as it turned out), there might have been many more great Crazy Horse albums like this one and we'd be talking about 'Everybody Knows' as the first not-quite-there part in a grand trilogy or quintology rather than a brief shining prospect of what might have been.
That said, Neil really needed to join CSNY. Most fans forget nowadays, when 'Everybody Knows' is regularly listed in 'greatest album' polls, what a slow seller this record was. Put off by the strange-sounding 'Neil Young' and Neil's reputation for ending the Springfield, fans weren't at first won over by the prospect of buying an album that contained just seven songs (two of them a little either side of the ten minute mark). Virtually everybody who owned a copy of 'Everybody Knows' in the pre-CD era bought it in the wake of 'Deja Vu's strong sales when Neil became a household name alongside CSN and not when it came out. Indeed, for a time 'Down By The River' and 'Cowgirl In The Sand' were better known to CSNY fans from live shows across 1970-71 and deservedly so (while not every version of it is great, dig out a CSNY copy of 'Down By The River' sometime - if anything they're even more intense and Stills' telepathy with Young even more heightened, while 'Cowgirl' is revisited as a pretty folk ballad that Neil played during the acoustic solo sets).
Overall, then, 'Everybody Knows' is a pretty astonishing record. There are times when Crazy Horse truly strike nirvana here, concisely and with precision on 'Cinnamon Girl' and with extended ragger glory on 'Down By The River' before breaking the template with the magnificently moody 'Running Dry' and the gorgeous ballad 'Round and Round'. These four songs make for one hell of an album and it's easy to see why so many fans adore this record - however, in truth, the other three songs do let the side down badly. Few Neil Young songs are as empty as 'Everybody Knows', the decision to re-arrange 'The Losing End' into a jokey song loses much of the pathos the song might have had and - most sacrilegious of all to most fans - 'Cowgirl In The Sand' simply isn't interesting enough to last ten minutes. An attempt to recapture the magic of 'Down By The River', the song only gets going right near the end of the recording when it slowly fades and it lacks the cohesion of 'River' (where each extended solo sounds like the wannabe murderer going over his plan before coming to the same conclusion). At three minutes this wouldn't be so much of a problem, but at ten minutes the record is selling itself a little too short for an absolute masterpiece. Still, when this album gets things right it's easily amongst Neil's best work and amongst the greatest releases of its era, doing for guitar-based rock and roll what 'My Kind Of Blue' did for modern jazz: making even hard jamming accessible and something everyone with an interest wanted to copy (and did - part of the beauty of Crazy Horse's records is how simple they are to copy). If ever an album showed that all you needed to play was an idea and a groove, it's 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere', an album that manages to be both simple and multi-layered all at the same time.
Neil Young is especially known for writing songs about happiness. He even wrote the words 'Can't relate to joy, tries to speak and can't begin to say' as part of his 'love song' 'Out On The Weekend' on 'Harvest'. And yet here he is on 'Cinnamon Girl', having the best time of all of his 35 solo studio albums and counting, revelling in the new found love of the narrator and his own new found love with Crazy Horse. A love story from afar, the narrator never quite gets round to admitting his love to a girl he's just met, content to live in the moment with all the exciting possibilities that the future might bring (before she says 'no' and it all goes wrong, probably). As we've seen, Neil's never come right out and said who Cinnamon Girl was, but she does sound as if she's 'real' given Neil's sleeve-notes for decade. In a way, it doesn't matter; like Graham Nash's surprisingly similar song from 1977 'Carried Away', the excitement comes from the anticipation of someone new who might - just might - turn out to be perfect and the person you've always been waiting for. Surrounded by Danny's joyous harmonies, Neil actually sounds like he's having the time of his life on a barer than usual vocal (all his Springfield songs and much of 'Neil Young' is double-tracked). Built on a thrilling guitar riff that's as exotic and tasty as the spice in the title, Neil's new best friend Old Black simply crackles with excitement and energy and Danny Whitten is right there with him, matching him note for note. Ralph Molina accidentally slows down during the opening drum pattern, but no matter - this is a band who have locked into the groove of their life and Crazy Horse are the perfect band for such a simple, snappy song. Lyrically, too, this is Neil at his finest, proving that he can be as concise as the best songwriters just at the time he's finally worked out how to do 'epic' - 'A dreamer of pictures, I run in the night' is particularly strong, adding the small detail that most of the narrator's dreams of the perfect girl are probably imaginary (do the pair even speak or make contact during the course of this song? Yes the narrator writes away home asking for money 'because you see your baby loves to dance' but arguably he's talking about himself here - is he hoping to 'meet' Cinnamon Girl properly at a club?) and not one for staying in one place with one long term girlfriend. There's an intriguing twist that the narrator is a musician, making the song seem all the more autobiographical, although in this song he's a drummer when the song jarringly moves from first person to third ('The drummer relaxes and waits between shows for his Cinnamon Girl' - note the other instruments propped up in the dressing room - 'ten silver saxes, a bass with a bow' - this clearly isn't Crazy Horse's dressing room, it's too refined!) The thrilling solo, in which the guitar solo sticks rigidly to one note but has a great time all the same, is the perfect icing on the cake, Danny's thrilling whirlwind of guitar chords dancing around Neil's rigid one-note peal of ringing notes before the pair dance off in unison. Interestingly 'dancing' seems to have been on Neil's mind across 1969: this song is similar (but superior to) an unreleased track from the period 'Dance Dance Dance'. There couldn't be a better ending for a song that's all about how wonderful life can be and 'Cinnamon Girl's enthusiasm is infectious - if ever you needed a three minute song to cheer you up, 'Cinnamon Girl' is it. A fine start for Crazy Horse - it's hard to believe that they'd only been playing with Neil a matter of weeks at this point - and still one of Neil's greatest 'pop' songs. There's only one small problem with this song: with a name like 'Cinnamon Girl' she just has to be a prototype Spice Girl, which rather ruins the image (yuk!)
'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' is by contrast one of Neil's saddest songs. In a neat twits on 'Cinnamon Girl' this time the narrator is snowed under with work and dreams of going back home where everything's 'cool and breezy'. The song is at one with the acoustic 'whinging' songs Neil goes on to write in early 1970 - most of which remained unreleased till 'Archives' (see 'Bad Fog Of Loneliness' and 'Everybody's Alone' especially) - although it fits the anti-capitalist rants on 'Neil Young' rather well too, with a bustling busy city the height of pointlessness and 'nowhere' in Neil's eyes (it's not a co-incidence that he buys the farm ranch not long after recording this song where he still lives to this day). Crazy Horse sound rather less suited to this song which gives them less space to work, but Danny's 'nagging' harmony vocal and his and Ralph's slightly sarcastic 'la le la' chorus harmonies are a great foil for Neil's rather sour lead vocal. There's a hint of the anti-stardom 'Mr Soul' about this song too, Neil summing up life in the famous Topanga Canyon with the line 'everyone seems to wonder what it's like down here' before putting us right with a Ray Davies-like rant about all the 'day to day running around'. Less distinguished than most of the company it keeps on this album, 'Everybody Knows' has had a surprisingly long run in Neil's concerts over the years, perhaps because Neil remembers the Crazy Horse version so fondly (the live version on the 'Fillmore East' album - part of Neil's 21st century 'archive' releases - is better still, being even more brittle and fed-up.
'Round and Round (It Won't Be Long)' is a gorgeous ballad that shows off the delicate, acoustic side of Neil's writing that will come into it's own across the next two LPs, 'After The Goldrush' and 'Harvest'. Unusually, Neil sings this acoustic song as part of a trio, sharing vocals with Danny and their mutual friend Robin Lane - who may or may not have been more than just a 'friend' to Neil ('Expecting To Fly' is thought to be Neil's less than romantic ode to her). Better yet, all three perform not in some cold dusty studio but Neil's house, gathered round the microphone in rocking chairs to add to the really 'rhythmic' feel of the song (Neil raved about the feel of perhaps his first really intimate recording in interviews of the day, claiming that he can hear Danny rock so far away from the microphone he keeps cutting in and out by the end of the song - although his ears are clearly better than mine as I can't hear it!) Legend has it that this recording is the 'rehearsal' take that Robin wasn't even aware was being recorded and wanted to re-do, although for once Neil's 'the more you think the more you stink' policy comes off - he got just the laidback feel on this song he was after and 'Round and Round' is as great a performance as any on this album, 'Cinnamon Girl' and 'Down By The River' notwithstanding (Danny's falsetto is especially lovely and it's a shame he never gets the chance to sing this angelically again). Lyrically this is one of Neil's more poetic compositions, ruminating on how a couple can be so close and yet never really know what the other is thinking, 'weaving a wall' of lies 'to hem us in'. Many of Neil's lyrics of this period are concerned with 'lying' to yourself (see 'I Believe In You' among others) and this is one of Neil's best, his sympathetic narrator caught in a trap of his own making that just gets worse every time he tries to be honest and escape it. The one true acoustic moment on the album, 'Round and Round' is a delightful change of pace and proof that Neil didn't need electrics to bear his soul.
'Down By The River' is an astonishing song today, never mind in 1969. A nine minute tour de force of screaming guitars and murderous lyrics, it sounds like a Johnny Cash prison song on fast forward. The most feverish of Neil's trio of 'fever' songs written for the album, it veers from icy calm detachment to nearly a nervous breakdown in the choruses. Crazy Horse are born for slow, sultry songs like this one and to my ears never played better than here, reacting to everything Neil does, especially Danny's superb work in the left-hand speaker, prodding and poking Neil's guitar in the right as he soars, howls, screams or stabs his rage out in some of his greatest extended soloing (the moment when the two cross over at 3:45, Danny provoking an especially passionate outburst, is about as thrilling as music gets). Legend has it there's an even longer version of both this song and 'Cowgirl In The Sands' in the vaults but that Neil chopped what he considered the less interesting sections out of the song - even so, it's amazing just how inspired and inventive Crazy Horse are across the ten minutes. Even without the extended musical jamming - so unusual for albums in 1969 - 'Down By The River' would be a milestone song though (it's almost as chilling heard in an acoustic medley with 'The Loner' and 'Cinnamon Girl' on the CD edition of CSNY's live album 'Four Way Street'), surely inspired by Neil's rows with Susan and his fevered imagination running away with itself. These aren't the confessional lyrics of a guilty sinner or cold detached lines of a murderer but a narrator so emotionally confused they don't know when to stop and who knows, even during the murder, that they'll be haunted by it for years to come but can't stop themselves. The staccato notes in the chorus really do sound like gunshots, as if Neil is causing the act he's singing about regretting while it's taking place. As for the verses, the first time Neil sings the first one it sounds earnest, even kind ('Be on my side, I'll be on your side, together we may get away!') but by the time Neil repeats it following five minutes of improvised jamming his cries sound perverse, as if he's beckoning his ex out to shoot her. The hint is that his girlfriend couldn't have been kinder to him and the narrator isn't quite sure why he's doing this - the lines in the chorus note how she 'could' 'drag' him 'over the rainbow' where he doesn't want to go (or, alternatively, that her blowing hot and cold by not really caring whether she does that or could just as easily 'send me away' is what's really caused the narrator to flip). It's the howl of pain in the chorus that you remember most though, surging out of nowhere to cry in staccato sentences every bit as chilling as the guitar gun shots 'Down By the river! I Shot my baby! Down by the river! Dead!' Only twice more, on 'Southern Man' and 'Alabama' is Neil ever quite this graphic again. Perhaps the greatest gift of 'Down By The River', however, is simply the fact that for the first time ever we get to hear Neil's voice largely solo, without overdubbing or harmony vocals (except two lines in the chorus) and its one of his career best, changing faces in the blink of an eye. A remarkable song and an even more remarkable recording, 'Down By The River' still has the power to shock - today only rap music dares bear it's teeth quite this openly.
'The Losing End' begins the second side with another country lament, only this time instead of the music and lyrics mirroring each other they're telling us two very different things. Lyrically this is another of Neil's saddest songs, with Crazy Horse re-enacting the Beatles' 'No Reply' with the tale of a girl who never actually got round to saying goodbye. It's hard not to feel sympathy for the narrator when he finally puts two and two together when his girl doesn't show up and he walks home 'alo-o-o-o-one' as Neil sings it in a painful cry, realising that he's on the 'losing end' of the relationship; that he'll 'never be the same' after a betrayal from one he loves. Musically, however, this song couldn't be more different: a country hoe-down with an upbeat chirpy exterior and Danny in particular sounds like he's at a party, audibly grinning his head off. While admittedly Neil's vocal sounds down in the dumps, his ramshackle guitar solo is upbeat and bouncy and sits in great contrast to the intensity of 'Down By The River'. The result is a lesson in contrasts that's unusual for Neil (although the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones have made whole albums using this theme), leaving the listener unsure as to who exactly is on 'the losing end' (is the narrator secretly glad he's free?) The result is another good song that would be a highlight of many another period album but one that's simply not quite up to the high multi-layered standard of most of the album and might have benefitted from a bit more work (the song has just the one verse that gets repeated once and a chorus that's repeated in perpetuity).
'Running Dry', however, is superb. Another hand-wringing song of guilt, Neil has rarely sounded more vulnerable or fragile than he does here, speaking to us during a long dark night of the soul. The lyrics point again at his fractious relationship with Susan (was this when he finally told her the marriage was off?), the narrator shame-facedly leaving a girl 'with ribbons on' (who sounds far too innocent to be true) and adding how he's 'sorry for the things I've done, I've shamed myself with lies'. It's like an early version of 'Don't Cry' from Neil's later album 'Freedom', only with sobbing violins instead of heavy metal feedback.Yet the song's subtitle - 'Requiem For The Rockets' - points at the song being 'about' Neil 'stealing' Crazy Horse away from their intended path where they might have found success on their own. Fittingly Bobby Notkoff, who'd been the musical 'star' of the group but hadn't joined in with Neil's sessions so far (and sadly never will again), plays some tremendously eerie violin work on this song and replaces the 'gap' where Neil's on-the-edge guitar sound would normally be just as he did on the 'Rockets' lone album. If anything, it's even more intense than the guitar sound on 'Down By The River'. Another recording made unexpectedly (the opening conversation you can hear very quietly is the end of David Brigg's hurried request that the tape engineer start recording), it sounds like it simply poured out of the performers and took even Neil by surprise with its intensity (most of this album was recorded in a single week in snatched moments, in stark contrast to the endless rehearsals and overdubs of 'Neil Young'). Among the most moving recordings in Neil's canon, 'Running Dry' is perhaps a touch on the melodramatic side but truthfully is none the worse for that, with another stunning band performance and Neil really making the most of his unusual, vulnerable voice here. Great as the similar songs of woe on 'Neil Young' were ('The Old Laughing Lady' may be an even better song), 'Running Dry' is so powerfully in-your-face that you can't help but be moved more by them and clearly sets the philosophy for first-takes that will pop up on many a Neil Young album to come (sadly not always this suitably).
'Cowgirl In The Sand' ends the album with another jamming song and at 10:30 was the longest studio song in Neil's catalogue until 1994. There's no doubting the abilities of the players and Neil and Danny again share a telepathy that's almost spooky at time, not to mention the fact that Neil's guitar sound is the envy of many a musician (most guitarists only sound this big by playing really fast - Neil sounds more powerful the slower he plays). Musically, 'Cowgirl' is an impressive song, building up to a huge intensity that even being interrupted by five minutes of solid jamming either side of the second verse can't dispel. Somehow, though, coming after 'Down By The River' this song sounds like an anti-climax. Lyrically there's less reason for the song to wander off down extended guitar solos and despite the slightly longer running time there's actually a lot less ideas being thrown into the mix of each solo than on 'River' (Danny changed ideas on that song every minute or so and somehow stayed in parallel to Neil - here he's too often in Neil's shadow, listening out for the changes and taking cues). Lyrically 'Cowgirl' is less interesting too, returning to the theme of the album of Neil's confused love life (should he stay or should he go?) Each of the three rather different verses in this song may be about different 'cowgirls' or perhaps the same one - frustratingly we never quite know whether the 'idealised' 'woman of my dreams' is the same one that keeps 'playing games' with Neil's narrator. Most interesting of the three verses is the second, where Neil mentions the word 'rust' for the first time (the key theme of 1979 LP 'Rust Never Sleeps' and corresponding stage show) and complains that the relationship didn't go as far as he'd hoped in a neat summation of how active a partner he was in the relationship's 'darker side' ('After all the sin we've had I was hoping that we'd turn bad'). The tut-tutting chorus ('It's the woman in you that wants to play this game!') is sadly borderline sexist now in 2014 and deeply unusual for Neil (yes he wrote a song called 'A Man Needs A Maid' but it's not about that at all, so leave him alone!), although admittedly there are plenty of worse songs on a similar theme from 1969 - most of them by Credence Clearwater Revival. However it's the musical setting, rather than the song that doesn't quite work - for me, this song works rather better as the rather fragile self-questioning song heard in Neil's acoustic sets of the day (and, once again, best heard on the CSNY set 'Four Way Street') where the confusion in Neil's head over his ever-changing woman seems akin to folk tradition; by contrast on this album version all the electric bombast and the pause between verses simply makes the narrator sound pompous and overbearing. On any other album 'Cowgirl' might have been the tour de force of the record - unfortunately after 'Down By The River' that this longest of songs sounds half-baked and by contrast some of the lyrics aren't just ambiguous but unfathomable, a lock without a key. Still, there's a large proportion of fans out there who rate this song over even 'River' and there are some cracking live versions of the song around that leave even this well-played version for dust so maybe it's just me and I've never been lucky/unlucky (delete as appropriate) to enjoy a relationship quite as intense as Neil's and Susan's clearly was.
Overall, then, 'Everybody Knows' is a record that everyone has since come to think of as a 'beginning' for Neil: it's where he discovers the band that's still most often associated with his name and where he finds his 'voice' - both literally thanks to the live vocal takes used for the first time across this record and in a wider, thematic sense. However it's also an album in transition: after the poor sales of the first record Neil needed to make this record in a hurry and on the cheap - in which case finding Crazy Horse right at this moment was one of the luckiest 'accidents' in popular music (able to play without making many mistakes but not so clever they outshine the star, their music is perfect for the late 1960s when everything got simpler and yet everything sounded 'bigger' all at the same time). Neil, too, is in transition, still living in a house in Topanga Canyon even though he already has half an eye on his future rural estate and still in a marriage he knows isn't working out but doesn't yet want to break-up. This land is 'nowhere' indeed, and yet the difference between the confusion in many of the lyrics and the certainty of Crazy Horse's playing makes for a really influential, memorable work and proves that everybody has to be 'somewhere' even when they feel they're 'nowhere'. 'Everybody Knows' is many Neil Young fans' favourite for several reasons: it shows a range within Neil's character and talent that few other albums match and contains examples of many of his greatest ballads as well as the more fiery electric rock songs. It's also the Neil Young album most regularly owned by 'outside' people who consider themselves more general music fans than Neil Young ones, alongside 'Goldrush' and 'Harvest' and often appears third in Neil's list amongst 'greatest album' polls. While I too am mighty fond of this album (especially 'River' and 'Running Dry'), it's not quite my favourite Neil Young album: 'Freedom' shows off an even greater range, 'Tonight's The Night' is an even braver, pioneering work (and inextricably linked with this album seeing as its a 'wake' album for poor Danny Whitten), 'Rust Never Sleeps' and 'After The Goldrush' might just nudge it for consistency and accessible songs and the poor misunderstood, mistreated 'Trans' may well be Neil at his thematic unified completely bonkers best. At only seven songs every single one needs to be a 'classic' for the whole album to be one and 'Cowgirl' 'Losing End' and the title track let the side down a little. Still, for all that, there are four excellent songs here right up there with Neil's best and everyone who considers themselves a fan should own this often intense, always beautiful, sometimes curious work.