At nearly seven minutes long, "Danger Bird" is one of Young's great dark epics. It uses a fossilized bird as a metaphor for a romantic relationship.
The line "'Cause you've been with another man, here you are and Here I am" suggests that the song may be about actress Carrie Snodgress, whom Young had separated from months earlier after learning she was having an affair, an event he believes he presaged subconsciously in the song "Motion Pictures
." Assuming this song is indeed about Snodgress, it finds good company with "A Man Needs A Maid
," "Motion Pictures," "Harvest
," and "Already One."
Young's guitar work in the song has earned high praise from Lou Reed and guitar legend Link Wray. Reed at one time felt it was the best guitar he'd ever heard, and Wray, who was in his 70s when writer Jimmy McDonough first played it for him, said, "It's pure, honest music. No bulls--t."
Producer David Briggs compiled the song from two different takes recorded weeks apart from each other.
Bob Dylan showed up at the house while Zuma was being recorded, completely unannounced, uninvited, and dressed down in cheap clothes. He played a bit with the band, but nothing they did ended up being kept. Still, Frank "Poncho" Sampedro clearly remembers Dylan playing around with "Danger Bird."
The lines, "'Cause you've been with another man, there you are and here I am," were originally written for an unreleased song called "L.A. Girls and Ocean Boys." That song was directly inspired by the trip in which Young discovered that Snodgress was cheating on him.
A live version of "Danger Bird" appears on Year Of The Horse, a live album made in conjunction with a Jim Jarmusch documentary of the same name.
Rolling Stone ranked "Danger Bird" as the 24th best Neil Young song of all time, and the seventh best "deep cut."