Neil Young sings ‘Heart of Gold’ live on the BBC back in 1971
When Neil Young decided to break out on his own following the taste of the spotlight he got with Buffalo Springfield, the singer began one of the most fruitful periods of his esteemed career. It would spawn some incredible songs and offer him up opportunities he likely never thought imaginable a mere year or two before as part of a band. Now, he was the main man and thriving under the spotlight.
He soon confirmed himself as a rock star with some searing songs and performances. After some successful records, including 1970 effort After The Gold Rush, Young had firmly asserted himself on the musical map. It provided the Canadian with the chance to reach an international audience as the BBC welcomed the singer to their In Concert series.
The footage below captures Neil Young at one of the brightest moments of his career, near the very beginning of a journey that will go down in legend. He had achieved success both commercial and critical with his solo records and was now beginning to establish himself as a superstar in his own right. But, to really achieve that status, one needed to be known in all corners of the globe.
The BBC show offered a perfect chance to not only perform his songs but deliver them with star power to a brand new audience in Britain. Though Young was known in some corners of the country, by the end of the show he had written his name in lights forevermore.
The set may only contain eight songs, but each one is imbued with tender emotion and veracious performance that perfectly captures an artist in the ascent. Performances of ‘Out On The Weekend,’ ‘Old Man’, ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ were all debut showings of his upcoming new album Harvest, and there’s another track from that record which hits particularly hard.
Young fumbles through his pockets trying to find the correct harmonica, “This one’s in G if anyone wants to blow along with me,” smirks Young as the British crowd coo over his dry wit. With that, he began the beautiful notes of ‘Heart of Gold’ quite possibly one of Young’s finest tracks. While the song is missing the stunning backup vocals of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt which feature on the record, this performance may well be the definitive version.
In the liner notes of his 1977 compilation album Decade, Young said of the track: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” The song was actually put down by Bob Dylan because it typified the widespread copycat artists in the freewheelin’ troubadour’s opinion: “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’,” the singer told SPIN. However, when you see the performance below, it’s hard not to witness Young’s authentic connection with the track.
Below you can see that duality expressed without reproach as part of his now-iconic performance of ‘Heart of Gold’ live for the BBC back in 1971.