Saturday, March 18, 1972

Neil Young hit #1 with “Heart of Gold”

First posted 2/5/2021.

Heart of Gold

Neil Young

Writer(s): Neil Young (see lyrics here)

First Charted: January 29, 1972

Peak: 11 US, 11 CB, 11 HR, 8 AC, 1 CL, 10 UK, 12 CN, 14 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.2 UK, 1.2 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 92.0 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Critic John Rockwell once called Neil Young “the quintessential hippie-cowboy loner.” BR1 The legendary artist first made a name for himself with Buffalo Springfield in the late ‘60s before striking out on his own. In 1970, he collaborated with Crosby, Stills & Nash, contributing classics like “Ohio” and “Helpless” before returning to his solo career. In 1972, he found his biggest success with Harvest, his fourth solo album. The album produced the only top-40 hits of his solo career with the chart-topping “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man,” backed by “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

Harvest and “Heart of Gold” were quintessential representations of the ‘70s singer/songwriter era, when adult-contemporary and folk-driven artists like Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor found huge mainstream success. Both of them lent their backup vocals to “Heart of Gold.” They were in Nashville to perform on Johnny Cash’s TV show and Elliot Mazer, the producer for Harvest, invited them to perform on the album. WK

During the recording of the album, Young was wearing a brace because of a back injury. He explained that it made the album mellower because he couldn’t stand for long periods of time to play electric guitar, but he could play acoustic sitting down. All Music Guide’s Denise Sullivan called it “the ultimate campire song,” AMG noting that it is marked by “a little harmonica, a little peddle steel, his natural twang, and two simple verses that speak of the universal condition.” AMG “Heart of Gold” served as the “perfect expression of the brooding idiosyncratic artist at the height of his quest.” BR1

Bob Dylan said that while he always liked Neil Young, he despised “Heart of Gold” because it was the only time it bothered him that someone else sounded like him. WK Young himself has knocked it, saying in the liner notes for his 1977 Decade compilation, “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

A wide variety of artists have recorded the song, including Tori Amos, Boney M, Johnny Cash, Bettye LaVette, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Passenger, Roxette, and James Taylor. WK

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Neil Young
  • DMDB page for parent album Harvest
  • AMG All Music Guide review by Denise Sullivan
  • BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). New York, NY: Billboard Books. Page 308.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

Saturday, March 11, 1972

Neil Young’s Harvest hits #1 in the U.S. and U.K.: November 11, 1972

Originally posted 11/11/2012. Updated 3/8/2013.

Release date: 14 February 1972
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) 1. Out on the Weekend 2. Harvest 3. A Man Needs a Maid 4. Heart of Gold (2/5/72, #1 US, #10 UK, #8 AC, sales: 1.0 m) 5. Are You Ready for the Country? 6. Old Man (4/29/72, #31 US) 7. There’s a World 8. Alabama 9. The Needle and the Damage Done (7/17/93, #75 UK) 10. Words (Between the Lines of Age)

Sales (in millions): 4.3 US, -- UK, 16.1 world (includes US and UK)

Peak: 12 US, 11 UK


Review: Young’s previous two solo efforts, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush, mined gritty rock anthems and folky love songs to perfection.” SY He followed that with Harvest, which featured “the solitary troubadour…at his most elegiac.” ZS The overall “sound was Americana…stripped down and rebuilt with every jagged edge exposed,” RS500 but Young also “employ[ed] a number of jarringly different styles.” AMG “But the album does have an overall mood and an overall lyric content, and they conflict with each other: the mood is melancholic, but the songs mostly describe the longing for and fulfillment of new love.” AMG

“His usual dissonant touches, like the otherworldly guitar in Out on the Weekend, are less spooky in this new context.” AZ Songs like “the hypnotic rocker” AZ Words (Between the Lines of Age), with “a little distorted guitar along the way,” AD “predict Tonight’s the Night, Young’s haunted 1975 classic.” AZ

“The singer’s acquired-taste voice comes across smooth and beautiful” AZ in songs like the aforementioned “Out on the Weekend” and “rolling laments like Old ManSY which “are unusually melodic and accessible.” AMG Nowhere is this more apparent than Heart of Gold, “by far Young’s most commercial-sounding song,” AZ complete with “steel guitars and Linda Ronstadt’s backup vocals.” AZ The latter “helped set the stage for the Seventies soft-rock explosion.” RS500

On the controversial A Man Needs a Maid, Young “contrasts the fears of committing to a relationship with simply living alone and hiring help.” AMG On the “country-tinged” AMG Are You Ready for the Country “Young detoured briefly to the Nashville mainstream.” AZ “The harrowing portrait of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction” AMG on “the deceptively gentle” AZ The Needle and the Damage Done is “one of the most poignant songs about drug addiction ever recorded.” ZS

In reference to the album’s “simple arrangements, simple songs” AD some “critics accused him of dumbing down at the time.” JI Although Harvest “lacked the through-the-night-until-the-morning-after crush of its predecessors” SY it “can now be seen as simply another facet of Young’s musical personality, representing the acoustic, pastoral idyll that usually preceded another barrage of electric howl.” JI In any event, it was Young’s “most popular album” AMG and sealed his “voice-of-a-generation fate.” SY

Resources and Related Links: