Neil Young sings of a longing for love on this Harvest number, which he recorded at Nashville's Quadrafonic Sound Studio's in April 1971. He laid it down with a group of country session musicians, which he christened the Stray Gators.
The songs on the Harvest album often shift perspective and vary in degree of melancholy, making them difficult to grasp at times. Young offered some insight on this song when he explained in the book Zero To Sixty that this song isn't necessarily a sad one, as the singer is disguising his happiness.
Regarding the lines:
Can't relate to joy
He tries to speak and
Can't begin to say
Young said: "That just means that I'm happy so that I can't get it all out. But... the way I wrote it sounds sad."
Not everyone was impressed by the play of the Stray Gators. John Mendelsohn, writing for Rolling Stone (March 30, 1972), opined, "The Stray Gators, pale miserably in comparison to the memory of Crazy Horse, of whose style they do a flaccid imitation on such tracks as 'Out on the Weekend,' 'Harvest' and 'Heart of Gold.' Where the Crazies kept their accompaniment hypnotically simple with a specific effect in mind (to render most dramatic rhythmic accents during choruses and instrumental breaks), the Gators come across as only timid, restrained for restraint's sake, and ultimately monotonous."
Lee Ann Womack covered the song for her 2014 The Way I'm Livin' album as a musical gift of sorts to her husband Frank Liddell. Womack told NPR's Wade Goodwyn the story of the first time she performed the tune. "When Frank and I were dating, we were on a road trip. I don't remember where, but I remember I was asleep. It was night. I was asleep in the car, and I woke up. And he was playing the Neil Young record, the Harvest record. And I wasn't familiar with it. I didn't know it, and I had not grown up with it."
"But Out On The Weekend was playing. And I thought, well, whatever that is, that's a song I could do. I could - you know, I could hear it almost done bluegrass - real rootsy, real acoustic. And he just loved it. You know, he was telling me all about how important the song was to him and everything. So in a few weeks from then, I had a show with Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale and some friends at South by Southwest. So we worked it up, and I did it that night to surprise Frank."