Dec 02, 2022
By Lee Campbell
Produced by Elliot Mazer and originally released in February 1972, Neil Young’s Harvest album has become one of his best loved projects. It topped the Billboard Top 200 chart for two weeks and produced a number one single “Heart of Gold”—Young’s solitary U.S. chart-topping single. Following the end of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1970, he employed a group of session country musicians to record Harvest with, which he dubbed The Stray Gators.
Available on vinyl and CD formats, this 50th Anniversary bundle is an absolute treat for Neil Young admirers. Along with the original record, it includes the previously unseen movies—Harvest Time and the 1971 BBC live performance—along with three studio outtake tracks (“Bad Fog of Loneliness,” “Journey Through the Past,” “Dance Dance Dance”) and a hard-bound book with liner notes from photographer Joel Bernstein. The vinyl version also includes a lithograph print.
It is the movie, Harvest Time, that gives us a real insight into Harvest’s organic recording process at Young’s Broken Arrow Ranch in California, before moving onto London and Nashville. There are no overdubs or commentary, just raw and pure footage from this special time. The break-down jams in the ranch barn sound fantastic and Jack Nitzsche’s sound on the piano is immense. Young reflects on his struggles about celebrity status and how people act quite oddly around him. Of course, the reception of Harvest would push Young even further into the limelight or the “middle of the road” as he refers to it.
The album consists of some unusual changes of direction away from the sessions at the ranch. “Needle and the Damage Done”—a plea to his friends and Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten about the obliterating effect of heroin—was recorded the previous year at a live performance at UCLA. “A Man Needs a Maid” and “There’s a World” were recorded by Nitzsche with the London Symphony Orchestra at Barking Assembly Hall in the UK. You can see from the film footage that this process with the orchestra was at times a tense and uneasy one, with Young yearning to get back to those playful, joyous, and almost innocent days at Broken Arrow. Despite Young’s sometimes awkward, equipment-fumbling, endearing interludes during the BBC concert footage, his version of “Don’t Let it Get You Down” here is jaw-dropping.
Harvest was recorded during a seemingly settled period of Young’s life, with much of its music inspired by his loving relationship with the late actress Carrie Snodgress. Young manages to bring in the likes of James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, and old band pals Crosby, Stills & Nash in such a subtle and unobtrusive way. It remains a sonic blend of love, melancholy, mortality, and vulnerability. Harvest is an album to be truly celebrated and this half-century edition is a fitting tribute. (www.neilyoungarchives.com)
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