Skip to main content

Classic Album Review: On The Beach by Neil Young

In honour of Shakey's 73rd birthday, here are my thoughts on what I consider his best album, "On The Beach" (OTB).



The middle album of the 'Doom Trilogy' but actually the last to be recorded, OTB was released in 1974. After Reprise baulked at the unremittingly bleak, but almost equally amazing 'Tonight's The The Night' (TTN), the slightly lighter mood of OTB held within it some of Young's greatest songs. The vibe of this album is noticeably different from TTN, most likely as more time had passed since the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry which had plunged Young into the funereal mood of TTN in the first place. The fuel of choice during recording being 'Honey Slides' as opposed to the tequila of TTN may also have had an impact.

Inspiration and motivation not withstanding, this is a classic album without a single weak track. Landing in the middle of Young's first run of stellar records from 1969-1979, it kicks off with tumbling groove of "Walk On". The resigned and reflective air that pervades the entire album is evident from this first song, despite the at times almost jaunty music. "Sooner or later it all gets real" and  "I remember the good old days" indeed.



"See The Sky About To Rain" is the odd man out on the first side. Whereas "For The Turnstiles" in particular and at a stretch both "Revolution Blues" and "Vampire Blues" could have been slotted onto TTN, "See The Sky" is of an older vintage, from the "Harvest" era, and whilst not a happy song, it is perhaps one of Young's most beautiful melodies. The lyrics fit though with the despairing resignation that fills the rest of the album. "Some are bound for happiness, some are bound for glory, some are bound to live with less".

"Revolution Blues" spits with venom and indignation, whilst the more laid back "Vampire Blues" prepares us for what is to come. In between, the cracked vocals of "For The Turnstiles" remind us what a dark place the ditch was that Neil found himself in, after leaving the middle of the road to meet more interesting people.

It is on side two that the 'Honey Slides' really kick in and the album becomes almost horizontal. The title track is so laid back, you can just picture a late night recording session, the air hazy with smoke, heads nodding as the tape rolled. Maybe the engineers had given up and gone home for the night, leaving the tape rolling whilst the band played on.

If "On The Beach" was laid back, "Motion Pictures" is more of the same. Neil's voice barely audible at times as the chords cycle around, the musicians drifting in and out of time.

It is the final track, "Ambulance Blues", that is the real highlight of the album. Inspired by Bert Janch's "Needle Of Death", a 9 minute epic that rails against Nixon, his erstwhile colleagues in CNS&Y, alongside reflections on episodes from his past. If not his finest song, then it is certainly in the top ten.



"You're all just pissing in the wind, you don't know it but you are".....

Happy Birthday Neil.

Comments

Popular Posts

Eraserland by Strand Of Oaks - Album Review

A new album from Tim Showalter which, barring a final misstep, hits all the Americana, (and more), marks. This album is heartfelt, sleazy, uplifting, classic and referential all at the same time whilst still pointing forwards. The beginning is inauspicious. "Weird Ways" starts out like a standard Ryan Adams ballad, but takes off halfway through in a way that reveals the pedigree of the other musicians on the album. After hearing this track I thought it sounded like the aforementioned Mr Adams playing with My Morning Jacket(MMJ). The reverb drenched sound kept rearing its head and a little research revealed that, minus main man Jim James, they were the backing musicians on the album . No wonder I kept hearing them! As a band who has produced much that I like this was a good thing.  After "Weird Ways" heads for the stars we stay there with "Hyperspace Blues" which is one for fans of Jason Pierce's Spiritualized, and sounds just as a song w

October New Music - Rockin' The Suburbs

Be sure to listen to the latest episode, 736, of Rockin' The Suburbs podcast to hear me talk about some of the new songs I enjoyed in October. You can listen here or via your usual podcast provider. The songs I talk about, along with a little cricket, NFL & rugby are: "Run Away" by Lightning Dust "In Good Faith" by Bonnie 'Prince' Billy "Hard Times" by Whyte Horses featuring John Grant "Favourite Boy" by Half Moon Run "In The Air Tonight" by Lucy Dacus Be sure to listen every day...........

Josh Rouse - Love In The Modern Age Review

I picked up Josh Rouse's latest album at the show reviewed earlier , purely on the strength of the new songs he'd debuted that night. Firstly, the songs are almost uniformly great, and whilst some might complain at only 9 tracks on an album, less is sometimes more. "Leave 'em wanting more" is a good policy. I find it hard to accept, for example, that The Beatles "White Album", to pick a famous example, wouldn't have been improved by being cut to a single disc. A topic for another day perhaps? Back to matters in hand. The album starts out with what is my favourite track from the set, "Salton Sea" . It sets out the album's pop stylings and productio n, gated snare and prominent synths, occasional vocoder flourishes, etc. that continue throughout the album. With a nice build at the end to some instrumental guitar, it is a great start.  The tunes keep coming, with the title track , "Businessman" , and "Women And The

Hello Sunshine by Bruce Springsteen - New Song Review

After the Broadway experience comes a new song, and m y initial thoughts upon hearing it were not about this track specifically, but what it means for the upcoming "Western Stars" album in June. As Bruce has said, this is a different type of album, not a rocker but a 'return to sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements'.  My hope is that we are going to get Bruce's version of "Nashville Skyline", as the track has a laid back, country feel, with a rhythm that immediately evokes "Everybody's Talkin' ".  Another one of his early influences, the great Roy Orbison, also shines through, and as a defender of "Outlaw Pete" from "Magic", (more on that here ), this can only be a good thing. His vocal has a country tinge and the pedal steel and strings complete the image.  Given his battles with depression, documented in his autobiography, the lines about "being too fond of the blues" and "loving t

A Musical Epiphany: Bruce Springsteen

Have you ever struggled to understand the appeal of an artist?  In the case of Bruce Springsteen I was in this camp until August 2002. I appreciated that he was a significant figure in music, and enjoyed some of his hits, "Born To Run" and "Thunder Road" in particular. "Born To Run" and "Greatest Hits" were the only albums of his I owned, and found the almost religious fervour of his most passionate devotees baffling. All that changed in early August 2002 when on the basis of many positive reviews at the time I bought his just released, (9/11 addressing & E-Street Band reuniting), album "The Rising". I was walking the dog, listening on headphones, and had found the first 10 tracks, enjoyable, if not spectacular.  Track 11,   "Mary's Place" , changed all that. The old time gospel hall feel with it's saxophone licks caught my attention. I wasn't prepared for what happened at 3:34 on "...drop the needl

Songs To Die To - Part 3

Continuing a series about songs death and dying.  These are not necessarily songs that talk about the process of dying, rather as the title suggests, songs that I could imagine listening to on my death bed, or taking as consolation during or after a funeral.  Morbid? I think not, as death is part of life. If we all talked about it a little more, maybe we'd cope with it better. No 1: featuring "Land Of Hope & Dreams" by Bruce Springsteen here No 2: featuring "Look On Down From The Bridge" by Mazzy Star here With that said here's my next choice. No 3: Gonna Be A Darkness - The Jayhawks From their superb collection of songs that main man Gary Louris wrote with other artists, (full review here ), comes this gem co-written with Jakob Dylan. I love the extended musical introduction, starting with the mandolin, building with the bass and piano.It sets a lovely relaxed groove that hints at the sadness to come. Louris and drummer Tim O'Rea

Great British Beer Festival: Day 2

Day two is done, and more excellent beers consumed. 1. Krausened Lager, Budweiser Budvar 4% After the Tankove Pivo being my beer of the day yesterday,  hopes were high for the Krausened. An unfiltered and unpasteurised lager. Not quite up there with the tank beer, but still very refreshing. A slight aftertaste that wasn't there on the Tankove, and overall I preferred the temperature controlled option. A good start though. 2. Cinnamon Porter, Boulder Beer Company 5.9% A lovely Porter, the cinnamon being very subtle. Sweet and smooth, I'd happily return to this. 3. Kölsch, Cölner Hofbräu Früh 4.8% Clean, crisp and clear with a softness on the tongue that surprises. Could easily go a few pints of this on a hot summer's day. 4. Make America Juicy Again, Heretic Brewing Company 6.5% A New England IPA, hazy and fruity as you'd expect from this style, but more tart and lacking the rich smoothness of other NEIPAs I've had. 5. Salted Caramel Lucaria, Thornbridge 4.