Even for fans who know just how conscientiously Neil Young has documented his activities across his entire career, the sheer wealth and detail of the footage that makes up the two-hour documentary accompanying the 50th-anniversary edition of Harvest is astonishing.
Shot between January and September 1971, the film captures every aspect of the recording of the album in close-up: following Young and his ragtag family of cohorts from the famous sessions conducted in the barn at his bucolic Broken Arrow ranch in Northern California, across the ocean to a grey London for his collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra, musicians separated by a common language as they attempt to capture “A Man Needs A Maid”. Finally, it lurches back to Nashville, for further tracking and overdubbing sessions amid a cast of Music City eccentrics.
Steering clear of voiceover narration, the film is an immersive, fly-on-the wall experience – particularly in the barn session sequences. The footage sits the audience right on the plaid-shirted shoulders of the Stray Gators band Young and co-producer Elliot Mazer assembled for the record as they work up tracks like “Alabama”, “Words” and “Are You Ready For The Country” – caught here in rawer, more immediate takes than those featured on the final album.
Memorable moments come thick and fast: Young defining himself as “a rich hippy”… Stray Gators bassist Tim Drummond demonstrating the correct use of an aquarium pump during downtime in Nashville… Young, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash discussing whether their studio is haunted while attempting to nail harmonies on “Words”… glimpses of Young and his then partner Carrie Snodgress huddling together on the sidelines any chance they get, the 1970s sunlight flaring around them.
Watching the film is a poignant experience for Young. “Seeing all those guys,” he says today, referring to the Stray Gators, “none of them are alive. So, y’know, that’s a trip. I’m looking at them and I’m the only one left. There’s a great jam in there, somewhere in the middle of the Harvest barn. It’s very cool hearing that. Very funky and spontaneous. I like things like that. I like the idea of getting this film out and having people see the real story – and the fact that I made the film, instead of someone else doing it.”
You can read more about Neil Young and the Harvest documentary in the next issue of Uncut
The Harvest Time film features as part of the Harvest 50th-anniversary boxset, alongside the original album, three studio outtakes on CD/7” vinyl, a book of liner notes, and another DVD of Young’s live 1971 solo performance for BBC TV