Open Modal

On This Date 1974


Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold,” with backing vocals by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, goes to #1 in the US. It’s not like Neil Young to use understandable metaphors like, “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold,” a sentiment far more scrutable than anything found on his first three albums. The song finds him searching from Hollywood to Redwood for the girl of his dreams – a long way from “Down By The River.” The lyric may be straightforward and a tad cliché, but the music is uncompromising. Recorded at a session in Nashville set up the night before (the first for Young’s Harvest album), the musicians are all locals, including a pedal steel guitar player named Ben Keith, who made his mark on the 1961 Patsy Cline classic “I Fall To Pieces.” After recording “Old Man,” they do two takes of “Heart of Gold,” which is all they need. The next day, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, who like Young are in Nashville to appear on The Johnny Cash Show, add backing vocals. Young, slowed by a debilitating back injury, completes the rest of Harvest over the next six months. Released in February 1972, it shoots to #1 in America on March 11. It stays there the next week as “Heart of Gold” claims the top spot on the Hot 100, putting Young in the position of reluctant hitmaker. Critics take him to task. “‘Heart of Gold’s’ basic conceit would be laughed off the airwaves coming from another solo troubadour,” sniffs Rolling Stone. Young does what he can to put some distance between him and his hit. His next three albums reflect the pain and heartache he feels from a series of setbacks: his son Zeke was born with cerebral palsy, and his friend Danny Whitten died of a drug overdose. “Heart of Gold” proves an abberation rather than a shift to the mainstream. “I thought the record was good, but I also knew that something else was dying,” he says of it.

To keep up to date with music history:

RecomMended Posts