Neil Young’s classic album from 1972, “Harvest,” has stood the test of time better than almost any album. I still walk into bars and saloons across the nation and hear some of the album’s famous tracks, most notably “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.” Yet along with its wide appeal, this album is deep and wide, and all of its tracks move expertly through Young’s mind as he paints a picture of country harvests and the longing of a heart. It’s one not to be missed.
Let’s start with some lyrics from “Heart of Gold:”
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold
Keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold
These lyrics show us what Young does so well on this album. Instead of broad metaphors and oblique statements, the artist tells us directly what he’s looking for. This “heart of gold,” is directly tied to the manifesto he chants at the beginning of the song: “I want to live / I want to give.” Anyone who loves life and is determined to give and receive love in equal measure is a person that possesses a heart of gold. Is he searching for a heart of gold in himself, or another person? Or possibly both?
“Old Man” starts off side two in contemplation. Young wrote the song for the foreman that worked at the Broken Arrow Ranch he purchased in Northern California in 1970. After meeting the older man, Young felt that both of them, under the surface, really wanted the same thing. That’s when he wrote these lyrics:
“Old man, look at my life
24 and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two
Love lost, such a cost
Give me things that don’t get lost
Like a coin that won’t get tossed
Rolling home to you”
At its core it is a sad song, one that exposes the loneliness that can hide behind wealth and success. Young laments the impermanence and meaninglessness to many parts of life, especially acute for a man able to buy a ranch for $350,000 at the young age of 24. Young has been insanely lucky and is aware of how strange it all is.
The B-Side of “Old Man” is “The Needle and The Damage Done,” a song that Young wrote after losing several friends and fellow musicians to heroin overdoses. In the song Young notes that we’re all junkies for something, whether that be drugs, sports, or love. And once the damage is done there’s no going back:
The last song on the album, “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” features more heartfelt lyrics from Young as well as a lengthy instrumental with a healthy guitar workout. The song compares a lot of Young’s work with Crazy Horse, including his classic album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” from 1969. Yet on “Harvest,” it’s a ending that takes out of the fields and into a land of unknown sunsets.