On the Beach (Neil Young album)

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On the Beach
Neil Young - On the Beach.png
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 19, 1974 (1974-07-19)[1]
RecordedFebruary 5 – April 7, 1974
StudioSunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, California; Broken Arrow Ranch Studios, Woodside, California
ProducerNeil Young, David Briggs (tracks 1 & 4),
Mark Harman (tracks 2–3 & 5),
Al Schmitt (tracks 6–8)
Neil Young chronology
Time Fades Away
On the Beach
Tonight's the Night

On the Beach is the fifth studio album by Canadian folk rock musician Neil Young, released in July 1974.


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".[citation needed]

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 and honey that "felt like heroin".[2] This may account for the mellow mood of the album, particularly the second half of the LP.[2] 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.[citation needed] The title was deleted from vinyl in the early 1980s and was only briefly available on cassette, as well as 8-track cartridge tape. 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 5,000 fans signed an online petition calling for the release of the album on CD.[3] It was finally released on CD on Reprise Records in August 2003.[4].


Brent Lott of the Winnipeg Contemporary dancers developed a dance piece called For the Turnstiles in 2015.[5] The music was scored by fellow Winnipeg singer-songwriter John K. Samson, who later released several of the songs on his 2016 solo album, Winter Wheat. In particular, "Postdoc Blues" and "Vampire Alberta Blues" were inspired by On the Beach.


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[6]
Christgau's Record GuideA–[7]
Rolling Stone(favorable)[9]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[10]

Reviewing in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau wrote: "Something in [Young's] obsessive self-examination is easy to dislike and something in his whiny thinness hard to enjoy. But even 'Ambulance Blues,' an eight-minute throwaway, is studded with great lines, one of which is 'It's hard to know the meaning of this song.' And I can hum it for you if you'd like."[7]

Pitchfork listed it #65 on their list of the Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. On the Beach was certified gold in the United States, selling 500,000 copies. In 2007, On the Beach was placed at #40 in Bob Mersereau's book The Top 100 Canadian Albums. It was voted number 195 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums in 2000.[11]


"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.[according to whom?] Young throws in a remake of his Harvest era "See the Sky About to Rain", which had been covered by the Byrds a year earlier on their eponymous album. "Revolution Blues" was inspired by Charles Manson, whom Young had met in his Topanga Canyon days.[12][13] "For the Turnstiles" is a country-folk hybrid featuring Young's banjo guitar and a harmony vocal from Ben Keith, who also plays Dobro. The side closes with "Vampire Blues," a cynical attack on the oil industry.[14]

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,[15] and is followed by "Motion Pictures", an elegy for Young's relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress.[citation needed]

"Ambulance Blues" closes the album. In a 1992 interview for the French Guitare & Claviers magazine, Young discussed Bert Jansch's influence on the song: "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 'Needle of Death'. I wasn't even aware of it, and someone else drew my attention to it."[citation needed]

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 and Arlo Guthrie.[16][17] 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. The line "Oh, Isabella, proud Isabella, They tore you down and plowed you under" references 88 Isabella Street an old rooming house in Toronto where Neil and Rick James stayed for a period. The old rooming house was demolished in the early 70s and an apartment now stands in this location.

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, although the cassette version was released with the sides swapped.[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Neil Young.

Side one
  1. "Walk On" – 2:42
  2. "See the Sky About to Rain" – 5:02
  3. "Revolution Blues" – 4:03
  4. "For the Turnstiles" – 3:15
  5. "Vampire Blues" – 4:14
Side two
  1. "On the Beach" – 6:59
  2. "Motion Pictures" – 4:23
  3. "Ambulance Blues" – 8:56

The cassette version has side A and side B swapped.


  • Neil Young – vocals; guitar on "Walk On", "Revolution Blues", "Vampire Blues", "On the Beach", "Motion Pictures" and "Ambulance Blues"; harmonica on "See the Sky About to Rain", "Motion Pictures" and "Ambulance Blues"; Wurlitzer electric piano on "See the Sky About to Rain"; banjo guitar on "For the Turnstiles"; electric tambourine on "Ambulance Blues"
  • Ben Keithslide guitar, vocal on "Walk On", steel guitar on "See the Sky About to Rain"; Wurlitzer electric piano on "Revolution Blues"; Dobro, vocal on "For the Turnstiles"; organ, vocal, and hair drum on "Vampire Blues"; hand drums on "On the Beach"; bass on "Motion Pictures" and "Ambulance Blues"
  • Rusty Kershaw – slide guitar on "Motion Pictures"; fiddle on "Ambulance Blues"
  • David Crosbyrhythm guitar on "Revolution Blues"
  • George Whitsell – guitar on "Vampire Blues"
  • Graham Nash – Wurlitzer electric piano on "On the Beach"
  • Tim Drummond – bass on "See the Sky About to Rain", "Vampire Blues" and "On the Beach"; percussion on "Vampire Blues"
  • Billy Talbot – bass on "Walk On"
  • Rick Danko – bass on "Revolution Blues"
  • Ralph Molinadrums and vocal on "Walk On"; drums on "Vampire Blues" and "On the Beach"; hand drums on "Motion Pictures" and "Ambulance Blues"
  • Levon Helm – drums on "See the Sky About to Rain" and "Revolution Blues"


  • † Neil Young credited as Joe Yankee
  • All songs recorded at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, except "Walk On" and "For The Turnstiles", recorded at Broken Arrow Studios, San Francisco (Woodside, nr. Redwood City, nr. San Francisco)


  1. ^ "Neil Young Archives". Neilyoungarchives.com. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b Shakey: Neil Young's Biography by Jimmy McDonough, pp. 439
  3. ^ ThrashersWheat.org online petition in support of reissuing On the Beach.
  4. ^ Discogs.com[1], as part of the "Digital Masterpiece Series"
  5. ^ exclaim.ca announcement of For the Turnstyles.
  6. ^ "On the Beach – Neil Young – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  7. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: Y". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 23, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  8. ^ "Neil Young". Pitchfork.com.
  9. ^ "Rolling Stone review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  10. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  11. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (2000). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 99. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  12. ^ Greene, A. (3 June, 2015) "Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Neil Young Deep Cuts". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  13. ^ Williams, A. (21 November, 2017) "How Charles Manson Nearly Made It in Hollywood". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  14. ^ Perpetua, M. (24 June, 2011) "The 15 Greatest Songs About Vampires". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Served Three Ways: Three Covers of Neil Young's "On The Beach"". Turntable Kitchen.
  16. ^ "Riverboat". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
  17. ^ "Toronto's Historical Plaques – Riverboat Coffee House". Retrieved 2011-02-13.