Neil Young, “Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero, Part 1)”


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It’s typical for Neil Young to keep his fans guessing from album to album and from song to song. Whether he’s churning out chunky rock anthems with Crazy Horse or crafting delicate acoustic ballads on his own or even following his muse into way-out tangents that can leave even his most ardent fans scratching his heads, Young is nothing if not unpredictable, which, when you think about it, is a comment you can make about a precious few artists who have made the impact he has in rock music.

Sometimes, you get all of Young’s disparate tendencies rolled up into one song. Case in point: “Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero, Pt.1), a sprawling sidewinder of a song found on his 1989 smash album Freedom. The song may have gotten lost in the shuffle as casual fans thrashed away to “Rockin’ In The Free World” from the same album. But “Crime In The City” is one of those hidden gems that gets more fascinating with each listen.

First of all, it’s a musically adventurous track. On the surface, it’s an acoustic number with an itchy beat and a chord pattern reminiscent of “All Along The Watchtower.” Yet it also finds room for some moaning steel guitar that will satiate country-rock diehards, as well as some slinky brass touches courtesy of the Bluenotes, who had accompanied Young on This Note’s For You the previous year.

Give credit to Young for melding all of the seemingly contrary elements together while still leaving enough space for the intriguing lyrics. Shifting perspectives and ironic twists are expertly used to depict a world gone topsy-turvy. As a result, one cop stakes out a bunch of criminals that turn out to be his immediate family. Another is on the take, getting his bribes from a 10-year-old kid. Meanwhile, a record producer has a perfect track but no song to inhabit it, so he orders a cheeseburger and a songwriter “Who’s drifted far from home.”

It’s hard to tell at times if these are different people populating this song or if they’re all just extensions of the songwriter. Young certainly seems to take the reins in the powerful closing verses, mixing wit (“Before I ever learned to talk/I forgot what to say”) with defiance (“I got thrown out of Bible school/For sassin’ back at the preacher.”) A hard-won wisdom grows from his life of chaos (“Although my home has been broken/It’s the best home I ever had”) even as the song ends up a down note with the narrator bemoaning his fate (“Wish I never got old.”)

Young has revisited “Crime In The City” on occasion in live performance, including a scorching electric version with Crazy Horse on Weld and an intense solo performance from his Bridge School Concerts. The title of the song implies that there is a Part 2 lurking somewhere in his infinite vaults. Knowing Neil Young, when we do hear it, we’ll be equal parts surprised and impressed.

“Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero, Part 1)”

All the champs and the heroes
They got a price to pay
They go from sixty to zero
In the split of a hair
They see the face in the window
They feel a shadow out there
They’ve got the places they can go
They’ve got the people who stare
They’ve got to walk in their shoes
They’ve got to see what they see
They’ve got the people around them
Getting too much for free
All the pimps and the dealers
All the food they can eat
All the screamers and squealers
When they walk down the street Yeah.

He’s just a rich old man
He never cared for anyone
He likes to count his possessions
He’s been a miser from penny one
He never cared for his children
Never cared for his wife
Never made anyone happy
That’s the way he lived his life
And one day in the sunshine
He got a bolt from the blue
Unloaded all of his possessions
Sold his investments too
And now he lives with the homeless
Owns 900 hospital beds
He prefers to remain nameless
It’s publicity he dreads. Yeah.

There’s a judge in the city
He goes to work every day
Spends his life in the courthouse
Keeps his perspective that way
But I respect his decision
He’s got a lot on his mind
He’s pretty good with the gavel
A little heavy on the fines
One day there was this minstrel
Who came to court on a charge
That he blew someone’s head off
Because his amp was too large
And the song he was singin’
Was not for love but for cash
Well, the judge waived the charges
He fingered his mustache. Yeah.

Well, there’s a clown in a carnival
He rode a painted horse
He came from somewhere out west
He was very funny of course
But that is not what I noticed
It was the incredible force
With which he held his audience
While he rode on his horse
His jokes were not that off-color
His smile was not that sincere
His show was that not that sensational
Reasons for success were not clear
But he still made big money
One day the circus was his
Now he’s married to the acrobat
And they’re training their kids. Yeah.

Now the jailhouse was empty
All the criminals were gone
The gate was left wide open
And a buck and fawn
Were eating grass in the courtyard
When the warden walked in
And took a rifle from the prison guard
And said to him with a grin
To shoot those deer would be stupid, sir
We already got ’em right here
Why not just lock the gates and keep them
With intimidation and fear?
But the warden pulled the trigger
And those deer hit the ground
He said nobody’ll know the difference
And they both looked around. Yeah.

Well, the cop made the showdown
He was sure he was right
He had all of the lowdown
From the bank heist last night
His best friend was a robber
And his wife was a thief
All the children were murderers
They couldn’t get no relief
The bungalow was surrounded
When a voice loud and clear
Come out with your hands up
Or we’re gonna blow you out of here.
There was a face in the window
The TV cameras rolled
And they cut to the announcer
And the story was told.

The artist looked at the producer
The producer sat back
He said What we have got here
Is a pretty good track
But we don’t have a vocal
And we still don’t have a song
If we could get this thing accomplished
Nothin’ else could go wrong
So he balanced the ashtray
As he picked up the phone
And said, send me a songwriter
Who’s drifted far from home
And make sure that he’s hungry
And make sure he’s alone
And send me a cheeseburger
And a new Rolling Stone

Well, the Sioux and Dakota
They lost all of their land
And now a basketball player
Is trying to lend them a hand
Maybe someday he’ll be president
He’s quite a popular man
But now the chief has reservations
And the white man has plans
There’s opposition in Congress
The bill is up against cash
There’s really no way of predicting
If it will fly or it will crash
But that’s the nature of politics
That’s the name of the game
That’s how it looks in the tepee
Big winds are blowing again.

There’s still crime in the city
Said the cop on the beat,
I don’t know if I can stop it
I feel like meat on the street
They paint my car like a target
I take my orders from fools
Meanwhile some kid blows my head off
Well, I play by their rules
So now I’m doing it my way
I took the law in my own hands

Here I am in the alleyway
A wad of cash in my pants
I get paid by a ten year old
He says he looks up to me
There’s still crime in the city
But it’s good to be free

Now I come from a family
That has a broken home
Sometimes I talk to my daddy
On the telephone
When he says that he loves me
I know that he does
But I wish I could see him
Wish I knew where he was
But that’s the way
all my friends are
Except maybe one or two
Wish I could
see him this weekend
Wish I could walk in his shoes
But now I’m doin’ my own thing
Sometimes I’m good, then I’m bad
Although my home has been broken
It’s the best home I ever had

Well, I keep getting younger
My life’s been funny that way
Before I ever learned to talk
I forgot what to say
I sassed back to my mummy
I sassed back to my teacher
I got thrown out of Sunday School
For throwin’ bibles at the preacher
Then I grew up to be a fireman
I put out every fire in town
Put out everything smoking
But when I put the hose down
The judge sent me to prison
Gave me life without parole
Wish I never put the hose down
Wish I never got old.

Written by Neil Young

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