There are so many love songs out there in the cosmos – perhaps a zillion. And the older you get, the less they resonate with you because you know that while falling in love might be fun and easy, staying in love is all about hard work and determination. So as you age, listening to love songs with a straight face becomes a tad difficult, an experience that can be compared to watching movies you adored when you were a teenager – they just don’t seem to work anymore. You notice that identifying with your favorite characters is not easy all of a sudden – even 007 loses a fraction of his appeal! However, the worst part of this saturation point is not when you notice that you actually side with the principal in Breakfast Club, it’s becoming the that-doesn’t-work-in-real-life guy in your family when it comes to movies and the utter wet blanket when it comes to love songs, laughing sarcastically when the rest of the family sings along with Badfinger’s “Without You” at breakfast, thinking, “Somebody should tell that guy that there’s plenty of fish in the sea.”
Thankfully, not every song that’s written about love is as overly dramatic as “Without You.” Indeed, there exists a plethora of excellent tracks about the topic with more than a touch of realism in their lyrics. One of these songs is our track of the week, Neil Young’s outstanding "Harvest Moon," a song that packs so much warmth in its performance that listening to it can be compared to talking with an elderly couple who are still in love. The feeling of peace, tranquility and safety this tune carries penetrates your mind and every fiber of your being and makes you whisper out loud, "That’s what I want." Like all best art, it forces you to re-evaluate your own situation and this, depending on the state of your marriage, will make you either smile or solemnly stare into distance. However, regardless of your reaction, with "Harvest Moon" Young does a great job painting a bitter-sweet, yet tender picture of how satisfying love that survives the end of the honeymoon period can be.
When we were strangers
I watched you from afar
When we were lovers
I loved you with all my heart
But now it's getting late
And the moon is climbing high
I want to celebrate
See it shining in your eye
These words are beautiful and manage to capture reality extremely well. After some twenty odd years together, raising a family, that’s what most folks become: neither strangers nor lovers but something in between. And it’s not just because of the kids and raising a family. You see, unlike the love you feel for your kids, romantic love is not unconditional - in fact, it’s far from it. Consequently, even though completely unintentional in most cases, the longer we are together with someone, the more they disappoint us and regrettably, the more and deeper they hurt us. As a result, where there once was intimacy and laughs, there is usually distance and silence. This is why love songs like "Harvest Moon" are so special. If after everything that’s happened in the course of, say, a few decades, you can honestly and truthfully say to your spouse that you are still in love with them, lucky you. And if you still want them to "come a little bit closer" to "dream this night away," you guys are the exception, not the rule.
The production of ”Harvest Moon” is a perfect match to its soothing and intimate lyrics: smooth, flawless harmonies; delicate pedal steel; perfectly recorded acoustic guitars; tender brushing of the drums and Young’s imperfect but charismatic tenor that we’ve all grown to love. All this would already be enough to guarantee quite a listening experience for any fan of Young’s music but as is the case with most tracks that aren’t just brilliant but become classics, there is a lot more to the story of “Harvest Moon” than meets the ear.
With this song (and album) Neil Young created connections with his own legacy, reaching back to the sounds and songs that graced his superb 1972 album Harvest. And mind you, these are connections that are not superficial by any means. In fact, as Young revealed in a Rolling Stone interview published shortly after the release of Harvest Moon, some songs on the album were written on the Harvest tour way back in the early seventies. Had they been recorded at the time, they would have formed a natural follow up to Harvest. However, they weren’t and remained in Young’s notebook for nearly a quarter of a century. Hell-bent on not repeating himself and terrified of the sudden success Harvest had brought him, Young decided to pursue other directions in music that lead him to explore slightly less commercial territories. This decision led to Young releasing material that was seldom on par with the expectations of his fan base and to make matters worse, it didn’t make him popular with his label either. As a matter of fact, David Geffen even sued Young in the eighties for recording "unrepresentative music" and music that was “non-characteristic of Neil Young.”
In the liner notes of his 1978 anthology Decade, Young reflects on why he didn’t want to travel the easy road Harvest had paved for him.
“Heart of Gold” put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. When people start asking you to do the same thing over and over again, that's when you know you're way too close to something that you don't want to be near. I can't hold that against [Harvest], which I did; it's certainly got the depth of the other records. But it took a while to get to that. I just didn't want to do the obvious thing, because it didn't feel right.
Be that as it may, I for one, am grateful that Young finally found his way back to the sounds of Harvest – even if it took him twenty years to do it, as the Harvest Moon album is nothing short of brilliant. The opening track “Unknown Legend” swept me off my feet when I first heard the album but if for some odd reason, you are more reserved and cannot be thoroughly convinced by one song alone, “From Hank To Hendrix” followed by “You And Me” and “Harvest Moon” will set your mind at ease, make you smile and realize that you are listening to one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums of all time. And trust me, the rest of the record is equally brilliant.
To return to the topic of love, I figured I’ll end this write-up with a joke I heard at a dinner party a long time ago:
A young woman boarded an airplane and found herself sitting next to a rather elegant-looking elderly lady. The woman couldn’t help noticing her travelling companion’s chic dress and perfect hairdo but what most of all caught her eye was the stunningly beautiful large, sapphire ring on the lady’s finger. The younger woman couldn’t help admiring out loud how beautiful the ring was. The lady looked at her smilingly and said, “It is absolutely exquisite but there’s something you should know. This ring comes with a curse.” Slightly taken aback, the young woman inquired, “Really? What kind of a curse?” “The worst kind,” the lady continued, “my husband.”
You can learn more about Neil Young here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.