"Ma send me money now..."
It was with Buffalo Springfield where the embryonic talents of Neil Young were first displayed, then his self-titled debut album revealed Neil Young the solo artist, while it was Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere that introduced Neil Young the guitar icon. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is primarily remembered for being the first album that Young cut with the gloriously ragged Crazy Horse, and for four songs, the rifftastic “Cinnamon Girl” (still one of Young’s best rock songs), the country-rock of the title track, and the two extended guitar freak outs, “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand”. The other three tracks on the album are pleasant, but they don’t hold a candle to the four tracks that make up the main course of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
Something else which rarely gets mentioned about Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, but is vital to its success, was that this was the first Neil Young album produced by the erratic genius that was David Briggs. Unorthodox and argumentative he may have been, but no one could produce prime-period Neil Young and Crazy Horse as well as David Briggs. Over the course of this one album, Crazy Horse establish themselves as Neil Young’s most iconic backing band, blending loose garage rock simplicity and super-tight vocal harmonies. There’s a good reason that Young has kept returning to Crazy Horse down the decades, and that’s because they provide him with a musical platform that allows him to rock harder than he can with any other band.
Despite its vital position in the Neil Young canon, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere isn’t one of the first Neil Young albums I reach for when the mood for one of his albums strikes. There are probably a number of reasons for this, but I’m afraid the main one is the fact that I tend to get a bit bored during Young’s extended guitar epics. Now this may seem like heresy to many Neil Young fans, but I would rather him crack out a brisk rocker like “Cinnamon Girl” or “Welfare Mothers” from Rust Never Sleeps than have to listen to his over-long fret-board workouts. While I enjoy both “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand”, I do feel they could have been improved if Young had managed to wind them up under the six minute mark. Maybe I’m missing the point of these tracks, but there are still times that I have to stop myself yelling ‘Get on with it!’ at the speakers.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was an utterly vital album in Neil Young’s musical development, and heralded his arrival as the kind of guitar hero who wasn’t much into guitar heroics, and was therefore a necessary antidote to the overblown pyrotechnics of Jimi Hendrix. It would take a dalliance with Crosby, Stills & Nash to make Neil Young a household name, but Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was a huge springboard to a fascinating and erratic solo career.