I'm guessing that the majority of you are familiar with Crazy Horse's story, so I'm not going to go into great detail describing their origins. Of course, they are best known for their work with Neil Young and as the backing band who, in my opinion, brought out the best in that particular musician. Although they will forever be linked to ol' Shakey, their own material holds up rather well in its own right as Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings convincingly demonstrates. This first-rate collection compiles their phenomenal eponymous debut LP, the underrated followup, Loose, previously unreleased material, and an early 1960s 45 from pre-Crazy Horse vocal group, Danny & the Memories. While the rest of the band's ouevre has its merits, these performances from 1971-1973 are the most definitive and essential.
Prior to joining forces with Young for the masterpiece Everybody Knows this Is Nowhere, guitarist Danny Whitten, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Ralph Molina had provided the core to aggregations such as the aforementioned white doo-wop group and scuzzy Los Angeles rock band the Rockets. Unlike other musical outfits, these guys learned to sing before becoming proficient with their respective instruments. Thus, in contrast to many other groups, they could rock hard and belt out killer harmony vocals at the same time. Crazy Horse came about in the wake of This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush and should have been huge. However, in spite of the superb contributions from guitarist Nils Lofgren (who was playing hooky from his band Grin during the recording sessions), pianist-producer Jack Nitzsche, guitarist Ry Cooder, and fiddler Gib Gilbeau, it failed to make a significant commercial impact. Crazy Horse's sound was unique: roots-based country rock filtered through a drug-addled, post-1960s perspective of lost innocence. Prewar blues even shows its influence in songs such as the awesome opening track "Gone Dead Train" (although it sounds like the band only borrowed the title of King Solomon Hill's best 78) and the lovely "Carolay" (which contains verses lifted from Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom"). "Dance, Dance, Dance" is a fine bit of ersatz Cajuniana from the pen of mentor Neil Young, while the anthemic "Downtown" inexplicably never became the massive hit that it could have been in a more just world. The phase shifter featured on the melancholy "Look at All the Things" and the rocking "Beggars Day" give both songs an early 1970s psychedelic sheen. Cooder's exquisite slide guitar is the icing on the cake for the heartfelt and beautiful "I Don't Want to Talk About It," which stands in stark contrast to the menacing and tough "Dirty Dirty." "Nobody" sounds more upbeat in tone as does "I'll Get By," which also features some enchanting group vocals. And finally, Nitzsche takes a rare turn handling lead singing duties on the Rolling Stones-like "Crow Jane Lady."
(L TO R): LOFGREN (PLAYING PEEK-A-BOO WITH THE CAMERA FORCrazy Horse was a tough act to follow, especially considering that Whitten's heroin problems led to his departure from the group after its release. Nitzsche and Lofgren also bailed out, leaving Talbot and Molina to recruit former Rockets bandmate George Whitsell to fill one of the guitar slots. Keyboardist John Blanton and guitarist Greg Leroy rounded out the lineup that recorded Loose. Unfairly slagged by many, the band's second album does pale in comparison to their debut but only because its predecessor is so thoroughly excellent. Had Loose been a privately pressed LP released by a more obscure country rock band, I can guarantee you that it would be more highly regarded in certain record collecting circles. Yes, Whitten's distinct guitar and vocals are noticeably absent, but that does not mean the listener cannot derive enjoyment from rockers and blues-influenced numbers like "Move," "All the Little Things," "I Don't Believe It," and "One Sided Love." Tracks such as "Hit and Run," "Try," "Fair Weather Friend," "You Won't Miss Me," and "And She Won't Even Blow Smoke in My Direction" have a more palpable country influence and are all good performances if sometime a bit too laid back for their own good. "One Thing I Love" features a nice combination of instrumentation and vocal harmonies making it my favorite track on this album. While "All Alone Now" has a nice good-time vibe to it, the ballads "Going Home" and "Kind of Woman" are a bit too soft for my tastes.
CONTRACTUAL REASONS), WHITTEN, TALBOT, NITZSCHE, & MOLINA
CONTRACTUAL REASONS), WHITTEN, TALBOT, NITZSCHE, & MOLINA
With these two albums being squeezed onto this set's first CD, the second disc contains some interesting supplementary material from the recording sessions for Crazy Horse including an alternate take of "Dirty, Dirty" and a stretched-out version of "Downtown" that clocks in at nearly 11 minutes. "Dear Song Singer" is a moving solo piece from Whitten, while "Scratchy" is an unfinished instrumental whose main riff seems to have been recycled for "Move" on the second LP. "Susie's Song" simply sounds like Lofgren messing around on the piano and does not amount to much. "When You Dance You Can Really Love" is a Neil Young song recorded in 1973 by the Loose lineup as a possible single but was never released. I've always been a fan of radio spots, and the one included here is pretty cool. "Can't Help Loving that Girl" and "Don't Go" represent the lone single recorded by the previously mentioned Danny & the Memories in 1962, with the latter being the more interesting of these two tracks. Although neither song bears any similarities to the material Whitten, Talbot, and Molina would later record in Crazy Horse, they give the listener an opportunity to hear how far these musicians had come from their vocal group origins.
With a limited run of only 2500 copies, this two-CD set is long out of print. If you don't feel like paying collector's prices, you might consider purchasing the British import The Complete Reprise Recordings 1971-'73 instead. It's essentially the same thing as Scratchy, minus the two Danny & the Memories tracks.
Crazy Horse (1971)
1. Gone Dead Train
2. Dance, Dance, Dance
3. Look at All the Things
4. Beggars Day
5. I Don't Want to Talk About It
8. Dirty, Dirty
10. I'll Get By
11. Crow Jane Lady
12. Hit and Run
14. One Thing I Love
16. All Alone Now
17. All the Little Things
18. Fair Weather Friend
19. You Won't Miss Me
20. Going Home
21. I Don't Believe It
22. Kind of Woman
23. One Sided Love
24. And She Won't Even Blow Smoke in My Direction
1. Dirty, Dirty (alternate version)
2. Scratchy (takes 1-3)
3. Dear Song Singer
4. Downtown (unissued long version)
5. Susie's Song (takes 1-5)
6. When You Dance You Can Really Love
7. Radio Spot
8. Can't Help Loving that Girl - Danny & the Memories
9. Don't Go - Danny & the Memories