We want to share something with you.
There are albums that have accompanied us in so many moments in life, that affected us so much, that we are just trembling with excitement to write about them. Neil Young's masterpiece album "Harvest", released on February 1, 1972, is one of them!
So this time too, we decided to do it differently. Let's do it together, leave everything aside for a moment, put on headphones, close your eyes, click on the link and let's get started: Deezer
Bass bass, snare, bass bass, snare, boom boom, tah, boom boom tah, acoustic: E Bm, E Bm, harmonica blowing ... and.... wooooosh we are in the front seat of Neil Young's pick-up, on our way to a weekend in L.A., with the ultimate travel song - "Out on the Weekend" playing in the background.
This is how this masterful album, opens up. The album which is considered by fans and critics as one of Neil Young's greatest albums. The album that exposed him to the masses and brought him great commercial success, the one that sold more than any album in his mighty repertoire and the one that became the best-selling album in the US in 1972, starts small, minimalist, simple and yet so beautiful, ice melting, and timeless!
It may sound strange to you, but this album is one of Neil Young's most "messy "albums. An eclectic collection of acoustic, electric, live songs. Rock, Country, Folk and even Classical symphony. This album is so mixed up that on paper it was supposed to be doomed to failure.
So how did it happen that such uneven album becomes Young's most successful album and the best-selling in the US on 1972? Apparently it's the pure sincerity and honesty (and the Spotify scandal teaches that not just the musically) of Neil Young, that makes this album sound fresh, up to date and relevant even today, 50 years later.
But all this musical and cultural beauty, all this dizzying success, would not have happened had it not been for an unplanned coincidence and a burst of spontaneity of Neil Young.
The end result is that Neil Young disliked the success of this album. This meteoric success is mainly attributed to one song - "Heart Of Gold", about which Young wrote the following words in his double compilation album "Decade", from 1977:
"This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there."
And evidently, Neil Young who did not feel comfortable with the success of the song, completely ignored the song and refused to play it live in his performances for years.
Did we say a burst of spontaneity and an unplanned coincidence?
So this album would probably have sounded completely different, had it not been for the strong back pains Neil Young had at the time, which caused him to give up his electric guitar, sit on the stool and concoct songs for an acoustic show.
Thus, in the midst of the acoustic tour, in early February 1971, Neil Young arrived to Nashville, Tennessee, the ultimate Country music capital, to be a guest on the Johnny Cash Show.
That weekend Young met producer Elliot Mazer, who worked with Bob Dylan and others. Mazer just opened "Quadrafonic Sound Studios" at the time, and invited Young to dinner on Saturday, February 6, 1971, in an attempt to persuade him to record in his new studio. The spontaneous Neil Young was convinced and arrived at the studio that same evening. Young, who really liked the studio players "Area Code 615", wanted to work with them on the new songs he wrote especially for the acoustic tour. The first versions of which can be found on the album "Live at Massey Hall 1971". All that Young asked of Mazer so he can start the recordings was a drummer, a bass player and a pedal steel guitar player.
(Photo: Classic Album Sundays)
Since most of the musicians were occupied in live shows that evening, Mazer had to "scratch" three musicians who became Young's backing band - "The Stray Gators". Drummer Kenny Buttrey, bassist Tim Drummond (who is rumored to have just walked down the street before mazer dragged him to the studio) and guitarist Ben Keith.
That same evening, the three already recorded the basic channels for three songs with Young, including "Old Man", which Young wrote about Louis Avila, the old man who was in charge of the "Broken Arrow" farm, which he bought in 1970. Drummer Kenny Buttrey said that Young Asked him to play only with his left hand and not touch the Hai-Hat cymbals at all. Kenny thought it was idiotic but did exactly what Young asked him to do.
The next night, Sunday, February 7, 1971, Young was a guest on Johnny Cash's show, where he met Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. After the show Young invited them to the studio, where they recorded the background vocals for the songs "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man". James Taylor later recorded the beautiful banjo for the song "Old Man".
Regarding the song "Heart of Gold", Young emphasized that it was precisely spontaneity that made this song what it is. The band members did not know the song beforehand and recorded it live in just two takes. The musicians said that when Young played it to them they already knew that this song was going to be huge.
The songs "A Man Needs a Maid" and "There's a World" were recorded by Young in March 1971 in London, where he arrived as part of an acoustic tour. During his stay there he turned to conductor Jack Nitzsche who was also a keyboardist on "The Rolling Stones" albums and told him he was interested in recording the songs with an orchestra. Nietzsche organized the "London Philharmonic Orchestra" for the recordings that were held at "Barking Assembly Hall".
As for the song "A Man Needs a Maid", it is interesting to note that it was interpreted as a chauvinistic song, but it was not so, at all. Young wrote it after watching the 1970 film "Diary of a Housewife," starring actress Carrie Snodgress. Neil Young who fell in love with Curry wrote about his feelings in the third verse of the song as follows:
"A while ago somewhere I don't know when
I was watchin' a movie with a friend
I fell in love with the actress
She was playin' a part that I could understand"
Young eventually married Carrie and the two had a son named Zeke.
In April, Neil Young returned to "Quadroponic" Studios to record two more songs from the album, the opening song "Out on the Weekend" and the theme song "Harvest", which was also inspired by Carrie Snodgressת who was Young's girlfriend back then. The song refers to Carrie's mother Carolyn Snodgress who was an alcoholic.
In April, Neil Young's condition worsened and his back pain did not allow him to continue the recordings. He eventually underwent surgery, in August, due to a herniated disc in his back. The surgery was crowned a success and Young returned shortly afterward to work on the album. Since Young's back problems were solved, he was able to go back and hang his electric guitar on his shoulder, so the songs recorded in the following sessions were more "electric".
In September the recordings were moved to a barn at Young's farm. Mazer scattered speakers and monitors in the barn, which gave the recordings a "live" sound, as each microphone placed in the barn also recorded additional instruments. During these sessions, three songs were recorded using a mobile studio: "Are You Ready for the Country", "Alabama" and "Words". The background vocals in these three songs were performed by David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills.
(Photo: Joel Bernstein)
"Alabama" corresponds with the song "Southern Man" from the album "After the Gold Rush". As mentioned, these two songs are Young's protest songs against black racism in southern United States. The songs angered members of "Lynyrd Skynyrd", who adored Neil Young. They literally saw these songs as a personal insult. In response they wrote their big hit "Sweet Home Alabama", that included the following words:
"Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol' Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow"
In an interview with him from 1976, Neil Young responded and said he was proud that his name was mentioned in a "Skynyrds" song. He also used to perform the song in his live shows.
The only song from the album that was not recorded in the studio is "The Needle and the Damage Done". The song was recorded in a live performance at UCLA University, on January 30, 1971, before all the sessions mentioned above even started. The song was written about Danny Whitten, "Crazy Horse" guitarist and his addiction to heroin.
After the release of "Harvest", Young invited Whitten to play on a tour designed to promote the album. However, soon Young realized it was a mistake, since Danny was unable to play because of his addiction. This forced Young to fire him from the band. Young placed a $ 50 bill and a plane ticket in Danny's hands and sent it off. With the money Young gave him, Danny bought the last and deadly dose of heroin that finally killed him on November 18, 1972.
This left Neil Young heartbroken and with terrible guilt. The severe trauma and deep depression will be the trigger for three melancholy and depressing albums named "The Ditch Trilogy", the first of which is "Tonight’s The Night". Deliberately or unintentionally, "Harvest" and the circumstances that followed led Young from the middle of the road down to the ditch, just as he initially wanted ...