By Sam Feldman
Hopefully the title of this essay already has you contemplating what could possibly be “the most intense” song of all time. Maybe you’re wondering what “intense” even means in this context. The Oxford English Dictionary states intense means violent, vehement, extreme, but also of color, very deep, and of a feeling. So what song do those words describe more than any other composition on record? Although you could describe nearly any Skrillex song as violent and extreme, the majority of people agree his work isn’t particularly deep. No, this song has to be a burst of pure emotion, erupting like a volcano of ugly and terrifying passion. A solar flare of sonic force.
We find our song in 1969, a prolific year for brilliant music. Amongst the magnificent works of that year, (“Something” by the Beatles, “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin, etc.) a single song stands out as a perfect blemish. The song is “Down by the River,” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, from the album Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. It’s nine minutes and thirteen seconds of released love, hatred, fury, and everything in between. There is no holding back. If you don’t know this song, you need to listen to it before reading further. My writing is meant to complement the song and in no way can be a substitute for it. Seriously, put on the song.
Billy Talbot, the bassist of Crazy Horse, and Ralph Molina, the drummer, create an inescapable groove. Headbangers and folkies alike can’t help but bob their heads. The groove is that deep. On top of that, Young and Danny Whitten, the second guitarist, trade savage guitar riffs throughout the epic guitar solos. Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a diehard Neil Young fan, described Young’s music as not giving a fuck. I’d agree that Young doesn’t care how people react to his music, but he gives many fucks about life. You can’t write a song as poignant as “Down by the River” without caring. You have to care a lot. So thank you, Neil Young. Thanks for caring enough about your craft to make something so personal as “Down by the River.” It’s intense.