It took 7 songs to take Neil Young from mediocrity to stardom. Well not quite but it was a big step on his road to becoming a world-renowned artist. Coming of the disappointing release of his “overproduced” self-titled album his solo career was being questioned. Would he have done better staying in Buffalo Springfield" He needed an album to win back his audience and the critics. He needed that raw sound that he loved. He needed a band he control.
His answer came when he stumbled across a local L.A. band called the Rockets. Neil handpicked members out of the band to come with him to cut a new album and they would be his backing band. The less than spectacular rhythm section of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina (on bass and drums respectively) was fronted by the fantastic rhythm guitarist and singer Danny Whitten. This new backing group would be known as Crazyhorse and would go on to record many albums with Neil and solo. They had the raw sound Neil was looking for and they were willing to get bossed around be Neil in the studio.
When it came to recording this new pairing the match was perfect, Neil’s haunting tenor voice and soaring leads over top of Whitten’s intricate guitar work and wailing vocals. The rhythm section provided the thick groove and chugging backbeat for a solid formation for Neil and Danny’s show. In a short period of time in the studio Neil and his men were ready to hit the road with their 7 song LP Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Covering Neil’s arsenal at the time the music ranged from straight out rock music to droning country tunes to soft folk ballads. It was an album not to be forgotten.
The album bursts open as soon as the opening riff of “Cinnamon Girl” comes flying out of the speakers. With it’s imagery fueled lyrics, the hand clapping during the chorus and the much famed “one note solo” this song sets the album off to a flying pace and lets the listener Neil is more at ease than his previous album.
The feel-good album titled track comes next and gives the album more of a country feel. Although the music is far from straight up country the drone of the lead guitar fills, the “take it easy” backing vocals bring back the country feel. Slowing the album down with some folk music “Round and Round (It Won’t Be Long)” is arguably the low point of the album. The soft strumming of acoustic guitars and the harmonizing vocals with friend/girlfriend Robin Lane are nice but at 5:53 this tracks just runs a bit long.
Wrapping up the first side of the album comes one of Neil’s most haunting and mysterious songs he has ever wrote. “Down By the River” is a 9 minute epic that is based on a two chord progression and Neil’s fiery guitar solos ripe with that raunchy tone he gets out of his ’53 Les Paul named “Old Black”. Built on a slow tempo and the bone chilling guitar leads make this song slightly haunting but it’s the vocals that make the song. “Down by the river, I shot my baby. Down By the river……shot her dead….dead”. The lyrics add to the mystic of the song and fit well with the music provided with them.
To kick off the second side Neil provides us with a straight up country tune, “Losing End”. Neil’s moanin’ vocals about being on the losing end of love wail out as the easygoing music floats around him. Following the cheerful sounding “Losing End” a solemn “Running Dry (a Requiem for the Rockets)” follows. Lead by drudging yet extremely high-pitched tone of the violin, played by former Rocket, Bobby Notkoff this song of redemption has the mood of a funeral march. Maybe for the band formerly know as the Rockets" This song may take awhile to get used to but in the end it is a truly stunning track with the guitars providing a perfect blanket for the Notkoff and his fiddle.
Closing of the album features the second epic of the record, “Cow Girl in the Sand”. Again based on just a two chord progression during the jams this song is yet another chance for Neil to flash his skills on the axe. 10 minutes with only three short verses this is truly a guitar work-out for Neil. The surprise performance is by Danny Whitten who manages to find as many chord voicings and rhythm changes as possible to add background support to Neil’s “No need for a time signature” attitude. He also adds a very nice echo to Neil’s falsetto vocals. A very fitting way to end off an album that was his first step to becoming the solo star he is today.
Neil wrote “Cinnamon Girl”, “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” all during one day that he was sick.
The dog on the front cover is named after Neil’s hometown Winnepeg.
Jim Morrison apparently loved this album, especially the song "Down By the River"
Songs To Check Out
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Down By the River
Cowgirl in the Sand