Neil Young

Old Man

Composed by Neil Young

Song Review by

"Old Man" was one of the highlights of Neil Young's Harvest album, with a haunting melody strong enough to have made it a good choice as a single. It was indeed released as a single in 1972, but it made only #31, possibly because it came just a few months after the chart-topping "Heart of Gold," which might have blunted its commercial impact a bit. Nevertheless, it got mucho airplay on FM radio and is one of Young's more familiar songs, especially to those who prefer the more gentle singer-songwriting face of his work. For a Neil Young classic, "Old Man" is actually rather straightforward, seeming like an account of the narrator observing an older man and noting the similarities in their lives. Like many of Young's efforts from the time, it has an acoustic country-folk backbone, embellished by low-key Nashville rock production. The downcast meditation of the verses is offset by a brighter, more yearning tune in the bridges, the first of which mark the entrance of banjo (by James Taylor) and steel guitar. That bridge, too, seems to mark the chief message of the song: looking at the old man, Young realizes/agrees that he needs someone to love. Not the most original message, perhaps, but a universal one and economically, effectively expressed in this recording. The line about the narrator being 24 seemed to indicate it was autobiographical, Young then being in mid-twenties, although actually he was a bit older by the time the song got released. Young's father, Scott Young, has written of how proud he was when he heard the song, believing that Neil had written it about him. He was in for a letdown, for as Young revealed in his liner notes to Decade, he wrote this about the caretaker of his ranch. Other good solo acoustic guitar versions of the song exist on bootlegs of Young from early-'70s concerts, such as Neil Young at the Los Angeles Music Center.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Harvest 1972 Reprise 3:24
No Image 1973 Warner Bros. 0:00
Decade 1977 Reprise / Warner Bros.
In Berlin [Video/DVD] 1986 Rhino
No Image 1991 Silver Shadow 3:48
No Image 1993 KTS 3:46
There's a World 2000 4:13
Greatest Hits 2004 Reprise / Warner Bros. 3:25
Neil Young Archives, Vol. I (1963-1972) 2009 Reprise / Warner Bros. 4:57
Neil Young Archives, Vol. I (1963-1972) [Video] 2009 Reprise 0:00