Sometimes, a few seconds are all you need to know just what album you’re listening to. Sgt. Pepper’s, for example. Or you know you’re listening to Exile on Main Street when you hear the opening licks of “Rocks Off” (which may be the best first five seconds of any album). And for me, the opening ten distorted guitar notes in “Cinnamon Girl” immediately identifies Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
Released 40 years ago tomorrow, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was only Young’s second solo effort but it introduced a side that would eventually lead to him being called the Godfather of Grunge. Much of that was due to the fact it was Young’s first recorded collaboration with Crazy Horse, one that was seamless.
“Cinnamon Girl” is one of several tunes off the album that would become classics. In opening the LP, it gave a clear indication of the approach of the other songs that would be considered classics, “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Young’s interplay with Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and bassist Billy Talbot produced a rock feel always on the edge of raw, a feel reinforced by heavy reliance on fuzz boxes. Or was it the fact that Young claims to have written all three songs while suffering a 103 degree fever?
Clocking in at just under three minutes, “Cinnamon Girl” actually hit the singles charts. It served as an excellent introduction to the quality of the music on the LP and Young’s now signature “one note” guitar solos. “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” ran nine and ten minutes, respectively, giving Young and Whitten time to explore tunes built on relatively simple framework. Closing side one and side two, respectively, the two songs were replete with driving guitar work. In trading notes and licks, Whitten and Young put on a demonstration to which any guitar-based jam band should pay heed.
Even with the rock edge, these songs had a slight country twang to them. That was to be expected, given the country-folk feel of Young’s debut solo album, released just months before. Young didn’t wholly abandon that style on this LP. “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” and “The Losing End (When You’re On)” are patterned on that style. And “Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)” would have been a perfect fit for HBO’s Deadwood. As we would learn over the years, though, what one would think is straightforward isn’t when it comes to Neil Young.
Given the country flavor to the music, you might think “Cowgirl in the Sand” referred to some woman on the beaches of California. Yet Young told a concert audience in 1971, “This is a song I wrote about the beaches in Spain. I’ve never been to the beaches in Spain. It’s just my idea of what it’s like over there.”
Of course, who really cares where ideas come from when they are expressed so superbly?
I gotta get away from this day-to-day running around
Everybody knows this is nowhere
Title track, Neil Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere