Neil Young's only number one hit single in his long musical career. The song is one of a series of soft, acoustic pieces which were written partly as a result of a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods of time, he could not play his electric guitar and so returned to his acoustic guitar, which he could play sitting down,
According to the Heart of Gold Songfacts, Young handed guest star James Taylor a banjo to play on this song. Turns out, that was the first time Taylor had ever touched one!
Originally, this song was meant to segue with the song "A Man Needs a Maid", and was therefore played on piano. It was played in this manner during Young's solo shows in 1971, but he abandoned this approach midway through the tour and began to play it on guitar as it is now known. Additionally, one line that was cut when the two songs became separate entities was "Afraid/A man feels afraid" An example of the segued version appears on Young's Live at Massey Hall 1971 release.
Young wrote in the liner notes of his compilation album Decade: "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch." This statement was in response to the mainstream popularity that he gained as a result of "Heart of Gold"'s number-one status.