NEIL YOUNG: HARVEST TIME – A FILM FROM 1971
SHAKEY PICTURES, TRAFALGAR RELEASING & WARNER RECORDS
DECEMBER 1, 2022
It is fascinating to watch Harvest Time – A Film From 1971. Capturing the recording of Neil Young’s iconic 1972 album, Harvest, directed by Bernard Shakey—aka Neil Young himself, the docufilm shows us a young artist still building his career, but on the edge of superstardom.
Harvest became an international hit, charting Number One in Canada, as well as in the US, UK, and Australian album charts. It also garnered two hit singles, “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold”. Harvest changed Neil Young’s life and career, and put him on the mainstream music map, now as a solo artist, after the success of CSNY and Buffalo Springfield. But the success was a double-edged sword, as Young later reflected that, “‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch”.
It is interesting, therefore, to get a glimpse of the artist and his band at work, before the success. Filmed between January and September, 1971, Harvest Time sees Young and his band (The Stray Gators) recording in the barn at his Broken Arrow Ranch in California. The film also takes us to London, where the artist worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, and to a studio in Nashville. In each of these locales, the viewer gets to be a fly on the wall, hearing early versions of songs with the band, watching Young grapple with using a full orchestra on his songs, and getting a peek at his easy camaraderie with collaborators Graham Nash and Stephen Stills.
It is wonderful to be seeing this film, 50 years after the Harvest album was released. Broadly speaking, it is a time capsule of the early 1970s, in style, language, and attitude. Specifically, it hints at aspects of Young’s strong work ethic, in addition to his personal and musical integrity. We see early signs of the artist we have come to know and love:
Director: “Are you happy with it?”
Young: “No. It’s nice though. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know until I hear it. I just don’t know.”
We will not give too much away here, but suffice it to say that there are many great moments on screen. The raw tightness of the band playing in Young’s barn, and the struggle to execute the lush strings on “A Man Needs A Maid” come to mind. This is a great film, not only for fans of Young, but also for anyone who is interested in the culture of the early 1970s.