Heart of Gold
Writer(s): Neil Young (see lyrics here)
First Charted: January 29, 1972
Peak: 11 US, 11 CB, 12 GR, 11 HR, 8 AC, 1 CL, 10 UK, 12 CN, 14 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to 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
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Critic John Rockwell once called Neil Young “the quintessential hippie-cowboy loner.” FB 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 perfect 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.” FB
It featured “one of Young’s most haunting, memorable melodies, sung in his usual broken voice.” TB 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
First posted 2/5/2021; last updated 9/15/2023.