TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 June 2008
Neil Young was one of many artists to whom I listened as a teenager. I knew him as a solo artist and as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, though I knew nothing of the internal dynamics of the band. I knew he was Canadian. I didn't actually buy Harvest until 30 years later, though I did buy a second-hand copy of Heart Of Gold, I remember that song providing me with accompaniment as it played loudly on a juke box in a café late one night as I walked home, and I somehow considered the record a part of my youth and was glad to be able to buy a book that gave me a bit more background.
That Harvest is indeed a "fine" album (as described by Young himself) and yet totally different from say Freedom or Rust Never Sleeps speaks volumes for Young's talents. It's what serves me as a "mellow" album, though Alabama for starters is anything but mellow, and it's worth noting that with that song, as with Southern man before it, Young put his neck on the line, receiving death threats both from those who understood what he was saying and from some who didn't - partly, admittedly, because as author Sam Inglis says it seems as if Young lumps all Alabamians into one nasty, racist lynch-mob. That Lynyrd Skynyrd's riposte, Sweet Home Alabama, was allegedly one of his favourite songs suggests he knew otherwise; as Patterson Hood says in his spoken peroration The Southern Thing on Drive-By Truckers' Southern Rock Opera, which makes reference to Young's songs, there's a lot of good people down there.
Inglis starts off with a good summary of Young's career prior to Harvest. Obviously there's a lot missing, making generalisations almost inevitable: his assertion that London, LA and New York were and are the key centres of popular music, for example, ignores the influence of Motor City, Muscle Shoals and Jamaica, albeit they don't have the economic weight of the other places.
Moving on to the account of the recording, Inglis mentions the Old Grey Whistle Test session Young did in the middle of the process through which I was originally introduced to the Harvest material. Look hard enough and you will be able to find a recording and hear the bit where Young forgets his words (because the song is so new); you will also notice that some of the words on a Man Needs A Maid were different. You can also at last get the Massey Hall recording referred to - well worth it - and Inglis explains why it was not released when originally intended.
Having never heard Harvest right through until I bought it in the early noughties I hadn't appreciated that Needle And The Damage Done and Words were not bonus tracks for the CD. Words in particular, as Inglis suggests, crashes very abruptly and rudely into the applause from Needle, and I'd thought it was part of the same live recording, not recorded in Young's barn, as the author now informs me.
Incidentally, Inglis points out that Young's band for Harvest, the Stray Gators, was essentially the group of session musicians who recorded as Area Code 615. What he misses, having already mentioned the Old Grey Whistle Test connection, is the opportunity to observe that they provided that programme with its theme tune. Nevertheless, toward the end of the book he provides background to the Gators and some of the other people associated with the recordings.
The book is, in short, full of interesting revelations, and nowhere more so than the track-by-track commentary, which is especially informative. It is, in short, a "fine" book about a "fine" record.