Christmas with my family has many traditions; going to church Christmas Eve, hanging our stockings, opening gifts, and eating tons of cinnamon rolls.  Our dad still reads 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to us every year, as we gather around a fire with several dachshunds on our laps.

And the past few years, I've noticed that every Christmas, Neil Young is there. Last year I got my dad tickets to go see Neil in New York City, when he played at the United Palace. The year before I got my dad the Jonathan Demme documentary Heart of Gold.  Even when there isn't a gift that was specifically created by Neil Young, my dad and I spend at least one afternoon listening to his music.

So forgive me for doing two posts in a row about Neil Young, but for me, Christmas time means home, and home is me, my dad, and a Neil Young album. (and the aforementioned dachshunds)

Neil Young's self-titled debut in 1969 was good, but his second solo record and his first with long-time backing group Crazy Horse was where he really defined himself as a rock'n'roll force. The songs on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere are more loose, raw, and powerful; for many, this really is the first Neil Young record.

The album starts with Cinnamon Girl, a heavy rocker that for my money may be the best lead-off track on any album ever.

[ mp3 ]: Neil Young - Cinnamon Girl

Besides the catchiest guitar riff he's perhaps ever written, I love this song because it's so optimistic. It's hard to find a Neil Young song that's void of any dash of melancholia, but this might just be the one.

My other favorite track has to be Down By the River, which was a late bloomer in my Neil Young appreciation timeline, but is one of his most popular tunes, still played in concert by him and CS&N.

[ mp3 ]: Neil Young - Down By the River

It's kind of perverse how many songs are out there about killing your woman, but this one is the least threatening to me, for some reason. It's said that Neil wrote this song when he was suffering from a 103 degree fever, which may explain its morbidity and bizarre structure.

I didn't post it, but listen to Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets) on the Lala player. I'm a sucker for violin, and this is one of the most atmospheric, sad, haunting songs I've ever heard.

I may be posting some more Neil soon. Not surprisingly, my dad has got every single album he's ever made.

Happy Neil-mas!

- N.W.

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