Neil Young wrote this about actress Carrie Snodgress, who was his girlfriend at the time. They had a child together named Zeke, who was born with cerebral palsy. They broke up a few years later and things didn't go well for Snodgress. She spent a lot of time caring for Zeke and went was never able to get her acting career back on track. She died in 2004.
Initially, "A Man Needs A Maid" was coupled with "Heart of Gold
" and played on piano. "It was like a medley," Young said in Shakey
, "the two went together."
One line cut after the original song became two was, "Afraid. A man feels afraid."
Jack Nitzsche, who played piano with The Rolling Stones and wrote soundtracks for many famous movies, produced this track. He dated Snodgress a few years after she broke up with Young and was sentenced to probation after he beat her with a handgun in 1979.
The London Symphony Orchestra plays on the album version of the song, as well as another track from Harvest
, "There's A World
." These were the only tracks on the album that weren't recorded in Nashville; Young booked the orchestra and recorded them at Barking Town Hall in London while on a trip there to record a BBC special.
Some were upset with the characterization of a woman as a "maid," but the song meant no disrespect - Young wrote it in the spirit of the Robin Hood tale Maid Marion.
Critics have also interpreted the song as being more complex than it initially appears. Rather than being a straightforward expression of how badly a "man needs a maid," it's a heartbroken narrator trying to convince himself that he could be happy with something simple and emotionless - rather than the rocky ups-and-downs of a real relationship. The line "To live a love/you have to be part of it" hints at him realizing how this is an empty sentiment only concocted to try to ward off heartbreak.
Neil Young became smitten with Carrie Snodgress after seeing her on television while he was recovering from a back injury; her 1970 film Diary of a Mad Housewife
was playing. This inspired the lyric, "I fell in love with the actress, she was playing a part that I could understand."
Nicole - Massapequa, NY
Nick Kent of the New Musical Express (December 13, 1975) was critical of this song, calling it the "obligatory autobiographical musings on the superstar's emotional insecurities."
Geoffrey Cannon of Melody Maker (January 29, 1972) stated, "'A Man Needs A Maid' is orchestrated as elaborately as an old Spector production; except that there's no wall of sound here. It can be compared with 'Broken Arrow,' except that Neil now has more resources."
British singer–songwriter Rumer covered this for the special edition of her Boys Don't Cry album. She explained to Q magazine why the song feels like a commentary on why, early in 2011, she broke up with A&R man Sam Winwood. (Rumer had lived with Winwood for several years). "As a traveling musician I couldn't take care of myself," she said. "Letters pile up, dishes pile up, you're not doing anything properly. So you're desperate to be taken care of. Emotionally, you're like a beggar going from door to door, but you can't give anything back. There's a line in the song, 'When will I see you again?' Well, I don't know. I can't commit. My ex-boyfriend said he felt like a field surgeon - putting me back together again."