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

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