Neil Young On the Beach
Neil Young has always been that anomaly artist. He can sing the sweetest ballads, rock the hardest, and protest GMO’s with the best. He has played in various iterations of Buffalo Springfield, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, has worked with Pearl Jam as his backing band, and has been labelled the tongue-in-cheek “Godfather of Grunge”. He’s just a cool cat with a breadth of sound and ideas that cover a wide palette of music.
With that being said, he has been a creative giant for 5 decades and has amassed a huge catalog, some that catalog has hit his fans in stride and are considered classics, and some just seem to fall flat. His 1974 under the radar classic On the Beach. Is a little talked about record that is bleak, crudely produced, and shows Young at his most vulnerable. The record was a commercial and critical disappointment at its time of release, but has amassed a cult following over the past 40 years.
The songs offer a mood that is diminished even by Young’s standards. It is sad and deadly, poignant and interesting. It is Young in the Mid-70’s, at the dawn of punk, and the rise of disco, when the identities of the 60’hippies were changing and records like this one didn’t seem relevant, but On the Beach is no less remarkable.
Album opener “Walk On” is a mellow, groovy tune that speaks to the good old days, with a slanted cynicism only found on a Neil Young record. “See the Sky About to Rain” is an outtake from Harvest sessions and points a finger directly at The Byrd’s as they covered it on their 1973 record Reunion album. The Neil Young version offers a little more heartache and a lot less harmony. “Revolution Blues” is apparently inspired by Charles Manson, but has groove that is hard not to move your head to with Young’s voice cutting the bass line like a hot knife through butter at your favorite dive bar. “For The Turnstiles” show Young’s country style with on point banjo.
Both halves of the record showcase the chameleon-like movement that serves as an analogy for Young’s career. But it’s the last song on the record that brings the album to life. “Ambulance Blues” is an epic, blossoming 9 minute romp that pays tribute to Bert Jansch’s “Needle of Death”, Summing up Young’s feelings about his critics, politics in America, and the “pissing in the wind” of CSNY.