After years of ever declining popularity and bad reviews, Neil Young returned in 1988 with This Note’s For You. He strapped on his electric guitar again and made Freedom and Ragged Glory, followed by a tour and a live-album: Weld. The critics went wild. Neil Young had reconnected. So, time for (another) change of course. Back to the past?
Leading up to Harvest Moon
During the 1970’s Neil Young seemed incapable of making even one mistake. Even records he didn’t release at the time (like Hitchhiker) were all great. Almost everything he did was relevant, interesting, moving and beautiful.
In 1982 he signed a deal with, at that time recently founded, Geffen Records. He went about experimenting. the first album he made for Geffen was Trans, an album filled with electronic music. Everybody’s Rockin’, which contained rock ‘n roll, was next. The records were badly received and sold (very) poorly. It led to a lawsuit: David Geffen claimed three million dollars, because Young didn’t make typical “Neil Young-albums”. The reply (as could be predicted) was: “Neil Young by definition makes Neil Young-albums”. Young counter-sued for breach of contract, for limiting the artist’s artistic freedom. Another three albums would be released by Geffen: Old Ways, Landing On Water and Life. Needless to say, the contract was not prolonged.
Young returned to Reprise Records. The first album for Reprise was the bluesoriented album This Note’s For You, which, with the album’s title-song, even contained a hit-song (“Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi, ain’t singin’ for Coke, I don’t sing for nobody, makes me look like a joke”). In November of 1988 Atlantic Records released the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album American Dream, which was not met with great enthusiasm. In 1989 the mini-LP Eldorado was released in Japan and Australia. This would eventually turn into the album Freedom, which was released a half year after the mini-LP. He returned to his old rock style. The song Rockin’ In The Free World became a modest hit and, partially inspired by the fall on the Iron Curtain and the ending of the Cold War, even turned into an anthem. In 1990 the album Ragged Glory (recorded with crazy Horse) was released, which was followed by a tour and a subsequent live-album, Weld.
After the tour, in September 1991, Young went into the studio to record his next album. On November 2nd, 1992, 25 years ago today, the resulting 20th Young-album Harvest Moon was released. Recovering from a case of tinnitus, Young went about the work with Ben Keith, accompanied by an acoustic guitar, piano and banjo. The instruments that also played a significant part on albums like Harvest, Comes a Time and Old Ways. Because the album was recorded with many of the same musicians that also played on the classic 1972 album Harvest, the album is oftentimes regarded to be a sequel to Harvest.
The resulting Harvest Moon is an album that contains beautiful songs, like the lovely, moving title-song. Harvest Moon is sentimental, but it never becomes cheap and it contains some of Young’s strongest songs, of which many are about love. But this is love seen through the eyes of a middle-aged man: love may be easy to find, but keeping and treasuring it is a lot harder. The album is also interpreted as a declaration of love to his wife Pegi Young (whom he divorced in 2014, after 36 years of marriage).
Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon
© Harv est Moon, Neil Young, 1992
The album is a perfect counter balance to Ragged Glory, which, thematically, is not too different from Harvest Moon. On the last album he keeps the guitars on a leash and keeps the songs small and personal. The storm has bated, everything settles down again.
In War Of Man and Natural Beauty Young lets his fears run free on one of his favorite subjects: the vulnerability of everything on earth, including the earth itself.
The Stray Gators and a number of singers, including Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson, give the songs the right amount of concern and deliver an album that has less to do with Harvest than meets the eye. More accurate, at times Harvest Moon surpasses the classic 1972 album.
All songs written by Neil Young.
- Unknown Legend
- From Hank To Hendrix
- You And Me
- Harvest Moon
- War Of Man
- One Of These Days
- Such A Woman
- Old King
- Dreamin’ Man
- Natural Beauty
Harvest Moon was Young’s greatest success since 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps. The album also contains a couple of songs that are among the finest of his entire career. The following tour was recorded and released in 2009 on the great live-album Dreamin’ Man Live ’92, which contains performances of all Harvest Moon songs.
Harvest Moon was followed up by the stunning 1993 album Unplugged, which will be reviewed next year.
What do you think of the album? Let me know!
Neil Young – Live 1992 image: rollingstone.com
Neil Young goes electric and rock ‘n roll image: nerve.com/treblezine.com
Neil Young – Harvest Moon image: neilyoung.warnerbrosrecords.com
Neil Young – Harvest Moon – Video image: youtube.com
Neil Young – Live 1992 (small) image: Steve Babineau
Neil Young – Dreamin’ Man Live ’92 image: musicstack.com