Harvest Moon

Comment was made in the last column about the age-old influence of the sun on the earliest writings and music. The same is true of the moon, which has exerted perhaps even more of a mystical pull on the poetic and musical imagination over the centuries. Worshipped as a god/goddess, linked to witchcraft, werewolves and lunacy, waxing and waning over the years.

In song, inspiration has been more diverse than with the sun, from the stereotyped moon/June romantic odes through the more imaginative reflections of Moondance and Moonshadow to the philosophising of Dark Side of the Moon. There has been a Blue Moon, covered countless times from the Marcels’ doo-wop version through Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley et al, with a particularly atmospheric version by the Cowboy Junkies. But there has also been a Pink Moon (Nick Drake), a Yellow Moon (the Neville Brothers), a Black Moon (Emerson, Lake and Palmer),a Red Moon (David Gray). It’s been a Bad Moon and a Sad Moon and a Harsh Mistress. Jonathan King claimed that Everyone’s Gone to the Moon. And the B-52’s put it quite clearly, without room for argument –There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon).

The first landing on the moon might have lessened this allure but didn’t. There was a brief flurry of songs like Space Oddity and Rocket Man but the moon generally remained something aloof to admire from afar. One of the most hauntingly effective songs in this genre was Monochrome by The Sundays, which turned a childhood recollection of the moon landings into something wider- a child trying to understand an adult’s experience. “It’s 4 in the morning July in 1969, me and my sister, we crept down like shadows. They’re bringing the moon right down to our sitting room, static and silence and a monochrome vision. They’re dancing around, slow puppets silver ground.....And something is said and the whole room laughs aloud, me and my sister looking on like shadows”

In fact, it almost seemed as if it had been forgotten that man had been to the moon and songs continued as they always had done.The song here, Harvest Moon, reverts to the softer, more benign notion of the moon, albeit with an emotional hold over human feelings. It is a Neil Young composition but the version here, by jazz singer Cassandra Wilson from her 1996 album New Moon Daughter, adds another dimension. She has a rich, smoky, sometimes breathy, contralto voice that can have the timbre of a saxophone, and her timing and interpretation can turn a cover version into a different song. Here, as with some other of her covers - such as Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time or, oddly, The Monkees’ Last Train to Clarkesville - the song is slowed right down. Words hang in the air, time passes , and the song becomes a wistful reflection the listener is drawn into. The technique is perfect for such a song about gazing at a full moon whilst, behind her languid voice, the guitars shimmer over the sounds of crickets and frogs.

As with Always the Sun, the listener will find their own setting for the song. My mind takes it to a view from over 20 years ago on a holiday with a young family on the Greek island of Kos. We had been to the Asklepion Temple above the town amidst cypress and pine trees, where lizards bathed in the hot sun on rocks, and had walked over the hills back to the coast. In the evening, I sat looking out over the dark sea towards Turkey, as the bright moon hung in the night sky amidst a sudden shower of shooting stars and the sound of crickets provided an incessant backdrop. Time passed slowly.

The sea, the sun, the moon – universal themes and countless songs. The listener will find the one where a time falls into its place.

Link to song


  1. I discovered Nick Drake through a friend. I was memorized at the sound I was hearing. I prayed that I could eventually play like that on the guitar. That was 14 years ago. I can now play many of his songs. I also created a special page for guitarist interested in learning his music with all of his tunings and song information on one page, here http://www.gtdb.org/guitar-tunings-db/nick-drake-complete-guitar-tuner

  2. This is an AMAZING version of the song. It is especially powerful to read along with your penultimate paragraph - she sets the atmosphere for your Greek crickets, shooting stars and moon.

    This sister's voice is wonderful. Thank you for the column brother!

  3. Hey thanks,Desiree! I'd love to see her sing live-it is supposed to be better than the recordings

  4. Here is the Cowboy Junkies Blue Moon that Geoff references - this was the song for the first dance at our wedding:) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJ6EGsZdxpE

  5. Geoff, I loved this column! I wondered what you meant by "Moondance and Moonshadow" though - I couldn't find a song by this name.....

  6. Ha ha, yes, there really is no room for debate with the B52s song:) It makes you wonder just how stupid the band imagined its audience members to be.......

  7. They are 2 different songs -Moondance by Van Morrison and Moonshadow by Cat Stevens

  8. I heard this version of the song fairly recently in the movie, "My Blueberry Nights" - great to now have a commentary to read about it - thank you! Just discovered your column and am very excited by it!

  9. Ah, thank you! That was stupid of me. Thank you:)

  10. I'm such a sucker for good writing! Love the alliteration in this - Worshipped, witchcraft, werewolves, waxing and waning". Plus "linked, lunacy". :)

  11. I absolutely hate Neil Young, but absolutely love this song. In his version, I think it's worth mentioning that it captures the mood of Autumn. It sounds like it was made up on the back of a horse-drawn carriage through a pumpkin patch as the sun sets in mid-October. Knees are over the side of the carriage, and a bottle of hard-cider is passed back and forth.

    Also, the appearance of a Harvest Moon clearly suggests the transition from summer into fall. Sometimes, the moon can even appear red as a a Harvest Moon, much like the color the leaves will soon be turning. Musically, “Harvest Moon” is gentle just the crisp autumn air. But, it also catches the change that comes with a Harvest Moon and the Autumnal Equinox. It’s unclear whether bad-blood has occurred between Young and the woman whom he is speaking to. But one thing is clear – he’s letting it go.

  12. I heard Neil Young play this song at the O2 in Dublin last June - he got pretty emotional during it, not sure why! And then his shirt seemed to come off for reasons he didn't seem to understand. It was weird.

  13. Hey man, don't forget we (Sleater-Kinney) did a version of this with Pearl Jam too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zk0zQmr_V4&

  14. Oh wow! Ganz, ganz großartige Version!!!
    Ich habe Gänsehaut…
    Danke für`s Hochladen!

  15. Wow! Sometimes Neil Young's music seems to only work with his voice. Not so here, this is amazing! Thanks for posting.

  16. this song is so achingly beautiful I can’t listen to it without tears — absolutely gorgeous…

  17. damn getting really stoned and listening to this song makes me feel happy to be alive lol

  18. This was one of the best songs of the 90s.

  19. I am a bartender at a restaurant called Harvest Moon. Serendipity.

  20. Oh God. The Neil Young original appears in the terrible terrible film "Eat Pray Love." Totally ruined the song for me. NONE OF YOU PEOPLE SHOULD SEE THE FILM IF YOU WANT THE SONG TO REMAIN INTACT!

  21. I agree with Matt that this is not only a song about the moon (place) but also autumn (time). In Neil Young's version at least. The song as he sings it makes me yearn for the crackling fire, the hush of the woods, and the smell of burning gourds. The images that reminded me that, for all I ever believed myself to be a child of the summer, I was born under the stars of that flipped autumn sky. This is a song that evokes leaves sauntering through the sky. The heavy crooked arms of apple trees bending to the ground in an abundant plie. The shifting patterns of birds as they take flight to their winter homes. The autumn dance. It's not the fairest of the seasons, but it's the one that makes us remember what it means to be alive. It reminds us that seasons come and seasons go, and it's the going that makes the coming all worthwhile in the end. The sun rises and the sun sets. Flowers bloom and leaves fall. We run free in the summer and we hold each other tighter all winter long. Life is both up and down, and as we see the turning of the days, the moon fades from white to orange and hangs lower in the sky. We are never really ready for the fall, but when it arrives, like Neil says, we remember the dance.

  22. Heard this song for the very first time through your blog Geoff!

    How lovely & how appropriate for this time of the Harvest Moon!

    Happy time of the Harvest! It is time to reap all the rewards of what you have sown in your life this year. Enjoy and have fun.

  23. I remember listening to Neil Young's album all day and all night for months after it was released in 1992. It creates a distinct mood from front to back, and although it lacked the massive hit single of it’s 1972 namesake predecessor, “Harvest” (which produced Young’s only Billboard Hot 100 No.1 “Heart of Gold”), I still think it’s Young’s best album. It’s also the only one I’ve ever heard playing in the background during a pilates class in Buenos Aires.

  24. Geoff, not sure if you play guitar, but if you do then here is my lesson for how to play Harvest Moon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIdHIylvy0k


  25. I find this cover - and your column about it - absolutely spellbinding - thank you Geoff!

  26. im telling you the moon is a hoax. a big cover-up.

  27. Last night I spent close to 2 hours standing alone in a field with my mouth open staring at the moon.

    I realized, I do this quite often. Quite often.

  28. I worship the moon. Because it is a beautiful sight to behold. All my problems just seem to melt away when I gaze at the moon. It's hard to explain to someone that doesn't feel the magic. There is so much that I love about the moon, but most of the time I can't put my finger on it. I just stare at it and I can't make myself stop because it's perfect. My friends think I'm weird because of it. But I don't really care. It's magical. Try listening to Beethoven's Moonlight sonata while looking at it. Oddly peaceful.

  29. I like the Cassandra Wilson version a lot better than the original. The arrangements for this particular cover, I feel they more vividly portray the yearning and the melancholic atmosphere of the lyrics. The angst, the longing, the lover’s patient journey for the other, accompanied by her deep and dark voice, just make it for a chilling and soulful jazz song.

    I agree with you Geoff, that Cassandra Wilson is very good at making this, and other covers, truly hers. Giving them a distinctive feel and rhythm.

  30. Her voice sinks you into the unfathomable depth of sorrow (as in "I’m so lonesome I could cry") and serenity (e.g. here in "Harvest Moon"). I am a HUGE fan! Can't wait to see her live one day!

  31. honest, I just found out the moon doesnt exist.

  32. Apparently she has another moon song on the new album (which I'm very excited about, Silver Pony). See - http://www.somethingelsereviews.com/2010/10/listen-up-previews-cassandra-wilson.html

  33. From the same 1995 album, she also does a remarkable job with the Billie Holiday vehicle "Strange Fruit" and Hoagy Carmichael's overrecorded "Skylark."

    I have to disagree with those of you who like her covers in general though. Wilson is a talented songwriter, yet often fills her albums with covers of slight pop songs. Each album only has two or three Wilson originals, which are usually the most interesting. Of course, she does a great job covering Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Ann Peebles, even U2 at one point. But why try to wring new emotion out of these songs? I infinitely prefer when she offers originals.

  34. I disagree, Laura. Wilson carries on the tradition of vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Betty Carter, by developing her own unique style. Sister's got the Delta blues in her soul, funk in her heart, and jazz dancing in her head.

  35. Geoff, i think "New Moon Daughter" was definitely the only album ever to contain both the Monkees and Billy Holiday:)

    It's a strange album though. I find her to sound quite bored and emotionally detached - overly cool.

  36. Wilson is not the next Sarah or the next anyone; years from now she will be remembered as the First Cassandra Wilson.

  37. Also, Geoff, I love your column but I was laughing because one of your rules is supposed to be that you have been to the place you write about.... and I'm not convinced you've been to the moon:)

  38. Strictly speaking, Tiffanye, you are right! (Also the sun, though I have been to the sea). But I stretched the rules a bit in the last 3 columns.
    Anyway, according to Jonathan King's ditty, everyone's gone to the moon...

  39. Songs about the moon must be common enough that Barbra Streisand's "What Good Is Love?" can be a song ABOUT songs about the moon! -

    Everywhere I go
    I hear sweet songs about the moon
    Songs about the stars above
    And songs of love and June

  40. Ha ha yes, I like the rule stretching though! Also, as a British person, you can claim to be "over the moon" - a strange phrase I've noticed that British people use to mean they are very happy. So this means all British people have at least been "over the moon", it not ON it!

  41. It is a phrase supposedly loved by football managers when their team wins - and 'sick as a parrot' when they lose!
    I think it might come from the nursery rhyme 'hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon'

  42. It's interesting about the moon landing not killing songs about the moon. Apparently it inspired lots more songs. In Nashville, Tennessee, recording companies and song publishers reported being flooded by Moon songs.

  43. Wow, that whole paragraph was a foreign language - I love 'sick as a parrot' (do parrots get that sick though?) and have never heard that nursery rhyme so it must be vintage UK!

  44. I think songs about the moon proliferate in jazz, in particular:
    Fly Me to the Moon
    How High the Moon
    Moon Rays
    Old Devil Moon
    No Moon at All
    Moon Love
    Carolina Moon

  45. Here's a picture of it

    To confuse you more, you can also see a dish running away with a spoon

  46. Juli
    The best moon song is “Moonlight and Skies” by Jimmie Rodgers. A botched robbery ends up with a man in jail and his best friend in the morgue. This is all well and good, but one stanza is something of an eyebrow-raiser: “A pale moon is shining, is shining so bright/And lovers are strolling by my window tonight/Their laughter so merry brings heartaches and sighs/To a prisoner who’s lonely for the moonlight and skies.” Note to dudes everywhere: don’t take your girl for a romantic stroll outside the penitentiary.

  47. Nooooooooooooo! It's just too strange! WHY did the cow jump so high? WHY does the dish run away with the spoon (rather than the fork or knife)? WHY does the cat play the fiddle (and according to the drawing, the dog is instrument-less)? So many questions.

  48. Moon songs are alright, but my favorite “celestial body” song by far is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “When Halley Came To Jackson”.

  49. I really love Dean Brody’s “Up On The Moon”… probably one of my favorite recent album cuts.

  50. Mandy Barnett’s cover of the pop classic “Dark Moon” on the soundtrack from “Traveler” is pretty darn good as well. Canadian Tim Tamashiro’s “Under The Berry Moon” is also a fun little ditty.

  51. There is also Goodnight Moon by Jack Ingram. This is probably his most famous song before he hit it big and still a show stopper in concert.

  52. one more that comes to mind is John Anderson’s “Mississippi Moon”.

  53. What about Don Willliams Yellow Moon

  54. My favorite song of all time “Hypnotize the Moon” by Clay Walker

  55. there’s the outstanding “I Saw Your Face In The Moon,” recorded several times by the great Mac Wiseman

  56. The dish ran away with the spoon because it rhymes with moon. The dog doesnt have an instrument because it is laughing at the fun!

  57. What about the perfect moon song: I Don’t Know A Thing About Love The Moon Song by Conway Twitty? That was a #1 for him 25 years ago! Also, what about Michael Johnson’s second #1 hit from 1987, The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder?

  58. Ah yes, of course. It's so obvious now you explain it. (!)

  59. I love "Whitey On The Moon" – Gill Scott Heron. Not everyone was happy about the massive cost of the Apollo programme. Gill Scott Heron angrily noted, “I can’t pay no doctor bills but Whitey’s on the moon. ... Was all that money I made last year for Whitey on the moon? How come there ain’t no money here? Whitey’s on the moon.”

  60. Don't forget about Everybody Gets To Go To The Moon – The Three Degrees.

  61. Don't forget “Thats Somebody Else’s Moon"
    And I’d have to add “The Moon over Georgia” by Shenendoah to the list. I like Blake Shelton’s “Underneath the Same Moon” as well.

  62. And there is Julianne Hough’s “Dreaming Under the Same Moon”.

  63. Y'all forgot the Spongemonkeys!


    Love your blog.

  64. Geoff mentioned most of these, but here's my little list!

    How about:
    1. Kiko And The Lavender Moon - Los Lobos
    2. Moondance - Van Morrison
    3. Whole Of The Moon - The Waterboys
    4. Walking on the Moon - The Police
    5. Pink Moon - Nick Drake
    6. Yellow Moon - The Neville Brothers
    7. There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon) - The B-52's
    8. Moon River - Louis Armstrong
    9. Bark At The Moon - Ozzy Osbourne
    10. Blue Moon - The Marcels

  65. Even the Man in the Moon is Crying… Mark Collie
    Blue Moon… Mavericks

  66. Roger Miller – The Moon Is High (And So Am I)

  67. “Once In A Very Blue Moon” – Nancy Griffith
    “Nothin’ New Under The Moon” – LeAnn Rimes

  68. Neon Moon by Brooks and Dunn

  69. “The Moon, The Stars And Me” – Dolly Parton

  70. Here’s a few more…Moonlight Sonata, Moondance-Morrison, Moon River-P.Como, and Paper Moon.

  71. Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon – The Backsliders

  72. Except that “Neon Moon” isn’t actually about the moon.

  73. Moon over Georgia by Shenandoah and Talkin to the Moon by the Gatlin Brothers

  74. Rosanne cash’s “Blue moon with heartach”. That song is one of the best sad songs of all time. Plus u forgot patty loveless’s “Mr. Man in the moon” from her only what I feel album.

  75. Here's my list!!!:)
    Carroll Gibbons & The Savoy Hotel Orpheans – The Moon Got In My Eyes
    Laura Greene – Moonlight Music And You
    Elvis Presley – Blue Moon
    Andy Williams – Moon River
    Fleetwood Mac – Sisters Of The Moon
    Ella Fitzgerald – It’s Only A Paper Moon
    Emmylou Harris – Moon Song
    Dolly Parton – Slow Dancing With The Moon
    Judy Garland – Fly Me To The Moon (Live)
    Hank Williams – Howlin’ At The Moon

  76. Geoff! Here is my list in case you're keeping one!
    “Defy the Moon” – Drag the River
    “Moon and Sun/Sun and Moon” – King Wilkie
    “Man on the Moon” – Roosevelt Dime
    “Buicks to the Moon” – Alan Jackson
    “Jealous Moon” – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
    “This Side of the Moon” – Elizabeth Cook
    “Missouri Moon” – Rhonda Vincent & The Rage
    “New Moon” – Pine Box Boys
    “Moon Over Madison” – Hasil Adkins
    “Where Is the Moon” – Southern Culture on the Skids
    “Pale Moon” – Uncle Earl
    “Sugar Moon” – Bob Wills
    “It’s Only a Paper Moon” – Jim Reeves
    “Blue Moon” – Steve Holy
    “Shame on the Moon” – Rodney Crowell
    “Indigo Moon” – Heather Myles
    “Moon River” – Raul Malo
    “Paper Moon” – Whiskeytown
    “Bad Moon Rising” – The Seldom Scene
    “Mister Moon” – Carl Smith
    “Honky Tonk Moon” – Randy Travis
    “Just Beyond the Moon” – Tex Ritter
    “I Wish I Was the Moon” – Neko Case
    “Shine on Harvest Moon” – Bobby Bare
    “Lying to the Moon” – Trisha Yearwood
    “Full Moon Full of Love” – k.d. lang and The Reclines
    “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” – Wiley Walker & Gene Sullivan
    “Puttin’ People on the Moon” – Drive-By Truckers
    “Cajun Moon” – Ricky Skaggs
    “Throwin’ Horseshoes at the Moon” – Tom Russell
    “No More the Moon Shines on Lorena” – The Carter Family
    “Moonlight in Vermont” – Willie Nelson
    “Fly Me to the Moon” – George Strait & Frank Sinatra
    “Cruel Moon” – Buddy Miller
    “Moon Song/How High the Moon/Bad Moon Rising” – Emmylou Harris
    “Slow Dancing with the Moon” – Dolly Parton
    “Howlin’ at the Moon” – Hank Williams
    “Southern Moon” – The Delmore Brothers
    “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys

  77. I beat you with all with 75 songs. :) Geoff - what do I win??
    1. Allegheny Moon – Patti Pagefull
    2. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
    3. Bad Side of The Moon – Elton John
    4. Bark At The Moon – Ozzy Osbourne
    5. Blue Moon – Benny Goodman & His Orchestra
    6. Blue Moon – Marcels
    7. Blue Moon – Bobby Vinton
    8. Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys
    9. Blue Moon With Heartache – Rosanne Cash
    10. By The Light of The Silvery Moon – Billy Murray & Haydn Quartet
    11. Cajun Moon – Ricky Scaggs
    12. Climbing To The Moon – The Eels
    13. Dancing In The Moonlight – King Harvest
    14. Dark Side of The Moon – Pink Floyd
    15. Even The Man In The Moon Is Crying – Mark Collie
    16. Everyone’s Gone To The Moon – Jonathan King
    17. Fly Me To The Moon – Frank Sinatra
    18. Full Moon Fever – Tom Petty
    19. Harvest Moon – Neil Young
    20. Honky Tonk Moon – Randy Travis
    21. How High The Moon – Les Paul & Mary Ford
    22. Howlin’ At The Moon – Hank Williams
    23. I Don’t Know A Thing About Love (The Moon Song) – Conway Twitty
    24. I Wished On The Moon – Bing CrosbyBlue Moon
    25. It’s Only A Paper Moon – Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra
    26. It’s Only A Paper Moon – Ella Fitzgerald
    27. Just Beyond The Moon – Tex Ritter
    28. LA To The Moon – Ronnie Milsap
    29. Man On The Moon – REM
    30. Moon Dawg – The Gamblers
    31. Moon Got In My Eyes – Bing Crosby
    32. Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder – Michael Johnson
    33. Moon Love – Glenn Miller Orchestra
    34. Moon Over Georgia – Shenandoah
    35. Moon Over Miami – Eddie Duchin
    36. Moon River – Jerry Butler
    37. Moon River – Henry Mancini & His Orchestra
    38. Moon River – Andy Williams
    39. Moon Shadow – Cat Stevens
    40. Moon Song – Wayne King
    41. Moon Talk – Perry Como
    42. Moon Walk – Joe Simon
    43. Moondance – Van Morrison
    44. Moonglow – Benny Goodman
    45. Moonglow – Duke Ellington
    46. Moonglow & Theme From Picnic – Morris Stoloff
    47. Moonglow & Theme From Picnic – George Cates
    48. Moonlight Becomes You – Bing Crosby
    49. Moonlight Becomes You – Glenn Miller Orchestra
    50. Moonlight Cocktail – Glenn Miller Orchestra
    51. Moonlight Bay – American Quartet
    52. Moonlight Bay – Bing Crosby & Gary Crosby
    53. Moonlight Feels Right – Starbuck
    54. Moonlight Gambler – Frankie Laine
    55. Moonlight Lady – Albert Hammond
    56. Moonlight Serenade – Glen Miller & His Orchestra
    57. Moonlight Swim – Nick Noble
    59. Mr. Moon – Carl Smith
    60. Neon Moon – Brooks & Dunn
    61. New Moon On Monday – Duran Duran
    62. Oh You Crazy Moon – Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra
    63. Old New England Moon – Paul Whiteman
    64. Sail Along Silvery Moon – Bing Crosby
    65. Shame On The Moon – Bob Seger
    66. Shine On Harvest Moon – Harry MacDonough & Miss Walton
    67. Shine On Harvest Moon – Mitch Miller & His Gang
    68. Southern Moon – Delmore Brothers
    69. Sugar Moon – Pat Boone
    70. Swingin’ On The Moon – Mel Torme
    71. There’s A New Moon Over My Shoulder – Jim Reeves
    72. There’s No Moon Like The Honeymoon – Ada Jones & Billy Murray
    73. Walking On The Moon – The Police
    74. When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain – Kate Smith
    75. When The Moon Shines On The Moonshine – Bert Williams

  78. Crikey! Shows what a source of inspiration the moon is. Ummm -I'll have to think about you win!

  79. hilde - you win! But there is no number 58, you missed on:) So technically that's a list of only 74:):)

  80. Can I have a free subscription to the blog as a prize?:)

  81. What a wonderful blog, thank you.

  82. Geoff! I'm not sure where to post this, as it's a bit off topic from the Moon column, but I was listening to the New Vaudeville Band – Winchester Cathedral - and wondered if it could be a good song for the column.

  83. I had considered that, as I have been there! I have been trying not to use the same artist twice and I did the New Vaudeville Band's Finchley Central earlier.Still, it's a possibility!