On The Beach
The second installment in Young’s “Ditch Trilogy”, On The Beach is restrained compared to the ragged Time Fades Away and Tonight’s The Night, yet it’s the most effective of the three. The raw catharsis of those records is largely gone, and instead there’s an eerie, world-weary calm. Backing musicians include David Crosby on rhythm guitar, Graham Nash on Wurlitzer, Rusty Kershaw, and The Band’s rhythm section, as well as assorted members of Crazy Horse and the Stray Gators.
The first side of the record is devoted to shorter songs, and it’s the first three that stand out musically – ‘Walk On’ is a bouncy riposte to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, ‘See The Sky About The Rain’ is a gorgeous ballad based around Young’s electric piano riffing, while the startling ‘Revolution Blues’ finds Young entering the character of an unhinged Charles Manson figure. His delivery of the final frightening verse, “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,” is one of the most memorable moments of his career, while the Danko and Helm rhythm section puts in a compelling performance. The second side is dedicated to three excellent slow and weary pieces – the highlight is the weary ‘Ambulance Blues’, with its sombre violin, which gently unfolds over almost nine minutes.
While On The Beach isn’t one of Young’s most accessible albums, it’s easily one of his most consistent and it captures a mood of mature resignation that’s not a common feature in rock and roll.