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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, married for just one year at this point.
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 is interviewed talking 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.
Danny Whitten, the member of Crazy Horse who would go on to die of a heroin overdose, performs a duet with Young on the song, singing the high harmony.
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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