Neil Young has been making music for over 30 years, touching on many different genres, from rockin' hard with his band Crazy Horse, to strange electronic synthesized songs on "Trans", to touring with Sonic Youth. He has released over 30 CDs, the most popular of which is 1972's "Harvest".
At it's core, it's a country rock album, but the songs range from country, hard rock, acoustic, and even dramatic songs with the London Symphony Orchestra. Lyrically, the album is mostly about loneliness and looking for love, and the music also has that vibe, in a country sort of way. It's a topic that's been done to death, sure, but Young is a skilled songwriter and he covers it quite well.
The album opens with Out On The Weekend
, a very mellow song which moves along nice and slowly. The first line gives you a good idea of what the entire album is like: "I think I'll pack it in and buy a pick-up". It's about a guy who just broke up with either his girlfriend or wife, and is moving away to start his new life. A great way to open up the album.
Then you've got the title track, Harvest
. Another mellow song, it's similar to Out on the Weekend
, but perhaps not quite as good. Lyrically, it's made up of questions he is asking a woman. It's a good song, but doesn't really stand out to me.
A Man Needs A Maid
stirred up some contraversy amongst womens rights groups. In the song, Young ponders getting a maid instead of a wife, so that he can have a woman to cook and clean for him, without any of the heartbreak of an actual relationship. It does walk a rather sexist line, but luckily, it's a fantastic song. Regardless of how offensive the lyrics are, they very vividly paint a picture of a lonely and heartbroken man. This is reflected in the song musically too, where Neil is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. Some say that the song is over the top because of the orchestra, which is true in a way, but I think it works rather well.
Next up is Neil Young's biggest hit, Heart of Gold
. One of his most well known and popular songs, it's very simple and easy to sing along to, and also very good. It's perfectly placed after the melancholy "A man needs a maid" - compared to that song, it's rather upbeat. But it still has the same lyrical theme as the rest of the album - searching for love, and the fear that the clock is ticking: "I've been a miner for a heart of gold, and I'm gettin old". Nice backup vocals here from James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.
Are You Ready For The Country?
is the song closest to normal rock music so far. It's not Rockin in the Free World
by any means, but it swaggers along nicely with some bluesy piano and slide guitar. The lyrics aren't very strong, but it's a good song which lightens the mood a bit from all the loneliness and longing. Also of note is that there's some backup vocals on here from David Crosby and Graham Nash, of "Crosby, Stills & Nash" fame.
is the second most famous song on Harvest, behind Heart of Gold
. And like Heart of Gold
, it also features James Taylor & Linda Ronstadt on backup vocals. It's a wonderful song, it feels and sounds very poignant. It's written about an old man who ran a ranch that Neil bought, and the lyrics explore life and love, reflected off the old man's life. Just a fantastic song.
There's a World
is the second song on Harvest to feature the London Symphony Orchestra. Unlike A man needs a maid
(the other orchestra song), this is a fairly lackluster track. Lyrically it's nothing special, and the orchestra just seems over the top, and melodramatic. It's not bad by any means, but it's probably the worst song on Harvest.
Then comes the big southern rocker, Alabama
. A very good song, with a catchy as hell chorus. The lyrics are probably the least personal on the album, but overall it's just a great song which shows that even though most of this album is mellow and country-ish, Neil can still rock.
And to change the pace yet again, there's the solemn The Needle and the Damage Done
. This is just Neil and an acoustic guitar, recorded at a concert. The lyrics are very straight-forward and powerful, addressing heroin junkies - specifically Danny Whitten. Danny was an original member of Neil's band Crazy Horse, who died of a heroin overdose (Neil had given Danny some money for rehab, but Danny just spent the money on the heroin which killed him). One of the best songs about drug abuse ever written.
Words (Between the lines of age)
brings Harvest to a close. It's another rocker, and it's a good song, but not the best way to close the album. In my opinion, The Needle and the Damage Done
would have been a much more effective closing song. It's still a very good song though.
Despite a couple of average songs, Harvest is still a great album. It's also a bonafide classic. I haven't heard a large amount of Young's work, but I would imagine that this CD is a good introduction. It has aged rather well, considering that it was made in 1972. Overall, a very solid album which I'll give a:
A Man Needs a Maid
Heart of Gold
The Needle and the Damage Done