Neil Young On The Beach

Revolution Blues by Neil Young

It sucks to be me, but I’ve just spent most of the last week at a work conference at a Thailand beach resort. This week’s selection is from Neil Young’s 1974 album On The Beach, while it’s also a commentary on Charles Manson, who passed away a few weeks ago.

‘Revolution Blues’ wasn’t a single, but it’s one of Young’s most beloved deep cuts. While Young was going through personal turmoil in his mid 1970s ‘Ditch Trilogy’, struggling with the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry, ‘Revolution Blues’ is a character song, from the perspective of an extremely nasty character. In some ways it’s difficult to love this song, given how distasteful the subject matter is; the Laurel Canyon reference clearly pins it to Manson.

The fluid rhythm section of Rick Danko and Levon Helm from The Band adds a light, funky touch that contrasts with the neanderthal stomp of Crazy Horse, who would have taken the bluesy riff in another direction. As far as I know, it’s the only studio song that the trio of Young, Danko, and Helm ever collaborated on, although they also appeared together on The Band’s Last Waltz, along with Young’s infamous roto-scoped nose.

Well, we live in a trailer
at the edge of town
You never see us
’cause we don’t come around.
We got twenty five rifles
just to keep
the population down.
But we need you now,
and that’s why
I’m hangin’ ’round.
So you be good to me
and I’ll be good to you,
And in this land of conditions
I’m not above suspicion
I won’t attack you,
but I won’t back you.

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.
Yes, that was me with the doves,
setting them free
near the factory
Where you built your computer,
I hope you get the connection,
’cause I can’t take
the rejection
I won’t deceive you,
I just don’t believe you.

Well, I’m a barrel of laughs,
with my carbine on
I keep ’em hoppin’,
till my ammunition’s gone.
But I’m still not happy,
I feel like
there’s something wrong.
I got the revolution blues,
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.


  1. One of my favorite tracks by Neil, and On The Beach is certainly my favorite album of his. Well, I actually keep going back and forth between it and Tonight’s the Night, but it is certainly one of the two!

  2. Strange that a song inspired by Charles Manson should be almost light relief on an album, but this one lollops along with a distinctly Youngish chord sequence and lead guitar ramblings where much of the rest bubbles quietly in a morass of despair. “I’m a barrel of laughs with my carbine on” indeed.

    • It does have a sense of humour as well. I’ve always found See The Sky About To Rain relaxed, and Walk On is positive. It’s happier than the other “ditch” records.

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