Neil Young’s first album with iconic partners in crime, Crazy Horse, 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, is one of the most influential rock records ever released. Ostensibly, it is credited with being the first genuine grunge album, and without Young and the late Danny Whitten’s distorted, dovetailing guitar work, many icons of the 1980s and ’90s would not have had the blueprint from which to do their thing.
On the record, Young utilised double drop D, tuning both the high and low E strings down to D, giving him a heavier sound. This went way further than what any of his contemporaries were doing at that point and, if you listen to the album today, it is truly mind-blowing that Young, Whitten and the rest of the band were so far ahead of the curve. Of his revolutionary sound, Young told KMET-FM: “Right then, I started trying to just do what I was doing, you know. Just trying to be real. Instead of fabricating something… show people where my head is at”.
He explained: “I just wanted them to know where I was at. Since then I’ve just been striving to get it realer and realer on the record. As in more real.” Young snickered as he was fully aware of his redundancy. There are only so many words one can use to describe this kind of sound; the music speaks for itself.”
A highlight of the album is ‘Cinnamon Girl’, a bonafide classic. The solid riff, anthemic lyrics, and emotive one-note solo showed that heart could be placed at the forefront of music rather than flashy technical ability. This early point helped to solidify Young’s future status as the unquestioned ‘Godfather of Grunge’.
Of course, the brilliance of this period of Young’s work is just how good it sounds live. There’s an argument to be made that one version of the song ranks above the rest, even the original Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere track. Diehard Neil Young fans will agree that it is the version that features on 1991’s live album, Weld.
Recorded on the tour that promoted Young’s 1990 album, Ragged Glory, in 1991, this amped-up version of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is the definitive take. With the guitars loud as hell, creating a symbiotic cacophony, it makes us wish that the Everbody Knows version was more visceral. At the end, Young treats us to one of his meandering solos, complete with pinched harmonics, showing just how much of a guitar-playing hero he is.
On the video for the track, the crowd are going wild, and it intermittently pans between giddy audience members who are all losing their mind, as if under some countercultural spell. Young was 45 at the time, and none of his youthful power was lost, retaining the vitality of his early shows.
He commands the band and crowd, who respond with electric energy that makes us wish we were there. Loud, powerful and spine-tingling, after hearing this version of ‘Cinnamon Girl’, you won’t look back.
Watch Neil Young and Crazy Horse demolish ‘Cinnamon Girl’ below.