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Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young

Album: Everybody Knows This Is NowhereReleased: 1969Charted:
  • Young has never said who the Cinnamon Girl is, as he prefers to leave lyric interpretations to the listener. In the liner notes of his Decade compilation, he stated: "Wrote this for a city girl on peeling pavement coming at me thru Phil Ochs eyes playing finger cymbals. It was hard to explain to my wife."

    Phil Ochs was a folk/protest singer active in the '60s who had issues with his mental stability (although his paranoia about the FBI turned out not to be far off). Young's wife at the time was Susan Acevedo; they were married for just one year at this point.
  • Though Young would not identify his muse, the bit about finger cymbals is a reference to '60s folk singer Jean Ray, who performed with then-husband Jim Glover under the name Jim and Jean. Phil Ochs, a close friend of a couple, penned the title song to their second album, Changes.

    Brian Ray, Paul McCartney's guitarist and Jean's younger brother, claims the song is indeed about his sister. Jean, herself, said she inspired another Neil Young song from the Everybody Knows This is Nowhere album: "Cowgirl in the Sand."
  • Young recorded this with his band Crazy Horse. It was originally released on the Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere album in 1969. Young put out an alternate version as a single in 1970, which did well partly because he was getting exposure as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
  • In Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Neil Young talked about poaching the band The Rockets for the formation of Crazy Horse, who he first recorded with on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere: "The truth is, I probably did steal them away from the pother band, which was a good band. But only because what we did, we went somewhere." He later goes on to say, "That's the hardest part, is the guilt of the trail of destruction that I've left behind me."
    In the same work, it is also mentioned that "With songs such as 'Cinnamon Girl,' 'Down By The River,' and 'Cowgirl in the Sand,' Crazy Horse clearly gave Neil Young the kind of sympathetic and almost telepathic backing he needed." Neil Young went on to declare Crazy Horse "the American Rolling Stones."
  • The band Type O Negative did a remake on their 1996 album October Rust. The song was also covered by Smashing Pumpkins on the Reel Sessions bootleg.
  • That's Danny Whitten singing high harmony on this this song with Young. Whitten was a singer/guitarist in Young's backing band Crazy Horse, which released its own album in 1970 featuring a few Whitten compositions, including "I Don't Want To Talk About It," later a #1 UK hit for Rod Stewart. Whitten spent his last years battling a heroin addiction, and in 1972 died after overdosing on alcohol and Valium.
  • The liner notes to Decade reveal that "Down by the River," "Cinnamon Girl," and "Cowgirl in the Sand" all in a single afternoon - while sick with a 103 degree temperature. Also, they were recorded after being together with the band Crazy Horse for only 2 weeks."
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Comments: 59

So here's "Cinnamon Girl"'s story as relayed to us over a series of posts and messages. We report. You decide.
I met Neil when I was in high school at Kipling Collegiate in Etobicoke Toronto in late spring, early summer of 1968.

The kids from my high school called me the Cinnamon Girl. I was one of the first flower child kids at my high school. I was living way out in Etobicoke with my parents and we weren't allowed to go to places like a coffee house named The Riverboat. It was there in front of The Riverboat that I met Neil one afternoon.

I only met Neil that once.

Funny thing is if Neil had not been carrying his guitar we never would have met. My best friend had just been bragging to me that her and her sister & another friend now had super cute boyfriends who played in a band. She said they were the singer and guitar & bass player that were playing at El Patio in Yorkville.

I felt so left out.

I told my friend I was going to try and find a drummer to be my boyfriend. Truth is my father was super strict and I wasn't allowed to date. To go to Yorkville I always let on I was going to the movies, or babysitting. All hell would have broken loose if he thought I was with the hippies......

I saw his guitar case first and blurted out "I'm interviewing musicians to be my boyfriend.......are you interested?"

Without hesitation Neil came right over and stood beside me. Oh god. I looked up at him and he was the cutest boy I had ever seen.

He said "What's involved?"

I said you get to hang around with me for a couple of hours. I will ask you questions about dating and relationships and see if you pass. There will be kissing involved...are you a good kisser?"

Neil said "I guess so".

He seemed to be a little shy but amused by the situation. He didn't seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere and so the game started.

When we were together that night, I asked Neil to write a happy song about me and he promised he would. My nickname at school was 'The Cinnamon Girl'. I told him to make it sound Canadian (and even sang him the song from the cartoon ' Pow Wow The Indian Boy' so he's know what I meant). Funny, he's the singer but I was the one doing the singing....He had his guitar with him, he opened the case and showed it to me, but didn't play a note.

Everything in the song is something we did or something we talked about. I had never heard of Neil (or any of his bands) before but the time I spent with him still all these years later feels somehow magical. It was as though I could clearly see his future....and it was as though we had known each other for years, laughing our heads off.I guess the best way to describe it was I found him to be intoxicating.

I think 'Cowgirl in the Sand' is also about me. When we first met I was playing a crazy game with him, and he seemed amused by it. We talked about horseback riding, getting a farm one day, and the fact that I wouldn't tell him my age. I turned the conversation to the ages girls could wed in different provinces yet couldn't drink or vote. We spent the night in a park on the edge of a kid's sandbox talking about our lives, our dreams and the urgency for him to get to California.

I don't know if I'm a muse, psychic or an encouraging Cancerian or a combination of all of these because just as we sat there and talked I knew he would be very successful...just knew it. It was never 'if' it was 'when'.

When I left Neil at the Yorkville subway, I had an overpowering sad feeling that something would happen and i would not see him again for a very long time. It was 6:00AM and we had no paper or pen to exchange contact info.

Who knew I would get so sick?

I got dangerously ill after I met Neil. It lasted 2 weeks, first I was delirious with fever & then Bronchitis. So, I was unable to meet him as planned at The of the biggest regrets of my life. My friend saw him there waiting ......she estimated he waited for 2 hours and then was gone...I tried in the early years to contact Neil but letters were returned.

I've always had the feeling that that when the time is right, and the stars are aligned we would somehow meet again.

Neil Young Archives Riverboat Disc Sleeve

So here's the thing.

Surprisingly -- or not so much so -- we get all sorts of Neil tales, that -- quite frankly -- we can't make heads or tails of like this one.

But here's the other thing about this story that makes it a little cosmic. As we were doing that Facebook thing with our "Cinnamon Girl", we just so happened to stumble across the 45 single pictured above and noticed the date -- March 7, 1970.

That's tomorrow?!

And as we scanned the Decade box album liner notes, we recall how Neil -- absolutely totally astonishingly -- wrote "Down by the River", "Cinnamon Girl", and "Cowgirl in the Sand" all in a single afternoon -- while sick and delirious with a 103 degree temperature.

Down by the river (boat) he shot his baby (broke up with his young girlfriend) -- a red head (cinnamon girl) -- who was a cowgirl (hippie) in the sand (box at the park).

Both heartbroken and sick at the same time.

sometimes you just never know...

Thanks for sharing the memories cinnamon girl!
So what exactly would it be like to live with a cinnamon girl? Well, this is what we think it would be like...
Smith - Wa
O, to add - 'to dance' is an old-school term for injection heroin, thus, 'Mom, send me MONEY now, I'VE GOT O MAKE IT somehow, I NEED ANOTHER CHANCE - you see, your baby LOVES TO DANCE'... Again, 'Everybody Knows THIS IS NOWHERE'Circe801 - Rock Hill, Sc
Always thought this was about his 'real' girl at the time - heroin. After all, this IS 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere'... Just me, I guess.Circe801 - Rock Hill, Sc
The obvious meaning would be a cinnamon-skinned girl (ie one with a cinnamon coloured hue to her skin. . . )
The beauty of it is you could serenade & declare it to be about a girl with cinnamon hair, skin, eyes, &/or shoes, & say it's just for her. . .
Cyberpope - Richmond, Canada
I just read his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace this November of 2012. His car was broken down on the freeway one day in California. The tow truck driver who came to help asked if he was Neil Young and he said yes.

"Who was Cinnamon Girl" the tow truck driver asked. "I'll show you when we get to where we're going" (or something along those lines). The driver towed the vehicle, with Neil in the tow truck, back to the studio where his wife Pegi was recording her album Bracing For Impact.

When they rolled up, Pegi was on the curb waiting for Neil. "And there was Cinnamon Girl, waiting on the curb." I know the song was written before he met her, but that's who he says Cinnamon Girl is. I guess Cinnamon Girl can be whoever he chooses.
Martinman - New York, Ny
You have this all wrong. This song is about my college girlfriend, MJ. She was tall and had short blonde hair, in the summer it would get some reddish highlights.Kevin - Atlanta, Ga
Love this one.My only fault with it is that it's way too short.Dane - Green Cove Springs Fla., Fl
The song was written for and about Jean Ray, sister of Paul McCartney's session guitarist Brian Ray. (She was the "city girl on peeling pavement coming at me" probably in LA.)Jack - Cohasset, Ma
I believe the song was written when he saw Robin Lane (of Robin Lane and the Chartbusters). :-)Jeri - Niantic, Ct
A little digression: In Guitar Player Magazine in 1983, David Byrne of Talking Heads acknowledged that the one note guitar riff at the end of "Cinnamon Girl" inspired his one note machine-gun riff at the end of "Psycho Killer".Rocco - New York City, Ny
A girl named Cinnamon

"The drummer relaxes and waits between shows for his Cinnamon girl"

"Send me money now..."

"Your baby loves to dance..."

Perhaps a song about a stripper?
Jp - Roanoke, Va
LOVE this second favorite Neil Young song after Heart of Gold. After watching this video and all the shots of the ladies in the crowd, I personally think it's a pastiche of just all the cool, cute, down-to-earth women who love good music and love to dance!Selenie - Los Angeles, Ca
The Memphis band The Gentrys, of 'Keep On Dancing' fame, also released this song in 1970 and it peaked at No. 52, three positions higher that Neil's...Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
I like the live version from "Live Rush" better then the studio version. The live version is a bit faster, more raw and grungier.Kevin - Jacksonville, Fl
Cinnamon Girl was actually, a waitress at a Cafe where the band stopped. Neil wanted some Cinnamon on his French Toast, and there was none. So, this beautiful waitress, ran across the street to the Grocery store and bought some and brought it back and he told her he would write a song about her.Marla - East Alton, Il, Il
I totally agree with Steve from Fenton, MO. BY FAR, Neil's best guitar playing is performed on "Like a Hurricane". Just listen to the intricate layers of guitar riffs and extremely passionate fervor in which Neil plays his guitar in this song. Absolutely his best guitar solo ever, and one of the best anyone has ever done!!Thomas - Nyc, Ny
One of Neil's finest moments...Jim - Long Beach, Ca
Neil was in LA at the time, so there would have been a lot of cinnamon-skinned lasses to skate through his field of vision. And supposedly his first sexual experience was with a young Indian woman in Canada. Like many of his best songs, this one has depth in time despite the simple lyrics ...

Was he aware of the great Latin classic "Piel Canela" ("Cinnamon skin") which was also about a lady? It wouldn't be a surprise if he was.

And the guitar solo rocks, one note or not ... "one note is enough."
Jamie - Nyack, Ny
I personally think it's a girl who has red hair and freckles. What ever a cinnamon girl is it's a great song!Elizabeth - Meadville, Pa
Great song, and the hesitations Neil inserts are really cool.
It vaguely reminds me of "Wild Thing" by the Troggs.
Oldpink - New Castle, In
"Cinnamon girl" is not about a girl at all.It's a song about the love for music and knowing that playing music for a living is what he is destined to do.Mark - Augusta, Me
Dan McCafferty of NAZARETH also covered CINNAMON GIRL on his solo album from 1975Venusinscorpio - Covington, Ky
Darryl from eugene is on the money.
In my mind Cinnamon girl looks like Buffy Sainte Marie
I often wondered if Neil had an affair with her.
Great songs can take you anywhere
Joys, new york
Joys - New York, Ny
Hey Victoria, did you really know Neil? He is a straight up genius. Lord knows I wana live with a Cinnamon Girl...Andy - Columbus, Oh
This song is so ahead of it's time. This is 1969 and was "grunge" way before that term was even coined. Neil Young and Crazy Horse are most definitely the first Garage Band.David - Huntington Beach, Ca
I thought "Cinnamon Girl" was written about
Pamela Courson, (Jim Morrison's girlfriend)i read that several times when reading about Morrison, The Doors and Pamela's life. Pamela was a California redhead with freckles, she was cute ,very flirtatious (supposively) and had a heroin addiction...which eventually killed her.
Hey, only Neil knows for sure.
Tracy - Farmington, Ct
This is actually my all-time favorite song. I love the way the riff rises and falls, with that little pause... and oh yeah, that one-note solo gets me every time. The liner notes in "Decade" say he wrote this song about a girl he saw walking down the street playing finger cymbals.Barbara - Decatur, Ga
June 27,28 1966 the Buffalo Springfield played the Cinnamon Cinder. Neil Young asked me to go with him, we had to drive between LA and San Diego, my friend drove all of us, Steven, Neil, me, Rcihie, Bruce and Dickie(The Manager) she was dating the drummer in the Door's, John Densmore.(The drummer relaxs and waits between shows for his Cinnamon Girl.)

The Door's played the Whiskey thoes two nights and the following nights the Buffalo played.
Victoria - Tacoma, Wa
There was a music club in the 60's called Cinnamon Cinder. It was featured in an Time magazine article about teenage nightclubs in the early 60's. It has always seemed obvious to me that it was about the girls that would hang out at that club.Steve - Saint Louis, Mo
I think that the real "Cinnamon Girl" was a young, attractive Native American, Latina or Pacific Islander woman with dark tan (read: more or less cinnamon-colored) skin and long black hair.Darrell - Eugene
The best one-note-solo ever !!Walter - Antwerp, Belgium
You guys are NUTS.
Cinnamon Girl is about the crazy horse srummer's girlfriend and neil's wanting of one like that.
Roberto - Houston, Tx
this song cinnamon girl, was known to be a song for pamela courson..also known as pam morrison.
i know this, because i read it in a book about the doors. <3
Morgan - Long Beach, Ca
Great rocking tune. I think this songs about meeting that one special girl who does it for ya.Adam - Winnipeg, Canada
I think you're right volkswiezen. He defiantly hated the stardom. Young always changed his styles to evade his fame. Which always brought him more attention in the end.Nathan - Defiance, Oh
Where is, Time Fades Away?Tom Mccafferty - Burnaby, Canada
I agree, I hate analyzing songs. The first thing that has always come to mind in this song is a mix rock stardom and thoughts of how much Neil would also rather be living on the "prarie" with this "Cinnamon Girl", or a simple life married to a native american woman (or that life style).Volkswiezen - South Philly, Pa
I'll take Neil's word for it that some gal inspired the song. But what I wanna know is: if she was such a great gal, why does the song sound so dark? (Sorry Emily, but if you don't like people analyzing songs, what are you doing here? I agree that analyzing songs may not be necessary for enjoying them, but I do it for one reason: IT'S FUN!)Fyodor - Denver, Co
Neil was rated as one of the ten best lead guitarists in a recent magazine and it listed this song as THE essential Neil solo. That had to be a joke, because this solo is the same note played over and over. Only the chords change during the course of the solo. I like Neil Young a lot and I think he has a style, which is an important part of being a good lead guitarist, but I would use Powderfinger or Like a Hurricane as his signature solos.Steve - Fenton, Mo
I don't care what everyone else says. I agree with Wes about the drug thing. I get why people think "Lucy in the Sky With Doamonds" is about LSD, but even though its very weird and has crazy images I don't agree with that assumption. "Cinnamon Girl" isn't about drugs either. I'm sorry if I'm offending anyone, but it does get frustrating.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
Cinnamon girl is not about heroin. Look at what ryan from Canada and deadzeppelin have to say, cuz they're right. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is about LSD. I would talk about it on the "Lucy" board but that is crowded. Remember, John always denied his songs were about drugs. And the rest of the song covers the aspect of LSD pretty well. Also, watch Yellow Submarine!Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
On the liner notes to Decade, Young says "Wrote this for a city girl on peeling pavement coming at me thru Phil Ochs eyes playing finger cymbals. It was hard to explain to my wife.". I would generally tend to take Young's word for it until proven otherwise.Ekristheh - Halath, United States
Stop caring about where he got the inspiration from. Another thing, who cares if Stairway to Heaven has satanic messages!!!! Just as society has made us respect other cultures, we should respect the fact that some people do believe in different things, no matter how s**t on the belief is by society. So just put aside your curiosity and enjoy the creativity!!!!Emily - Winnipeg, United States
I'd just like to make the correction that lucy in the sky with diamonds was not about LSD. The song was based on a drawing johns son julian brought home from school from a girl named lucy richardson.Ashley - Niles, Oh
cinnamon girl wasnt about pamela courson
nor a girl he met on tour
neil young had a very high fever when he wrote this song and just picked up his guitar and wrote a song
he talks about it on an episode of conan o brien
its not a very big secret
and to wes from springfield,
lucy in the sky with diamonds is about LSD
Paul Mcartney has openly said it is
Eric - Fargo, Nd
Who cares what it's about, it's the guitars that make this song, especially the solo at the end.Henry - Victoria, Canada
Why is it that every song written in the Sixties has to do with drugs? This is the same kind of mentality behind people assuring us that "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was about LSD. Frankly, I think Neil Young got a look at a young lady who had reddish hair, freckles and a tan, and dubbed her the Cinnamon Girl. At least, that's the mental image I get from the phrase.Wes - Springfield, Va
More specifically, I think the song's about finding the ideal mate.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
This song totally rocks! Leave the silly "hidden meanings" at the door and enjoy the song -- please! It's one of Neil's best.Jude - Thomasville, Ga
i think "the cinnamon girl" is a drug dealer or someone who sullply "the goods" what ever that may be.Bizgotti - Toronto, Canada
If you have ever heard the song The needle and the damage done, then you would know that this is absolutely not about heroin. I think it's just a about an ideal girl. Either way he rocks.Deadzeppelin - San Francisco, Ca
if you guys wanna hear a really good version of cowgirl in the sand, check out the live crosby stills nash and young album: 4 way street. it has a great version of cowgirl in the sand played live and accousicly.Charlie - Thomaston, Ct
I really dig this one, personally i,m not sure about the meaning my supervisor told it about a girl who was offspring of an interracial conception. If he is right i,ll never know....
Niel whats up?
Joshua - Butler, Pa
Cinnamon Girl was written about Pamela Courson, who was (or wasn't?) married to Jim Morrison.Sandra - Tx, United States
I don't know who he really wrote it about, but this song stands as a tribute to every groupie who ever lived. I love this song.Paula - Houston, Tx
neil young did not write this song about heroin. in fact "i never touch the stuff," is a neil young quote. he lost bruce berry and danny whitten to heroin so i doubt he would make a song glorifying it.Ryan - Winnipeg, Canada
The fact is 'Cinnamon Girl' is a metaphor for Heroin. Like a few of Neil's songs some of which are obvious and some of which are not.Soda - Nantes, France
Cinnamon Girl is about a girl he came across in California while walking down the street. He explained that the girl was on roller skates wearing a bikini. Young mentions a little about it on the liner notes on the LP version of Decade.Robert - Chicago, Il
Crazy Horse (then - Whitten,Talbot,Molina), were 3 members of the band, The Rockets, whom Neil had invited to record with him.

Cinnamon Girl recorded 20 March 1969, first session with Crazy Horse.

Neil wrote Cinnamon Girl while suffering from the flu, (at the same time, mid-march '69, he wrote 'Cowgirl in the Sand' & 'Down by the River').
Paulus - Tasmania, Australia