Neil Young Neil Young (1968), Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), After The Goldrush (1970), Harvest (1972)
It’s getting hard to keep up with Neil Young. In addition to a new studio LP, 2009 has seen the release of the green-car concept album Fork in the Road, a new live set (Dreamin’ Man Live ’92), and of course the 10-disc Blu-Ray/DVD/CD extravaganza Archives Vol. 1, which documents the first 10 years of his musical life. Not to mention that just over a year ago Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968 came out, so that even seems relatively new. We’re drowning in Neil Young this year, which for hardcore fans (and it seems like the percentage of his fanbase that meets this criteria increases every year) isn’t such a bad thing.
Add to the above the “Neil Young Archives Official Release Series,” which is the umbrella term for the wholesale reissue of Young’s catalog in remastered form. The first four albums, from 1968’s Neil Young to 1972’s Harvest, were released on CD under the banner a few months back, which made the Archives set even more confusing than it seemed initially. Since much of Archives turned out to be previously issued material, with some albums appearing almost in their entirety, it stood to reason that it would serve as the best way to hear these songs for a while. Anyone ponying up between $100 and $300 for Archives surely already had all those albums, and they’ll probably want the better-sounding versions in their original form, too. Young, like Bob Dylan, is almost impossible to read as far as stuff like this goes. It’s easy to say that he’s ripping people off by getting them to buy the same music over and over. But so many of his puzzling moves over the years, such as refusing to put out On the Beach on CD even though fans were clamoring for it, would seem to be to his financial detriment.
Here’s one more for the shelf: the first four albums have been packaged in two limited edition box sets. The CD version is pressed on 24-karat gold discs, and the packaging is new; the vinyl is pressed on 180-gram records (as opposed to 140-gram for the standard issue of the LPs). The vinyl set, which is what I listened to for this review, is going for $150, which certainly isn’t cheap. It packages the records in extra-heavy gatefold sleeves that will probably outlive me, and includes full-size reproductions of the original inserts, but there’s no extra documentation otherwise. For me, there’s an irony in listening to these deluxe versions, because I’ve long regarded used vinyl copies of Harvest as a litmus test for record stores. If they’re selling a used copy in excellent shape for $4 or $5, it’s my kind of shop; if they’re selling it for $8 or $9, I’m probably somewhere in the New York Metropolitan Area. Fact is, Harvest was the #1 selling album of 1972, and it continued to sell all through the 1970s. Literally millions of copies were pressed, and used copies are very easy to find. It’s a record that shouldn’t cost a lot of money.
Which is not to say it’s not a great record. All four of these albums, in fact, are excellent– records that everyone should have in their collection eventually, in whatever format. I say “eventually” because Neil Young is an artist you shouldn’t force yourself to get into; his most devoted fans are so convinced of his genius, and so bent on tracking down every last bootleg, that it’s easy to hear a few songs and decide that Young isn’t such a big deal. Sometimes it can just take a little while to come around to his music, and you need to be in the right frame of mind.
Harvest, whatever your copy ends up costing you, closed out one of the stronger four-album career-opening runs in pop history. Of course, Young had some practice before he went solo, so he had a head start. After gigging around Canada as a teenager in the garage-rock outfit the Squires, he headed out to L.A. and hooked up with the newly forming Buffalo Springfield in 1966. They were a band with a few songwriters, each of whom had their own personality, and Young’s songs (“For What It’s Worth”, the group’s biggest hit, wasn’t one of them) revealed an emerging and distinctive voice. In 1968, he left the band and started his solo career, releasing Neil Young at the end of the year.
The album bearing only Neil Young’s name is the one that sounds least like him. It’s a fine psych-tinged folk-rock set with colorful arrangements and top-shelf instrumental contributors like guitarist Ry Cooder and visionary keyboardist and arranger Jack Nitzsche, who would continue to work with Young periodically through the 70s. But Young himself sounds oddly tentative throughout, as if he weren’t quite sure what he wanted his music to sound like, and this is his most restrained singing on record. There are echoes of the great music to come, like the ballad “The Old Laughing Lady”, and the arrangements are lush and inviting, but Neil Young in a sense represents a road not taken, and it’s most interesting now in comparison to what was to come.
The opening riff to “Cinnamon Girl”, the song that kicks off Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, erases the memory of Neil Young completely in about five seconds. In the months following the release of his debut, Young hooked up with a ragtag trio of musicians from a band called the Rockets, renamed them Crazy Horse, and found his raison d’être. Where the performances on Neil Young were eminently professional, the sophisticated and exacting parts executed with polished precision, Crazy Horse were loose and sloppy, privileging groove and feeling above all. Many of Young’s seasoned contemporaries considered them an embarrassment, but for him they represented a new way of thinking about music, one that favored intuition and stayed true to the moment. A year later he would hook up with the hugely successful Crosby, Stills and Nash; Young would eventually call CSNY his Beatles, while Crazy Horse was his Stones. By this logic, they were making music on the level of Sticky Fingers from the jump.
Discussion of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere usually gravitates toward the two extended guitar workouts, “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. Both are masterpieces of rock minimalism, demonstrating the power of repetition as the Crazy Horse rhythm section of Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot cycle through the chords and Young solos endlessly in his grimy, deeply-felt tone, playing off the subtle, prodding rhythm work of guitarist Danny Whitten. But the more compressed and accessible moments on the record are just as powerful. The title track is a brash, rollicking country-rocker in the vein of the Band, while “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” is a gorgeous acoustic ballad that finds Young, Whitten, and violinist Robin Lane engaged in three-part harmony on the achingly slow chorus. Best of all on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Young sounds comfortable and confident, singing with the versatile (and hugely influential) voice that has changed remarkably little in the 40 years since.
Everybody Knows was a sort of big bang for Young, a dense moment of creative explosion that saw possibilities expanding in every direction. So its follow-up was anything but a retread. With his newfound confidence, Young was poised to stretch, and After the Gold Rush sounds a bit like an overview of the Great American Songbook but with one guy writing almost all the songs. Members of Crazy Horse appear in various combinations on a few of tracks, and songs like “Southern Man” and “When You Dance I Can Really Love” have the hypnotically stoned but sneakily intense groove of the previous record. But more precisely crafted songs like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Birds”, and especially the astonishing title track, which has become a rock standard, show Young’s gift as a writer of original melodies of extraordinary beauty in full flower. It’s an aspect of Young’s work that can be overlooked: the guy can write a simple tune over a chord change that hollows you out completely. Sure, the record has a phrase or two that might sound a little dippy to those with an aversion to hippies (Young was one of those, though of a very individualistic sort), but After the Gold Rush is basically unassailable. There’s a reason why it’s the favorite Neil Young album for so many.
Which brings us back to Harvest, Young’s mainstream breakthrough. Stepping away from Crazy Horse and hooking up with Nashville session musicians he dubbed the Stray Gators, Harvest finds Young experimenting again with a richer, more painstaking studio sound, but one informed by the spontaneity he’d found so inspiring. It’s probably his best sounding album, and the ear tends to gravitate to the rhythm section in particular, as bassist Tim Drummond and drummer Kenny Buttrey are almost absurdly in the pocket throughout. (Here I should note that, while they certainly cost a lot of money, the vinyl pressings of these four albums live up to the hype: whisper quiet and clear but full and punchy– these records have never sounded better).
But Young’s songs, though not up to the level of Gold Rush, continue his winning streak. “Out on the Weekend” and the title track set the table for a mellow, rootsy, and breezily melodic album, which later songs like “Heart of Gold” and “Are You Ready for the Country” continue, but Harvest has a more tormented side as well. “A Man Needs a Maid”, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, is one of his stranger creations, an affecting portrait of loneliness undercut with a clumsy, lunkheaded chorus refrain, the sincerity of which has never been quite clear. “Old Man” is something of a signature song, laying out the wizened, long-view outlook that didn’t fit with his chronological age (by the time of the record’s release, Young was 26). And then there’s harrowing and radiant “The Needle and the Damage Done”: at just over two minutes, it’s far too short, almost painfully so, just like the lives of the junkies it was written about. Soon enough, two people close to Young, Crazy Horse’s Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, would die from drugs.
The unexpected success of Harvest, combined with the grief and guilt Young felt after Whitten and Berry died, would send Young into a dark and raw place with his next few records as he famously “headed for the ditch” to escape the middle of the road. Hereafter, an always-fascinating mix of success and failure would define Young’s career, and along the way he’d make some pretty lousy records along with the great ones. To embrace Young as an artist after Harvest would mean accepting his many flaws (including the questionable business decisions, like the many confusing releases of this year), which have made his career unusually rich and varied as well as maddeningly inconsistent. But all that would come later. Enjoying this brilliant four-album run requires no special commitment.
Neil Young – Harvest (Warner Brothers MS-2032)
Stephen Stills – Manassas (Atlantic SD 2903)
Graham Nash/David Crosby – Graham Nash/David Crosby (Atlantic SD 7220)
It was the Christmas season of 1969 that the world received their first exposure to the music of Crosby, Stills and Nash . . . their sugary sweet harmonies and acoustical guitar work. Since then, the group has added Neil Young and the world has yet to satisfy their insatiable thirst appetite for their music.
Perhaps it is because of that tremendous demand the public has for their music that the albums listed above suffer. The artistic quality has become secondary to the speed with which the C,S,N & Y products are cranked out. The creative spark has been doused by the lack of earnestness . . . of motivation other than monetary.
So what are we left with after the release of two hugely anticipated albums, Neil Young’s Harvest and Graham Nash/David Crosby? A pair of sluggish, and in some moments downright embarrassing LPs . . . the latest on the C,S,N & Y assembly line.
At this moment, Neil Young is the biggest drawing name the music industry has to offer. I’m Happy That Y’all Came Down or Young Man’s Fancy, the bootlegs of Young’s February, 1971 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion concert sold more than half-a-million copies. That’s pretty damn amazing for a bootleg. And why? The albums were a very enjoyable product. A recording of an outstanding performance by a great talent. Assisted only by his own guitar or piano, Young whipped through some of his most popular tunes and revealed some new ones (four of which are on Harvest). Aside from the no-no’s involved with bootlegs, it was one of last year’s best albums.
Young’s music has fascinated me from the very beginning. The first time I heard “Broken Arrow” from Buffalo Springfield Again I suppose I instantly became an avid follower of his music. He is one of the few that have been able to capture the moods perfectly by uniting his guitar and distinctive unpolished voice.
With After the Goldrush, Young achieved the fame he now still holds. The general theme of despair was captured with such conviction of such songs as “Oh Lonesome Me,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” and “Tell Me Why.” The album was recorded in such of what resembled a homemade fashion that the rustic quality was heightened in every cut.
It took Neil Young about two years to follow-up After the Goldrush. That LP, Harvest, is quite a regression. In fact, it is nothing short of a stun to those that have had good reason to have faith in his tasteful musicianship.
With Harvest, the homemade quality has been unfortunately replaced by a slick production job. The conviction present in previous efforts is replaced by the mouthing of cliche lyrics by Young accompanied by the soggy background vocal work of James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and others. Think I’ll pack it in and buy a pickup/ Take it down to LA/ Find a place to call my own and try to fix up/ Start a brand new day . . .
Young now has a new back-up band: The Stray Gators. Consisting of Jack Nitzsche on steel guitar among others. The band is sloppy and listless on most tracks. Drummer Ken Buttrey resembles the grade-school snare drummer who knows only one pattern. “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” “Out on the Weekend,” and “Alabama” all share the exact drum beat . . . thump, thump-thump.
On two cuts, Young abandons the Stray Gators and takes up with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The result: “There’s a World” and “A Man Needs a Maid,” make no attempt to veil their pretentiousness.
Up till now, Young’s appeal lay in his irresistible simplicity. On “There’s a World,” his feeble vocal is inundated by an entire full piece professional orchestra. We are leaving. We are alone/ Come with us to all alone/ Never worry./ Never moan./ We will leave you all alone.
“A Man Needs a Maid,” apparently about his lover Carrie Snodgrass, is one of the most moving and effective lyrics available. First displayed on the bootleg,the number was brilliantly performed in a lonely piano arrangement to match the despair the lyrics generated. I must say that the church bells, gongs, french horns and a thousand strings don’t do much for the introverted vocal.
“Alabama” is introduced by the same sawing lead guitar work that introduced “Ohio.” The theme returns to cash in on “Southern Man.” However, unlike “Southern Man” the instrumentation is cluttered by the, you guessed it, Stray Gators. Steel guitar going in one direction, rhythm guitar going in another and the vocal off in yet another direction don’t seem to lend much to the continuity of the melody.
Neil Young suffers a blow every time he is over-produced. He is best presented in a gentle, unpretentious manner. This is the reason that, “The Needle and the Damage Done” stands out so distinctly from the remainder of the album. Recorded live, the track features only an acoustic guitar. It is so much easier to realize Harvest‘s shortcomings when it is placed in the face of a cut such as this. The planned stupor of the Stray Gators adds nothing, the impressive name-dropping of an unnecessary James Taylor does little more. But Neil Young . . . accompanied only by a small number of authentically basic musicians to fill him out a bit . . . is the music anybody could offer.
Up till this album, the vocal and musical harmony of Graham Nash and David Crosby have been united only within the confines of the collective and separate recordings of C,S,N & Y.
It seems odd that Graham Nash/David Crosby exists, as the LP is actually half Nash’s material and half Crosby’s material, i.e, it’s one half of a Crosby solo LP and one half a Nash solo LP. If it sounds awkward, it is.
Graham Nash is the worse off for the juxtaposition. His predictable material is pleasant, bouncy and enjoyable in small doses. In larger measures, Songs for Beginners and this album, one begins to realize all too quickly how repetitious his music really is. “Southbound Train” is just a slightly altered “Frozen Smile.” “Immigration Man” represents the “Chicago” mood of Nash. The theme is the same, as is the arrangement.
Again, both artists dominate their songs, in most occasions, Crosby can be barely made out in Nash’s material and vice-versa.
David Crosby deserves another entire album of his own material. If I Could Only Remember My Name deserves a brilliant follow-up to match its own quality. And if what is presented by Crosby on this album is an indication of what is to come . . . Crosby may yet turn out to be the most gifted of the entire C,S,N & Y gang.
Only five of the record’s tracks belong to him, and the result is frustrating that more of them simply aren’t available outside of the previously mentioned solo LP. “Whole Cloth” is one of those mystically misty (?) tunes that Crosby performs so well. The musicianship is hesitant much of the same as “Triad,” the vocal a type of earthy whisper.
“Page 43″ follows a great chord structure with an after-effect to it resembling an all-day thumbsucker. Hear it once and you’ll hear it the rest of the day. It’s just one of those songs that finds its way into your blood. Now after a hype like that can it be anything else but great? I could go on for days.
There has always been a place in Crosby’s heart for a good rich harmony consisting of do-do-da-da-doot-da-da type stuff. Recall the code to “Suite Judy Blue Eyes.” With “Where Will I Be,” he lyrically raises the infinite question and follows it with some soaring harmony work with Nash that ranks with the best of that particular genre.
Well, what’s it all led to? Nothing too complex. The fact is that when somebody finds an untapped market they’re bound to cash in on it. David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young have discovered a ripe market, Harvest and Graham Nash/David Crosby are a couple of attempts to cash in. And they’ll succeed. Watcha Gonna Do?
Moving right along, we have the latest from Stephen Stills, Manassas. A two-album set, the recording seems to prove that Stills needs a band around him to stifle his self-indulgent leanings.
This time he has surrounded himself with some of the best in the business – Chris Hillman, Al Perkins, Joe Lala, Paul Harris, Fuzzy Samuels, and the ever-constant Dallas Taylor.
Although a certain amount of throw-away is always present in any double-LP set, Manassas always remains admirable if not exciting. The musicianship is generally excellent with the only pitfall being that the droning Stills’ vocal pervades all but one of the LP’s sixteen cuts.
The lyrics represent a low-point in Stills’ lyricist career. Far be it from me to mention that the days of “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” style lyrics are far behind. The bulk of the lyrics concern the trials and tribulations of Stephen Stills . . . as if we all waited breathlessly to hear Stills’ newest triumphs and mostly frustrations that he has suffered between albums.
The album set is divided under four subtitles: The Raven, The Wilderness, Consider and Rock & Roll is Here to Stay.
The Raven side is the electric side; The Wilderness side the ‘Merle Haggard’ side, The Consider side, the closest to the material he presented with the Buffalo Springfield that Stills has come in quite a while, is the album’s high point. The Rock & Roll is Here to Say side is rather hypocritical. Easily interchangeable with side one, it is basically another electric side.
So there you have it, living proof that although the splinters are sometimes enjoyable, they never equal the bulk from which they came. In this case, we’ll let the bulk be represented by C,S,N & Y’s Deja Vu and the splinters Harvest, Manassas and Graham Nash/David Crosby.
At the end of this, five’ll getcha ten, most of you are going to be exclaiming lividly, “O what vile geeks are rock critics! How quick are they to heap disapproval on one whose praises they once sang stridently at the first sign of us Common Folk taking him to heart en masse! How they revel in detesting that which we adore!” However often I might second with a hearty “right on!” such a perception of the critic/audience chasm, though, I will swear under oath before the highest court in the land that such an exclamation is far from apt in the case of a displeased review of Neil Young’s Harvest.
Different folks, it must be seen, respond to overwhelming mass acceptance with different strokes. While some respond to commercial prosperity as a means to realizing all those brainstorms that a lack of loot formerly made impossible, to expanding and growing as an artist through the exploitation to heretofore unattainable resources, others either wilt artistically in the face of a mass audience’s expectations — resorting to conscious imitations of what was once instinctive and spontaneous — or greatly relax the standards by which they once judged themselves, having concluded (usually quite correctly) that once one attains superstar status the audience will eagerly gobble up whatever half-assed baloney he pleases to record.
On the basis of the vast inferiority relative to his altogether spectacular Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere of the two albums he’s made since teaming up with Crosby, Etc. (and thus insuring that he’d never again want for an audience), it can only be concluded that Neil Young is not one of those folks whom superstardom becomes artistically.
Harvest, a painfully long year-plus in the making (or, seemingly more aptly, assembling), finds Neil Young invoking most of the L.A. variety of superstardom’s weariest cliches in an attempt to obscure his inability to do a good imitation of his earlier self.
Witness, for example, the discomfortingly unmistakable resemblance of nearly every song on this album to an earlier Young composition — it’s as if he just added a steel guitar and new words to After The Gold Rush. Witness his use of said steel guitar to create a Western ambience worlds less distinctive than that conjured in earlier days by his own vibratodrenched lead guitar.
Witness, in fact, that he’s all but abdicated his position as an authoritative rock-and-roller for the stereotypical laid-back country-comforted troubadour role, seldom playing electric guitar at all any more, and then with none of the spellbinding economy and spine-tingling emotiveness that characterized his playing with Crazy Horse. Indeed, his only extended solo on the album, in “Words,” is fumbling and clumsy, even embarrassing.
Neil’s Nashville backing band, the Stray Gators, pale miserably in comparison to the memory of Crazy Horse, of whose style they do a flaccid imitation on such tracks as “Out On The Weekend,” “Harvest,” and “Heart of Gold.” Where the Crazies kept their accompaniment hypnotically simple with a specific effect in mind (to render most dramatic rhythmic accents during choruses and instrumental breaks), the Gators come across as only timid, restrained for restraint’s sake, and ultimately monotonous.
With that going on behind him, Neil’s lyrics dominate the listener’s attention far more than befit them. Neil’s verbal resources have always been limited, but before now he’s nearly always managed to come up with enough strong, evocative lines both to keep the listener’s attention away from the banality of those by which they’re surrounded and to supply the listener with a vivid enough impression of what a song is about to prevent his becoming frustrated by its seemingly deliberate obscurity and skeletal incompleteness. In his best work, as in Everybody Knows, wherein Crazy Horse’s heavy, sinister accompaniment made unmistakable the message (of desperation begetting brutal vindictiveness) which the almost impenetrably subjective words hinted at only broadly, the basic sound of a song further vivified what lyric fragments suggested.
Here, with the music making little impression, the words stand or fall on their own, ultimately falling as a result of their extremely low incidence of inspiration and high incidence of rhyme-scheme-forced silliness. A couple are even slightly offensive — “The Needle And The Damage Done,” is glib, even cute, and displays little real commitment to its subject, while “There’s A World” is simply flatulent and portentuous nonsense. Only “A Man Needs A Maid,” in which Neil treats his favorite theme — his inability to find and keep a lover — in a novel and arrestingly brazen (in terms of our society’s accelerating consciousness of women’s rights) manner, is particularly interesting — nearly everything else being limitlessly ponderable, but in a scant, oblique way that offers few rewards to the ponderer.
It might be noted (with remorse) that neither of the symphony-orchestrated tunes of Harvest even approaches “Expecting To Fly,” from 1967, in terms of production or over-all emotional power. Would that the two unreleased movements of that earlier masterpiece, originally conceived as a trilogy, been given the grooves used for “Maid” and “There’s A World.” (Apologies if “The Emperor of Wyoming” or “String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill,” from Neil Young, or “Broken Arrow” are in fact the missing two-thirds).
“Alabama” aspires to the identical effect of “Southern Man” but contains nothing nearly so powerful as that Gold Rush song’s “I heard screamin’ and bullwhips crackin’,” followed by a vicious slash of Danny Whitten’s rhythm guitar and a stinging lead line from Neil. “Old Man’s” first line promises a lot more than the song ever delivers in terms of compassionate perception. “Heart of Gold’s” basic conceit would be laughed off the airwaves coming from another solo troubadour. “Are You Ready For The Country,” like “Cripple Creek Ferry,” seems an in-joke throwaway intended for the amusement of certain of Neil’s superstar pals. The title tune is lyrically cluttered and oblique, and “Out on The Weekend” is puerile, precious, and self-indulgent, not to mention musically insipid.
Truth be told, I listened to the entirety of Harvest no less than a dozen times before touching typewriter to paper, ultimately managing to come with only one happy thing to say about it: Neil Young still sings awful pretty, and often even touchingly. For the most part, though, he’s seemingly lost sight of what once made his music uniquely compelling and evocative and become just another pretty-singing solo superstar.
Which can’t help but bring me down.
Neil Young’s 30+ career albums are as varied as any other artist, spanning psychedelic folk to folk-rock to hard rock to pre-grunge. Despite the unpredictable and often self-indulgent nature of his music, it is not surprising Young has achieved such lasting commercial success. His 1972 release, |Harvest, was an immediate success, hitting the top of the album charts and sustaining its popularity to become that year’s most purchased record. That popularity is justified even today by the considerable commercial weight the album has, remaining his most popular record to this date.
Like his breakthrough album, 1970s After The Goldrush, Harvest was intended by Young to be a country album. He recruited the Stray Gators for the task, a band which consisted of Jack Nitzsche (who also co-produced), Ben Keith, Tim Drummond and Kenny Buttrey. The majority of the album was recorded in Nashville, with Young in much pain, sporting an uncomfortable back brace. Fellow singer-songwriters James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt were also persuaded to contribute vocal tracks.
Despite the most rigid of intentions, Harvest does not manifest itself simply as a “country album.” Single ‘Heart Of Gold’ would go on to become Young’s career best-selling single and echoes his past folk-rock recordings. Driven by Young’s aggressive acoustic guitar playing and a beautiful harmonica melody, ‘Heart Of Gold’ expresses Young’s simple longing for love: “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold and and I’m getting old.” The only traces of Nashville’s influence on the track are Linda Ronstadt’s haunting backing vocals and the late introduction of a slide guitar. The lasting appeal of this classic recording is clear in Young’s superb vocal, easy to like and impossible not to sing along to.
Similarly, my favourite song on the album, ‘The Needle & The Damage Done’, harks back to Young’s CSNY days. The song is a short slice of folk magic, containing a beautifully melodic picked acoustic guitar intro and an emotion-filled vocal. The song was recorded live in California, though it’s impossible to tell until it’s over, and tells the story of Neil’s experiences with heroin and the lives it has taken.
I caught you knocking at my cellar door/I love you baby, can I have some more?/Oh, the damage done.
I hit the city and I lost my band/I watched the needle take another man/Gone, gone, the damage done.
Opening track ‘Out On The Weekend’ is a fusion of country and folk, with a slow, drum heavy rhythm and mournful melodies from both harmonica and slide guitar. The acoustic guitar is typically aggressive, despite the slow tempo, echoing the lyrical sentiment of frustration in love.
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.
Two of the album’s ten tracks feature the London Symphony Orchestra. The first is feminists’ favourite ‘A Man Needs A Maid’. The song caused a huge stir at the time of release to its content which was perceived to be sexist. Young laments his bad luck in love and ponders the thought that men should simply get maids rather than wives, who’ll perform the wife’s duties while protecting him from the heartbreak he feels is inevitable in relationships. The dynamic is powerful on the chorus, as Nitzsche’s sombre piano gives way to dramatic orchestral sweeps.
‘There’s A Love’ makes similarly epic use of the famed orchestra, opening with dramatic string crescendos, before a quieter passage emerges driven by woodwind instruments. The dynamic is once again superb, as is Young’s heartfelt vocal.
There’s a world you’re living in/No one else has your part/All God’s children in the wind/Take it in and blow hard
To give a love, you gotta live a love/To live a love, you gotta be part of”
‘Old Man’ is perhaps the album’s second most well-known song, also featuring the vocal skills of Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. A banjo melody in the intro gives way to a similar passage on acoustic guitar, while Young again ponders the feeling of aging without loving.
Old man take a look at my life/I’m a lot like you/I need someone to love me the whole night through.
‘Alabama’ and ‘Words (Between The Lines Of Age)’ could easily be mistaken for Crazy Horse songs, as distorted guitar lines and heavy chord stabs litter both tunes. The former is a facetious ode to Alabama, blasting it as an economic drain on “the union” – “Alabama you got the world on your shoulders/That’s breaking your back.” The latter is a disposable rocker, which I don’t see fit to comment on.
The title track is a fast-paced but understated country song, written in the style of an interview as Young pesters a poor girl with a barrage of personal questions. The chorus is pretty, lyrically, with Young promising, “Dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.”
‘Are You Ready For The Country?’ is another album highlight which echoes the Eagles, though driven by the bluesy piano of Nitzsche. Though repetitive, it’s an enjoyable song to listen to and a welcome break from the album’s typically morose lyrics. The song features an infectious chorus, which is repeated ad nauseum.
Are you ready for the Country?/Because it’s time to go
Harvest is regarded by Young himself as his finest release; he would comment many years later: “I think Harvest is probably the finest record I’ve ever made.” He makes a strong case.