Sequels are usually nothing more than a pale version of the original, but sometime something special breaks through. We usually know what to expect, and we usually know not too expect too much. A spark of the creativity that produced the original idea is missing, and sometimes we are pleasantly surprised. Star Trek II was pretty good, Rocky II not so much. Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell II, Back to Hell album sequel to his debut Bat Out of Hell was largely forgettable, while David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, his follow up to the brilliant The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Startdust was well received.
20 years after Neil Young released Harvest, his breakthrough solo album, he released the sequel, Harvest Moon. Connected more through style and ideas than story and plot, Harvest Moon turned out to be a worthy follow up, and a gentle yet resonant reminder of Neil Young’s craft and artistry.
Harvest, released in 1972, was Neil Young’s fourth solo album, and was peppered with hits, such as “Heart of Gold,” “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Southern Man.” Guest musicians included his pals from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Linda Ronstadt, and James Taylor…a veritable who’s who of 1970’s Laurel Canyon inspired country rock. Neil Young went on to explore various other styles of music throughout the rest of the 1970’s and 1980’s, including more traditional rock and roll with his band Crazy Horse, computerized music, theatrical music, and more.
And then in 1992, Neil Young returned to his roots, and revisited the themes and styles of Harvest and released Harvest Moon, featuring many of the same musicians who appeared on the original album. I was only six years old when the Harvest was released, but at 26 years old, I fully embraced Harvest Moon, and 27 years after its release it remains one of my favorite albums.
“Harvest Moon” is the fourth song on the album, and serves as the heart and soul of this deeply felt collection of songs. A love letter to his wife (at the time) Pegi, “Harvest Moon” tells us that love does not need to fade with time. We can still dance in the moonlight.
“Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleeping
We could dream this night away
But there’s a full moon rising
Let’s go dancing in the light
We know where the music’s playing
Let’s go out and feel the night.”
The song begins with an acoustic guitar, playing a lovely, repetitive waltz rhythm. We close our eyes, and imagine swaying back and forth. We hear a gentle sweeping sound, twhich is actually the sound of a broom sweeping across the floor in time with the song. Linda Ronstadt returns for the sequel, and sings background.
“Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.”
Neil Young is feeling nostalgic. Wistful. Maybe a little sad. Though time continues its relentless march, he remembers 1972 when Harvest highlighted a quiet, country tinged approach to making hits. Maybe he remembers his wife, when they both were younger. His love for both Harvest and Pegi inspired this album and this song, and Young is not shy about how he feels.
“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”
The Harvest album was written and recorded by a young man who was still growing, still learning, still becoming. Harvest Moon captures that same young man 20 years later. He is a man who know knows who he is, who he loves and why. The albums complement each other beautifully, and tell an elongated story of age, love and nature. Harvest Moon is a sequel that works.
Written by Neil Young
Performed by Neil Young