Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition) — Neil Young
As we approach the holidays, we find ourselves awash in reissues. And, while each one will find its niche, it takes not just great source material but exceptional bonus, “new-to-us” music to rise above the glut of old-white-guy box sets. Neil Young’s 1972 essential Harvest has received the special treatment for its 50th (plus a few months) anniversary. Half a century after its original release, it remains perhaps his best (and most beloved) album, more than worthy of revisiting on its own merits. But part of the fun of these reissues is the extra goodies that enhance the original songs and help the listener peer into the process of making music, and this is where the 50th Anniversary Edition excels.
I’ll never quite understand the sorcery of album sequencing, but Young’s first of many successes on Harvest is leading off with “Out on the Weekend.” The song features a young man shooting for a fresh start after a love gone sour, but there’s an old-man weariness – “See the lonely boy, out on the weekend/Trying to make it pay” – that creeps in and ends up defining the entire record, particularly on “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.” Young is famous for his dedication to quality of sound, and the remastered tracks are predictably amazing, from the strings on “A Man Needs a Maid” to the steel on “Old Man” and the restrained jammy-ness of “Alabama.” Relistening to Harvest is also a good reminder of Young’s storytelling ability, from the morass of drug addiction portrayed in “The Needle and the Damage Done” (such devastation, told in just over two minutes) and the peak Neil Young melancholy found in “Words,” topped off with fiery guitar work. On every level, Harvest (written when Young was barely 25 years old) is art without peer, maybe even in Young’s own illustrious career.
But it’s the add-ons that make the box set, right? On the 50th Anniversary Edition of Harvest, those extras are worth the investment. First up are three outtakes from the Harvest sessions: “Bad Fog,” with an acoustic intro that evokes “Needle”; “Dance Dance Dance,” a punchy, upbeat number; and “Journey Through the Past,” a sweet song of longing with great slide work that’s already grabbed a place among my favorite Neil Young songs. Also included is a BBC live concert from 1971 (roughly a year before Harvest was released) featuring Young (with just his guitar and harmonicas) road-testing several of the new songs to an eager, attentive audience.
The final piece of the Harvest box set (besides a book and photographs) is a two-hour documentary, directed by Young, of the making of the album and Young’s life on his California ranch. Highlights of Harvest Time include recording sessions with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash (the scene with Crosby is especially jarring, as he and Young are very dedicated to the idea of never speaking again). Also seen are sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra, creating the full sounds we get to hear on “Maid” and “There’s A World,” studio time with legendary Nashville DJ Scott Shannon, and more than enough extended jam sessions to satisfy the most hardcore of Neil Young fans. All told, Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition) is a rich, satisfying documentation of one of rock’s most essential records.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Journey Through the Past” – Young recently expressed his discomfort for touring during the waning pandemic, so it’s anybody’s guess when/if he’ll hit the road again. But him, his guitar and this sadly nostalgic song alone would be enough for me.
Musicians on Harvest include Ben Keith (pedal steel guitar), Jack Nitzsche (piano, lap steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass), Kenny Buttrey (drums), John Harris (piano), Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and David Crosby (backing vocals), and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Meechham.
Go here to order Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition) (out December 2): https://neilyoung.lnk.to/Harvest50th