On February 1, 1972, Neil Young released Harvest, his fourth studio album, which is near and dear to most of his fans including yours truly. Last Friday, a long-awaited 50th-anniversary reissue came out. Back in February, on its actual anniversary date, I already wrote about the record, covering the background and popular songs, including Out On the Weekend, A Man Needs a Maid, Heart of Gold, Old Man, Alabama and The Needle and the Damage Done. I’m not going to repeat what I already wrote about. Before getting to the meat of this post, let me say upfront what perhaps is obvious when it comes to most anniversary reissues: They are predominantly made for fans and oftentimes not the ideal introduction to an artist if you are new to them. The beautiful Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition is no exception.
The anniversary edition isn’t the first reissue of this album. This poses the question of what is new about it. It comes down to an unreleased solo live performance of Young at the BBC in 1971, which features songs from Harvest obviously before the record was released. Also new is a 2-hour documentary that premiered worldwide in movie theaters on December 1, 2022, with select encores yesterday (December 4). I caught the latter at a movie theater in my area. In addition to a 2009 remastered edition of the actual album, the reissue includes three outtakes from the Harvest sessions. Everything is beautifully packaged in what appears to be a high-quality box set. This clip of Neil Young unboxing the 50th-anniversary edition gives you a good idea of what’s in the box and also provides a nice intro to the album.
Of course, the above-mentioned 1971 BBC solo concert isn’t the first such early Neil Young live set that features songs from Harvest prior to the album’s release. The one that comes to my mind first is Young’s legendary Massey Hall show captured on Live at Massey Hall 1971, which was released in March 2007 as part of his Archives Performance Series. Another great set I recall is Young Shakespeare, an archives release from March 2021, which I covered here. Given how prolific Young has been about unearthing material from his archives, there’s a good chance there are other such early solo live performances he has released. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to keep up with him!
Let’s take a look at a few clips from the live set included in the Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition. This performance feels very intimate, which is nice. I recommend listening to it with headphones. Apparently, this must have been a small venue. Here’s Journey Through the Past, a nice piano ballad that also appears separately as one of the aforementioned studio outtakes. If I see this correctly, the first released version of this tune appeared on Live at Massey Hall 1971.
Don’t Let It Bring You Down is a tune Young first recorded for his third album After the Gold Rush, which appeared in September 1970. I really dig his vocals here.
Love in Mind is another tune featuring Young on piano. He first released the ballad on Time Fades Away, a live album captured during the supporting tour for Harvest, which Young conducted with The Stray Gators, the band he used to record Harvest.
The BBC live set once again reminded me how great Neil Young is as a live artist by himself with acoustic guitar, harmonica and piano. While I also dig his “electric performances” backed by a band like Crazy Horse or The Stray Gators, oftentimes, I find his solo live performances even more compelling.
Previously, I mentioned three outtakes from the Harvest sessions. These outtakes aren’t new, but I haven’t covered them before. I’m skipping the already above-featured Journey Through the Past. Bad Fog of Loneliness is another tune Young didn’t release until 2007 as part of Live at Massey Hall 1971.
Dance Dance Dance was first recorded in 1969 by Young with Crazy Horse and intended for a county rock album that didn’t come to fruition – sounds like typical Neil to me! Instead, it ended up on the February 1971 eponymous debut album by Crazy Horse, the band’s only record to feature Danny Whitten. Notably, it did not include Young.
Let me also say a few words about the documentary Harvest Time. Filmed between January and September 1971, the film includes non-narrated footage of Young and The Stray Gators during their “barn sessions” at Young’s Broken Arrow ranch in Northern California, scenes of his work with the London Symphony Orchestra for A Man Needs a Maid and There’s a World, as well as footage from a studio in Nashville where further tracking and overdubbing was done. Overall, the film has a fly-on-the-wall feel, which is kind of fascinating. At times, it comes across as a bit disorganized. Clocking in at just over two hours, the documentary is also a bit on the long side.
I think the most compelling footage is seeing Young and The Stray Gators in action during the barn sessions, as well as the scenes at the studio in Nashville where Young is working on harmony vocals with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash for Words (Between the Lines of Age) – man, do they sound great together! Also noteworthy are scenes of Young’s then-wife (soon-to-be ex-wife) Carrie Snodgress and the caretaker of Young’s ranch – the one he sang about in Old Man. Here’s a clip from the film.
Neil Young stated the following about the documentary on this website: Many unseen performances from the era’s session appear in Harvest Time. As I watched the Nashville sessions, London symphony sessions, Harvest Barn sessions, rare never heard or seen performances, I was transported back to those days.
Jack Nitzsche, Kenny Buttrey, Ben Keith, Tim Drummond (members of The Gators– CMM), John Harris (piano on Harvest – CMM), Elliot Mazer (producer – CMM), are all there with me making Harvest. It’s beautiful and a bit lonely. They are all gone now, these old friends, musicians, except for their unforgettable music and our collective memories together. So great to see all of them at their peak.
Soon after Harvest was released for the first time and Neil Young scored the biggest hit of his career, Heart of Gold, he started to become alienated by the success, feeling he had gone too far to the middle of the road, so should steer “to the ditch” instead. Eventually, this would lead to what became known as his “Ditch trilogy” of albums, Time Fades Away, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. While their chart performance and sales didn’t match Harvest, ironically, these records became classics nevertheless.
Looking at Young’s above words and his filmed intro to the documentary, it becomes clear that time has changed his perspective. Now, he seems to be at peace with himself about Harvest, acknowledging the great accomplishment this album represents. There are also clear sentimental feelings when he points out that the members of The Gators and producer Elliott Mazer who were instrumental in making the record have all passed away.
In Young’s intro to the documentary, he suggests he “always” likes to document things he does. With so much material he has released via his archives series over the years, there’s no doubt about it. I wonder how much additional film footage remains in Young’s archives, which hasn’t been released yet, not to speak of recordings. Time may tell!
Sources: Wikipedia; Neil Young Archives website; YouTube