Friday, June 21, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: A Retrospective Look Back At Neil Young's "Harvest", Part 3

Black and white photo of Neil Young singing at...
Neil Young, 1976 (Wikipedia)
by Garrett Sawyer

Neil Young's "Harvest" closes out with the following songs, in order ...


This is the companion piece to "Southern Man" from the "After the Gold Rush" album. They have the same instrumentation and even the same tempo.

Though lyrically not as direct and in-your-face as "Southern Man" was this quiet diatribe nonetheless is another obvious challenge to southern racism.

(Sample lyric: "Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders that's breaking your back. Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track").

The Needle and the Damage Done

Recorded in front of a live audience at Royce Hall, UCLA in January of 1971 this is the only live track from the album.

This is not the only song in the rock universe that deals with the tragedy, havoc and devastation caused by heroin addiction (U2's terrific "Running to Stand Still" from the classic "Joshua Tree" album comes to mind).

But Young captured it as well as anyone before or since with this stark, spare tune about his firsthand experience seeing the "damage done".

Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten was the first. Whitten was a close friend of Young's. But when he brought Whitten and the rest of Crazy Horse in for rehearsal for the 1971 tour that he was planning one session was enough to show Young that Whitten, who was still trying to kick his heroin habit, was in terrible shape.

Whitten couldn't remember anything. He couldn't even hold his guitar. Young fired him on the spot, gave him a plane ticket back to Los Angeles and $50 for rehab.

Whitten, heartbreakingly, overdosed that very night on Valium (which he was taking for severe arthritis of his knees) and alcohol, which he was using to treat himself for his heroin addiction. He died on November 18, 1972.

Young felt responsible for Whitten's death. It took him years to stop blaming himself. Unfortunately, Whitten was not the last heroin victim to touch Young's life.

Bruce Berry, another friend and a roadie for the band, came next, dying from a heroin overdose only a few months later. Berry's death would inspire "Tonight's the Night", which would become the title track of Young's 1975 album of the same name.


Again, what the heck is he talking about here? And who cares when the song sounds this good? In the instrumental he displays a John Lennon-like ingenuity with the key signature, using an unusual 11/8 time instead of the standard 4/4.

For your amusement, when everything was recorded and it was time to mix the tracks part of the job was done at Young's personal ranch home where he had the engineer rig the right hand speaker to his house and the left hand speaker to his barn.

Then Young, David Crosby, and Graham Nash would sit outside between the one and the other and listen to the playback. At one point when asked how it was going Neil Young said "More barn!"

If only the reviews had been as lighthearted. Rolling Stone critic John Mendelssohn insisted he had listened to "Harvest" a dozen times before penning a less than complimentary review, finally concluding that Young's touching vocals were the only positive thing he could say about the album. He further claimed that Young had lost touch with what made his music unique.

As far as I'm concerned I don't think Mendelssohn listened to the album enough. If he had he would have discovered what legions of Neil Young fans (as well as most of the rock world) learned... that Neil Young's "Harvest" was his best work up until that time and possibly ever since.

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