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Retrospective Reviews: Neil Young's 'Harvest'

Looking back on arguably the most powerful album the Canadian folk hero has ever released.
June 30, 2014, 9:14pm

When you think of Canada’s greatest artists, it’s hard to skip over the name Neil Young. The man has been a leading representative of Canadian music since the early 60’s, and has solidified his place as one of history’s greatest songwriters alongside names like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, and Justin Bieber (joking obviously — Bieber is way better...). But before the Toronto born/Manitoba raised Young became such a larger than life figure, he impressed listeners with simplicity. Heart-wrenching lyrics, folk melodies, and raw authenticity were the only tools Neil needed to produce stellar album after stellar album. And although all 38 of his albums provide listeners with quality music, there’s something special about 1972’s Harvest.

Now don’t be mistaken, Harvest was by no means the jumping off point for Young; the guy had already reached major success with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and three solo albums; Neil Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and After The Goldrush. But unlike the aforementioned works, Harvest sees Young reaching certain maturity as a songwriter; a maturity that would be noticed by the masses and place Young directly in the limelight (even if the limelight was exactly where he didn’t want to be).

Song after song, Young croons his way to the soul of the listener with relatable lyricism and self-reflective tones. Songs like “Out On The Weekend” tell the story of a boy’s awkward years while “Harvest” highlights the solemn confusion of serious relationships. And let’s not forget about the oh-so famous “The Needle And The Damage Done” which depicts the dark, melancholic horrors of heroin addiction. Any one of these songs could easily win over the toughest of critics, yet they’re not even Harvest’s finest. Do the names “Heart of Gold” or “Old Man” sound familiar to you? They should, unless of course you live under a rock, never learned how to read, or live your life among the troglodytes. Both went on to reach the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (“Old Man” reaching #31 and “Heart of Gold” reaching #1 and remaining Young’s only U.S. #1 single to date).

No matter which way you put it Harvest was a miraculous step forward in the successful career of who I believe to be our nations greatest songwriter. The #1 selling album in the U.S. in 1972, Harvest showed the world that our maple syrup drinking nation of beaver-hunters and puck slappers, and all that other Canadian stereotype bullshit, could compete in the popular music world; a feat that Neil Young has continued to battle late into his legendary career.

Adam Lalama is a writer living in Toronto - @adotlalama