Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Neil Young)

Music

Danny Whitten's six best moments with Neil Young

It’s safe to say that no one has had more of an effect on the career of Neil Young than the late Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. I would wager that Whitten, in life and death, had such a transformative effect on Young, that without him, many of Young’s best works wouldn’t have come to fruition.

It is a creative partnership that started back in 1967. Whilst still a member of Buffalo Springfield, Young met Whitten, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot who were performing in the LA band The Rockets.

After the release of his debut album in 1969, Young began jamming with the trio. He expressed an interest in recording with them, and the group agreed, on the proviso that they could carry on playing with The Rockets simultaneously. Young complied at first, but shortly after, he arranged a rehearsal schedule that made the trio’s hopes of continuing with The Rockets impossible. Thus, the dye was cast. After briefly going by ‘War Babies’, they soon changed their name to Crazy Horse.

The sessions eventually developed material that would become Young’s iconic second album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Whitten provided the album with some of its most important moments, including singing alongside Young on ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and participating in the raucous guitar battles of ‘Down by the River’ and ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’. 

Following this idea, Whitten gave an invaluable contribution to Young’s career, and it was he who helped him to make his first steps towards his ascendance as the ‘Godfather of Grunge’. After Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and whilst struggling with deteriorating health due to high crippling drug addiction, Whitten contributed to Young’s timeless third album, the 1970 effort After the Gold Rush, and is posthumously credited on 1975’s Tonight’s the Night

Given that Danny Whitten was such a brilliant musician, and one who helped to elevate Neil Young’s work to a completely different level, we’ve listed his six best moments with the Canadian troubadour. All of these are classic cuts, so be prepared to be transported back to the time when both Young and Whitten were at the top of their game. Just a word of warning, the majority of this list is taken from the game-changing Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, as the album is the pair’s magnum opus.

Danny Whitten’s six best moments with Neil Young:

‘Cinnamon Girl’

The opener of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is one of the most iconic pieces of music in Neil Young’s back catalogue and is without a doubt one of his best-loved.

An amped-up piece featuring one of his catchiest choruses, one of the song’s standout features is the dovetailing vocals of Whitten and Young, who deliver a masterclass in both vocal delivery and guitar-playing. You could argue that this is the song that started grunge, and without Danny Whitten’s involvement, it would not be so.

‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’

The title track of Young’s first album with Crazy Horse, ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ is ice-cool. Channelling all the swaggering sentiment of the counterculture, again, Whitten and Young link up throughout the song as their guitars and vocals intertwine, creating one of their ultimate pieces.

It’s melodic, introspective and has one of the best main riffs of this period of Young’s career.

‘Down by the River’

Clocking in at over nine minutes, ‘Down by the River’ makes a strong claim to be Neil Young’s ultimate opus. Even though the whole band shine across Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, this has to be the pinnacle of the record. The way the song builds up to the anthemic chorus is nothing but majestic, and honestly, the song’s oscillating dynamics are incredible; they’re a real sensory treat.

Then we have the bridge, where Young and Whitten’s guitars melt into a heady, psychedelic mesh, making you feel as a high as a kite. Young and Whitten’s power on ‘Down by the River’ is unmatched, and it will never get old. 

‘Cowgirl in the Sand’

The last track on the list from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, we couldn’t include the previous three entries and not have ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’. In many ways, the sister track to ‘Down by the River’, this musical Odyssey runs for over 10 minutes, and it is a perfect way to close the record out. 

Whether it be the gritty guitar lines or the catchy chorus, there is much to love about ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’. The two unleash their duelling guitars around six minutes in, tearing through lick after lick. You cannot help but be blown away by just how ahead of its time the Young-Whitten partnership was. 

‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’

One of the more downbeat tracks in Neil Young’s extensive back catalogue, this absolute classic was taken from After the Gold Rush. The story of the song is well-known; it was allegedly written by Young for his CSNY bandmate Graham Nash after his fraught split from folk heroine Joni Mitchell. However, Young has been coy about this when asked about it since the song came out, so it’s likely that we’ll never know the truth about the song’s provenance.

Whitten provides the guitar, as well as the backing vocals alongside Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina and Stephen Stills. Together they create a heavenly sound, delivering one of Young’s most incisive and famous choruses.

‘Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown’

The only track that Whitten features on from 1975’s Tonight the Night, ‘Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown’ is one of the most consistently overlooked moments in Young’s discography. 

It’s excellent because of the way that we hear the Young-Whitten partnership live and at full throttle, as it was recorded during a set at the Filmore East on March 7th, 1970, capturing the inexhaustible spirit of the pair. This is also the point where we hear Whitten’s husky vocals at their most pronounced, confirming what we always knew; he was an incredible vocalist as well as an axeman. 

If ‘Down by the River’ is Young and Whitten at their best in the studio, then ‘Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown’ is them at their best in the live setting. The guitars are vintage Young-Whitten, and we love it. 

Follow Far Out Magazine across our social channels, on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.