Heart of Gold (Neil Young song)

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"Heart of Gold"
Heart of Gold by Neil Young
Single by Neil Young
from the album Harvest
B-side "Sugar Mountain"
Released 1971
Format 45 RPM Record
Recorded Quadrafonic Sound Studios, Nashville, TN, February 8, 1971
Genre Folk rock, country rock
Length 3:07
Label Reprise
Writer(s) Neil Young
Producer(s) Elliot Mazer
Neil Young singles chronology
"When You Dance I Can Really Love"
(1971)
"Heart of Gold"
(1971)
"Old Man"
(1972)
Audio sample
file info · help

"Heart of Gold" is a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young. Released from the 1972 album Harvest, it is so far Young's only U.S. #1 single. In Canada, it reached #1 on the RPM national singles chart for the first time on April 8, 1972, on which date Young held the top spot on both the singles and albums charts.[1] Billboard ranked it as the No. 17 song for 1972.[2] In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it #297 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.[3]

The song, which features backup vocals of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, is one of a series of soft acoustic pieces which were written partly as a result of a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods of time, Young could not play his electric guitar and so returned to his acoustic guitar, which he could play sitting down. He also played his harmonica during the three instrumental portions, including the Introduction to the song.[4][5]

"Heart of Gold" was taped during the initial sessions for Harvest in early 1971 at Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.[6] Ronstadt (who herself would later cover Young's song "Love is a Rose") and Taylor were in Nashville at the time for an appearance on Johnny Cash's television program, and the album's producer Elliot Mazer arranged for them to sing backup for Young in the studio.[7][8]

Young played this song in 1971 solo shows before recording it. At first he played it on piano, starting with "A Man Needs a Maid" and then segueing into this song. An example of the segued version appears on Young's 2007 release Live at Massey Hall 1971. Midway through the tour--at least by the time of his BBC concert--he separated the two songs and played "Heart of Gold" on guitar and harmonica, much like it later appeared on record.

Young wrote in the liner notes of his 1977 compilation album Decade: "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there." This statement was in response to the mainstream popularity that he gained as a result of the number-one status of "Heart of Gold".

In 1985, Bob Dylan admitted that he disliked hearing this song, despite always liking Neil Young:[9]

The only time it bothered me that someone sounded like me was when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, in about '72 and the big song at the time was "Heart of Gold." I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to "Heart of Gold." I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I'd say, "Shit, that's me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me."

"Heart of Gold" has been covered by Roch Voisine, Widespread Panic, Tanya Donelly, Matchbox Twenty, Tori Amos, Free Dominguez, Johnny Cash (with John Frusciante), Richard Lloyd, Bettye Lavette, Birds and Batteries, Zakk Wylde (with Black Label Society), Boney M, Carla Cook, Lawrence Gowan, Stereophonics, Rockapella, Roxette, Kiki Dee, The Polyphonic Spree, Backburner, Hanah, Ossifar, the James Last Orchestra, Five for Five, Sally Dworsky, Channeling Owen, Stoney LaRue, The Bad Plus, Dave Matthews, Jimmy Buffett (with the Coral Reefer Band), Tavi Gevinson, Charles Bradley, Sarah Barthel (recording under the name Demarest), and as a Karaoke backing track. It is also heard briefly in the 1984 film Iceman. The Demarest version was used in the official trailer for Out of the Furnace and was produced by Michael A. Levine and Lucas Cantor.

A cover by Willie Nelson peaked at number 44 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in 1987.[10]

In 2005, "Heart of Gold" was named the third greatest Canadian song of all time on the CBC Radio One series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version. It ranked behind only Barenaked Ladies' "If I Had $1000000" and Ian and Sylvia's "Four Strong Winds",[11] the latter covered by Young on his 1978 album Comes a Time. Whatever the value of such polls, by 2014 both "If I Had $100000" and "Heart of Gold" were no longer on the 100 place list, while "Four Strong Winds" remained at #13.[12]

The song was included (along with Young's song "Harvest Moon)" on the soundtrack of the 2010 movie Eat Pray Love and is referenced in "You and I" by Lady Gaga with the line "On my birthday you sang me A Heart of Gold/With a guitar humming in overloads".

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 1
Canadian RPM Top Singles 1
Norwegian Singles Chart 4
Dutch Top 40 8
U.K. Singles Chart 10

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ List of Canadian number-one albums of 1972
  2. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1972
  3. ^ Rollingstone.com, Issue 963, December 9, 2004 (subscription required). See also Wikipedia article
  4. ^ McDonough, Jim, Shakey, Random 2002, pp. 352-354, 370.
  5. ^ Crowe, Cameron, Neil Young, the Last American Hero. Rolling Stone, February 8, 1989, webpage found 2007-11-29.
  6. ^ See video recording on YouTube
  7. ^ "Thrasher", Neil Young's Heart of Gold, web page found 2007-11-29.
  8. ^ Elliot Mazer, Neil Young's Heart of Gold. In Mix, 2001-05-01, webpage found 2007-11-29.
  9. ^ December 1985 Spin archive, Bob Dylan: Not Like a Rolling Stone Interview
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research, Inc. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-89820-203-8. 
  11. ^ '50 Tracks' list of essential Canadian music, 2005
  12. ^ '50 Tracks' list of essential Canadian music, 2014

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Without You" by Nilsson
US Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
March 18, 1972
Succeeded by
"A Horse with No Name" by America
Preceded by
"Cotton Jenny" by Anne Murray
Canadian RPM 100 number-one single
April 18, 1972
Succeeded by
"A Horse with No Name" by America
Preceded by
"Puppy Love" by Donny Osmond
Canadian RPM 100 number-one single
May 13, 1972
Succeeded by
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack