Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Heart of Gold"

Monday, November 12: 11 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Born on November 12, 1945, Neil Young is one of rock and roll’s greatest songwriters and performers. In a career that extends back to his mid-Sixties roots as a coffeehouse folkie in his native Canada, this principled and unpredictable maverick has pursued an often winding course across the rock and roll landscape. He’s been a cult hero, a chart-topping rock star, and all things in-between, remaining true to his restless muse all the while.

Neil Young was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: first as a solo artist in 1995, and again as a member of Buffalo Springfield in 1997. After being inducted by Eddie Vedder at the 1995 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, Young performed blistering versions of "Act of Love" and "F*!#in Up." The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's exhibits in Cleveland, Ohio, are home to a number of artifacts from Young's lengthy career, including the earliest known manuscript of his classic tune "Heart of Gold," with lyrics he wrote between December 1970 and January 1971. (pictured below)

Neil Young exhibit at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and MuseumIn the liner notes of his career retrospective Decade, Young said of "Heart of Gold": "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." A chart-topping song from his first (and last) chart-topping album, Harvest, "Heart Of Gold" makes an easy target in retrospect. With plaintive steel guitar and sweet vocal harmonies from James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, it's the "nice" Neil Young, not the scruffy, feedback-slinging renegade. But a closer look uncovers the same dark sensibility that defines Young's more overtly pensive works. The melody seems more exhausted than laid-back, and the lyrics proclaim the impossibility of finding fulfillment. The search for the ideal soulmate doesn't end happily. Young torpedoed his newfound mainstream acceptance soon after with Time Fades Away. Abrasive and desolate, this live album of all-new material is still frightening.


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