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4.7 out of 5 stars
On the Beach
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90 of 98 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon October 3, 2003
Neil Young's 1974 release On The Beach is considered one of his classic albums, but for some reason the album was never released on compact disk. Finally, the album has made its way to the digital age and Mr. Young's fans can enjoy one of his most blisteringly savage albums. After his record label rejected his eulogy to two lost friends, Tonight's The Night, Mr. Young came up with the ragged edged On The Beach. The album opens with "Walk On", Mr. Young's rebuttal to Lynyrd Skynyrd's rebuttal of him as well as a rebuking of the press who criticized him during his 1973 tour. "See The Sky About To Rain" confronts a similar environmental topic as "After The Gold Rush" and has an eerie organ and a haunting steel guitar played evocatively by long time cohort Ben Keith. "Revolution Blues" is a dark and disturbing song about a cult and the terror they may inflict on the wealthy residents of the Laurel Canyon that is clearly inspired by the Manson family. The song's music belies the dark tone of the lyrics with shimmering guitars that undercut the subject matter. It is very good song, but Mr. Young would go onto to perform the song acoustically on the subsequent tour that would better capture the stark nature of the song. "For The Turnstiles" is a brilliant song that is driven by a stuttering, bluegrass banjo and was inspired by the stadium tour he had just completed with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Mr. Young was clearly disturbed by the fact that big business was starting to take over rock and roll and art was suffering for commerce. The song foretells of the selling out of musicians and the forming of corporate rock. "Vampire Blues" is a stinging commentary about the oil business. Both the title track and "Motion Pictures" are self-reflective songs, the former about sacrifices for a career and the latter about his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgrass. The album's final track, "Ambulance Blues" is one of Mr. Young's masterpieces. Clocking in at almost nine minutes long, the song tackles numerous subjects including some recurring themes of Mr. Young's music like the pillaging of the land and its native people, dirty politicians, depression and his childhood. The song is sparse and mostly acoustic. It is a loose tribute to a hero of Mr. Young's, an English folkie, Bert Jansch. The song actually clips its beat from a Mr. Jansch song. On The Beach has the mournful qualities of Tonight's The Night, but unlike its predecessor that offered only bleakness, this album finds Mr. Young beginning to find some light.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2003
Finally, Finally...4 of the lost 6 are available on CD. 'On The Beach', once deemed subpar upon release and ignored, has now gained legendary status among critics and Neil's fans, probably in large part to its "vinyl only" status--not even available on cassette! 'On The Beach', 'Time Fades Away' and 'Tonights The Night' are Neil's greatest trilogy, each hated when they came out since everyone wanted another 'Harvest'. Now everyone knows differently. I have come to prefer the harrowing songs of 'On The Beach' more than the more popular 'Night.' (save for the greatest road song ever written, "Albuquerque.") The deeply expressive "Ambulance Blues" involves many things--Neil's personal trials regarding the people around him, the end of the 60's, and Watergate. "Revolution Blues" and "On The Beach" evoke an anger at the society of the times and represent Neil's most effective songwriting.
If you are curious about all four of these formerly "lost" albums, but not sure which to buy, make certain "On The Beach" is the first. The other three are not nearly as artistically strong or interesting, save for "Like A Hurricane" on 'American Stars and Bars', a collection of unreleased tracks in 1977. However, all four are still essential to Neil's fans or completists. Hopefully they will be able to get "Time Fades Away" remastered eventually--the master tapes, I've heard, have some mastering problems that can't be overcome at the moment.
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117 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2003
[WARNING: Long review]
Neil Young is a widely varying, sometimes frustratingly inconsistent artist. However, he was clearly at his peak in the late '60s and early '70s, putting out at least five studio albums that could be deemed classic: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush, Tonight's The Night, On The Beach, and Zuma.
You may notice I didn't put Harvest in that list. While Harvest is certainly a good album, it's almost TOO accessible and tries too hard, in my opinion, to be commercially successful. It also suffers from the two London Symphony Orchestra tracks. Neil's best work often came when he didn't give a damn about what his audience or record label wanted, and so that puts Harvest out of the running for best in my book. After The Gold Rush was a great album, as was Everybody Knows.. and Zuma, but each album had one or two tracks that didn't feel up to par.
That leaves just two PERFECT Neil albums, both released in the dark period of the early Seventies after losing Bruce Berry and Danny Whitten (members of his backing band Crazy Horse) to drug abuse. Tonight's The Night is a dark, harrowing, bleak trip through a shattered hippie dream, an amazing album but nowhere near accessible, maybe a little TOO dark for some. 1974's On The Beach is more easily digestible and lighter, but still quite bleak and very personal. It has remained inexplicably out of print for almost 25 years, but thankfully Neil has brought it back with a remaster (now, if he would only release Time Fades Away to complete the "Doom Trilogy").
On The Beach ranges from moodily atmospheric (the title track) to quite upbeat (Walk On) but throughout Neil's mood is bitter and confessional. He tells off of his detractors (record labels, Harvest fans, press critics, Lynyrd Skynyrd) on the rocking, radio-friendly Walk On and gets pensive on the hushed, organ-driven See The Sky About To Rain (similar thematically to the title track of After The Gold Rush). Revolution Blues is a disturbing rocker with the infamous figure of Charles Manson supplying narrative, and is one of my favorite Neil songs. For The Turnstiles is a dark, lyrically enigmatic cut with Neil plucking away at a banjo. That concludes Side 1 of the original LP.
While Side 1 was great, Side 2 consists of the four best Neil songs possibly ever released (that's personal opinion, of course). Vampire Blues is a darkly funny number commenting on the oil industry, and is the only actual "blues" song on the album. The title track has a very haunting, somber feel to it as Neil sings about falling out of fame. Motion Pictures (For Carrie) is a very personal ballad about Neil's relationship with actress Carrie Snodgrass.
And finally, there is the grand epic Ambulance Blues, which is to Neil Young as Desolation Row is to Bob Dylan--the greatest song of their respective careers. Over 9 minutes, Young takes us on a lyrical trip through his psyche, delivering some truly inspired imagery while a fiddle fills the air between verses:
"Back in the old folky days
The air was magic when we played.
The riverboat was rockin'
in the rain
Midnight was the time
for the raid...
All along the Navajo Trail,
Burn-outs stub their toes
on garbage pails.
Waitresses are cryin'
in the rain
Will their boyfriends
pass this way again?
I guess I'll call it
sickness gone
It's hard to say
the meaning of this song.
An ambulance can only
go so fast
It's easy to get buried
in the past
When you try to make
a good thing last.
So all you critics sit alone
You're no better than me
for what you've shown.
With your stomach pump and
your hook and ladder dreams
We could get together
for some scenes.
I never knew a man
could tell so many lies
He had a different story
for every set of eyes.
How can he remember
who he's talkin' to?
'Cause I know it ain't me,
and I hope it isn't you.
Well, I'm up in T.O.
keepin' jive alive,
And out on the corner
it's half past five.
But the subways are empty
And so are the cafes.
Except for the Farmer's Market
And I still can hear him say:
You're all just pissin'
in the wind
You don't know it but you are.
And there ain't nothin'
like a friend
Who can tell you
you're just pissin'
in the wind.
I never knew a man
could tell so many lies
He had a different story
for every set of eyes
How can he remember
who he's talking to?
Cause I know it ain't me,
and hope it isn't you."
In one word, brilliant. GET THIS ALBUM. True Neil Young fans won't regret it.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2006
`On the Beach' is the third and final installment in Neil Young's infamous `Doom Trilogy' and is certainly very deep and dark, but not quite AS much as the other two. This is the one of the three that you can put on at any time, without it bringing you down (the other two are beyond melancholy, suited almost exclusively for late nights, with the proper buzz on). I could tell you the complete history of the album, exactly what went on during the recording sessions (a fascinating story in itself), everything that was going on in Neil's life that made the album what it is, but `On the Beach' is musically and artistically the strongest of the trilogy, so it might be better to just go song by song.

"Walk On", from the second you hear the catchy opening riff for the first time, sounds like it belongs on a `Greatest Hits' disc, it's so instantly a classic. It's also so happily mellow with it's light-hearted guitar leads and hopeful lyrics such as "I remember the good old days/stayed up all night getting crazed/then the money was not so good/but we still did the best we could" and the chorus "oooh baby that's hard to change/I can't tell them how to feel/some get stoned, some get strange/sooner or later it all gets real/walk on..." Neil also shows his indifference to critics who derided him during his "Ditch Period" and made him out to be things he wasn't: "I hear some people been talkin me down/bring up my name, pass it round/they don't mention the happy times/they do their thing, I'll do mine." This song was a minor hit when it was released, getting some play on FM radio. Don't let it fool you though, although this song might not be in the "ditch" Neil talks about, it still isn't "Heart of Gold's "middle of the road."

"See the Sky About to Rain" brings the mood down a notch. Its lonesome organ and Neil's forlorn vocal perfectly suit each other and Ben Keith`s slide guitar fills are very country-ish and offset all the song`s imagery. The lyrics really don't tell a logical story, but instead can be characterized as brilliantly vague metaphors that combine with the mood of the music to create vivid images and emotions.

"See the sky about to rain,

broken clouds and rain,

locomotive pull a train,

whistle blowin' through my brain.

Signals curlin' on an open plain,

rollin' down the track again,

see the sky about to rain."

These lyrics, which make up the chorus, are a perfect example, as well as the man who breaks Neil's silver fiddle. The harmonica solo towards the end sounds like it's played by a desolate cowboy, alone on the trail at night in the middle of a long haul.

"Revolution Blues" takes the mood from slightly depressing to downright creepy. This is where the influence of country fiddler Rusty Kershaw can first really be heard (Rusty was brought along for the sessions thanks to Ben Keith, who thought he would be perfect. His main contribution might be making "mudslides" - a mixture of marijuana and honey fried in a pan - throughout the recording and keeping Neil and everyone high as a kite). Not that he plays anything on the track, but after the first take where Rusty (who had been hanging out in the studio freaking out David Crosby who plays rhythm guitar) felt they hadn't captured the right feeling, he started throwing stuff around yelling "this don't sound like no revolution!" The very next take is the one you hear here, done while Rusty writhed around to the music on the ground, like some kind of big hairy snake. Whatever the case, it seems to have worked. Neil's vocal is perfectly spooky, singing as if he were Manson himself. Much of the lyrics I can only guess consist of ideas that Neil heard from Charlie directly, hanging out with him in the `60's, before the murders of course.

"Well I'm a barrel of laughs with my carbine on

I keep em hopping till my ammunition's gone

But I'm still not happy, I feel there's something wrong.

I got the revolution blues

I see bloody fountains and ten million dune buggies comin down the mountain.

Well I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars

But I hate them worse than lepers

And I'll kill them in their cars."

The song starts off in A minor, and stays there pretty much the whole time, providing the perfect tone. Levon Helm and Rick Danko are on top form on bass and drums.

"For the Turnstiles" follows, and at first seems like a complete curveball. It starts out with Neil accompanying himself on banjo, singing and playing as if this were `Tonight's the Night.' "For the Turnstiles" could only be described as sounding like a couple of Appalacian rednecks, a fourth of a bottle deep into some strong moonshine, sitting on a back porch and haphazardly strumming away their troubles. Ben Keith adds what could be called a vocal harmony during the chorus, which really is a far cry from the layered CSNY sound, but I wouldn't have replaced it with anything cause it works perfectly. Ben also joins in on dobro following the first chorus, as well as a great slide solo later on. Here we find Neil loathing the upcoming `74 arena tour with CSN, as well as throwing in details of a party he went to with Ben which was a bash thrown by some local pimps (which must have been great for business).

"All the sailors with their seasick mamas,

Hear the sirens on the shore.

Singing songs for pimps with tailors,

Who charge ten dollars at the door."

"Vampire Blues" is the only song with "blues" in the title that actually sounds anything like a conventional blues tune. It's here in the middle of the album that we're riding right back in the `Tonight's the Night' ditch. Neil sings "good times are comin, I hear it everywhere I go/good times are comin, but they sure comin slow." "Vampire Blues" also boasts a solo in which Neil plays the same note about 40 times in a row and makes it sound brilliant.

"On the Beach" is a song like none other in Neil's career. The apocalyptic tone is not unlike the tone Bob Dylan would adopt much, much later for such epics as "Ain't Talkin" and "Highlands" where, ironically, Bob mentions listening to Neil Young. With lines like "the world is turnin, I hope it don't turn away" and "I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day/though my problems are meaningless, that don`t make them go away" it's clear that the surface brightness of "Walk On" hasn't completely obliterated the cloud over Neil's head. Graham Nash, generally considered the squarest member of CSNY, contributes haunting Wurlitzer piano.

Rusty Kershaw finally enters the scene on "Motion Pictures (for Carrie)." His slide guitar accompaniment completely makes the song, so it should come as a shock that it was completely improvised. According to the story, Rusty had never heard the song before. His only request was that he sit real close to Neil while playing, so as to "feel the vibe." Lyrically, Neil again takes a few lines to put his detractors in their place:

"I hear some people have got their dreams

well I've got mine...

all those people, they think they got it made

but I wouldn't buy, sell, borrow, or trade

anything I have

to be like one of them

I'd rather start all over again"

He also takes time out to talk direct to girlfriend Carrie Snodgress

"I'm deep inside myself, but I'll get out somehow

And I'll stand before you,

And I'll bring a smile,

To your eyes..."

Rusty is again in fine form on the epic acoustic folk ballad "Ambulance Blues", adding improvised fiddle to Neil's classic acoustic guitar and harmonica combo. The nine minute song covers practically everything under the sun. The opening is about Neil's "old folky days" in Canada where he played in clubs such as the Riverboat, which was an actual riverboat named Isabella. He seems to make it clear that he's nearly over his ditch period when he sings

"I guess I'll call it sickness gone,

It's hard to say the meaning of this song.

An ambulance can only go so fast,

It's easy to get buried in the past,

When you try to make a good thing last."

Neil then goes on in the next verse to mention the Patty Hearst kidnapping, as well as voicing another attack on music critics, this time blasting them for deriding his last few albums when they have never even tried to do what he does. The last verse (about the man who "tells so many lies") is almost definitely about Nixon. Perhaps the song could cumulatively be looked at as a eulogy for the death of the sixties. The anti-war hippies are now the "burn-outs who stub their toes on garbage pails" and the "waitress's are cryin' in the rain" wondering "will their boyfriends pass this way again" aka will they make it home from Vietnam alive. The Mother Goose reference could easily be a metaphor describing the so-called "American dream" as a fairy tale dream that we`ve since woken up from. Whatever the meaning, "Ambulance Blues" is easily up there on the same level as "Desolation Row" and other similar works of art. One of the greatest, most mesmerizing songs Neil has ever recorded.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2003
Many albums were left behind during the CD revolution of the early 90s, but few as well-respected as Neil Young's On the Beach. Last month, the 1974 album was issued on CD for the first time, along with five other of Young's "lost albums." The long absences of the other five can be attributed to their being more or less low points in Young's catalogue, yet many critics and fans consider On the Beach one of his best efforts, making its former "lost album" status a source of curiosity (and outrage for Young diehards). Regardless of why Young shelved On the Beach or why he restored it, fans should delight in the return of this exceptional album.
Like its sister album, 1975's Tonight's the Night (recorded before it, but released after it and, strangely enough, always available on CD), On the Beach is fascinatingly bleak. The mood on both these albums is often attributed to Young's anger and sadness over the drug-related deaths of roadie Bruce Berry and Crazy Horse guitarist, Danny Whitten. But On the Beach is more the sound of Young letting it all out. He offers deep confessionals regarding everything from his break-up with actress, Carrie Snodgrass ("Motion Pictures") to his rows with Lynyrd Skynyrd and other detractors ("Walk On") to his one-time acquaintance with Charles Manson ("Revolution Blues"). Other songs are less specific, such as "Ambulance Blues," a scathing, drunken-sounding indictment of just about everything and the title track, a day-in-the-life account of a rock star who feels dead inside. The pure weight of the subject matter and the openness with which it is addressed is one of the facets that makes On the Beach so outstanding.
Another is the fact that Young, like John Lennon on Plastic Ono Band, realizes that a gloomy album is necessarily have a quiet one. There is an electric undercurrent across On the Beach that is sometimes vigorous ("Walk On"), sometimes subdued ("See the Sky About to Rain") but almost always present. Young even manages a blues number ("Vampire Blues") and a lively bluegrass romp ("For the Turnstiles"). Regardless of the dynamism of the music, though, the lyrical theme remains strife and heartache, sung about with an intensity and frankness that are rare. It is great to have this album back.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2003
This album has been talked about so much amongst my friends that it has almost reached mythic proportions. Upon my first listen I understood why.
Walk on By - Featured on Decade, and the album's opener. What an opener it is. If this one doesn't have you tapping your foot I don't know what will.
See The Sky About To Rain- A solid track. Not my favorite song, but good enough to be on this album.
Revolution Blues- An answer to Lynrd Skynrd's 'Sweet Home Alabama' which called out Neil Young's 'Southern Man'.
For The Turnstiles- Also featured on decade. A classic folksy tune, with a banjo accentuating the vocals.
Vampire Blues- It's apparent that a lot must have been on Neil's mind around this time and it shows on this song. With so much going on around him it's released here.
On The Beach- The title track is probably my sleeper favorite on this album.
Motion Pictures- A great folky tune
Ambulance Blues- Wow! Who knew that this album would finish up with Neil unleashing this atom bomb of a song? This song is just too beautiful to describe.
That's it in a nutshell. Also, don't be turned off by the fact that this album has been out of print for so long. This album is very accesible by all, and ranks right up there with Harvest and Everybody Knows this is No Where in terms of great albums.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Of the four albums from Neil Young's back catalog finally being released on CD in August 2003, "On The Beach" is by far the most sparkling jewel of the lot. Neil's fan's having been waiting a long, long time for this great album to get a CD release. My old vinyl copy sounds like hell after all these years, so I jumped on this the day it was released. (In fact I jumped on all four of the reissues the day they were released, but the other three do not come close to "On The Beach".) I don't even know where to start in singing its praises. Every song is good, most are great, "Walk On" and "Revolution Blues" are fine rockers, "See The Sky About To Rain" is lovely, and "Vampire Blues" takes a great swipe at the oil industry. ("I'm a vampire baby, sucking blood from the earth. I'm a vampire baby, sell you twenty barrels worth".) But it is on the later, quieter songs that the album shines the brightest. The final three songs, "On The Beach", "Motion Pictures", and "Ambulance Blues" are simply stunning. I rank this album as being in the top three or four in Neil's long, illustrious career. No fan should be without it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2003
If you're a fan of Neil Young, you've probably been waiting for this album to be available on CD for just as long as I have, and you certainly don't need me to tell you it's one of his best. Well, here it is, and it's every bit as good as you remember.
This album and its companions took some critical hits at the time of their releases because so much of the world wanted Neil to keep releasing _Harvest_ again and again. But as he wrote in his liner notes for _Decade_, when he found himself in the middle of the road with "Heart of Gold", he got so bored he headed straight for the ditch. He might have added that that's where he wrote some of his best stuff.
I used to have this on eight-track[!]; I haven't heard it in at least fifteen years and I still found myself singing along with it from memory. The lovely "See the Sky About to Rain" is worth the (unusually low) price of the entire CD, and "Ambulance Blues" is another of my favorites. But this is just a great, great album from beginning to end.
Too bad it took so long, but it was worth the wait. Thanks, Neil.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2003
I've had a copy of this album for awhile, dubbed from well worn vinyl. Upon listening for the first time, the very first thought to enter my mind was "why in God's name is this no longer available?" This album is nothing less than a masterpiece. A slow, gloomy masterpiece of despair, but a masterpiece none the less. Sure its no surprise that "On The Beach" didn't do well on its initial release - it wasn't "Harvest", and his newfound pop fans hadn't the faintest idea what Neil was capable of. But "Tonight's The Night" had a similarly lukewarm reception, and it later became one of his most loved albums, while "On The Beach" seemed undeservedly destined for obscurity. "Tonight's The Night" is a fantastic album, but "On The Beach" is every bit as essential, if not superior. Buy it. Buy it now.
This new remastered edition sounds fantastic, its amazing what they can do these days in the restoration of older recordings. Its about time this fine album was made available, and the fact that it now sounds better than ever certainly doesn't hurt.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2003
This is surely the most long-awaited CD release of any album in the classic rock canon. Those of us who have long testified to the sheer power of the songs on this downbeat, chilling and unforgettable set could never understand why 'Harvest' was rated so highly by comparison.
'On The Beach' showcases Neil Young's songwriting at its most bitter and at its most beautiful. The funereal Ambulance Blues is the most savage indictment of the cynicism and disillusionment of the post-hippy Nixon-era of the mid-1970s.
"I never knew a man who could tell so many lies. He had a different story for every set of eyes," Neil wails. And then the clincher line which sums up the sense of impotence of many old idealists at that time "You're all just pissin' in the wind. You don't know it, but you are. And there ain't nothin' like a friend......who can tell you you're just pissin' in the wind."
But that's not all. On 'Vampire Blues', Young serves up an acute and angry observation of 'oil crisis' Middle East politics as you are ever likely to hear and one that rings just as true today under the Bush administration.
'On the Beach' is not all anger though. 'See the Sky About to Rain' is one of the most lyrical and beautiful country songs Young ever wrote, with a stunning arrangement. 'Walk On' is a song at once fondly remembering the old and more simple days, while making a plea to move on. "I remember the good old days," Neil sings, "stayed up all night, getting crazed."
This album, for me, sums up the vacuum of the mid-1970s better than any other. But what makes it a classic is that it carries just as powerful a message today - lost idealism, estrangement and the search for personal redemption. All of it is there - 'On the Beach'
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