on 18 July 2003
The centrepeice of the so-called Doom trilogy (also featuring the as yet unavailable on CD Time Fades Away and Tonight's the Night) makes it to CD at last, and it's been worth the wait. Long acknowledged as a pivotal album in Young's career, On the Beach is also one of the greatest albums of the mid seventies, rooted in the uncertainties and contradictions of the Nixon era.
It's also a fairly subdued affair, the world weary tempos of much of the album echoing the stoned ennui of the time. This is perfectly encapsulated in the iconic cover shot of Young standing on the edge of the ocean surrounded by the detritus of the disintegrating west coast lifetstyle. Revolution Blues, with its images of bloody fountains and murder, captures the feeling of impending disaster and paranoia endemic in LA after the Manson murders had ended the hippy dream - clearly all was not right in paradise.
For the Turnstiles, with its spare banjo and dobro backing and tense, strained vocal, bemoans the creeping spectre of commerce which was gradually taking over music in the 70s, inspired by the bacchanalian excesses of the 1974 CSN&Y stadium tour. The title track finds Young simultaneously acknowledging the need for adulation even as he recoils from it (I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day) - there's no better emblem for Young's reclusive and enigmatic nature. Walk On, with its jaunty guitar riffs and playful slide playing, is offset by a lyric in which Young hits back at his critics and also looks back to the days before money got in the way of art. This theme of lost innocence also informs the epic closer, Ambulance Blues, one of Young's greatest and most widely analysed compositions.
On the Beach may not be to everyone's taste. For Young fans more enamoured of his Harvest persona of sensitive acoustic troubadour, it may make for difficult listening. It also lacks the full on rock approach of his work with Crazy Horse. However, its ramshackle approach is part of its appeal, matching the world weariness of its lyrical concerns and lending the whole an appealingly live feel.
Why this album has never been released on CD before is quite frankly astonishing, considering the presence of such turkeys as Old Ways and Everybody's Rocking in the racks. Of the latest batch of Young reissues, this is by far the best, followed distantly by the uneven but interesting American Stars'n'Bars. All we need now is for Time Fades Away to come out and the doom trilogy is complete and we can all retreat into our luxury mansions, shut the door and cower in the corner with nothing but the hi-fi, tequila and paranoia for company. Now that's a good night in!
on 20 October 2008
Years ago, I bought 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' on the recommendation of a trusted friend, who told me it was considered an idiosyncratic masterpiece in the vein of 'Astral Weeks,' though musically miles apart. Whereas I liked the album, I was never the biggest fan of extended musical jams, which 'Cowgirl In The Sand' and 'Down By The River' sounded like to me. In short, I couldn't love it, and I already knew 'Harvest,' 'After The Goldrush' and Youngs work with Buffalo Springfield particularly well. What I was looking for was that rare nugget that makes you fall in love with music all over again. Then, recently, I was drawn in by the effusive reviews of the reissued 'John, The Wolfking Of L.A.' by John Phillips, and it is a fairly consistent and good portrait of the West Coast scene of the early seventies, but once again, I couldn't think of it as this great lost masterpiece that others assured me it was. So, when I read the reviews of 'On The Beach' which mentioned Nixon, Manson, and a whole host of other themes in connection with this album, I was a bit sceptical. Then, someone said, listen to it first, before you part with your pennies, but I either want something or I don't have it, so I bought it last sunday, and suddenly my whole faith in the marriage of mind and music and lyrical genius was once again well and truly restored. Not only with this album, but also 'Tonight's The Night' which also looked chancey at first, but it is hard to separate the two as they're both so different in their way, but both leagues away from 'Everybody Knows...' in my opinion. Young has a genuine, honest voice, and a feeling for people and situations that most reminds me of Lou Reed in his most tender moments, though again, they are musically unalike. And to all those who took time to go online to say that 'Ambulance Blues' is one of the greatest 9 mins ever committed to disc, I'd have said before sunday that they must surely be exaggerating, but now I know different. The sustained wisdom and generosity of the song's narrator puts Young in the same league lyrically and musically as Bob Dylan at his very best. There is not one bad note on this album, and really I'm stuck for words to explain just why. But that is the beauty of music for you: you have to go out, buy this record, and listen to it over and over again until it all sinks in (probably two or three plays of this one) and before you know it you have found another favourite. Sheer class!
on 18 August 2008
After the success of the single Heart of Gold from the hugely popular Harvest album, Young famously said "the song put me in the middle of the road, which became a bore so I headed for the ditch". To prove the point he made three albums that contained none of the mainstream appeal of Harvest. On the Beach was the last of the three 'ditch' albums recorded, but was second released; Tonight's The Night (second recorded) was kept on ice, but apart from this, Tonight is the only other album in the trilogy currently available on CD. Not only is On The Beach the best album Neil ever made, it is also one of the three best albums I have ever owned by anyone. I came to the table via the oft travelled Harvest/Goldrush route, and amazingly, when I think about it now, when I first heard Beach I hated it and put it in the cupboard for two years. When I heard it again, I became progressively enchanted.
The despairing tone of Tonight's the Night is replaced with barbed cynicism that is musically and lyrically mesmerising. The album simmers with brooding classics like Revolution Blues, an apocolyptic vision of LA and the Manson murders, which occured after Young had recommended Manson to the record company. "I hate them worse than lepers and I kill them in their cars" is probably a reference to the bloody murder of an 18 year old kid in his car on the night of the Tate masacre. He was visiting staff and was unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The word Revolution is too respectable for Manson's Helter Skelter madness. Vampire Blues, is a swipe at the culture of big cars and the oil industry. (A typical bit of Young hypocricy since his penchant for thirsty vehicles at that time is well known).
The mood continues to darken right up to the last track, and man, what a last track! Ambulance Blues is a few seconds shy of nine minutes long; the very finest nine minutes in the history of recorded music. A brooding, bitter-sweet tirade about the old folky days, his musical critics, Nixon, and the ambiguous status of Young's collaborational band, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, ("You're all just pissing in the wind"). I know the song is similar to Bert Jansch's 'Needle of Death' but like other 'borrowed tunes' Young makes it sound far better than the song its melody was influenced by. On Ambulance Blues, the 'Dylan Kit' - what Neil called his harmonica and brace - is used to its best ever effect. Dylan did great things with that whistle, but even he never made it sound this good.
If you're eager to move on from Harvest and Goldrush, or you're working your way through the back catalogue, buy this album, listen to it once only, then listen to Zuma, American Stars 'n' Bars, his self named debut (underated) or something mellow like Comes a Time, then take this out again. But be warned, continued playing of this masterpiece may seriously damage your appreciation of anything else.
On the Beach is finally issued on CD, with an emphasis on sound quality & relevant sleevenotes- though sadly it's not reissued with 1973's Time Fades Away, but the so-so American Stars'N'Bars (1977) & the more average Hawks&Doves (1980). & there are no extra tracks or outtakes- best left to the fabled Decade II set?
On the Beach was seen as the end of Young's Doom Trilogy- a set of albums which reacted to the deaths of Danny Whitten & Bruce Berry, along with the general drug-inflected fallout and the pressures of superstardom with C,S,N&Y. Its precedent was The Needle & the Damage Done (from bestseller Harvest)- Young taking a look at the living dead, the true cost of the hippie dream. Time Fades Away was a live album of new songs from the nitemare tour that followed the demise of Whitten & Berry and one that found Young at war with the rest of his band. TFA bombed (compared to Harvest)- Young coming across as a depressed madman on songs like Yonder Stands The Sinner, Last Dance & LA. Things got worse, next came Tonight's the Night- a set so depressing, it was only released under duress a few years later in 1975. Another album, Homegrown (as yet unreleased) was also rumoured to have been recorded around this point; On the Beach though, is the end of Young's 'Doom Trilogy' (which has been written on definitively by Allan Jones & Ian MacDonald in Uncut magazine in 1998- an issue worth its weight in gold!). Whereas TFA and TTN were painful confrontations with death and the surrounding depravity, On the Beach is an album that is looking towards a future (much like Screaming Trees' Dust- an album also recorded in a similar climate of casualties & OD's)- perhaps this is typified by the odd cover, where Young stares out at the horizon (while the title references a very scary novel/film about the end of the world). The album was rumoured to have been recorded with large quantities of dope- so it is a less tequila-driven assault/elegy like TFA or TTN and more external- a line in Motion Pictures (probably the worst song) "I know I'm gonna get out" typifies Young's spirit here.
A few tracks found their way onto the classic Decade-compilation- opener Walk On (which features the surviving members of Crazy Horse alongside Ben Keith) & the caustic acoustic oddity For the Turnstiles (is Young railing against the way everything's ben reduced to cashola? I expect so). These are far from the best tracks!- the spectre of Richard Nixon & Watergate are apparent throughout (Young had even been playing live with a Nixon mask on!). The zeitgeist is most definitely captured here- Revolution Blues alluding to the SLA & the Manson family, while Vampire Blues goes further out than the earlier LA (which predicted Bill Hicks' Arizona Bay. See also The Burritos'Sin City)- California a parasitic zone that fits with I am Legend, Angel & Radiohead's recent We Suck Young Blood (not to forget the Pumpkins "the world is a vampire").
On the Beach also features some wonderful guest players, as Young didn't have a band- The Band's Rick Danko&Levon Helm pop up, as does Graham Nash, Tim Drummond& Rusty Kershaw. See the Sky About To Rain is a sublime slide-guitar inflected slice of soul, easily up there with anything on Harvest and easily as great as Gene Clark's From a Silver Phial. The title track is a 7minute percussive day in the life of a messed up rock&roll star- though it avoids self-pity (The Walkabouts did a brilliant cover of this on the 1998compilation Death Valley Days- almost as great as the real thing). Young shows an interest in having a future: "the world is turning/I hope it don't turn away"- the so-so Motion Pictures (dedicated to soon to be ex-lover Carrie Snodgrass) continues this theme of escape and/or transcendence.
The best is saved for last- Ambulance Blues (not a blues song, more of a country rap!)clocks in at just under nine minutes (but still isn't long enough!). A gorgeous acoustic lull, with Young's distinctive voice & a great accompanying fiddle, it ties up the loose state of things wonderfully. Patty Hearst and Nixon are alluded to in Young's stoned stream of consciousness- at the end Neil cheerfully tells us "You're all just pissing in the wind/you might not know it, but you are/and there ain't nothin' like a friend/who can tell you you're just pissing in the wind". Young notes that there is little difference between him and the critics and parasites "we could get together for some scenes"!. On the Beach would lead to the way out- typified by the brilliant Zuma (1975); though Young would return to the dark stuff with the overrated Sleeps With Angels (1994).
On the Beach is one of the great stoned albums of the early 70s, alongside Exile on Main Street, Fresh!,Greetings from LA, No Other and Pacific Ocean Blue; it's also a major influence on everyone from The Replacements to Primal Scream to The Walkabouts to Wilco etc. I think it ranks as one of Young's finest albums, easily sitting alongside Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Harvest, TFA, TTN, Zuma, Rust Never Sleeps & Ragged Glory. At this price it's a bargain- one of the key albums of the 70s, whichever way you cut it...
on 5 June 2003
At last this is to be made available on Cd! All the time spent in collectors stores is over. This is one of Neil Young's greatest triumphs & certainly the best non crazy horse record. it forms a bridge between its contempoary albums Tonights the Night & Time fades away with the more commercial later 70s records Rust never sleeps et al.
It is hard to understand Young without this,as 'See the Sky about to rain' & 'Ambulance Blues' are wonderful fractured songs. Elsewhere he takes a jaundiced view of 70s LA. To comic affect in Revolution Blues
Even the sleeve shows the alienation of Young at this time. Whilst it may lack the pop touch of earlier & later works it remains a satisfying dark whole. In many ways its relationship to Harvest is similar to the darker desparate place of Springsteen's Darkness to the space of Born to Run.
Words cannot fully do justice to this album. but it it will epand your horizons.
on 19 October 2006
Along with a couple of lesser albums from around the same period, this album remained officially unavailable for nigh on 20 years. Of course many Neil Young fan's, myself included, found themselves buying contraband cd copies made from the original vinyl at draughty record fairs up and down the United Kingdom. This really is an unusual and captivating recording, it holds up well compared to other great early 70's downer records of the era such as Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks".
There has been a lot of discussion about the motives behind On the Beaches time in the vaults. People have said that it is some sort of marketing ploy, the album kept unavailable to build up it's mystique and Neil Young's status as an enigmatic artist. A more likely reason is that due to the unusually personal and confesional nature of the songwriting that Young just didn't feel comfortable having it out there. This seem's especially likely seeing as a number of the songs deal in part with his fraying relationship with Carrie Snodgrass. Perhaps after they separated he deleted it as a sign of courtesy to her?
Anyway, none of that really matters as now we have the album in a remastered non-hissy format. On first listening to it you may be suprised at how well played and produced it is, especially as similar downer wild man Neil albums such as "Tonights the Night" and "Time Fades Away" are decidely rough around the edges. The musicians Neil Young used on this album are perhaps one of the best fits for his style that he has ever used on record. Ben Keith, Tim Drummond, Rusty Kershaw, David Crosby, Graham Nash (on one song) and wait for it Levon Helm and Rick Danko the rythme section from The Band Guesting on a couple of songs. Here's a quick breakdown of the songs-
This song actually borders on funky! Great lead guitar, catchy chorus, great lyrics, great sound.
See The Sky About To Rain
I think The Byrds had already released their version of this by the time this album came out. Unusual sound, Neil plays Wurlitzer Piano which features prominently on this album. Beautiful slide guitar from Ben Keith, great drumming from Levon. Lyrically it sounds like something from around the time of Buffalo Springfield or his first solo album, it has a kind of naivety about it. Fluffed wurlitzer notes add to the charm.
Easily one of the best rockin' Neil Young songs ever. Lyrically quite shocking, especially for people who only know Neil from harvest or after the gold rush. It is written from the point of view of a member of a "Family" style cult living in the hills surrounding Hollywood. Great guitar interplay between David Crosby and Young, amazing bass fretless bass from Danko and amazingly tight drums from Helm. I think it probably says something about Neil's mental state at the time of this album that he manages to really get inside the skin of his manson like figure, with chilling lines such as
"Well it's so good to be here asleep on your' lawn. Remember your' guard dog? Well I'm afraid that he's gone. It was such a drag to hear him whining all night long (waaa ooooh). Yes that was me with the doves setting them free at the factory where you build your' computer love." Neil actually had first hand knowledge of Manson, he was introduced to him via Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys who the Springfield toured with. Young hung out a bit with Manson and even introduced him to Warner record executives. David Crosby (also connected to Manson through Terry Melcher who owned the Laurel Canyon house before Polanski) thought that the song crossed the line and was apparantly extremely uncomfortable playing on it and with its release. With lines like "I got the revolution blues I see bloody fountains, and ten million dune buggies coming down the mountain. Well I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars but I hate them more than lepers and I kill them in their cars" it's hard not to have a little sympathy with Crosby. Still it's a really chilling song, great perfomance both musically and vocally, and could be my favourite Neil Young song.
For the Turnstiles
Another reviewer snidely commented that Neil showed a "lack of courage" not including Revolution Blues on DECADE. For the Turnstiles is the song he included instead. Although I too would have prefered "Revolution Blues" to be included I wouldn't describe including "For the Turnstiles" instead as pandering to a mainstream audience. Afterall it's a lyrically obscure song that seems to be about depression era baseball. Musically it's probably the least polished song on the album, it's a sparse arrangement with Neil on Banjo and Ben Keith on Dobra and backing vocals. Neil's lead vocal sounds like something from "Time Fades Away", you get the sense it was recorded at about 4am after a tequila fueled night in the recording studio. Very nice song though.
Bit of fun this one, although it does make a couple of pot shots at the oil industry. Love the ramshackle, shakey guitar solo.
On the Beach
This is an "I'm rich internationally acclaimed rock star my life is hell" style song. The good thing is the author is fully aware of how ridiculous and spoiled this type of song sounds to most people, so it is written with tongue in cheek. "I know my problems are meaningless but that don't make them go away." Like another reviewer says it doesn't have much to say but it says it very well, and besides it's got a lovely laid back groove.
Motion Pictures (For Carrie)
This one of the personal songs I was talking about, written for Neil's Oscar winning wife. Notable for the slide playing by that old country fiddler Rusty Kershaw.
Long, rambling, fairy-tale like acoustic epic. A good song to have playing as you drift into unconsciousness at the end of a long hard day. It features an electric tambourine (I want one of those) and Rusty Kershaw on the fiddle. And the words are beguiling "You're all just pissing in the wind, you don't know it but you are. And there aint' nothing like a friend who can tell you your' just pissing in the wind.
on 11 June 2003
Ah at last one of Neil Young's best works gets the CD treatment and I don't have to dig out my record player to hear it anymore.
On the Beach is redolent of the times in which it was made, infused with the paranoia of the Nixon era and bursting with bitterness. The songs are all five-star classics, but "Ambulance Blues" is the standout and the dark heart of a memorable album. It makes the perfect complement to that other miserabilist NY masterpiece "Tonight's the Night", although a double bill of listening to those two back-to-back is probably not good for the health.
One of Neil Young's finest albums is (finally) on general release, and it's about time too. As part of his (in)famous 'doom trilogy', this album is a mixture of peaceful and thoughtful music ('See The Sky About To Rain') as well as his most vicious ('Revolution Blues'). Unlike 'Tonight's The Night' and 'Time Fades Away' which can be pretty heavy going at times, 'On The Beach' mixes personal and haunting lyrics with humour and wit, a quality that much of his back catalogue is bereft of. The album starts off with the unusually chipper 'Walk On', which is almost a riposte to some of the doom-laden material he was becoming notorious for after the untimely deaths of his friends Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. After fighting his own demons and resolving to 'walk on', the opening song offers an olive branch to those listeners who had become tired and disillusioned by his drunken antics and loose performances in previous years, and musically represented a welcome return to form, and was a clear sign to his fans that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The final song on the album is (IMHO) one of his finest songs of all. 'Ambulance Blues' is a simple acoustic ballad, almost a lament in places, but has hints of optimism thrown in amongst some bleaker imagery. The line 'an ambulance can only go so fast' hints at the agony he had felt when Berry and Whitten died, whereas 'I guess you'd call it sickness gone' hints at his emotional recovery and lends the album as a whole a much needed positive tone. 'On The Beach' is another 'quiet' song, that drifts by effortlessly. 'See The Sky About To Rain' is another magnificent track that easily ranks among his best work as well. The album may be short, but it is certainly not short on quality.
'For The Turnstiles' is back to a more country approach, and 'Vampire Blues' is much more of a proper 'blues' track than 'Ambulance...' is. Of the rockier tracks, the stand-out track is the brilliant and wicked 'Revolution Blues', and takes a heavy swipe at American culture ('Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, but I hate them worse than lepers, and I'll kill them in their cars').
This album is a Neil Young essential, and even without the bonus tracks that appeared on imported versions, it still ranks as one of his very best. At this price, it is an absolute bargain. I just thank Reprise for finally getting their collective bums in gear and reissuing this fabulous album.
on 20 July 2003
ON THE BEACH is one of Neil Young's finest artistic statements, lyrically and musically it is certainly of it's time and yet in emotional terms, it's concerns are timeless. The death of the hippie dream and the cracking veneer of 70s LA are beautifully expressed in the frazzled, insouciant sound and the weariness of Young's vocals. The album is short but the quality of the songs is incredible. Whilst being quite an intense and certainly dark piece of work it possesses a wonderful summer, stoned vibe to it. It's certainly my favourite Neil Young album is right up there with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Tonights the Night and Sleeps With Angels as one of his greatest achievements. It is pointless to go into detail regarding the individual songs when the album as a whole is so effective but if I had to pick my personal favourites it would have to be; 'Walk On', 'On the Beach' and 'Motion Pictures.' If you enjoy N Young then this is an essential purchase, as is it if you have any kind of affinity for 70s West Coast Rock. ON THE BEACH is often a draining experience but when being drained sounds this sublime then it is definately worth it!!
on 22 December 2003
On so many occassions I have hunted down obscure classics that have turned out not to be the greatest song ever as I had thought for years.Therefore it was with mixed emotion that I put on the remasterd version of On The Beach. I remember falling in love with this album in the 70s and it became my favourite Neil Young album. However various moves etc. found me lose my original vinyl copy and the album faded into memory/legend. I had looked for it on CD but not to the point of imports. To find it finally released was a joy and listening to it an even bigger joy. The sombre and heartfelt tunes on this album are amongst the best Young has ever written. The twee nature of After the Goldrush is supplanted by a brooding yet romantic menace. The closing cut 'Ambulance Blues' sums it up with the line It's hard to describe what this song is about. That could be an epitaph for the whole album, it is a turning point in Young's career both an end and a beginning. It's a journey from despair back to musical exuberance. SIMPLY UNMISSABLE