Category: The Daily Loper

Certain Songs #1241: Neil Young – “Cripple Creek Ferry”

Album: After The Gold Rush
Year: 1970

Recorded in Neil’s home studio in Topanga, on March 17, 1970.

The last song on After The Gold Rush is an admittedly minor song, especially when compared to the title track (which I’ll write about when we get to Live Rust, I promise), or even songs like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “When You Dance, I Can Really Love,” the two singles from the album.

And at 1:34, it’s one of the shortest songs in his entire canon, and one of the shortest songs I’m writing about by anybody, and really is more of a fragment than anything, almost a goof.

And yet, I totally love the melody line, free and easy, with Neil and Nils and Billy and Danny singing together for the last time on any record, a bit of lightness after the mostly dark After The Gold Rush.

Hey, hey
Cripple Creek ferry
Butting through
The overhanging trees
Make way
For the Cripple Creek ferry
The waters going down
It’s a mighty tight

Squeeze

My favorite part is the pause before “squeeze,” just enough of a vocal arrangement to make “Cripple Creek Ferry” slightly less than totally tossed off: someone somewhere — I’ll vote Neil, because of course — had to come up with that pause, and make sure everybody else followed suit, turning “Cripple Creek Ferry” into enough of a song to close one of his most epochal albums.

“Cripple Creek Ferry”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #1240: Neil Young – “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”

Album: After The Gold Rush
Year: 1970

Recorded in Neil’s home studio in Topanga, on March 17, 1970.

Taking advantage of his ability to sound almost hard rock — and most certainly doomy — without any electric instruments, “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” gets a big sound out of stripped-down instrumentation: Ralph Molina on drums, Greg Reeves on bass, Nils Lofgren on piano & Neil on acoustic guitar.

With Molina leading the way playing what I’ll call the “Neil Young beat” — kick-kick-SNARE-space, kick-kick-SNARE-space — the rhythm that artists appropriate when they want to show that he’s been an influence, “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” is close-miked to the point of claustrophobia.

Old man lying by the side of the road
With the lorries rolling by
Blue moon sinking from the weight of the load
And the buildings scrape the sky

Cold wind ripping down the alley at dawn
And the morning paper flies
Dead man lying by the side of the road
With the daylight in his eyes

This, of course, was the scenario that Neil didn’t want to bring you down. And in the next verse, he sings of a blind man who ends up in the back of an ambulance, so it isn’t exactly any more uplifiting.

Near the end of the song, they switch it up; the whole song comes nearly to a complete halt, as Neil sings the chorus:

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around

“Only” castles burning. That’s all. Nothing to see here. I mean beyond the full destruction of symbols of strength. Other than that, it’s all good.

Which of course was why Neil asking you to not to let it bring you down was almost a guarantee that it was definitely going to bring you down, which the song then acknowledges by simply ending, having brought you down sufficiently.

While never a single, “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” has been covered a lot, by artists ranging from Annie Lennox to Victoria Williams to Seal to Guns N’ Roses, who even performed it with Neil at the Bridge School Benefit in 2012.

“Don’t Let It Bring You Down”

“Don’t Let it Bring You Down” live at Massey Hall, Toronto, 1971

“Don’t Let it Bring You Down” live at Farm Aid, 2004

“Don’t Let it Bring You Down” w/ Guns N’ Roses, live at Bridge School Benefit, 2012

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #1239: Neil Young – “Southern Man”

Album: After The Gold Rush
Year: 1970

Recorded in Neil’s home studio in Topanga, on March 19, 1970.

While Everybody Knows This is Nowhere was divided into obviously major songs and, er, not major songs, its follow-up, 1970’s After The Gold Rush, is one of the most consistent albums of Young’s entire career.

Consistent in terms of song quality, that is. Not so much sound, because while After The Gold Rush is mostly acoustic in nature, it’s not entirely acoustic, as Young stuck electric guitars on “When You Dance, I Can Really Love” and tossed out one of his greatest weird guitar solos at the end of “Southern Man.”

The vast majority of After The Gold Rush was recorded by the band that would put out the Crazy Horse debut album the next year. The core trio of Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot & Ralph Molina were augmented by Jack Nitzsche and wonderboy Nils Lofgren.

One of the first things that Neil did was have Nils play piano, an instrument with which he wasn’t completely familiar — shades of what Bob Dylan did with Al Kooper on “Like a Rolling Stone” — and then stuck him way up in the mix.

Of course, at first you really don’t notice the piano, stuck all the way over there in the right speaker, as “Southern Man” almost instantly opens with an all-vocals-on-deck rebel-rousing challenge:

Southern man better keep your head
Don’t forget what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses are burning fast
Southern man

During this opening, and the subsequent verses and choruses, “Southern Man” moves at an almost lackadaisical pace, but during the instrumentals, the tempo shifts up, and suddenly Nils’s piano is driving the rhythm almost effortlessly forward, playing the same riff over and over again — exactly like he would be if he was playing the rhythm guitar he probably would have rather been playing.

But what it does is give Neil tons of space to experiment with his guitar solos, and in fact, his first solo kinda sneaks in slowly, so you don’t even really notice it until it’s in full flight and he’s slamming notes against each other, then stretching them out, and finally leaving giant spaces between whirlpools of notes until they slow down for another round of lyrics.

And then the second solo starts before the rest of the band expects it, so Neil has already started it before the rest of the band remembers that they need to speed back up, and as they do, each note he’s playing gets more and more barbed, razor-sharp, resolving in a series of dissonant bleeps that are slightly out of time with the rest of the song, and take it into its fade.

“Southern Man” wasn’t ever a single, but it definitely got tons of FM airplay for both its topical nature — and thank gods we don’t have to deal with that anymore! — and fantastic instrumental breaks. And of course, it was “Southern Man,” along with its inferior-in-every-aspect sequel, “Alabama,” which riled up Ronnie Van Zant enough to riposte with the immortal “Sweet Home Alabama,” which of course tickled the fuck out of Neil Young, and he and Van Zant eventually became friends and mutual admirers.

“Southern Man”

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performing “Southern Man” live in 1970

Neil w/ Booker T & The MGs performing “Southern Man” live in 1993

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page