Neil Young Performs Classic Songs in 1971 Concert: “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold” & More

A the­o­ry of mer­it states that Neil Young rein­vents him­self every 10 years or so, but the work in-between isn’t always pret­ty. Yet for an artist with a some­what lim­it­ed range, he remains one of the most inter­est­ing singers and song­writ­ers in rock and roll well over four decades after his start. Young once played gui­tar in a garage band with Rick James in 1965 called the Mynah Birds; released a sur­pris­ing­ly lis­ten­able elec­tro album in 1982 com­plete with Gior­gio Morodor-like synths and vocoders; and last year, record­ed a col­lec­tion of folk stan­dards like “Oh, Susan­na” and “She’ll Be Com­ing ‘Round the Moun­tain” in the style of 1979’s Rust Nev­er Sleeps (an album, Paul Nel­son wrote at the time, that “burns [rock & roll] to the ground”). In-between the styl­is­tic leaps and inno­va­tions are some painful­ly mediocre albums and some that define, or rather rede­fine, gen­res. One of the lat­ter, Young’s 1972 Har­vest picked up and refined the folk-rock of his first band Buf­fa­lo Springfield’s self-titled 1966 debut—an album wide­ly cred­it­ed with the cre­ation of folk-rock.

Har­vest—by any account one of Young’s best albums and the high­est-sell­ing of ’72—produced “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man,” and, indi­rect­ly led to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alaba­ma” (writ­ten in response to Har­vest’s anti-seg­re­ga­tion rock­er, “Alaba­ma”). It’s a sur­pris­ing­ly qui­et album for the impact it’s had, and it set the stan­dard for lat­er folk-acoustic Young albums like 1992’s Har­vest Moon and 2000’s Sil­ver & Gold. And as much as Young can destroy a venue with a full-on elec­tric attack (even now!), he can mes­mer­ize an audi­ence with just an acoustic gui­tar, piano, har­mon­i­ca, and casu­al ban­ter, even while play­ing a suite of songs they’d nev­er heard before. See him do so above in a 1971 con­cert live at the BBC’s Shep­herds Bush Empire The­atre. Young plays four songs that would appear on Har­vest: “Out on the Week­end,” “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” and “A Man Needs a Maid.” He also does “Jour­ney Through the Past” and “Love in Mind,” which would appear two years lat­er on the bleak 1973 Time Fades Away, and “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” a song from 1970’s bril­liant After the Gold Rush. Young per­formed the last song, “Dance Dance Dance,” with Cros­by, Stills, and Nash, but it went unre­leased in a stu­dio ver­sion until the 2009 box set The Archives, Vol­ume 1: 1963–1972.

Some fur­ther evi­dence of Young’s con­tin­ued rel­e­vance: just last week, he per­formed a series of shows at Carnegie Hall, and audi­ence mem­bers took video of sev­er­al songs, includ­ing the title track to Har­vest (above). It’s a song Young almost nev­er played live until 2007. Onstage, alone, with acoustic and harp, he is still, forty-three years lat­er, a mes­mer­iz­ing pres­ence.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Great Sto­ry: How Neil Young Intro­duced His Clas­sic 1972 Album Har­vest to Gra­ham Nash

‘The Nee­dle and the Dam­age Done’: Neil Young Plays Two Songs on The John­ny Cash Show, 1971

Neil Young Busk­ing in Glas­gow, 1976: The Sto­ry Behind the Footage

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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