The Band's King Harvest (Has Surely Come) from their live album Rock of Ages. I love this song and I think you should too.
Here is the song: The Band -- King Harvest (Has Surely Come) from Rock of Ages [buy here]
Here is why I love this song so much.
1. Musically :: First, I love the strength in Richard Manuel's voice as he belts this tune out. Towards the end of his run with The Band, his addictions got the best of him, both in his songwriting and in his singing. Here, he's as soulful and as strong as I've ever heard. Second, the addition of the horns is fantastic. They add a layer to the song and that fosters the tone and the imagery running rampant throughout. For example, as the narrator describes his pleas for the rainmaker at around 1:23, the lead trumpet and background horn arrangements (created by none other than Allen Toussaint) add to the sense of desparation. Another example to me is around 2:47 when the horns sweep through, helping me to hear the wind blow through the cornfields. These are just two examples of how the horns set the mood. Finally, Robby Robertson and Rick Danko team up to play some killer licks at the end of the song. I've always considered Robertson's playing a little overshadowed because of his superior songwriting acumen. At the end of King Harvest, he's at his best. He's not doing anything complicated, at least to my non-musically trained ears, but the (apparent) simplicity of the rift sounds appropriate for the humble, down and out sort of vibe throughout the song.
2. Lyrically :: Robby Robertson, the genius behind this song (and many other The Band songs) writes a very compelling story in the span of four minutes. We, the listener, get abundant details of the narrator's tough luck over the last year, ranging from his barn burning down to his horse going crazy, and how he has some renewed hope in the future thanks to organized labor. However, the narrator also knows that none of that matters if the weather doesn't cooperate, thus his plea for the rainmaker to provide rain. The Band is often considered one of the forefathers of Americana music. King Harvest is, in my mind, the quissiessential reason why many critics often bestow that title on this band full of Canadians.
3. Personally :: I've talked before about my love of imagery in a song and this one is no different. For any Hanoverians that read this, the reference to wind blowing through the cornfields reminds me of the field of corn directly south of Hanover's scenic entrance. For whatever reason, I've always associated the image of that cornfield with this line from the song. It's always cool to think back to the fun times of college every time I hear this song. Moreover, the lyrics describing yellow moons and carnivals on the edge of town are direct experiences I had while at Hanover. In addition, the midwest offers plenty of driving routes with corn flanking both sides of two lane road. Playing this song on one of my trips to Oxford led to an epiphany one day that continues to this day.
So anyway, those are some of my reasons why I love King Harvest. While we're at it, here's a YouTube video of The Band rehearsing this killer song at Woodstock in 1970 (followed by Danko doing an abbreviated Long Black Veil).
Finally, we mentioned Richard Manuel, who died in 1986. Since his passing, he's taken a kind of legendary status and many bands have paid homage to him, including The Drive-By Truckers and The Counting Crows. Check out the following from their live album, New Amsterdam, Live at Heineken Hall [buy here].
Counting Crows -- Richard Manuel Is Dead