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Neil Young - Down By The River [Remastered]

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Published on May 14, 2014

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", the second album by Neil Young (his first with Crazy Horse), was released 45 years ago today (14 May 1969). It peaked at number 34 on the US Billboard 200 and has been certified a platinum album by the RIAA.

The album contains three songs that became standards in his performance repertoire: "Cinnamon Girl", "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand", all of which were written when Young had a 103 °F (39.5 °C) fever. In 2003, the album was ranked number 208 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Young's final lead vocal track (on the original album) was actually a temporary scratch vocal he sang through the low quality talk-back microphone on the mixing board, with no effects such as reverb. Young liked the stark contrast to the rest of the recording and used the track, becoming one of Young's many innovations.

Upon release, "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" received generally favorable reviews from critics. Bruce Miroff of Rolling Stone wrote a favorable review, describing Young's voice as "perpetually mournful, without being maudlin or pathetic. It hints at a world in which sorrow underlies everything [...] because that world is recognizable to most of us, Young's singing is often strangely moving." Despite stating that "in several respects [the album] falls short of his previous effort" and that "the lyricism of the first album can only be found in faint traces," he went on to state that the album "offers ample rewards. Young's music partially makes up for its lack of grace by its energy and its assurance." Robert Christgau rated the album a B+, stating that "Young is a strange artist and I am not all the way into him yet, but this record is haunting."

However, later reviews have been more positive. William Ruhlmann of music database website Allmusic rated the album five out of five stars. Ruhlmann stated that "released only four months after his first [album], was nearly a total rejection of that polished effort." He noted that "Cinnamon Girl," "Down By The River," and "Cowgirl In The Sand" were "useful as frames on which to hang the extended improvisations Young played with Crazy Horse and to reflect the ominous tone of his singing." He concluded that the album "set a musical pattern Young and his many musical descendants have followed ever since [...] and a lot of contemporary bands were playing music clearly influenced by it." Mark Richardson of Pitchfork Media rated the album 10 out of 10 points, stating that "the opening riff to 'Cinnamon Girl' erases the memory of Neil Young completely in about five seconds" and that "Crazy Horse were loose and sloppy, privileging groove and feeling above all." He also said that "Young sounds comfortable and confident, singing with the versatile voice that has changed remarkably little in the 40 years since" and concluded that it "was a sort of big bang for Young, a dense moment of creative explosion that saw possibilities expanding in every direction."


"Down By The River" is a song composed by Neil Young. Young explained the context of the story in the liner notes of his 1977 anthology album Decade, stating that he wrote "Down By The River", "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" while delirious in bed in Topanga Canyon with a 103 °F (39 °C) fever.

The lyrics are apparently about someone who kills his lover by shooting her. The reason he gives for the killing is that she takes him to emotional heights from which he cannot bear to go on. Young has provided multiple explanations for the lyrics. In an interview with Robert Greenfield in 1970 Young claimed that "there's no real murder in it. It's about blowing your thing with a chick. It's a plea, a desperate cry." Introducing the song in New Orleans on September 27, 1984 Young claimed that it depicts a man "who had a lot of trouble controlling himself" who catches his woman cheating on him, then meets her down by the river and shoots her. A few hours later the sheriff comes to his house and arrests him.

"Down By The River" begins with electric guitars followed by bass guitar and snare drum before the vocals begin. The vocal sections are taken at a slow tempo. There are long instrumental passages after each of the first two refrains, during which Young plays short, staccato notes on his guitar and incorporates distortion.

Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield calls "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" the "key tracks" on "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", calling them "long, violent guitar jams, rambling over the nine-minute mark with no trace of virtuosity at all, just staccato guitar blasts sounding as though Young is parachuting down into the middle of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. In one solo, the same staccato note is repeated 38 times. Allmusic critic Bill Janovitz describes the groove as "lazy, almost funky," stating that this helps partially obscure the "malevolence in its lyric."

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