Buying the Crazy Horse album in 1971 didn’t strike me as a particularly smart investment. After all, I was barely a teenager and money was scarce, so I wanted to make every album purchase count, hoping that it would become something for me to enjoy for the long haul.
I was certainly a big fan of Neil Young back then, and his association with the band is what made me consider such a purchase, but my curiosity didn’t extend beyond their interpretive skills. Could they write? Could they sing? Would their music hold up without Neil fronting them? At the time, I didn’t have a lot of information to go by, so I bypassed their debut, and skipped all subsequent releases as well. Later, when I started to hear records by other support bands without their frontman, I felt justified in my decision (did you hear the Doors after Jim Morrison died? Did you ever hear the ‘solo’ album by Elvis Costello’s Attractions? Yikes!).
Over time, I found myself even more suspicious of ‘solo bands’ and held this sort of thing at arm’s length, and yet the Crazy Horse album continued to intrigue me, even after withholding my interest for more than a decade, so sometime in the mid-eighties I finally broke down and bought a used copy. I immediately felt like a total idiot. Everything about this album was very, very good if not excellent. It had great songs, well-performed and arranged, and best of all, it had variety. After years of hearing this simple but powerful band backing Neil Young I fully expected Crazy Horse to be a one trick pony of sorts (pardon the pun) bashing their way through a few three-chord jams like a layman’s Hot Tuna. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I loved the album enough to consider it absolutely essential to my collection.
“Crazy Horse” (the debut album) proved itself to be so much more than I anticipated and it turned my head around in myriad directions. I fully expected the ‘ragged but right’ rhythm section of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, but there was so much more to offer. By the time I bought my copy, I already knew the opening track as a highlight from the “Performance” film soundtrack (starring Mick Jagger) as performed by Randy Newman. You mean to tell me that song derived from here?
Also, in the late ‘70s I had become a fan of Nils Lofgren as a solo artist, and here he was in virtually the same capacity, with a pair of songs, one of which I already knew (Beggar’s Day”) as a favorite from his live release, “Night After Night”. Danny Whitten, the wobbly-voiced crooner that supported Neil on so many tracks, is also a stellar songwriter? This album contains Whitten performing his own tune “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”, perhaps the only truly great thing Rod Stewart recorded after leaving Faces. “Downtown” (another Danny Whitten song) is the same song that Neil recorded with reckless delight on “Tonight’s the Night”? Jack Nitzsche, the same guy responsible for arranging my favorite Buffalo Springfield track (“Expecting to Fly”) is also a songwriting bandmember? Ry Cooder makes a guest appearance on three of the tracks? This was all too much. Why was I not informed of this? This is the ultimate example of a sleeper album, one which I ignored, at my own peril and ignorance for more than a decade. If, like me, you’ve been holding out, it’s time to rectify your ignorance.
February 1971 - Billboard Charted #84
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