Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969): Review

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Produced by David Briggs and Neil Young
Label – Reprise

Disgruntled with the attention to detail of his solo debut just four months previously, Neil Young deliberately cared less about the musical intricacies of the follow up, and focussed on a loose, live and direct approach for “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”. Aided and abetted by a raggedy L.A. bar band called The Rockets (re-named Crazy Horse) it’s casually produced by David Briggs who favoured spontaneity rather than attention to detail and studio gimmickry. The band aesthetic was an important component in the recording process and there is undoubtedly a “collective” feel to the compositions. Danny Whitten jousts with Young’s lead guitar, with bass player Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina providing the sparse backbeat. Molina would confirm the importance of Crazy Horse’s contribution, stating “The Crazy Horse sound came from all four of us. I don’t think Neil would have found that with anyone else. We were all feel players and that’s how we played…with raw emotion.” Whilst bed ridden with a debilitating bout of flu and a temperature that topped at 103 degrees, Young wrote three of the songs that would eventually be released on this long player, including the well known FM radio classic “Cinnamon Girl”. Recorded in a mere 2 weeks at the Wally Heider studio in Hollywood, this immediacy would resonate with Young’s artistic quest to never ponder over the process, and always rely on instinct.

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Leading off with the hard rocking riff of “Cinnamon Girl”, it’s a world away from his previous record as Young introduces his guitar techniques. Whilst never a virtuoso, he complements his limited skills with a raw mix of feedback and distortion, never diluting what is the strongest melody on the record. The title track was a cast off from his debut, originally recorded as a folksy woodwind led ballad. Young elected to re-record the song as a laid back country rocker; however, it’s marred by some ugly vocal harmonies from the band. “Round & Round” is bolstered by the sweet tones of Danny Whitten’s girlfriend, Robin Lane, who adds a therapeutic balance to Young’s wavering lead vocal. The weakest moment is the Nashville inspired “The Losing End”, a down beat country waltz in the traditional style that’s been done thousands of times by far better qualified performers. For aficionados and fans alike, the two songs that close each side of the record represent the previously unimagined growth of Young’s experimental style and a dirtier, grittier sound that was obtained by his (and Whitten’s) duelling guitar jams. Of the two, “Cowgirl In The Sand” remains the stronger, benefitting from a more aggressive and edgy display from the band.

Bizarrely, in the immediate aftermath, Young would turn his back on Crazy Horse to join Crosby, Stills & Nash. Never letting the grass grow under his feet, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” is a snapshot of a future he would revisit in the next decade. It’s like an open letter, letting his audience know what he’s thinking and doing…for the moment. It represents a positive step forward and a promise that greater things were yet to come.

7/10

Track Rating
1 – Cinnamon Girl – (7)
2 – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – (6)
3 – Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long) – (7)
4 – Down By The River – (7)
5 – The Losing End – (5)
6 – Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets) – (6)
7 – Cowgirl In The Sand – (8)

See also…
Neil Young – Living With War (2006): Review

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