The Surrealism of Neil Young's "On The Beach" Album
Neil Young's "On The Beach" album cover is considered to be one of his most creative and intriguing designs in his vast catalog.
It would seem that many of his album covers have a rather tossed off feel. For example, the "Living With War" cover is literally stenciled letters on a brown paper bag. In contrast, "On The Beach" album is meticulously designed right down to the inside of the album jacket matching the pattern of the inside of the umbrella on the cover.
"On The Beach" -- the final link of Neil Young's Ditch Trilogy -- is considered by many fans to be one of his best and their most favorite of all Neil Young album covers and artwork. Designed by Gary Burden, photographed by Bob Seideman, and graphic lettering by Rick Griffin, the cover is quite enigmatic with a Cadillac car fin jutting from the sand like a crashed rocket being buried by time. A shoeless Neil stares out into the ocean near a forlorn potted palm. A jaunty yellow beach umbrella matches Neil's jacket. The yellow theme is even continued with a Coors beer can on the table. Inside the album, things become even more crpytic with the album's liner notes. Fans have poured over Rusty Kershaw's strange handwritten note for clues and meaning often to no avail. Apparently, the recording sessions' heavy use of Honey Slides took a toll ... possibly to the creative sides' benefit?
But probably the most significant item on the cover is the newspaper's headline "Senator Buckley Calls for Nixon to Resign". (Young and Nixon have had a bitter and strange relationship over the years. From "Ohio" 's lyrics "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming" to "Campaigner's" lines "Even Richard Nixon has got soul", Neil has never made a secret of his feelings towards U.S. President Richard Nixon.)
Which brings us to the rather fascinating article ON THE BEACH – Dali, Ballard, Neil Young and Cadillac Ranch | THE END OF BEING by James Reich.
The article brings together a series of unlikely events in 1974 between surrealist artist Salvador Dali, author J. G. Ballard, and musician Neil Young.
If you're unfamiliar with the post-nuclear apocalypse vision of Nevil Shute’s 1958 novel On The Beach (filmed by Stanley Kramer in 1959), than the article will help place Young's album in some perspective.
Ballard's followup novel The Drought was released in paperback in 1974 with David Pelham's cover art of the tail end of a yellow Cadillac part-submerged into the desert.
James Reich analyzes the connections between the surrealism of Dali, Pelham & Griffin:
Uncannily, Pelham’s yellow Cadillac in the sand resurfaces in July 1974 in psychedelic poster artist Rick Griffin’s cover art for Neil Young’s album On The Beach.
Psychedelic art, even in a generalized sense, is indebted to surrealism, and this image makes specific use of its currency. The image and angle of the Cadillac tail in Griffin’s surreal photograph are strikingly close to Pelham’s illustration, and this is also the work that further binds Pelham’s work to Ballard’s fascination with Dali's The Persistence of Memory.
The melting watches and the dead tree of Dali’s 1931 painting are represented by the forlorn angle of a fringed beach umbrella over the disarray of a cocktail table that Young has abandoned to contemplate oblivion at the limit of the beach. The orange flowers printed on the fabric of the beach furniture, their particular shade and shape allude to Dali’s closed watch, swarmed with ants. The windblown newspaper wrapped about the base of the umbrella (headline calling for the resignation of Richard Nixon which would occur the following month) again marks the end of chronology. Dali’s Catalonian cliffs (absent from Pelham’s image for The Drought) are referenced in the indistinct coastline visible on the right of the record sleeve photograph.
Neil Young’s ragged hair replaces the pubic eyelashes of Dali’s abortive creature on the beach. Alienation and holocaust pervade the album from Young’s solitary abandonment during a radio interview in the title track, to the Manson Family allusions and autogeddon of Revolution Blues: “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.”
Check out ON THE BEACH – Dali, Ballard, Neil Young and Cadillac Ranch | THE END OF BEING by James Reich.
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