"Think I'll jack it in and buy a pickup; Take it down to LA."
So begins one of the half-dozen-or-so greatest albums in the history of rock music - with a prosaic reference to teenage escapism sung over a laid-back country groove. But forty minutes later it's grungy distorted guitars that accompany the more metaphysical verdict:
"It's only words, words, Between the lines of age."
Thus Neil Young sets out his credentials as philosopher and prophet to the hippy generation. He foresees, and in less than three quarters of an hour he foretells, the future history of the children of freedom: Financial independence - lack of responsibility - search for belonging - divorce from reality - alienation - drug dependency - and finally a kind of uneasy reconciliation as experience supplants idealism.
Behind the lyrical journey there is a stylistic journey: from country to grunge via lush orchestration and rock'n'roll, that charts the future history of popular music. No wonder late `90's rockers saw Young as a creative godfather: they saw with hindsight how music had followed the agenda he had first set out a quarter century earlier.
But the most wonderful thing about "Harvest" is that even at it's most harrowingly prophetic, it is still sweet on the ears. Prophesy isn't usually this much fun: listen to Stravinsky or early Dylan or punk or early rap for evidence that in music (as in all areas of life) good medicine often leaves a bad taste. "Harvest" must be one of the most important landmarks in rock to have tasted good at the time and still to taste good nearly three decades on. Most impressively of all (and unlike some of Young's later work), the message still rings true.
I think this record is probably an indispensable part of any modern record collection, but it's not just an important museum piece . . . it's fine music that can be listened to over and over again without ever losing its appeal.