Certain Songs #1235: Neil Young with Crazy Horse – “Down By The River”

Album: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Year: 1969

Recorded at Wally Heider Recording Studios, Hollywood, on January 17, 1969

In my imagination, Danny Whitten was as surprised as fuck.

“Down By The River” was the first of the Everybody Knows This is Nowhere songs to be recorded, and sure they had jammed, and sure they had probably even rehearsed at least somewhat, but how could Whitten not have been utterly gobsmacked when Neil Young unleashed the opening salvo of his “Down By The River” guitar solo.

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Certain Songs #1234: Neil Young with Crazy Horse – “Cinnamon Girl”

Album: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Year: 1969

Recorded at Wally Heider Recording Studios, Hollywood, on March 20, 1969

This is where it all begins, isn’t it? Sure, after the Buffalo Springfield broke up, Neil Young holed up with Jack Nitzche, Ry Cooder and made an overwrought and overthought self-titled debut solo album that buried what might have been good songs — only “The Loner” truly shines — with some weird production choices.

Realizing that he was missing the spontaneity and the interplay of working with a band, Neil recruited guitarist Danny Whitten, bassist Billy Talbot & drummer Ralph Molina from a local psychedelic group called The Rockets, and rechristened them Crazy Horse. It was magic: the technical limitations of Talbot & Molina kept the songs simple, while Whitten & Young developed a two-guitar interplay that was less balanced than what he’d previously had with Stephen Stills — Neil was the lead guitarist, no question — but more explosive.

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Certain Songs #1233: Buffalo Springfield – “Mr Soul”

Album: Buffalo Springfield Again
Year: 1967

Recorded at Atlantic Studios, New York City, on January 9, 1967

Hi, and welcome to Certain Songs coverage of Neil Young, who has been making records that I love — or at least like — for a half-century. Seriously: 2016’s Peace Trail is a weirdly good record.

I love Neil for multiple reasons: as a songwriter, he ranks with Bob Dylan and Paul Westerberg; as a guitar player, he quite literally exists in his own universe; he’s always been remarkably prolific and I appreciate that he’s a crank who walks his own path, no matter the circumstance.

Plus, we share a birthday!

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Certain Songs #1232: The Neats – “Pop Cliche”

Album: The Monkey’s Head in the Corner of the Room EP
Year: 1982

It’s one of those weird memories that has lasted over 35 years: it was late summer 1982, and I was hanging out at the house that Kassia shared with three other women on a weekend afternoon, and this song came on the radio that I’d never heard. Even stranger was that the radio wasn’t tuned to KKDJ or a country station — this was before KFSR had gone on the air — but rather one of the other local public radio stations, which was definitely an anomaly for that time and place.

Anyways, the song hit me instantly: a propulsive, churning instrumental that dropped me dead in my tracks. And one thing you might have noticed about Certain Songs is that there aren’t very many instrumentals in the batch: I think the only other one I’ve written about so far are all jazz songs. It’s hard to sing along with an instrumental.

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Certain Songs #1231: Nazareth – “Hair of the Dog”

Album: Hair of the Dog
Year: 1975

In the mid 1970s, Craig, the metal fan — and future accountant — who lived across the street from me had all of the Nazareth albums, and listening to those albums, we came up with something called “The Nazareth Rule.” Unlike a lot of the crazy-ass “rules” I’ve listed over the course of one thousand two hundred and thirty-one Certain Songs posts, “The Nazareth Rule” isn’t really that wide-ranging. In fact, it’s specific to Nazareth themselves, and honestly pretty anachronistic four decades later.

Nevertheless, for posterity’s sake, I’ll record it here, so that future generations of people who enjoyed listening to a Scottish hard rock band — for whatever reason, they never quite rose to the level of “metal” — with raspy, scratchy vocals may understand. It’s simply this: put any Nazareth album on your turntable, then drop the needle in the exact middle of any song on that record, and no matter what song it is, they’ll be in the middle of the guitar solo.

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