Certain Songs #1252: Neil Young with Crazy Horse – “C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown”

Album: Tonight’s The Night
Year: 1970

Recorded at the Fillmore East, New York on March 7, 1970

I almost didn’t write about this song. After all, as you know, I usually like to go chronologically, and not only was this song recorded five years before it was released on Tonight’s The Night, it has since been released in the proper context: the amazing Live at The Fillmore 1970; one of the very first of the Archives-oriented reissues.

Not to mention, Neil doesn’t even really sing lead on this, and even his co-write status is a bit dodgy.

That said: in the context of Tonight’s The Night, an album about grief and guilt over the drug-oriented deaths of Bruce Berry and Danny Whitten, sticking in a Whitten-sung song about scoring drugs has always felt like a master stroke, a weird burst of lightness in between the stark “Borrowed Tune” and the pleading “Mellow My Mind.”

Come on, baby, let’s go downtown
Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go downtown
Come on, baby, let me turn you around
Turn you, turn you, turn you around

Anchored by a repeating guitar riff, an upbeat(ish) tempo over which Whitten & Young sing in unison, the incongruous thing about “C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown” is how joyous it sounds. They’re clearly in the early phase of drug use, where everything is new and bright and fun, and you’re still playing peek-a-boo with addiction.

Compared to its obvious antecedent, The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man,” it’s almost obnoxiously happy. At least Lou Reed had the sense to be nervous and jumpy, especially with all of that John Cale piano and Moe Tucker forcebeat signifying that Lou’s dude has one thing on his mind: scoring heroin.

Meanwhile, the drugs that Whitten is scoring are just part of his plan.

Snake eyes, French fries and I got lots of gas
Full moon and a jumping tune
Now you don’t have to ask
Sure enough, they’ll be selling stuff
When the moon begins to rise
Pretty bad when you’re dealing with the man
And the light shines in your eyes

Right now, that seems to be the major risk: getting busted. They haven’t yet gotten to the stage where the risk of getting busted doesn’t even enter into the calculation. So that’s the big worry.

Pretty bad when you’re dealing with the man
And the light shines in your eyes
Yeah

Pretty bad when you’re dealing with the man
And the light shines in your eyes
Yeah

Pretty bad when you’re dealing with the man
And the light shines in your eyes
Yeah

Pretty bad when you’re dealing with the man
And the light shines in your eyes
Yeah

With Neil right there on the high harmonies and the repeating riff in between each chorus, the ending of “C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown” almost makes you think that Whitten is worried about being busted so much that, in the end, he ain’t even going to go. But, of course, you know he is.

“C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown”

Crazy Horse – “Downtown”

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