October 14th, 2013

Posted in Tunes / Vinyl Blog by Randy Wells

NEIL YOUNG – ON THE BEACH (1974)

“Was it the Falcon? The Flying V used on the previous year’s tour?”

“It doesn’t really matter what guitar it was, because it’s the tone that cuts through. It’s the ‘real-est’. The most emotive piece of music I’ve ever heard.”

“When Neil starts playing the opening notes from the title track On The Beach, there isn’t anything more genuine. The track is very spare: a bongo drums accompaniment, a drum , a bass guitar, and the rest is just Young’s soul put forth, naked for all to see.”

“It’s the weariest track in the history of rock. In my book this is the final chapter. A sad goodbye.”

Every once in a while I hear a true voice speaking out from the wilderness. Cassius is one of those writers who has the freedom to say what he thinks without concern. I think he is brilliant:

“1974 is in many ways the end. Sure I own, adore and love many great records made after that year (many by Neil himself), but for me it is in many ways the true end. The bright explosion of the ’60s ushered in the decade, the Beatles arrival onto the scene, and all the ideas that rained down. That golden period of ’63/64 to ’74, will go down as the greatest movement in popular recorded music – at least to my ears and soul. If our ancestors are plunking around a few hundred years from now, there is no doubt they will still look back in awe and wonder on this era, and the staggering works left behind.

It occurred a little more than a decade after the 22 minute sided LP arrived, and a little more than half a century after we developed the ability to capture recorded music. A generation came forth and delivered a great collection of music and culture. Looking back, it seems almost laughable to mention but technology was exploding. Culture was exploding, and this generation was bearing witness. The whole world was ablaze. It was certainly not all peaches and cream. It kicked off ater JFK was assasinated, and as Vietnam exploded, then fall apart. You cannot overlook the drugs either. Drugs didn’t make artists. There are wherehouses full of ****** records: Stoned garbage, coked out nightmares, and at least a small pantry of Lysergic mumblings (although I must admit a certain tolerance/weakness for those brain blowers)…. But it did propel things into light speed, and the best minds of the generation used these experiences, and moments to strip away artifice, enhance the existing world, and create a new one. Telling truths not captured before or for the most part not after.

Neil probably felt those initial spark all the way up in Canada. That flash lit him up and propelled him into a career. The electric guitar, then down to LA, chasing the wake of the “Tambourine Man”, and onto to ‘The Strip’, and up the charts. It was the golden era of creativity, wandering through the Canyon, being among the Giants, and in the process becoming one of them. Reaching and finding the star, and then watching as his generation and the preceding one tore it into a million f$%^*$* pieces.

This album and title track is the death rattle that Bangs spoke of (or Crowe imagined him speaking of). It is the return of the ‘cresting wave’ that Hunter spoke of in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

It’s a strong reaction to the loss of a fleeting dream, and the corresponding commercialization of the splinters. The hippie dream that turned into a square nightmare: comrades, friends and genius peers dying face down, pisssing away their talents, retreating into the commercial comforts, or simply running out of relevant things to say.

The genius of On The Beach is that is a product of the time, and a direct personal reaction to changes Neil had gone through. Yet it doesn’t consist (thank god) of small minded, simple and linear laments. It doesn’t try and capture that flash of the decade that had gone by prior with simple worlds, or provide trite storytelling to capture the vibe. It is the depth of the music. Neil soul oozes forth and tells the story.

He found the vibe in a dank, dirty motel room down in LA, in the haze of the ‘cheapest grass’ you could find on the street cooked and mixed with honey. Finally accepting the straw that had been offered for years, in the crumbling remains of his relationship, the backlash of the Time Fades Away tour, the continuing erosion and collapse into the sea of Dick Nixon, and the deaths of his fellow travelers.

Side Two is my favorite suite of music, because it is all there: those minor chord meanderings, the pure emotion of the solo in the title track, the stoned homage to his girl, and the weary lament of ‘Ambulance Blues’. Listen to that harp and fiddle, as it fades away, it’s all there.”

-Cassius