Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #5

Neil Young – Harvest

I will always stan for Canadian artists (except Bieber – screw that guy). I still feel a slight rush when I see something recognizably Canadian in an American movie or television show. I love it when I learn that some famous entertainer has a Canuck connection. I’m not confused about where this weirdness comes from – I grew up in an era where our national culture was not very interesting (to a person of my age), and our government felt the need to step in and put rules in place to try and help our artists develop free of the oppressive shadow coming from the south. (As good as acts like Trooper and April Wine might have been, they were mostly Canada-only pleasures.) When I see one of our own break through, it gives me an unearned sense of pride. In 1970s pop and rock, with a few exceptions like BTO, that was mostly limited to one-offs, like Nick Gilder. (I didn’t have a lot of interest then in the music of our international superstars, like Gordon Lightfoot (who I was wrong about), Joni Mitchell (probably wrong) or Anne Murray (yeah, I’m good).) Now, we have Drake and The Weeknd and Carly Rae and Alessia Cara and Shawn Mendes and even that twerp from Stratford.

So why didn’t Neil get more love from Canadian radio in the ‘70s? He was a massive star and insanely prolific, but other than endless repeats of “Heart of Gold”, I don’t remember hearing him very often. (I’ve checked, and this wasn’t just another case of Cape Breton being behind the curve.) Was he not Canadian enough for our culture overlords? His dad was a hockey writer, for God’s sake. Sure, he worked in America with mostly American collaborators, but he probably bled MAPL syrup. Remember when Bryan Adams got so upset about CanCon? (I know Robert Barrie does.) Why wasn’t someone speaking up for Neil two decades earlier? Of course, he didn’t really need the help – “Harvest” was the best-selling album of the year.

This record is awesome. I’ve owned it on CD for about two decades, but hadn’t played it through in ages (because I pretty much haven’t been playing any of my old CDs for the past decade). It’s a (mostly) understated album, with relaxed drums, guitar and piano leading the way, occasionally jolted from their reverie by harmonica or harder guitar. I like every song here, including the two hits, but highlights include “Out on the Weekend”, which washes over you, the gentle pedal steel guitar contrasting with the harmonica, then is followed by the pleasant slow country crawl of “Harvest”. The cinematic orchestral flourishes of the haunting “A Man Needs A Maid” (no, it is NOT chauvinistic) are my favourite thing here (and would be more impactful if he did not go back to that well later in the record on “There’s A World”), and “Are You Ready for the Country?” is the bounciest track, led by Young banging on the piano like a drunk at a house party. The record peaks with the simple and heartbreaking “The Needle and the Damage Done”, ending with an epic duel between loud guitar and a relaxed piano melody on “Words (Between the Lines of Age)”. CanCon at its finest – no matter what our government of the day may have thought.

(Originally posted on Facebook, June 8, 2021)