Neil Young with Crazy Horse Early Daze

Neil Young and Crazy Horse Find Fresh Sounds on ‘Early Daze’

Early Daze highlights Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s early connectedness that allowed their art to flourish not only immediately but over the decades, too.

Early Daze
Neil Young with Crazy Horse
28 June 2024

Neil Young and Crazy Horse have had a long (if intermittent), critically acclaimed, and commercially successful run. Looking back from 2024, their union feels inevitable, their connection almost inherent to their artistry. That future wasn’t predictable in 1968 (or even in 1970 after the acts separated). Young, while clearly a musician of note, had just put out his first solo album. Crazy Horse were still the Rockets, a psychedelic rock group of no note (and virtually no sales). They knew Young, who had played with them at a show in 1968, and he decided to use some of the Rockets as his backing band for his next solo album and its tour. Then, the artists found they fit each other with a staggering sound. Young’s new album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, would turn out to be one of the best of his career, and Young and Crazy Horse – off and on and through regular lineup changes – would remain connected as artists from then on.

But in those first days, it was hard to imagine Neil Young and a band of ragged country rockers creating one of rock’s most essential sounds. It happened almost immediately, though, and the new archival release Early Daze showcases ten tracks (most previously unreleased) from the 1969 sessions. At this point, the group comprised Danny Whitten (guitar, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass), and Ralph Molina (drums, vocals), along with Jack Nitzsche, who’d recorded with Young before, on piano. Whitten’s guitar playing proved to be essential to Everybody, shaping the sound and giving Young freedom for his wild playing. He would tragically die of an overdose just a few years later, but Talbot and Molina have remained the core of Crazy Horse ever since (Nitzsche never quite fit and was part of the group for just a brief run).

For anyone familiar with Neil Young’s early 1970s output, the quality of these songs won’t be surprising. “Dance, Dance, Dance” became popular as an archival release, although a different version ended up being a key piece of Crazy Horse’s self-titled debut. Likewise, “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown” (written mainly by Whitten) found initial release on that record, only appearing later on Young’s Tonight’s the Night in 1975. The addict-focused lyrics contrast with the buoyant music, and the singer does not see the risk (though that’s more visible in the timing and setting of Young’s record). The sound perfectly fits the Young and Crazy Horse aesthetic, a country rocker that takes idiosyncratic turns, always raw and energetic.

That description could apply to much of Early Daze. Neil Young and Crazy Horse worked fast, putting energy into intense early takes (oddly, it’s “take 14” of “Come on Baby” used here). They latched onto new music quickly, and those immediate responses were often the best. This compilation closes with the first take of “Down By the River”, not drastically different than what listeners would be familiar with except for an alternate vocal. The cut’s as fantastic now as it was 50 years ago and even packaged as part of outtakes and demos that come through.

Of course, that’s the limitation of Early Daze. In retrospect, it’s amazing to hear how quickly this sound came together and the amount of classic material Young and Crazy Horse would develop. At the same time, it isn’t always that insightful. The “Cinnamon Girl” included in this set is the seven-inch mono mix with a guitar outro not included on the LP, which amounts to just a few seconds. “Everybody’s Alone” is a hidden gem but gets a different mix (and in a smaller package) here than in The Archives Vol. 1. Fans will pick up some differences in the alternate versions and probably enjoy the dissection, but the set – at least uncoupled from all the other archival material – doesn’t shed much insight into the process or the behind-the-scenes work, even the studio chatter does add nice touches.

In the end, that point might or might not matter. The ten songs here are primarily great and well performed in that classic Neil Young and Crazy Horse style. It adds only a bit to our understanding of who the musicians were and are, but it does highlight their early connectedness, a characteristic that allowed their art to flourish not only immediately but over the decades, too.

RATING 7 / 10