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Neil Young emphasizes what’s missing on “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown”

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, with Let’s Be Cops coming to theaters, we’re picking our favorite songs with “let’s” in the title.

Tonight’s The Night is Neil Young’s “grief record,” though you could just as easily call it his “contraction record.” Grammatically, he stuck a contraction in the title; thematically, Tonight’s The Night is all about the contraction of the singer-songwriter’s inner circle, a raw-nerved, 12-track mourning process prompted by the deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. To take this belabored metaphor one step further: “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” is the apostrophe within Tonight’s The Night’s contraction. Like the “i” of the “is” that got squished into the title shared by the record and its bookending tracks, “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” stands in for what’s missing from Tonight’s The Night. Plucked from a 1970 performance at the Fillmore East, the track puts Whitten front and center, taking lead vocals (and a co-writing credit, though Young later admitted that Whitten was the primary songwriter here) on a track that’s all about buying the drug that killed him. It’s a bright, country-rock boogie about scoring smack, but in the context of Tonight’s The Night, “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” plays like a ghostly intrusion—a grieving Young lapsing into reminiscence before “Mellow My Mind” snaps him back to attention. It’s a tempting invitation, the kind whose darker implications are illustrated by Tonight’s The Night and its phantom limbs


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