Time Fades Away tour and album, Neil took the splinters of Crazy Horse on the road with a few other stragglers and several cases of tequila for the Tonight’s The Night club tour, the album of which was shelved for another 18 months. However, a few of the sessions held to bolster that album were the springboard for what became On The Beach, which came out instead.
Side one crashes into place with “Walk On”, his middle finger to anyone who says he’s not giving the people what they want. That he does it in such a toe-tapping way is charming. “See The Sky About To Rain” had been sitting around for a few years. Performed often in his solo concerts, this pretty recording is the only one of his canon that features such a prominent electric piano. It’s a nice mood that leaves you unprepared for the next one. “Revolution Blues” is downright frightening. From the opening chords to the nightmarish image of 10 million dune buggies coming down the mountains, this is scary stuff. The loping rhythm section (from the Band) adds to the off-kilter sensation. Wow. “For The Turnstiles” offers another sardonic look at the nature of fame and the people who pay (and are paid) to see their heroes, dominated by a creaky banjo and dobro. “Vampire Blues” is the least of the album, another indictment of corporate greed, but with lines about oil consumption that ring true today. And it sputters on out.
Side two is an entity all its own. The title track is an odd blues, with slow guitar lines and jazzy chords underscoring his unhappiness. That’s sad enough, but the last two songs on the album are two of his best. Each sounds like it arrived in a single spew each, in exactly the order we hear them. There’s no real structure—they simply exist lucky to fit the music underneath. “Motion Pictures” features a guitar part not unlike a cat, dog and chicken clucking along, and seems to be a gentle tribute to his then-other half, except for the hint that it will all be over soon. “Ambulance Blues” is a more wistful, melancholy autobiography than “Don’t Be Denied”, which was so startling on Time Fades Away. It begins simply enough in the “old folkie days”, then before you know it he’s shaking his head sadly over the state of the world, with its men telling so many lies and time spent pissing in the wind. It’s such a simple arrangement, with a sweet mournful fiddle duetting with the harmonica.
His first album of new material that didn’t include a lyric sheet, On The Beach was another schizophrenic production, with extensive musician credits to help connect the dots. It must have been a startling listening experience for those who bought it upon original release. When it finally emerged on CD after a near thirty-year absence it got just as much “lost masterpiece” press as the differently received Greendale, which came out around the same time. It makes a much better bridge from Harvest to Tonight’s The Night, even though you still need Time Fades Away for the whole picture.
Neil Young On The Beach (1974)—4