5 Essential Tracks from Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Neil Young & Crazy Horse sound like rock and roll should: loud, messy, vulnerable, melodic, with near total disregard for commercial pursuits.

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There’s something to Young’s high tenor and tender voice against walls of feedback and distortion. While most people lose the youthful spirit of kids in a garage, somehow Young and his band have held it for more than half a century. (It must be in the name.)

His first album with Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, was released in 1969. The album features Danny Whitten on guitar and vocals, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Ralph Molina, who also sings harmony. Whitten, consumed by a drug addiction, died in 1972 at 29. He’d already been fired from Crazy Horse.

Nils Lofgren from the E Street Band was an early member and returned after longtime guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro retired. Also, Micah Nelson, Willie’s youngest son, joined Crazy Horse in 2024.

Here are five essential tracks from Neil Young & Crazy Horse to help you navigate 55 years of glorious feedback.

“F*!#in’ Up” from Ragged Glory (1990)

Young returned from his uneven ’80s experimentations with Ragged Glory. (Though certain writers, ahem, will happily defend Trans.) The Godfather of Grunge was back for a new generation of thrift store kids with loud guitars. He took Sonic Youth on tour to support Ragged Glory, and Kim Gordon recalled how Young told her, “It doesn’t matter how good your voice is. It’s about how authentic it sounds.”

Mindless drifter on the road
Carry such an easy load
It’s how you look and how you feel
You must have a heart of steel

“My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” from Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

With references to Johnny Rotten and Elvis Presley, Young writes about the immediacy and youth of rock and roll. John Lennon told Playboy he “hated” the lyric. He said he didn’t appreciate worshiping “dead Sid Vicious or dead James Dean.” Young said the rock and roll spirit doesn’t “look ahead.” It’s about “what’s happening right this second.”

Out of the blue and into the black
They give you this, but you pay for that
And once you’re gone, you can never come back
When you’re out of the blue and into the black

“Cortez the Killer” from Zuma (1975)

While Young and Crazy Horse recorded “Cortez the Killer,” the recording console lost power, causing the loss of an entire verse. Young said, “I never liked that one anyway.” They spliced the tape, and the rest of the edited performance became one of Young’s best-known songs. He recently discovered the missing verse lyrics, which had been lost for 50 years. On a Zoom call with fans, Young said he plans to insert them into upcoming live performances of “Cortez the Killer.” The Zuma Beach recording is raw and vulnerable and feels alive.

He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
And the palace in the sun

“Down by the River” from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

Only Neil Young could write something violent that also sounds like a hymn. It’s a desperate plea, and Young’s stabbing guitar breaks add tension to his tumultuous love story. Most guitarists would ruin this long jam with attempts at virtuosity, but Young isn’t interested in any of that. Also, listen to how Crazy Horse plays an easy, absorbing groove under Young. Again, there’s no funny business with these musicians. Every note of this nine-minute jam is perfect. No one in history has ever played a better one-note guitar solo.

You take my hand, I’ll take your hand
Together we may get away
This much madness is too much sorrow
It’s impossible to make it today

“Cinnamon Girl” from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

Maybe the greatest Drop D guitar riff ever? And listen to the Motown rhythm driving the riff. The vocal harmonies and daydreaming lyrics sound like the spirit of summer. But underneath the beauty is sinister proto-grunge garage rock. Then the bridge echoes Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. In the liner notes for Decade, Young said he wrote this song “for a city girl on peeling pavement coming at me through Phil Ochs’ eyes playing finger cymbals. It was hard to explain to my wife.”

A dreamer of pictures I run in the night
You see us together chasing the moonlight
My cinnamon girl

Ten silver saxes, a bass with a bow
The drummer relaxes and waits between shows
For his cinnamon girl

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Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

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