As a solo artist, Neil Young released 33 studio albums since 1968. Yet the one everyone remembers is Harvest. Released in 1972, it was his fourth studio album. Critics hated it, particularly Rolling Stone, publishing a rather scathing review of the record. But the music fans loved it, eventually making it the best selling record of the year.
As for me – I haven’t heard it until today (besides “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”). Perusing the credits, I was impressed with the names that came out for the recording. We have Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash all lending a hand. Not to mention the London Symphony Orchestra being featured prominently on a couple of tracks.
Harvest is full of tales of introspection, loneliness and regret. “Out on the Weekend” plays out like a familiar country song touching upon the urge to runaway from heartbreak, while “A Man Needs a Maid” laments that a maid would be preferable to a lover – being taken care of without the pain. Meanwhile, “Heart of Gold” describes that forever search for that special someone that’s ultimately unsuccessful. “Old Man” reminds us of the sobering inevitability of time passing. And finally in “There’s a World”, the orchestra swells and booms while Neil straightforward sings about how we eventually end up by ourselves: “We are leaving, we are gone, come with us to all alone, never worry, never moan, we will leave you all alone.”
The album does stray off the path it takes a few times, particularly with “The Needle And The Damage Done”, which is a powerful live accoustic performance about a close friend with a heroin addiction and “Alabama” with lyrics critical of the southern state (inspiring an ‘answer song’ from Lynyrd Skynyrd and in turn, inspiring a mediocre Reese Witherspoon film).
The album as a whole is quite beautifully performed. When Neil gets together with Ronstadt and Taylor on vocals, it’s a wonderful thing. I wasn’t completely sold of the London Symphony Orchestra, but it kept the record interesting. It’d a great album to listen to on those ‘blue days’, when it manages to be empathetic without being overbearing.
As for Rolling Stone: in 2003 they named Harvest the 78th Greatest Album of All Time. I’d say that sounds about right.