The moment Neil Young joined Bruce Springsteen to cover ‘Down By The River’
Two of the rock world’s brightest stars rarely share the stage together for long, and the same can be said for Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen who have only connected in front of a crowd on a few occasions. That said, every time they have joined forces, the duo deliver a plethora of reasons as to why we want to see more of them. Below, we’re revisiting an exceptional performance of Young’s classic track ‘Down by the River’ alongside The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.
One of Young’s most arresting pieces, ‘Down By The River’, taken from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is a nine-minute murder ballad and sees Young beginning to flower as one of the finest songwriters of his generation. It’s also one of Young’s finest moments on guitar. Using ‘Old Black’ a faithful Les Paul, Young delivers some laconic yet searing licks and completes a fantastic track with it. However, his best performance of the number comes alongside Springsteen.
The Boss has never been afraid to pay due diligence to the artist whom he admired when making it in the music world. That means he is often covering songs by his heroes like Bob Dylan or Chuck Berry. But Springsteen has only ever performed this song alongside its creator, which suggests that he holds the highest respect for the track and Neil Young. The first time The Boss performed it with Young was exceptional, however.
Young originally composed the song as he battled a severe fever, the delusions only adding gravitas to his writing. Alongside the title track of the album, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and ‘Cowgirl in the Sand,’ the track is one of Young’s more miraculous compositions. It has meant that the song has often been regarded as one of his best and, in turn, that means it’s covered more often than not. That said, none are better than this shared rendition of the song.
The footage below comes from 1985 and is widely regarded as one of Springsteen’s best walk-on performances. Young and Springsteen share some searing vocals on the 1969 track and deliver perhaps its definitive moment, despite the somewhat comical entrance.
Young enters the stage asking for a duet with Springsteen as one might imagine Young would ask if involved in a Christmas variety special from the seventies. It’s a little cringy, to say the least, but it does get the Sydney crowd excited, and with a quick smile and a warm embrace, the two friends are connected on stage and ready to deliver a cracking show.
It was the first time that Springsteen ever took on the song, performing twice more alongside Young in 1989 and 1995, the latter as a shared duet at Young’s Bridge School Benefit concert. Despite it being Springsteen’s first outing of the track, he shows not only the consummate skill of a legendary musician but the adoration of a true fan. We’d even go a little further and suggest this performance is akin to that of two friends sharing a beer and a shanty in a dive bar. Either way, it’s joyful.