Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Harvest" by Neil Young (February, 1972)

Brad's Take:

Neil Young reminds me a lot of Bob Dylan, but with a better voice. This album's folk/country acoustic-ness and frequent harmonica usage is pretty much what I'm basing that comparison on. One of my favorite parts about Harvest was Young's vocals. I like his voice. They aren't perfect, by any means, but they're smooth, genuine, and not hard at all to listen to.

The orchestration on "A Man Needs a Maid" is beautiful. The strings and bells are so powerful and dramatic. It's definitely one of my favorites on this record. "There's A World" is pretty similar to that song too. More beautiful orchestration coming in and out, going up and down. It takes you on an adventure, and strays from the typical acoustic folky-ness of the majority of the tracks on here.

Most of the songs are pretty slow, but it picks up a bit in "Are You Ready for the Country?" and includes some wicked slide-guitar riffage. "Alabama" is another one that picks the tempo up a bit (but only as much as you'd probably expect from Neil Young). That song even introduces distorted electric guitar to the record. It's a great song. One of my favorites on Harvest.

One thing that bothers me about older records is how they thought that adding a single live track into the tracklist randomly was a good idea. "The Needle and the Damage" is a good song, and it's a good performance of the song, but it really throws off the flow having the distraction of a crowd applauding on just one song in the middle of an otherwise completely studio recording. Neil Young wasn't the only artist that did this though, so I can't give him too much crap for making that decision, but it's just something that bothers me on some older albums.

So many fantastic classic artists released albums in 1972. It's interesting that Harvest was the best-selling of that year. They had good taste though because this really is a great album. Nice job, Mr. Young.

Dad's Take:

Harvest was inescapable the year I turned eleven. Even for us AM-radio-listening kids. This was largely due to the hugeness of "Heart of Gold," which I'm pretty sure was playing on one Bay Area radio station or another at just about any time. To say that song was big is like saying you can see a Wal-Mart every once in a while when you're driving down a freeway. Young would hate that comparison, but it's kkind of fitting.

Young was apparently surprised by the success of this record, and didn't really like being put into the mainstream in such a big way. His whole career has been a battle between success and freedom.

"Heart of Gold" might be the monster hit on this record, but it's not the only good song, and maybe not even the best. I really like the opener, "Out on the Weekend," which tells the story (or a version of it) of Young's move to LA from Canada. He tells that story in other songs as well, but this one is especially good.

"A Man Needs A Maid," quickly turns from a mellow singer-songwriter song to lush orchestration, almost a magnum opus. "Are You Ready for the Country" is a bit of upbeat fun. "Old Man" has become one of Young's standards, an unforgettable and poignant song that reminds me Cat Stevens' "Father and Son," except only from the kid's point of view. It's still a great song, even now that I am the old man, looking back at kids who aren't that different than I was, but who don't always want to believe it. "There's A World" opens with a complete change of place, with timpani and a big sound, and then moving into another symphonic mini-suite. And, of course, "Alabama" and "The Needle and the Damage Done" have become classic Neil Young songs, and for good reason. "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" is a big finish, a long, slow rocker.

Start to finish, this is a solid album, a true classic, and one of the most enduring records in a year full of classics. It's hard to do better.