What better time to remember Harvest than on the day after Neil Young’s birthday? Harvest was initially intended to be Neil’s first country album. In preparation, Neil put together a talented backing band dubbed “The Stray Gators” that consisted of such pros as; pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, former James Brown bassist Tim Drummond, drummer Kenny Buttrey, and legendary multi-instrumentalist/film score composer Jack Nitzsche (also co-producer). All the pieces were there for a great country album and yet Harvest became so much more. How else do you explain the inclusion of the London Symphony Orchestra? I don’t know about you but when I hear the name “London Symphony Orchestra” I don’t tend to think country.
Songs like “Are You Ready for the Country” and “Harvest” reflect Neil’s country-themed vision, but for the most part Harvest is an album that reflects all sides of Neil. I mentioned the London Symphony Orchestra and they’re in full swing on theatrical cuts like “There’s a World” and “A Man Needs a Maid”. “Old Man” calls back to the bittersweet tales of Neil’s previous album After the Goldrush. Perhaps most affecting is Neil’s heartbreaking “The Needle and the Damage done” a live tribute to deceased Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. Harvest captures a wide range of styles and more importantly emotions.
Reportedly, Neil recorded Harvest while in terrible pain after a severe back injury. I guess you could say recording Harvest was “Back breaking hard work?” Ha! Nonetheless, Neil managed to overcome the pain and not only write some of his best material but some of his most successful. A big chart hit, Harvest also contained Neil’s only number one single “Heart of Gold”. If there’s one song Neil will be remembered for it might as well be that one. You don’t get much more iconic than that opening harmonica riff set against Neil’s always expressive acoustic guitar.
Harvest is another one of those albums that followed a great album and thus asks the question “Which one is better?” Honestly, I can’t decide ,but I’m glad that’s my only quandary when it comes to these albums.
Favorite Tracks: “Heart of Gold”, “The Needle and the Damage Done”, “Old Man”