Friday, June 21, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: A Retrospective Look Back At Neil Young's "Harvest", Part 1

Cover of "Harvest"
Cover of Harvest
by Garrett Sawyer

Neil Young obviously must be one of those artists who grow on you.

More than once in his career he's released albums that are panned by the critics and then, years later, show up on "Best" lists.

You have to have a thick skin to make music this way since it can be hard on you ... unless, that is, you were born with the exceptional patience necessary to wait (sometimes for years) for the world to realize how good your record really is.

"Harvest" was one of those records. Released in 1972 it got decidedly mixed to unflattering reviews.

In recording "Harvest" Young turned a lemon into lemonade. He recorded this album using acoustic guitar because of a back injury that had him in and out of hospitals in the two-year gap between "After the Gold Rush" and "Harvest".

He simply couldn't physically play an electric guitar during this period. Most of the "Harvest" recording sessions saw Young in a brace.

Going over the songs in order ...

Out On The Weekend

The album opens with this laid-back country-flavored ballad laced with steel guitar and Young's trademark harmonica. It's a wonderfully melody about quietly trading in both home and lady for a weekend escape.


The title tune. Personally, I don't think people notice how with a single word Young sets the feel for the entire record. The word "Harvest" implies the Fall season.

The inner album photo is simple but ingeniously clever: a close-up of a polished doorknob in a wooden door with Young reflected in the knob, standing in an empty field of a hilly ranch. Together they create an atmosphere of early autumn when the weather is still warm but you can feel a touch of coolness in the air, especially at night.

The song itself is a slow, lazy drawl of a tune in Young's typical introspective, questioning style. For a song that asks a lot of questions but gives few answers it sure is effective.

A Man Needs a Maid

To clear up one point of confusion there's a double entendre here. When Young refers to a "maid" he's singing of both the maid that cleans your house and a maid in the mediaeval sense (e.g. Maid Marion).

This lavishly orchestrated song was written for actress Carrie Snodgress, famous for starring in the movie Diary of a Mad Housewife. Young had fallen for her after seeing her in a movie on television (sample lyric: "I fell in love with the actress. She was playing a part that I could understand").

Soon after that Academy Award nominated performance Snodgress settled down with Young and had a son, Zeke, who was thought to have cerebral palsy but was found to have suffered from a brain aneurysm prior to birth instead. Young and Snodgress separated years later.

In my next installment I'll continue going over the songs on Neil Young's "Harvest", including the two chart hits from the album.

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