A Man Needs a Maid (song)

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"A Man Needs a Maid"
Song by Neil Young
from the album Harvest
ReleasedFebruary 1, 1972
RecordedFebruary 1971 at Barking Town Hall, London
GenreSymphonic rock, soft rock[1]
Songwriter(s)Neil Young
Producer(s)Jack Nitzsche[2]

"A Man Needs a Maid" is a song written by Neil Young that was first released on his 1972 album Harvest. It is one of two songs on Harvest on which Young is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. It has appeared on several of Young's live and compilation albums.

Lyrics and music[edit]

Music critic Johnny Rogan describes the melody of "A Man Needs a Maid" as "haunting."[3] Allmusic critic William Ruhlmann describes the song as "an impressionistic musing by a man who is contemplating the start of a new romantic relationship."[4]

The lyrics of "A Man Needs a Maid" have generated controversy due to interpretations that they are chauvinistic.[3][4][5][6] This is largely the result of Young using the term "maid" with two meanings in the song, one of which is a housekeeper to cook and clean for him, and then leave.[4][7] However, the rest of the lyrics make it clear that these lyrics were reflecting Young's own feelings of insecurity, and trying to balance his need for an equal relationship with a woman against his fear of getting hurt by that relationship and just "living alone and hiring help."[3][4][5][6][8] This is particularly apparent from the opening lines "My life is changin' in so many ways/I don't know who to trust anymore" before he starts singing about thinking of getting a maid.[3][7] And even though he sings of the maid going away after doing the housework, after singing that "a man needs a maid" he goes on to ask "When will I see you again?"[5] Music journalist Nigel Williamson provides an additional reason for Young's feelings about a maid in the song, in that he wrote the song when he was hospitalized after back surgery and so he did literally need the services of a maid at the time.[7] Responding to the accusation of sexism from literal readings of the song, Young once pointed out that "Robin Hood loved a maid long before women's liberation."[7]

Perhaps anticipating such criticism, Young stated the following at an early performance of the song at the Boston Music Hall on January 21, 1971:[9]

This is another new song. It's called "A Man Needs a Maid." It's kind of a . . . it doesn't really mean what it says. It's just the idea that anyone would think enough to say something like that would show that something else was happening. [short laugh] So don't take it personally when I say it. I don't really want a maid.[10][11]

In the last verse, Young describes watching a movie and falling in love with the actress.[5][11] This is an autobiographical reference to Young's falling in love with actress Carrie Snodgress, who would become the mother of Young's first son.[5][6][7] Young had first become smitten by Snodgress when he saw her acting the part of the role of the titular housewife in the movie Diary of a Mad Housewife.[4][7][12]

Background and recording[edit]

In live performances before recording Harvest, Young sang "A Man Needs a Maid" accompanying himself on piano.[4] The earliest recordings show the song was performed as a medley with the soon to be #1 hit "Heart of Gold".[12][13] Later in the tour, "Heart of Gold" was broken away to be performed on its own on acoustic guitar. For the Harvest recording, Young added accompaniment by the London Symphony Orchestra, recorded at Barking Town Hall (now the Broadway theatre) in London in February 1971.[3][4][7][13] Jack Nitzsche provided the orchestral arrangement.[13][14] The Harvest recording begins with Young on solo piano with the orchestral accompaniment joins him after the first statement of "a man needs a maid."[13] Several critics, including Johnny Rogan, found the orchestral accompaniment as being overblown.[3][4] Sam Inglis, however, claims that the orchestra "underline[s] the dynamics of Young's performance in the same way a film composer might reinforce the twists and turns of some high melodrama."[6] As an example, Inglis notes the point at which Young cries out passionately for a "mai-ai-ai-aid" while "pounding" the piano, and the piccolo plays a "warning note" before the strings "soar upwards."[6]


Rolling Stone ranked "A Man Needs a Maid" as the #62 all time Neil Young song, calling it "a moving union of grandeur and vulnerability."[14] Although some critics found the orchestral accompaniment to be overblown, Rolling Stone described it as "dramatic," and Bob Dylan liked it.[3][14] Young has stated that "Some people thought that the arrangement was overdone but Bob Dylan told me it was one of his favorites. I listened closer to Bob."[3][6][7] Young himself stated that the song is "overblown, but it's great."[14] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau described the song as a "major" song that was "gratifying musically."[15] Rolling Stone critic John Mendelsohn described it as being "particularly interesting" for how Young "treats his favorite theme — his inability to find and keep a lover — in a novel and arrestingly brazen (in terms of our society's accelerating consciousness of women's rights) manner."[16] The New Rolling Stone Album Guide critic Robert Sheffield described the lyrics as being "unintentionally hilarious."[17] Pitchfork critic Mark Richardson said the song is "one of [Young's] stranger creations, an affecting portrait of loneliness undercut with a clumsy, lunkheaded chorus refrain, the sincerity of which has never been quite clear."[18]

Young included "A Man Needs a Maid" on his 1977 triple album Decade.[4] A live version of the original version of the song containing "Heart of Gold" was included on Live at Massey Hall 1971[19] Another live performance of this version was included on the 2000 bootleg album There's a World.[20]

The National Lampoon comedy troupe performed a song in the mid-70s "Old Maid (Southern California Brings Me Down)," which parodied "A Man Needs a Maid" with lyrics such as "I need someone to live with me, keep my bed warm...and sew patches on my jeans."[12]

Emily Haines interpreted the song with "The Maid Needs a Maid."[21]


  1. ^ Oregonian/OregonLive, David Greenwald | The (April 3, 2014). "The top 10 '70s soft-rock seduction ballads (playlist)". OregonLive.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Harvest". Discogs. February 1972. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Rogan, J. (1996). The Complete Guide to the Music of Neil Young. Omnibus Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0711953994.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ruhlman, W. "A Man Needs a Maid". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  5. ^ a b c d e Downing, D. (1994). A Dreamer of Pictures: Neil Young, the Man and His Music. Da Capo. p. 88. ISBN 9780306806117.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Inglis, S. (2015). Harvest. Bloomsbury. pp. 79–82. ISBN 9780826414953.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Williamson, N. (2002). Journey Through the Past: The Stories Behind the Classic Songs of Neil Young. Hal Leonard. pp. 48–49. ISBN 9780879307417.
  8. ^ Ruhlmann, W. "Harvest". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  9. ^ "Neil Young Setlist at The Music Hall, Boston, MA, Tour: 1971 Journey Through the Past Solo Tour". www.setlist.fm. Setlist.fm. Retrieved 17 Feb 2020.
  10. ^ Recording of live concert broadcast on WAER-FM 88.3, "Live Concerts at Twelve Midnight," between set list #6 (Love in Mind) and #7 (A Man Needs A Maid/Heart of Gold Suite).
  11. ^ a b "The Story Behind 'A Man Needs A Maid' By Neil Young". Society of Rock. 16 December 2020. Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  12. ^ a b c Boyd, G. (2012). Neil Young FAQ. Backbeat Books. ASIN B008RYZ7WM.
  13. ^ a b c d Bielen, K. (2008). The Words and Music of Neil Young. Praeger. pp. 21–23. ISBN 9780275999025.
  14. ^ a b c d "The 100 Greatest Songs". Neil Young. Rolling Stone. 2014. p. 89.
  15. ^ Christgau, R. "Neil Young". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  16. ^ Mendelsohn, John (March 30, 1972). "Neil Young Harvest > Album Review". Rolling Stone. No. 105. Archived from the original on 13 October 2004. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  17. ^ Sheffield, R. (2004). Brackett, N.; Hoard, C. (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Fireside. p. 900. ISBN 978-0743201698.
  18. ^ Richardson, M. (December 11, 2009). "Neil Young". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
  19. ^ Deming, M. "Live at Massey Hall 1971". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  20. ^ McFarlane, D. "There's a World". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  21. ^ "Neil Young News: "The Maid Needs a Maid" by Emily Haines". neilyoungnews.thrasherswheat.org. Retrieved 2018-04-25.