Earlier this year marked forty-five years since the release of Neil Young’s landmark album, Harvest.
His fourth solo album, and the first after Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young went their separate ways, Young’s 1972 country rock album has gone on to become one of his most popular.
The recording sessions for Harvest happened to be quite spontaneous. Young landed in Nashville with a bunch of new unrecorded songs he had been playing on tour. Booked in to play The Johnny Cash Show, Young was invited to dinner by a local studio owner. Elliot Mazer had only recently opened up Quadrophonic Studios and had the idea of convincing Young to record his next album there.
Young agreed to start recording what would become Harvest that evening. Due to the recent split of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the singer/songwriter had the task of finding some musicians to back him up. Adamant he only needed a drummer, bass player and pedal steel guitarist, Mazer raced out and found Kenny Buttery, Tim Drummond (walking down the street nonetheless) and Ben Keith. The quartet then laid down the foundations of what would become Harvest.
This backing band, with the addition of Jack Nitzsche on piano and lap steel, ended up playing with Young for an extended period of time. The Canadian musician named them The Stray Gators and they supported him through his 1973 winter tour.
Harvest contains many of Young’s most well known tunes. “Heart Of Gold” became, arguably, Young’s biggest hit. “Old Man” is a heartfelt ballad that reflects on the process of ageing and the importance of not living a life wasted. Harvest track “Alabama”, along with a previous Young tune, “Southern Man” prompted Lynyrd Skynyrd to write “Sweet Home Alabama” in protest. The Canadian musician has since agreed to the Southern band’s right to criticise his work on the track.
“[I] …richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record.” Young said, “I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”
Despite this, “Alabama” has become one of the most well known songs on the record. The success of Harvest caught Young off guard. Never one for the spotlight, his first reaction after the record’s release was to back away from stardom. He would eventually state that Harvest, “…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 saw more interesting people there.”
Harvest went on to become the best-selling album in the United States of 1972. It has become one of the most influential country-rock records of the 20th century and although not critically lauded upon release, has come to be included on many best albums lists since.
What’s your favourite moment on Harvest? Let us know in the comments!
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