Neil Young – Everybody knows this is nowhere (1969)

Has your band begun to rust?

This is such a great record. Neil’s second album after leaving Stephen Stills and the rest of the guys in Buffalo Springfield is also the first with Crazy Horse. This is of course the original line-up with Danny Whitten on rhythm guitar, Billy Talbot on the bass and the sluggish Ralph Molina on the drums. After the problems with the mixing of the first album, Neil changed how he recorded. Now it is “live in the studio” and only a few pieces added on later such as backing vocals. This is something he has done ever since. It’s a great decision and it is so typical Neil. I love him for it.

The two standout tracks on the album are “Cowgirl in the sand” and “Down by the river”. Clocking in at around 10 minutes, both are still all these years later two of his very best. Whenever I see him live I long for at least one of these songs. I have been lucky enough to see them live several times.

“Down by the river” was played at the Naval History Park in Stockholm in 1993. It was the last song of the regular set. All of a sudden there was a “light show” in one of the massive speakers. When a roadie climbed up and tried to put the fire out with his bare hands we understood that it was not part of the show! How crazy to expect a light show from Neil to begin with! Neil never do light shows, right. No, he had simply played  “Down by the river” until the speaker burst to flames! As last encore he played “Rockin’ in the free world” with the guys from the warm-up act (Pearl Jam) until all the strings of his guitar were torn apart. Mike, Stone and Jeff just laughed and shook their heads in disbelief mixed with awe…

I also saw Neil play “Down by the river” in Paris 1996 and Stockholm 2009. That show in 2009 at Stora Skuggan was special. It is the only time I saw “Cowgirl in the sand” live. He actually played them both in full versions, and I was in heaven. I have seen Neil live more than twelve times and one more coming up in Hyde Park in London next week.

The album opens with “Cinnamon girl”, one of Neil’s most recognizable songs. It is a simple rocker that he often plays live, more than 800 times actually. I like it, obviously, but it is also a little worn out. The second song is so much fun. “Everybody knows this is nowhere” is warm and welcoming. I love Neil’s singing and the backing vocals by the boys. It would be the perfect song for the local pub. Can you hear it?

“Round and round” is not bad per se, but it is a little boring to me. Clearly the most anonymous track on the album. But it is good in preparing you for the heavy duty ending of side A, “Down by the river”. It’s a song about a man who is angry at his cheating girlfriend. He may or may not have killed her. In 1970 Neil stated that he killed “the relationship” down there by the river. Personally, I think that he actually killed her. Neil has stated that “Down by the river”, “Cinnamon girl” and “Cowgirl in the sand” were written the same day, and that he was home sick with the flu and a high fever. I for sure want Neil to have a high fever more often!

The second side is absolutely beautiful. It leads off with “The losing end” a strange sounding song that may be off-beat. It would have been perfect on “Zuma”. The middle song on the LP side is the enigmatic “Running dry (Requiem for the Rockets)”. Crazy Horse was called The Rockets before turning into Neil’s band. It gives me an unusual feeling. I can’t place it. There are pieces of “Last trip to Tulsa” in it, but it could also live in the realm of “Powderfinger”. It has a desolate aura. Love the violin played by Bobby Notkoff. It is a hidden gem on this album.

“Cowgirl in the sand” is the song that led me to Neil in the first place. It was his solo version of this song on “4 way street” that caught my ears. I was into Crosby, Stills & Nash before Neil. Hard to believe now. The lyrics of the song is one of Neil’s most discussed. Fans are frantically trying to understand. Neil usually doesn’t explain his lyrics (which I applaud). “Cowgirl in the sand”, “Powderfinger” and “Thrasher” are among the most discussed.

In “Cowgirl” Neil is singing about three sides of one woman, or three different women; the cowgirl in the sand, the ruby in the dust and the woman of his dreams. Well, to me it makes sense that Neil is singing about the same woman in all three verses. What do you think?

It’s Americana and a clear vibe of the old West. I love Westerns at the movies, and this song gives me a feeling similar to a film like “The Shooting”.

“Cowgirl in the sand” is one of my all-time favourite songs. You need to play it loud! The intro is a classic. Listen! I’m feeling warm now. The rating of the album is in the end very easy to agree upon.

Rating: 10/10

Side A:

  1. Cinnamon girl
  2. Everybody knows this is nowhere
  3. Round & round (It won’t be long)
  4. Down by the river

Side B:

  1. The losing end (when you’re on)
  2. Running dry (Requiem for the Rockets)
  3. Cowgirl in the sand

Best songs: “Cowgirl in the sand”, “Down by the river”

Released on May 14, 1969

Media: Reissued gatefold 180 grams vinyl, 2009, Official Release Series 02


Cowgirl in the sand

Hello cowgirl in the sand
Is this place at your command
Can I stay here for a while
Can I see your sweet sweet smile
Old enough now to change your name
When so many love you is it the same?
It’s the woman in you that makes you want to play this game

Hello ruby in the dust
Has your band begun to rust
After all the sin we’ve had
I was hopin’ that we turn back
Old enough now to change your name
When so many love you is it the same
It’s the woman in you that makes you want to play this game

Hello woman of my dreams
Is this not the way it seems?
Purple words on a grey background
To be a woman and to be turned down
Old enough now to change your name
When so many love you is it the same
It’s the woman in you that makes you want to play this game

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