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

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Neil Young Releases Another Live Gem From His Archives

Solo acoustic gig from January 1971 is among the earliest concert footage of Young released to date

Since I first had learned about it a few weeks ago, I had been looking forward to the latest release by Neil Young, which came out Friday, March 26. Not only is Young Shakespeare a brilliant title, but it’s yet another highlight from Young’s archives. The live album and concert film comes only four weeks after Way Down in the Rust Bucket, which captures a terrific November 1990 live performance with Crazy Horse I previously reviewed here, and four months following the massive box set Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972–1976.

Young Shakespeare documents an acoustic solo concert at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. on January 22, 1971. Neil Young was 25 years old at the time and had just entered what arguably is the best period of his solo career. Only four months earlier, he had released After the Gold Rush. Harvest, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night were still about one, three and four years into the future, respectively.

Part of Young’s Journey Through the Past solo tour, the Shakespeare gig happened only three days after the famous Massey Hall show in Toronto Canada. The latter concert was captured on Live at Massey Hall 1971, which came out in March 2007 as the second release from Young’s Archives Performance Series. A vast amount of additional albums have since appeared in the series. If I see this correctly, Young Shakespeare is the second release of Volume 03, even though it’s registered as Volume 03.5. Well, I’m not an archivist.

As reported by NME, initially, video footage of the concert was filmed by German television at the time, but it never aired. Only bits and pieces recorded by visitors that night had been floating around among Young fans. Young considers the gig as superior to the Massey Hall show, calling it “a more calm performance, without the celebratory atmosphere of Massey Hall” on his archives website last year. “Young Shakespeare’ is a very special event,” he added. “To my fans, I say this is the best ever. ‘Young Shakespeare’ is the performance of that era. Personal and emotional, for me, it defines that time.”

I think Young may be right. The true magic of Young Shakespeare isn’t the set list. Neil Young fans have heard these songs a million times before. What I find fascinating are his announcements that illustrate what went through his mind at the time. They also convey Young’s great sense of humor. The entire gig comes across as very intimate. It’s almost like you’re in the same room with Young, and he’s chatting and cracking jokes while tuning his guitar for the next song. How about some music?

The first tune I’d like to call out is one of my all-time favorites: The Needle and the Damage Done. Mind you, when Young performed the song that night, it had not been recorded yet. I was included on his fourth studio album Harvest released in February 1972.

Dance Dance Dance is a track from Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut album that came out in February 1971. At the time of the Shakespeare gig, it was another yet-to-be-released tune. Young cheerfully calls it hoedown music.

Here’s a medley of A Man Needs a Maid and Heart of Gold, performed on the piano. Young introduces it by saying he hasn’t played the piano for a long time and usually screws it up. He cheerfully adds, “But you’ve never heard it before anyway, so you probably think that’s the way it is, and it’ll be alright.” Obviously, Young was correct. Both songs would appear on Harvest.

In addition to yet-to-be released songs at the time, Young played some old tunes. After all, his solo tour was titled Journey Through the Past. Here’s one of them, Down by the River, a song from his second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere released in May 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Sugar Mountain. Young wrote this song on November 12, 1964, which was his 19th birthday. The tune’s first official release was a live version, which became the b-side of Young’s first solo single The Loner from February 1969. It’s always been on of my favorite Neil tunes. It also cracks me up when Young says, “If you don’t know the words…just, you know, you’re all university students. Just memorize them after the first time!”

Here’s the full track list:

1. Tell Me Why
2. Old Man
3. The Needle and the Damage Done
4. Ohio
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Cowgirl in the Sand
7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold
8. Journey Through the Past
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. Helpless
11. Down by the River
12. Sugar Mountain


NME notes Young Shakespeare is only predated by footage from Young’s gigs at New York’s Café Feenjon in June 1970, and the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Fillmore East in March 1970. Obviously, there’s also the aforementioned Live at Massey Hall 1971, so I assume NME referred to video recordings. The new release is available on CD, vinyl and major streaming platforms. The DVD is available exclusively in Young’s own store.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube