How I Found Neil Young – by Killian Laher
Cooler people than me dropped Neil Young’s name into conversations involving the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. The extent of my Neil Young knowledge was Heart of Gold, what I now know to be the title track of After the Gold Rush, Rockin’ In The Free World and two dissimilar covers of Like A Hurricane: a meandering Roxy Music live version, and a kick-ass goth version by The Mission. I also mistook America’s Horse With No Name for Neil Young! With the grunge bands dropping his name here and there, I had also read about how his song The Needle and the Damage Done had beautifully chronicled loss, so this led me to check out Harvest.
What lay within couldn’t have been further from grunge. It was one of the quietest albums I had ever heard, opening with the gentle strumming of Out On The Weekend, featuring instruments I had never really taken to like harmonica and steel guitar. His vocals here, and across the album are less whiny and more mannered than usual. The title track seemed like a hokey waltz and was a little off-putting, and the jaunty piano of Are You Ready For The Country? asked me a question for which the answer was eh… no.
The soft piano chords that opened the awfully titled A Man Needs A Maid were an improvement, though this song and later There’s A World are kind of swamped by an over-bearing string section. Heart of Gold sounded (and still sounds) like the quintessential country-rock song, and also happens to be quite a good song.
The first real classic on the album is Old Man. Deftly plucked acoustic guitar provides a backdrop for a truly reflective, if at times simplistic song paying tribute to Young’s father. The subtle use of banjo and soft harmonies in the chorus made my ears prick up. There are a couple of rocky tracks here, Alabama and Words, both of which rocked a good deal slower than the rock I was more accustomed to.
The two minute The Needle and The Damage Done, played by Neil Young solo on acoustic is the sparsest thing on the album. It just sounded great, a downbeat, descending melody almost plucked from heaven which any aspiring guitarist would want to learn and a soaring vocal. Ending with a round of applause, was the track recorded live?
But it sounded like a middle of the road album to me. It took a year or two for me to fully appreciate it. All the songs seeped in gradually, clearing room in the quieter corners of my brain. It worked as a mood-piece, even tracks such as the title track fitted in the context of the album. The steel guitar touches that peppered Out On The Weekend and Old Man seemed to add to rather than detract from the songs. And the slow rockers sounded better with each listen. There’s A World remains a gloopy mess and there’s a wealth of stronger Neil Young albums than this, both with and without Crazy Horse. Still, Harvest is worth it for The Needle and The Damage Done alone.