Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Neil Young with Crazy Horse - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

In stark contrast to Young's first album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (released about four months later) presents the fully-formed vision of a mature artist who has suddenly come into his own. The reason can be stated in two words: Crazy Horse. Rather than building the songs out of overdubs recorded by session musicians, on Everybody Knows Young is simply jamming with the band, and it's the first album to bear an unmistakable Neil Young sound.

The story of Crazy Horse is really the story of rhythm guitarist Danny Whitten, a tragic figure who weighs heavily in Young's history. His heroin overdose in 1972 would cast a shadow over much of Young's work throughout the 1970s.

The group started out as an L.A. doo-wop quartet called Danny and the Memories, who released one 45 that flopped. The band moved to Frisco, picked up instruments, started taking drugs and jamming. They picked up a few more members and released an obscure album as the Rockets.

When Young heard them, he picked out Whitten, along with rhythm section Ralph Molina and Billy Talbott, to play as his backing band and effectively broke up the Rockets. The track "Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)" from Everybody Knows is essentially his musical apology to the band's other members. I thought about posting that track for that reason, but it's not a great song, and there are plenty of better ones to be had.

Everybody Knows is one of the most revered albums in Young's catalog. The biggest step forward here is that the band allow Young to open up the arrangements and stretch out on guitar. The lengthy solos for which Young would become famous begin here, on "Down By the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand", both of which hover around the ten-minute mark, both of which appear on Decade and even the single-disc Greatest Hits in their entirely, and both of which would become concert staples for years to come.

At the shorter end of the track-length spectrum lies the three-minute pop gem "Cinnamon Girl" with its famous one-note guitar solo, also well-known. But the album's so strong that even with more than half its running time on multiple compilations, there's still lesser known gems to be found. "The Losing End" is one of my favourites on the album, mostly for its combination of a strong power-pop melody with a swinging country beat. Check out the harmony vocals on the chorus as well; I'm fairly certain that's Whitten.

I've also posted a couple of Whitten rarities below. The Memories track is pretty much straightforward doo-wop, and probably sounded retro when it came out. The Rockets track is the opening cut from their lone album, and showcases the same sort of loose, shambling charm Whitten would later bring to a couple of Young-less Crazy Horse LPs.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Neil Young with Crazy Horse - "The Losing End (When You're On)"

Bonus (not from vinyl):

Danny and the Memories - "Can't Help Loving That Girl Of Mine"

The Rockets - "Hole In My Pocket"

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