Neil Young's 1972 "Harvest" is his most commercially successful album.
"Heart of Gold" is Neil Young's only number one hit single in his long musical career. The song, on the surface, seems to be a plea for the redemption of all-conquering love. With James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt singing backup, the song was a made for radio hit waiting to happen. And amazingly, more than 30 years late, the song continues to be among the most requested and performed in concert.
(Listen to MP3 sample clip of "Heart of Gold" here)
From the album Decade's hand written liner notes by Neil himself on the hit song "Heart of Gold":
"This song put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I met more interesting people there."
From a review by Robert Christgau, the Dean of American Rock Critics:
"Anticipation and mindless instant acceptance made for critical overreaction when Harvest came out, but it stands as proof that the genteel Young has his charms, just like the sloppy one."
In 2003, RollingStone.com Magazine listed "Harvest" as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All time at #78.
"Harvest yielded Young's only Number One hit, 'Heart of Gold,' and helped set the stage for the Seventies soft-rock explosion -- both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sing on the album. Along with Young, they were in Nashville to appear on Johnny Cash's variety show the week that Harvest was cut with an odd group of accomplished session players that included bassist Tim Drummond, who had played with James Brown. The sound was Americana -- steel guitar, slide guitar, banjo -- stripped down and rebuilt with every jagged edge exposed. The standout tracks include 'Old Man' and 'The Needle and the Damage Done.'"
Total album sales: 4.3 million
Peak chart position: 1
From a Harvest
review in FUNHOUSE!:
"There's a World" is another experimental tune with the London Symphony
Orchestra, complete with kettle drums and all. "Take it in and blow hard" is
Neil's advice to his listener as to the attitude one ought to take in life. A
counterpoint to these is "Alabama," a song altogether too widely labeled,
along with "Southern Man," as a comment on racist attitudes in the Southern
United States. In fact, this is one of Neil's more personal tunes, and has
the ultimate reference to the Middle of the Road / ditch dualism:
'Alabama - You got the weight on your shoulders that's breaking your back
The guitar here is perfect "ditch." The subject matter of the next track,
"The Needle and the Damage Done," brings Harvest to the bottom of the ditch.
It is Neil's anti-drug manifesto, performed live on acoustic guitar. However, the tune itself is strictly MOR. Imagine the lyrics of "From Hank to Hendrix"
inserted and you'd get another chart-buster, but talk about junkies and drug
deals may not be appropriate. "
Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track'
From the Neil Young chapter of Rolling Stone's History of Rock by Dave Marsh, a well known detractor of Neil's music:
"But Harvest was
pure formula product, the kind of commercially conservative record that
came to characterize too much of California pop rock in the Seventies."
In a New Musical Express review from February 1972, of Harvest track by track on the anti-drug song "The Needle And The Damage Done":
"Recorded live at the Royce Hall, UCLA, and accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, this is a sad painful reflection on hard-drug taking. These emotions, his voice and lyrics convey only too well: 'I hit the city and I lost my band/I watch the needle take another man.' Obviously it is a subject which is close to him. 'I sing the song because I love the man/I know that some of you don't understand.' The final line of the song sums up the situation in tragic imagery. ' Every junkie's like a setting sun.' "
Neil Young's Harvest (Thirty Three and a Third series)
by Sam Inglis
"Thirty Three and a Third" is a series of books about critically acclaimed and much-loved albums of the last 40 years. From the book by Sam Inglis, editor at Sound on Sound magazine in London:
"The White Falcon’s split pickup might have been just a gimmick from the early days of stereo, but the way Neil Young uses it on 'Alabama' is remarkable. His muted picking brings stabbing notes first from one speaker, then the other, as though we were hearing not one but two guitarists, playing with an unnatural empathy. The electric guitar has seldom sounded so menacing, and Young’s growling rhythm and piercing lead notes are tracked perfectly by Kenny Buttrey’s bare-bones drumming. The build to the chorus is beautifully judged, and when Young and his celebrity backing singers let rip, there’s an almost physical sense of release."
Neil Young’s 'Harvest' is one of those strange albums that has achieved lasting success without ever winning the full approval of rock critics or hardcore fans. Even Young himself has been equivocal, describing it in one breath as his 'finest' album, dismissing it in the next as an MOR aberration.
And 20 years later, Harvest was updated with 1992's Harvest Moon.
See Heart of Gold lyrics for more. And Neil still continues to perform "Heart of Gold" regularly in his playlists. More on Young's CDs and discography.
Also, here's a collection of album reviews and commentary of Neil Young's Harvest.