Be on my side I’ll be on your side…
The first sentence of the first verse of this song takes on weight after listening to the chorus and realizing, these words are being spoken by a man on the edge–a man with a gun.
Everything about this song is menacing, from the ominous opening chord progression to the lyrics but where this song kicks you in the teeth is when Neil Young starts his solo. In his tribute to Young in Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists, Trey Anastasio wrote, “If I was ever going to teach a master class to young guitarists, the first thing I would play them is the first minute of Neil Young’s ‘Down By The River’ solo.”
The thing about it is, which I didn’t even realize until someone with more musical aptitude than me pointed out, it’s just one note. It’s an E note played on the 12th fret 38 times in succession. But it creates a momentum that makes this song heavier than any metal song out there.
I read this interview with Neil Young from 1992 and he summed up his guitar philosophy, saying , “First off, nobody cares if you know how to play scales. Nobody gives a shit if you have good technique or not. It’s whether you have feelings that you want to express with music, that’s what counts, really.”
And I’ve read and heard other interviews with guitarists talking about Young and others who play sparingly, and the theme seems to be it’s easy to play the same notes but it’s impossible to recapture the way Neil Young played them.
It’s one of those things that’s hard not to circle back to, how there’s complexity in simplicity and how sometimes the notes not played and the words not said are more important.
Either way, whatever, Young wrote the song in 1969 and if you can find me something done since that’s heavier post it here and I’ll listen.