Some albums never get old.
Neil Young (Photo courtesy of myspace.com)
When speaking on this subject, Neil Young’s 1972 classic, “Harvest,” is always one that comes to mind.
Young has always been a favorite of mine.
From the days of Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash & Young or even through all of his Crazy Horse projects and solo work, his wide-ranging styles and vivid array of songwriting have kept him relatable through his career.
He has been a voice for some of my favorite groups, such as Pearl Jam, giving them guidance along the way, all the while finding a way to churn out new material year after year.
So, let’s take a look back at an album, which 40 years later is still held in high regard among the music faithful.
After a taping of “The Johnny Cash Show” in 1971, Young was accompanied by Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor to a studio where they recorded two key tracks, “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man.”
The studio in reference was Quadrafonic Sound Studios located in Nashville, and is the place where the majority of the album was cut with other locations including California and England.
At the time, a blossoming Young was battling back problems and cut much of the record wearing a brace.
Playing on the album is a group of musicians called the Stray Gators, consisting of Ben Keith, Kenny Buttrey, Tim Drummond, Jack Nitzsche and John Harris.
Harvest opens with the track, “Out on the Weekend,” a bittersweet thumper that captures some of the finest poetry of the album. Through lyrics such as, “See the lonely boy, out on the weekend/Trying to make it pay/Can’t relate to joy, he tries to speak and/Can’t begin to say,” Young makes a poignant move on relationships and longing.
As previously mentioned, the album features one of Young’s well-known claims to fame, “Heart of Gold.”
The song enlists background vocals from Ronstadt and Taylor, passionate harmonica, and a soul-searching spirit that helped propel it to No. 1 in 1972.
One of the most heartfelt tracks on the album has to be “Old Man,” a song about Young living on a California ranch and exploring the relative relationship between himself and the old man who is the caretaker.
Another track of note is “Alabama,” which could very easily be a companion song to “Southern Man,” a song that profiles racism and helped spur a complex relationship between Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant that still begs many questions today.
Near the end of the album comes a lament to artists who gave way to drugs and addiction in “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
Through these 10 tracks, Young cuts and weaves through messages of hope, loss and signs of the times, making it one for the ages.
On its initial release, many critics had mixed reviews but it went on to be the best-selling album in the United States during this year.
With many studio albums, live releases and other albums since then, this is by far the best masterpiece Young has created and one which others are measured.