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

Albums Turning 50 This Year

A first look back at 1972, another outstanding year in music

With the 50-year anniversaries of 1971 gems like The Who’s Who’s Next, Carole King’s Tapestry, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Pink Floyd’s Meddle now behind us, it’s time to take a first look at 1972 albums that are hitting the big milestone this year. And like in the case of 1971, I think the caliber of music released in 1972 is just breathtaking!

Checking Wikipedia revealed an impressive amount of records that appeared 50 years ago. Of these albums, I picked 30 studio releases that are represented in the below Spotify playlist with one song each. Following, I’d like to briefly highlight six of them. I’m planning more in-depth posts timed to their and possibly some of the other albums’ actual 50th-anniversary dates.

Neil Young/Harvest (February 1, 1972)

Undoubtedly, Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest is one of his best known and most beloved. With gems like Heart of Gold, The Needle and the Damage Done, Old Man and A Man Needs a Maid, it’s no wonder. Not only did Harvest top the Billboard 200 for two weeks, but it also became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. But Neil Young, who is always good for a surprise, had a different reaction. Feeling alienated by the huge success of Harvest, he decided to release what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Times Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While the ditch albums didn’t perform as well as Harvest, let’s just say they didn’t exactly harm Neil’s standing with his fans!

Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 25, 1972)

Machine Head, Deep Purple’s sixth studio release, remains the ultimate ’70s hard rock album in my book. While I literally dig each of the record’s seven tracks, the band’s most commercially successful album is best-known for the classics Smoke on the Water, which is safe to assume must be a nightmare for anybody working in a store selling electric guitars, and Highway Star. Machine Head topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands – yes, I had to name them all, hoping Wikipedia’s account is accurate and complete! The thought of a hard rock album topping the mainstream charts is unreal, especially from today’s perspective! In the U.S., Machine Head reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200, making it their highest-charting record there.

The Rolling Stones/Exile on Main St. (May 12, 1972)

While I prefer Sticky Fingers, there’s no doubt Exile on Main St. is among the top albums by The Rolling Stones. Many Stones fans regard the double LP as their best record – hey, I won’t argue, it’s great rock & roll, and I like it! Some of the highlights include Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Happy and All Down the Line. Given Keith Richards’ frequent no-shows to the recording sessions since he was, well, stoned, while Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman oftentimes were absent as well, supposedly for other reasons, it’s a near-miracle to me how great this album turned out. That being said, initial reactions among critics were mixed, but as is not uncommon, opinions subsequently changed.

David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (June 6, 2022)

Of course, there was no way this upfront section would skip my favorite David Bowie album of all time. The British artist’s fifth studio release, revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him, is a true glam rock gem. Similar to Deep Purple’s Machine Head, I feel there’s no weak song on this record. Starman, Suffragette City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide and the title track are a few of the amazing tunes that come to mind. The Ziggy Stardust album climbed to no. 5 in the UK and also charted in various other European countries. In the U.S., where there was generally less of an appetite for glam rock, the record still reached a respectable no. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Curtis Mayfield/Superfly (July 11, 1972)

Curtis Mayfield is another longtime favorite artist of mine, so I’m more than happy to call out Superfly. His third studio album appeared as the soundtrack of the Blaxploitation motion picture of the same name. Rightfully, this record is widely considered a classic of ’70s soul and funk music. In addition to the title track, some of the other tunes on the album include Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead and Eddie You Should Know Better. Superfly was hugely successful in the U.S., topping both the Billboard 200 and the R&B chart. It also became Mayfield’s highest-charting album in the UK where it reached no. 26. Side note: It seems to me music listeners in the UK were into glam rock but not so much into psychedelic soul and funk.

Santana/Caravanserai (October 11, 1972)

The final album I’d like to highlight in this section of the post is a less obvious choice for me. I absolutely love the first three studio albums by Santana, which make up the band’s so-called classic period. I find the combination of Latin rhythms and rock electrifying. On Caravanserai, Carlos Santana and his band went in a very different direction. The album mostly features jazz-like, improvisational instrumentals – definitely posing a challenge for a guy like me who digs catchy hooks and great vocals, especially harmony singing. But sometimes it’s good to push beyond your comfort zone. Musically, I think there’s no question Caravanserai is an outstanding record. Given its radical departure from Santana’s first three albums, it did remarkably well in the charts. In the UK it peaked at no. 6, matching its predecessor Santana III, which previously had been the band’s highest-charting album there. It did even better in The Netherlands, climbing to no. 3, again matching Santana III. Elsewhere, Caravanserai reached no. 8 in the U.S., no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia.

Following is a playlist featuring the above tracks, as well as tunes from 24 other albums that were released in 1972. Since Spotify, unfortunately, doesn’t have Status Quo’s Piledriver (neither does Apple Music!), I included a pretty good, more recent live version of Paper Plane. Again, I have to say 1972 was another amazing year in music!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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