Neil Young – Harvest (1972)

Slippin’ and slidin’

This is such a diverse album with a range of different styles, yet it feels very cohesive. It is the strangest thing. Cohesion via diversity? It all connects in a beautiful way. All the songs feel like they belong. Almost all anyway…

We have a couple of mellow country songs in “Out on the weekend” and “Harvest”. These are my favourites on the album. What a stellar start! Neil plays with a great band called The Stray Gators. Ben Keith is brilliant on the steel guitar, Jack Nitzsche on piano, Tim Drummond on bass and seasoned session veteran Kenny Buttery from Nashville on the drums. Neil doesn’t always have the best drummer and bass players backing him, but on this album the band is great, and I think that is part of why the album is so great, mellow and smooth but still marinated with Neil’s unique aura.

We have an acoustic song in “The needle and the damage done”. It is a fan favourite, a sadness over a fallen comrade. I have never been a big fan of the song and often find it boring in live shows. Yup.

The album also has two strange ducklings in the fold. Two songs recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra! How strange. Indeed. The infamous one “A man needs a maid” is debated over its title and lyrics. How male chauvinistic could it be? I think people are judging the song by its name. The song has always been a love song to me. Neil sings about the pros and cons of getting romantically involved. Either a real relationship or stay single. And then maybe he wanted to make fun of easily offended people?

We also have guitar drenched rockers like “Alabama” and “Words (Between the lines of age). Large songs, impressive songs in live settings. I usually love the sound of Neil’s guitars and especially on these songs. It is so gentle and heavy, broad and flowing, almost lyrical, but still strong… Hey, you try to describe a guitar sound yourself!

“Alabama” and “Southern man” from “After the goldrush” famously made the Lynard Skynard write “Sweet home Alabama” in defence of their home state. I think they all have made up after the controversy. I guess Lynard Skynard won with the success of their song and all. I understand where Neil comes from and I love both his songs. Just because.

Up tempo? Yep. “Are you ready for the country?”. I love this song! It is so much fun. The slide guitar, the ambiance from the guys live in the studio. It is great.

What do we have more? Any more songs to consider? Well I don’t know… Yes! That one! When I was a younger man, in the eighties, a radio station had a poll on the best song from the seventies and I called in and put my vote on a song from “Harvest”. It was of course “Old man”. What a lovely song. I was in love with the song at the time. It’s an emotional and melancholic story about the foreman, an old man, who worked on the ranch Neil bought. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt are absolutely wonderful on backing vocals. The steel and acoustic guitars are sublime. The drums are handled with finesse. Life, getting older and death. It’s the whole life encompassed in one song.

Yes, oh, and then there is also “Heart of gold“. Did you forget it? No, I didn’t think so. One can clearly see that I am leaning towards melancholic tunes. “Heart of gold” is so bittersweet. Again, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt help out on backing vocals. The song is truly iconic. So much played that Neil got tired of it somewhere down the road. He has taken it out of the dog house nowadays at least. The simpleton part of the audience always cheers like maniacs when he plays it. I saw a video on youtube of Neil’s very first performance of the song. It was a couple of months before the release of the singe (and album). How strange it felt to see him start the classic guitar chords and no one in the audience reacts.

By the way David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash all sang backing vocals on the album. Two each on “Alabama”, “Words” and “Are you ready for the country” but never all three at the same song. Stupid.

This a great album with some stellar highlights. But its whole is also greater than the sum of its parts.

My rating: 9/10

Side A:

  1. Out on the weekend
  2. Harvest
  3. A man needs a maid
  4. Heart of gold
  5. Are you ready for the country?

Side B:

  1. Old man
  2. There’s a world
  3. Alabama
  4. The needle and the damage done
  5. Words (Between the lines of age)

Best songs: “Out on the weekend”, “Harvest”, “Heart of gold”, “Are you ready for the country?” and “Old man”.

Media: Reissued remastered gatefold 180 grams vinyl, 2009, Official Release Series 04

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