Despite being much longer than most rock songs (10:06), "Cowgirl In The Sand" is one of Neil Young's most enduring tunes. Appearing on the artist's second solo album, it features the deliberately unrehearsed, violent guitar assault that has since become one of Young's trademarks.
The song discusses what could be three different women or one woman in three guises, each one connected by the repeated question, "When so many love you, is it the same?"
There have been many interpretations of the song. The most common is that the cowgirl is a promiscuous lady, but even this isn't actually supported clearly by the lyrics. That interpretation stems from the tendency to see "when so many love you" as a sexual line, but there are multiple ways that term can be heard. It can be the kind of "love" that celebrities get from fans, for instance.
David Downing has mused that the song is questioning '60s sexual liberation. Ken Bielen, on the other hand, suggests the song is actually about Young himself - an intriguing analysis supported especially by the song's second verse ("has your band begun to rust?"). Still other critics have seen misogyny in the song, due to the line, "It's the woman in you that makes you want to play this game."
For Young's own part, he's denied anything literal or concrete in the song. In the book Shakey, he said, "The words to 'Cowgirl In The Sand' are very important because you can free-associate with them. Some words won't let you do that, so you're locked into the specific f--kin' thing the guy's singin' about. This way it could be anything."
Young also claimed the song was inspired by Spanish beaches, but biographers determined that at the time of writing the song Young had never been to Spain.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was the first album Danny Whitten and Crazy Horse recorded with Young. In Shakey, Jimmy McDonough writes that Whitten showed "an understanding of Young's music that borders on telepathic."
According to Jim McDonough in Shakey, Young and Crazy Horse performed this song in a Mafia-run gambling joint in Providence, Rhode Island. They got so deep into playing that they failed to notice when a huge brawl erupted in the place.
The song's been featured on Decade, Greatest Hits, The Archives Vol. 1963–1972, and other Neil Young compilation albums. Live version have also appeared on Live at Massey Hall 1971 and Live at the Fillmore East.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young included this on their 1971 live album 4 Way Street. The Byrds covered it in 1973.