Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Zuma

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I have a complicated relationship with Neil Young. This is his seventh studio album, yet it’s the earliest one of those that I own. It’s weird to get into an artist on their seventh album. Which is not the whole story. At various times, I also owned Everybody Knows This is Nowhere; After the Gold Rush; Harvest; On the Beach; and Tonight’s the Night. I find that I prefer rockin’ Young to quiet Young (which is why the albums I own are ones with Crazy Horse, I suppose), and also that his quality control is not great (I love that I can blame Young for this as opposed to my own preferences). So there are parts of all those albums that I like but also many songs that I do not. Zuma is the first album where I overwhelmingly like most of the songs.

What I Think of This Album

It may be important to know something of Young history for context; you could also just throw the album on and enjoy it. But this was the first album with the new Crazy Horse, as Frank Sampedro took over the guitar slot from overdose victim Danny Whitten. It was also the first album after a series of bleak, depressing albums including Beach and Tonight (his Abbey Road/Let It Be moment, as the one recorded first was released second).

Zuma succeeds because it is full of melodic songs played by a band that could turn it up; indeed, the least successful songs are the acoustic “Pardon My Heart” and the CSNY reunion song “Through My Sails,” neither of which I ever need to hear again. Opener “Don’t Cry No Tears” (a song Young had written ten years earlier) has a classic riff and is possibly the catchiest thing he had released, and way too short. Later in the album, “Lookin’ for a Love” and “Barstool Blues” are close cousins – extremely pop-oriented relationship songs. These three tunes alone make this Young’s most hummable studio album. The guitar workouts, though, are the other reason to own this. Enigmatic “Danger Bird” starts out with a plodding tempo . . . and maintains it, but adds a couple of outstanding guitar solos, fully justifying the almost seven minutes this song lasts. “Cortez the Killer” stretches past that mark (and would have been longer save for a blown circuit during recording), lacking all lyrics for the first three minutes, and featuring some lazy drumming behind superior, melodic soloing. “Stupid Girl” (possibly about Joni Mitchell) is, as the title suggests, remarkably mean-spirited and difficult to get past. “Drive Back” is a decent little rocker.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Don’t Cry No Tears” is one of my favorite Young songs.

Release Date

November, 1975

The Cover Art

This is the most stoner art I have ever seen. This definitely feels like it was drawn by someone who was high. Or who may not have been high at the time, but who got high a lot during the period in their life when they drew this. A lot.

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