Life Ain’t Nothing But Beaches And Money

What’s a beach all about then? a holiday, somewhere to shrug aside the daily grind and have fun – not this one; somewhere the sand, the sky and the sea converge reminding you how insignificant you are – yeah, to a point; somewhere the road runs out, an edge that stops you running any further from your problems forcing you to think about them, to chronicle them if you have that creative bent – definitely.  Neil Young On The Beach is all this astringent bleakness and more; ‘Beach with a silent ‘L”, my dad said to me – it took me about a year to get that one*.

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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.

I love Neil Young when he takes it to the edge and just kicks it on into overdrive from there, zero fucks given.  This he does to great effect on ‘Revolution Blues’, a song I have become completely and utterly consumed by recently.  Sounding heavier than a lot of thrash metal bands Neil mainlines the paranoia and mistrust swilling around the post Manson L.A landscape – guns, marginal folk and frosted nostrils all feed into the empty, murderous mood.

Well, it’s so good to be here, asleep on your lawn.
Remember your guard dog? Well, I’m afraid that he’s gone.
It was such a drag to hear him whining all night long

Just at this point Neil howls a little, this makes the album for me.  Just that.  Bottled dread.

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It can beggar belief sometimes that On The Beach was the 1974 follow up studio album to Harvest^, old Neil found the flip side of fame and fortune pretty darn fast.  Either that or he was a strong cynical son-of-a-bitch with a cast iron sense of self that brooked no deviation from his vision and could see the pot holes strewn in his way.  Just slip ‘Ambulance Blues’ on for a near 9-minute mediation on a career in music, it drips with despair and extra harmonica but he pulls off a neat trick keeping it all somehow very listenable and light.

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Rarely has an LP cover fitted the music as well as On The Beach too.  From memory Young sorted the cover out himself in a huff because his record company weren’t up to it.  The iconic half-buried fender was from his collection of automotive bits and bobs and the table and chairs somehow just fit the mood perfectly, as a bootless long-haired Young stares into the sea contemplating all sorts of deeply alienated shit.  Something about the washed-out colours just hits right.  My spiffy recent reissue even has the fabric pattern printed inside the sleeve – that’s why I buy records.

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It all started so jauntily too with ‘Walk On’, which is such a great little tune, a totally throwaway meditation on outgrowing friends, respectability and reputation.  There is just something great about how bouncy and inconsequential it all is compared to what follows later on, some excellent country rock playing from Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina too.  ‘Some get stoned, some get strange / But sooner or later it all gets real’.  Amen to that Neil.

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There are days when I would pick ‘See The Sky About To Rain’ off with sniper fire for being a touch too saccharine, but it is undercut by Young’s voice and I really can’t get enough of his Wurlitzer piano playing either, so it gets to survive, this time.  Plus it is a perfect foil for ‘Revolution Blues’ and adds so much to On The Beach just on that level.  Old Neil is back to his querulous, spare best on the excellent ‘For The Turnstiles’, the banjo and dobro mofo combo is every bit as great as his vocal harmonies with Ben Keith – I’m still not totally sure what it’s about, I’ll plump for a cynical take on the manner in which people behave en masse**.  A lot of days this is my favourite track on the album.

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All this and the preceding eco lament of ‘Vampire Blues’ (featuring some great organ playing by the excellent Ben Keith) is just a breezy chuckle compared to the genius title track, a quietly spaced meditation on fame and fortune (the occasional shitness, thereof) that makes ‘Tonight’s The Night’ sound like ‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!’.  I have to say I love songs by successful, wealthy artists I admire that tell you how unhappy your adulation and hard-earned is making them; it makes me happier about my ‘decision’ not to be wildly successful and wealthy myself – I clearly dodged a bullet there, clever me.  The melody of ‘On The Beach’ just pierces me somehow, bypassing all my defences and striking unerringly at all the soft mushy emotional bits of myself that I keep hidden away from general view^^

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There are whole worlds of experience to sink yourself into here, not many of them very positive but I agree with the review I once read of On The Beach that basically said something along the lines that it was an album crafted in and from despair and disgust but not of those things.  There’s no sense of succumbing to the spiralling existential angst here, which I would chalk up to Mr Young’s legendary cussedness; no matter how strange or stoned it all was, he was ready for when it all got real.

That’s what makes a great album.

865 Down.

PS:  Some pictures from a real life beach on Friday.  Llanfairfechan, since you ask. No filters used on these two pix:

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LLanfairfechan July 2018 02

*to save you 365 days, here.

**but don’t take my word on that, you mindless sheep – it may be about boiled eggs for all I know.

^I’m simplifying his discography a bit here, Time Fades Away fans and ignoring the fact that Tonight’s The Night was recorded earlier, but released later than On The Beach too.  What’s the point of facts if you don’t get to bend them like a guitar string occasionally?

^^here I was wallowing along in it a few minutes ago, sinking into mellow reflection and Mrs 1537 said ‘What is this old, whiney shit you’re playing?’ no soul, that one.

33 thoughts on “Life Ain’t Nothing But Beaches And Money

  1. Good nod to a good record. I have a few lyrics (quite a few) that are in my head and pop up out of nowhere at odd times. Two of the most frequent are :
    “”I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra snake for a necktie”. “I hear some people been talkin me down ..”

  2. When the hubs and I got married, we mixed a cd for our wedding party that included…of all things, Walk On by Neil. Very true story! It really spoke to us, where we were in our life, the changing mature relationships with our parents, let alone childhood and current friends. To quote Neil: “You can’t be 20 on sugar mountain”…tell me about it…but sooner or later it all gets real!

  3. I tip my hat to you, sir. This is wonderful… all sorts of wonderful, too. Words, the record covered (my favourite of his, but I’ve yet to pick it up on vinyl), and the pictures. I’m away to listen to my CD copy (don’t hold it against me, I’ll get the big black plastic disc soon enough).

    1. Thanks J, I’m a fairly recent convert to this one. I picked mine up in HMV for not very much cash (£16 or so). I play it a lot at the moment.

      1. £16 is a most excellent price. I may very well make it the first album I purchase when I get back to buying after the whole move thing, as it’s way up there for me (though there is a chance I’ll get the new LaneGarwood first).

  4. Absolutely one of my favorite Neil albums alongside Tonight’s The Night. And, given Neil is one of my favorite artists it goes without saying that both rank among my favorite albums ever. Side 2, in particular, is flawless. “Motion Pictures” is my go-to song when I am in a sad mood, and “Ambulance Blues” is simply epic. It is sort of amazing how a nine-minute vocal-and-guitar dirge never gets tired. It could go on forever. And I love “See The Sky About to Rain”; it is one of his prettiest songs, I guess I love some me some saccharine, as this is not the first time I have heard someone refer to the songs like that.

    I remember that when I wrote about this record I also mentioned how the “beach” where Neil is here is not the one of Summer good times, but a place of contemplation. Glad we are on the same page!

    1. Hi Matt, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of saccharine if that fits your mood.

      Funny, Motion Pictures doesn’t really move me much, but everything else does. I’m really fixated on the title track right now.

      It’s not going to tip Ragged Glory off the top spot for me, but I do love this one now.

      1. Ragged Glory is an epic. It is a worthy choice for his best work. Neil and the boys having a blast and playing some loud garage rock in the barn.

        Too bad. I really love Motion Picture. The title great is great indeed.

  5. I love your wife’s line as well of “What is this old, whiney shit you’re playing”. That was how I used to feel about Neil…used to. I can appreciate his whiney shit now. This is one I missed so I will check it out. Great post!

  6. Never even heard of this album…
    Sounds like OL Neil rolled up and toked a bunch and pushed record!
    Great writeup as its always neat to read about some CanCon….

  7. Really, really well done, this. Wallowing along in it myself at the moment, so will just note that I’ve been listening to On the Beach on repeat for the last 90 minutes or so, an action that hopefully speaks louder than further written words would, err, speak.

    1. Thank you. If you spin this more than 3 times in a row then expect a medical intervention, there’s wallowing and there’s wallowing.

      From memory I think you’re a little short on beaches in Arizona aren’t you?

  8. PS. Love 1537 in the beach photo and glad he found his girl further on down the, er beach (even though she doesn’t like whiney shit. Nor does Ms Connection).

    That’s ‘unforgivable’ in the last para, btw.

  9. A classic slab of the ol’ 1537 here.

    Some lovely phrases (“somewhere the sand, the sky and the sea converge reminding you how insignificant you are”), a surge of rage (“zero fucks given”), some vinyl fetishism (the cover) and excellent coverage of the album (though personally, I reckon side two is a bit weak).

    Oh, and an outrageous piece of history revisionism.

    Skipping over ‘Time Fades Away’ to suit a wafer thin thesis is absolutely unforgeable and no half-assed apology will suffice. Punishment? The link below to a suitable redress, written by a brilliant antipodean who respects facts.

    1. Thank you Bruce, I enjoyed doing this one – which is a comparatively new LP to me, I only discovered it a couple of years back.

      Jeez, that’s a bit of a steep punishment don’t you think? I loved that piece, the oversized lyric sheet intrigues me to this very day.

      1. He said something about the sound quality of CDs – but generally otherwise it was his weaker albums from the period that stayed unreleased, so it was weird.

    1. Not at all, I’m not getting honey all over my mini figures all over again. I actually do have an LP where I would consider dripping honey onto my Lego. maybe one day.

      I hear the dobro line is fast becoming your catchphrase.

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