On the Beach is the fifth studio album by Neil Young, released in 1974. It was unavailable on compact disc until it was released as a HDCD-encoded remastered version on August 19, 2003 as part of his Archives Digital Masterpiece Series.
- 2 Reception
- 3 Songs
- 4 Track listing
- 5 Personnel
- 6 References
Recorded after (but released before) Tonight's the Night, On the Beach shares some of that album’s bleakness and crude production—which came as a shock to fans and critics alike, as this was the long-awaited studio follow-up to the commercially and critically successful Harvest—but also included hints pointing towards a more subtle outlook, particularly on the opener, "Walk On".
While the original Rolling Stone review described it as "One of the most despairing albums of the decade", later critics such as Allmusic’s William Ruhlmann used the benefit of hindsight to conclude that Young "[w]as saying goodbye to despair, not being overwhelmed by it". The despair of Tonight's the Night, communicated through intentional underproduction and lyrical pessimism, gives way to a more polished album that is still pessimistic but to a lesser degree.
Much like Tonight's the Night, On the Beach was not a commercial success at the time of its release but over time attained a high regard from fans and critics alike. The album was recorded in a haphazard manner, with Young utilizing a variety of session musicians, and often changing their instruments while offering only bare-bones arrangements for them to follow (in a similar style to Tonight's the Night). He also would opt for rough, monitor mixes of songs rather than a more polished sound, alienating his sound engineers in the process.
Throughout the recording of the album, Young and his fellow musicians consumed a homemade concoction dubbed "Honey Slides", a goop of sauteed marijuana andhoney that "felt like heroin". This may account for the mellow mood of the album, particularly the second half of the LP. Young has said of it "Good album. One side of it particularly—the side with 'Ambulance Blues', 'Motion Pictures' and 'On the Beach' — it's out there. It's a great take."
For about two decades, rarity made a cult out of On the Beach. The title was deleted from vinyl in the early 1980s and only briefly available on cassette - the old slide-out case style, as well as 8-track Cartridge tape.On the Beach headed the list of most-desired albums not released on CD. Along with three other mid-period Young albums, it had been withheld from re-release until 2003. The reasons remain murky but there is some evidence that Young himself didn't want the album out on CD, variously citing "fidelity problems" and legal issues. Beginning in 2000, over 5000 fans signed an online petition calling for the release of the album on CD.
"Walk On", the album's opener, has Young combining his cynical outlook with a touch of closure and a wish to move on and keep living. Young throws in a remake of hisHarvest era "See the Sky About to Rain." This track had also been released a year earlier on the Byrds' eponymous album. The album also includes the high-strung "Revolution Blues," inspired by Charles Manson, whom Young had met in his Topanga Canyon days. "For the Turnstiles" is a country-folk hybrid featuring Young's banjoand a caterwauling harmony vocal from Ben Keith, while playing Dobro. Also of note is "Vampire Blues," an attack on the oil industry and the final song on side one.
Side two of the LP version opens with "On the Beach", a bluesy meditation on the downside of fame, which has been covered by many artists including Radiohead and Golden Smog., and is followed by "Motion Pictures", a barely audible elegy for Young's relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress.
"Ambulance Blues" closes the album. The melody 'unintentionally' quotes Bert Jansch's "Do You Hear Me Now". In a 1992 interview for the French "Guitare & Claviers" magazine, Young discussed Jansch' influence: "As for acoustic guitar, Bert Jansch is on the same level as Jimi (Hendrix). That first record of his is epic. It came from England, and I was especially taken by "Needle of Death", such a beautiful and angry song. That guy was so good. And years later, on On the Beach, I wrote the melody of "Ambulance Blues" by styling the guitar part completely on "Do You Hear Me Now?". I wasn't even aware of it, and someone else drew my attention to it."
The song explores Young's feelings about his critics, Richard Nixon and the state of CSNY. The line "You're all just pissing in the wind" was a direct quote from Young's manager regarding the inactivity of the quartet. It references the Riverboat, a small coffeehouse in Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood which was an early venue for folk-inspired artists like Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, andArlo Guthrie. Yorkville had been the centre of the Canadian counterculture scene in the 1960s when the coffeehouse opened in the basement of a Victorian rowhouse, but by the 1970s Yorkville was changing, and the Riverboat remained as the last of the cafes from this era. It outlived the hippie scene, but closed in 1978. In 2009, Young also released Live at the Riverboat 1969, a live album recorded at The Riverboat in 1969.
Originally Young had intended for the A and B sides of the LP to be in reverse order, but was convinced by David Briggs to swap them at the last moment. Young has said that he later came to regret caving in.
All songs written by Neil Young.
- "Walk On" – 2:42
- "See the Sky About to Rain" – 5:02
- "Revolution Blues" – 4:03
- "For the Turnstiles" – 3:15
- "Vampire Blues" – 4:14
- "On the Beach" – 6:59
- "Motion Pictures" – 4:23
- "Ambulance Blues" – 8:56
- Neil Young – guitar on 1 3 5 6 7 8, vocal, Wurlitzer electric piano on 2, banjo on 4, harmonica on 7 8
- Ben Keith – slide guitar on 1, vocal on 1 4, steel guitar on 2, Dobro on 4, Wurlitzer electric piano on 3, organ on 5, hand drums on 6, bass on 7 8
- Tim Drummond – bass on 2 5 6, percussion on 5
- Ralph Molina – drums on 1 5 6, vocal on 1, hand drums on 7 8