“Given my age at the time (barely fifteen), Neil Young’s On The Beach is definitely one of my earliest (and oddest) album length crushes. And being cool had nothing to do with it. It was just one of those difficult teen summers, stuck visiting relatives, no friends within three thousand miles, too old for little kids stuff, too young to care about adult bullshit. And yet for some reason, there was this Neil Young album kicking around my uncle’s place. I think he won it in a raffle, probably listened to the whole thing once, if at all. And to be honest, that’s probably all I would’ve given it if there’d been any other options. But there weren’t, so I dove in, with side two, the mellow side, the rich and deeply somber, dark and melancholic side, being the one that truly grabbed me over time. Though grab’s the wrong word. More of an embrace, albeit a cool one. Particularly Ambulance Blues, which really felt like the album cover: a California beach on a grey and disappointing day, patio furniture spread around, and the tail fin of a buried car, with Mr. Young way out at the water’s edge looking like he might be about to jump in, never come back. You’re all just pissing in the wind.” (Philip Random)
As the story goes, Neil Young had a peripheral connection to Charles Manson. They weren’t exactly buddies, yet there was a sort of passing amity that perhaps could only have existed in the old hippie days of 1960s Los Angeles, the weird scenes up Laurel Canyon in particular. That was before all the slaughter, of course. After which Mr. Young found a way to get his impressions into at least one song, in particular the part about getting armed to the teeth, hopping into dune buggies, then swarming down the canyon, exterminating everyone they saw, particularly all the hippie rock star types who hadn’t let Chuck join their club. Which was a scheme that he never got around to executing. There were a bunch of those.
Neil Young, reluctant rock star, still smarting from the heroin deaths of two good friends, sits on a vague beach on a vague day and plucks his banjo, waxing skeptically (if not cynically) about the nature of the game he’s playing. Apparently they were imbibing a lot of strong hemp product during the recording of this album. You’d never know.
“In which then still young Neil Young draws the obvious connection as early as 1974 between the vampire’s bloodlust and western man’s need for oil. In other words, we’re junkies, willing to kill for a fix. And kill we mostly blatantly did in 1991. And then again in 2003. No Blood For Oil said all the anti-War posters and placards, but they were missing the point. The oil was blood. It still is. And we’re still killing for it.” (Philip Random)