Today’s bubbling under song was released as a single but failed to chart completely; however, Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s 1969 release of “Down By the River” was a staple for album radio for many years. From his second solo album after departing Buffalo Springfield, “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere,” “Down By the River” and the album’s two other popular cuts (“Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”) were composed while Young was sick with 103° F fever.
The guitar is typical Young with long staccato solos in one channel while the rhythm is in the other probably played on his characteristic Gretsch White Falcon. Joining Young on the tune is his backup band Crazy Horse with Danny Whitten on guitar, Billy Talbot on bass, and Ralph Molina on drums. Whitten and Molina also provide backup vocals that add to Neil’s trademark vocals.
Neil has his own vocal style – one that wasn’t appreciated by ATCO records. When Buffalo Springfield recorded their first album, the label wouldn’t let him sing his on his own songs – enlisting Ritchie Furay to handle front man duties on his compositions. By the time of the band’s second album, ATCO allowed Neil to sing on his material. I can’t see anyone else singing “Mr. Soul” – a song that would be a cult classic for Young and the band.
While not everyone appreciates Neil’s singing style, as it is an acquired taste, there are others that have adopted a similar tonality. Listen to America’s “Horse with No Name” and Ian Thomas’ “Painted Ladies” and you will see what I mean. As for “Down By the River,” it is classic Neil Young.
Live Version by C, S, N, & Y
Here’s a live version recorded in 1969 by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young at Big Sur, California. While the audio quality is not the greatest in the world, it gives you an idea how this song was performed live by C, S, N, & Y. Stephen Stills is playing a White Falcon on this version. Check out Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Fariña dancing in the crowd.