Neil Young Celebrates “Harvest” With 50th Anniversary Edition and Documentary

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 GatorsCMM), John Harris (piano on HarvestCMM), 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

Neil Young’s Harvest Turns 50

On February 1, 1972, Neil Young released his fourth studio album Harvest. The 50th anniversary of what is among my all-time favorite Young records almost escaped my attention. I mistakenly had assumed the release date was February 14.

Young recorded Harvest following the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in July 1970 after the end of their tour that year, which had strained relationships among the four members. It would take until 1974 before they would get back together again for a reunion tour.

For Harvest Young assembled a backing band he called The Stray Gators. The members were Jack Nitzsche (piano), Ben Keith (steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass) and Kenny Buttry (drums). In addition to The Stray Gators, Harvest featured various notable guests, including James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and, interestingly, each of Young’s former CSNY’s bandmates.

Let’s take a look at some of the songs. Side one kicks off with the beautiful Out on the Weekend. Like all other tracks, the tune was written by Young.

A Man Needs a Maid is a song about Young’s girlfriend at the time, the actress Carrie Snodgress. According to Songfacts, initially, the tune was coupled with Heart of Gold and played on piano. “It was like a medley,” Young said in [the autobiography – CMM] Shakey, “the two went together.”

Speaking of Heart of Gold, a post celebrating the 50th anniversary of Harvest wouldn’t be complete without this song. One of Neil Young’s best-known tunes, it also appeared separately as the album’s lead single in January 1972 and became his biggest hit. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt provided backing vocals. Taylor also played banjo.

On to Side two. Here’s Old Man, a tune Young wrote about the caretaker of the ranch he bought in 1970 as a 25-year-old. Like on Heart of Gold, backing vocals were provided by Taylor and Ronstadt, with Taylor also contributing banjo. Songfacts quotes Ronstadt from an interview with music magazine Mojo: “I can’t remember why Neil wanted me to sing with him – I guess he just figured I was there and could do it – but we went in there and they were doing ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ and I thought they were such beautiful songs.” Old Man also became the album’s second single in April 1972.

Another great tune on Side two is Alabama. According to Songfacts, This song can be seen as a follow-up to Young’s 1970 song “Southern Man” from After The Gold Rush. Canadian-born Young abhorred the idea of racism and spoke out – loudly – about his feelings. This song went unnoticed by most, but combined with the previous effort, it caused Lynyrd Skynyrd to pen their Southern Rock classic “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to Young’s assertions...In his 2012 autobiography  Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young said of this song, “I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.” Stephen Stills and David Crosby provided backing vocals.

The last song I’d like to highlight is The Needle and the Damage Done, a tune about heroin use and what this drug sadly will do to many who get into it. Young wrote this song about ex-Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten who struggled with heroin addiction. In fact, Young hired him in April 1972 to join rehearsals for his tour to support the Harvest album. But Whitten wasn’t up to the task and Young ended up firing him on November 18 that year, giving him $50 and a plane ticket to Los Angeles. Once Whitten got there, he overdosed on alcohol and Valium, which killed him – making Young feel guilty for many years.


Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks and became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. While most music artists would have been pleased with such success, Neil Young felt alienated. He followed up Harvest with what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Time Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While these three records didn’t match Harvest’s chart and sales performance, they became favorites of many Young fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/4 Way Street

As oftentimes seems to happen lately, this post was inspired by a coincidence – earlier this week, I spotted 4 Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in my Apple Music album suggestions. While I had been aware of the record (and somewhere still must have a taped recording on music cassette!), unlike Déjà Vu, it had pretty much exited my radar screen. But it didn’t even take the 34 seconds of the opener Suite: Judy Blue Eyes to remind me what a killer album it is. As such, it felt appropriate to dedicate the 50th installment of the What I’ve Been Listening To feature to this gem.

Originally released in April 1971 as a double LP, 4 Way Street captured music from a turbulent 1970 U.S. tour CSNY conducted after the release of Déjà Vu in March that year. It includes material from gigs at Fillmore East (New York, June 2-7), The Forum (Los Angeles, June 26-28) and Auditorium Theatre (Chicago, July 5). CSNY were at a peak both artistically and in terms of tensions between them. Unfortunately, the latter proved to be unsustainable, and they broke up right after the recording of the album.

CSNY 1970
From left to right: Graham Nash, David Crosby, Neil Young and Stephen Stills at Fillmore East, New York, 1970

Of course, CSNY never were a traditional band to begin with, but four exceptional singer-songwriters who ended up playing together, mostly as CSN, with Young becoming an occasional fourth member. Each already had established himself as a member of other prominent bands: Crosby with The Byrds, Stills and Young with Buffalo Springfield, and Nash with The Hollies. Additionally, Crosby had released his first solo album, while the prolific Young already had two solo records out – his eponymous debut and the first album with Crazy Horse.

Given their history and egos, it’s not a surprise that CSNY wasn’t meant to last. But while it was going on, it was sheer magic. Apart from Déjà Vu, I think this live album perfectly illustrates why, so let’s get to some music!

First up: Teach Your Children, undoubtedly one of the best-known CSNY songs, first appeared on the Déjà Vu album. The tune was written by Nash when he was still with The Hollies.

Triad is a song Crosby wrote while working with The Byrds on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Although they recorded the song and performed it during a live gig in September 1967, it didn’t make the record. Crosby ended up giving it to Jefferson Airplane, and they included it on their fourth studio album Crown Of Creation from September 1968. Perhaps even more intriguing than the tune is listening to Crosby’s announcement.

Chicago is a song by Nash, which he dedicated to Richard Daley, who was then the city’s powerful mayor. It’s about anti-Vietnam war and counter-cultural protests around the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the ensuing federal charges against eight protesters who became known as the Chicago Eight for conspiracy to incite a riot. Nash also included the tune on his debut solo album Songs For Beginners, which was released in May 1971.

Cowgirl In The Sand is one of Young’s great early songs, which initially appeared on his second studio album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the first of many he recorded with his backing band Crazy Horse. Songfacts points out the liner notes to Young’s 1977 compilation album Decade explain that he wrote Cowgirl In The Sand, together with Down By The River and Cinnamon Girl in a single afternoon while being sick with a 103-degree temperature – it’s quite amazing what a fever can do!

The last tune on the first LP of 4 Way Street is Still’s Love The One You’re With, which also concludes CSNY’s acoustic set. The song became the lead single to Stills’ eponymous debut album from November 1970. It climbed all the way to no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his biggest hit single.

The second LP of 4 Way Street captures songs from CSNY’s electric rock-oriented set. Long Time Gone is a tune by Crosby, which was included on CSN’s eponymous studio debut from March 1969. Not that Déjà Vu would have needed any additional strong tunes, but it would have been a perfect fit for that album as well!

Southern Man is another classic by Young, which he included on his third studio album After The Gold Rush released in September 1970. Together with Alabama from his follow-on record Harvest, it triggered a response by Lynyrd Skynyrd with southern rock anthem Sweet Home Alabama. While that tune explicitly tells him to take a hike, the band and Young were actually mutual fans, and there never was a serious feud between them. Young in his 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream said his words in Southern Man were “accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”

While with so much great material on the album I could easily go on and on calling out tunes, the last track I’d like to highlight is Carry On. Written by Stills, it’s another gem from Déjà Vu. Like Southern Man, the take of Carry On on 4 Way Street is an extended version.

4 Way Street’s musicians include Crosby (vocals, guitar), Stills (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Nash (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Young (vocals, guitar), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass) and Johnny Barbata (drums). The album was produced by CSNY. In June 1992, an expanded CD version appeared, which was produced by Nash and included four solo acoustic performances, one by each artist.

Like Déjà Vu, the record topped the Billboard 200. It was certified Gold by RIAA just a few days after its release. On December 18, 1992, U.S. sales hit 4 million certified units, giving it 4X Multi-Platinum status. Unlike Déjà Vu, interestingly, the album didn’t make Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube