Weeks into the big Crosby Stills Nash and Young reunion tour, Neil Young released On The Beach, an album he described as "probably one of the most depressing records I've ever made". Early reviewers seemed to agree. The album failed to make the Pazz and Jop Critics Poll that year. When the record industry entered the CD age, On the Beach was one of the few albums Neil Young didn't bother to release to disc. Until 2003.
"It was only a reflection of what I was going through at the time." Young shrugged when he was asked why the album hadn't come out.
It was something America was going through at the time. The hippie dream was over. It ended in a series of massacres conducted by Charlie Manson and his followers. It ended in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. The drug overdoses of young artists and musicians. In the uptick of the divorce rate. The disillusionment of rock stardom and despair over various political crises from the Oil embargoes to Watergate.
And Neil was closer to a lot of that shit than most of us.
He'd met Manson at Dennis Wilson's house.
And , though he didn't it know at the time he wrote "Motion Pictures ( "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") he and wife Carrie Snodgrass weren't going to save their marriage. He was a man standing alone on a Malibu beach.
"Vampire Blues" takes on the oil industry "suckin' blood from the earth".
"For the Turnstiles" is about moving merchandise and "Singing songs for pimps with tailors/who charge ten dollars at the door".
But the highlight, for me at least, is "Revolution Blues", the darkest song to come out of LA since Jim Morrison got fat and moved to France. Though Manson and his family are not mentioned by name, the lyrics could have come from a letter left on his doorstep by homicidal hippies camping on his lawn.
I see bloody fountains,
And ten million dune buggies comin' down the mountains.
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.
No doubt that Young had met his shared of confused, unwashed people who discovered secret personal messages in his lyrics. It reminds me of John Lennon's meeting with a starry eyed hippie in England:
"So we met. I'm just a guy. I write songs".
Maybe it's no coincidence, an NME editor compared On the Beach to Lennon's primal scream therapy era. On the Beach is certainly on of the first 5 Neil Young albums you should own.