Last summer Phil asked me to take part in a poll of best Neil Young songs (results here). I was happy to comply and placed this high on my list, tied at #4 with its fellow Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere album track "Cinnamon Girl." "Cowgirl in the Sand," the third leg of that particular thematic album stool, landed slightly lower in my list, in the 20s. (In the poll, "Down by the River" was #3, "Cinnamon Girl" #6, and "Cowgirl in the Sand" #7.) "Down by the River" everybody probably knows, a simmering nine-minute sauté in which, among other things, Young takes a solo with some 30- or 40-odd repetitions of the same note. Fortunately it must be the right note, as the point usually needs to be made before people actually notice. Lord, though, in a nine-minute song of such simple, even primitive, narrative, there's ample opportunity for instrumental breaks and all manner of guitar foofaraw, and so it rolls and tumbles. That narrative, meanwhile, operates in territory of both Appalachian murder ballads and "Hey Joe," with its tragic incoherent revenge story, fragments really. "Down by the river," it basically goes, "I shot my baby." There's a little bit more to it than that, but not much. Yet out of it Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina) wring history somehow. It's not so surprising that it captured the late '60s mood so thoroughly it's become a Wonder Years staple of a type for evoking the time with proper visuals: shirtless freaks in top hats flashing the peace sign, etc., division of dark underside division. But it actually plays well in all circumstances, even the most latter-day such as while I am typing this, early dark with Christmas lights still visible late in the season from my window. It does seem better suited at the moment to dark and winter, I'll say that.