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Tuesday, November 01, 2022

The Essentials: On the Beach by Neil Young | The Old Grey Cat

Tracks On The Beach 
by Neil Young
(Click photo to enlarge)


Here is a look back at some of the earliest reviews of the essential Neil Young album "On the Beach".

From The Essentials: On the Beach by Neil Young | The Old Grey Cat:

Rolling Stone magazine lauded it upon its release (and has since ranked it the 311th greatest album of all time). Jack Garner of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, in his 8/16/74 review, called it “a strong, complete and exciting record.” Across the pond, in the Bracknell and Ascot Times, Geoff Thompson agreed, though he thought it had a listening curve: “On the Beach is an album that takes quite a bit of getting into, but once you are in, there’s no escaping.” A few decades later, in a capsule review that I posted to the original Old Grey Cat website in the late 1990s, I called it “a grim realization (or is that acceptance) of life, circa 1974.”

It reflects the moment when the fantasies of youth give way to self-doubt (if not self-recrimination). On the Neil Young Archives, Neil himself wrote, “Looking back on this album, somehow it makes me feel sad remembering that part of my life.” (It may be why he allowed the LP to go out of print in the early ‘80s and waited until 2003 for it to be issued on CD.)


The original (red) Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979), I should mention, gave On the Beach two stars but no mention in John Swenson’s half page take on Neil’s oeuvre. For the 1983 (blue) edition, rock curmudgeon Dave Marsh elbowed Swenson to the side and rewrote (and expanded) the discography. The two stars remained, but a sentence description was added: “[T]his album’s apocalyptic prophecy is rendered all but unlistenable by Young’s grating, whining delivery.” (He gives Tonight’s the Night five stars and a paragraph of praise, however, so all’s forgiven.)

In a similar vein, L.A. Times rock scribe Robert Hilburn wrote in his August 27, 1974, review “[T]he tone of the new album is drab, sullen, isolated.” Newsday’s Robert Christgau, too, found little to like: “Something in the obsessiveness of this music is easy to dislike and something in its thinness hard to enjoy.” (He spent the bulk of the review praising Time Fades Away so, as with Marsh, forgive him his misjudgment.)

(I share those sentiments simply because I enjoy digging into what I like to call “the first draft of history.” It takes time for critical consensus to congeal, after all.)

Thanks OGC! Definitely essential Neil, for sure.  Also, we enjoy your digs into “the first draft of history.” Agree, yes, it sometimes takes decades -- if not more -- for critical consensus to congeal. And somewhat ironically, you know what Neil had to say about critics and pissin' in the wind ...

More  on The Essentials: On the Beach by Neil Young | The Old Grey Cat.


More on the essential Neil Young album "On the Beach": 

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At 11/01/2022 01:55:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

No, all is not forgiven. Dave Marsh clearly had a problem with Neil Young that went beyond the quality of his music. I recall reading several articles where Marsh's bias was clearly in evidence. At the time, when I was much younger, I thought the cause might be in Marsh's own desire to be someone like Neil Young: highly creative, determined, and something of a legend (already). I now see those previous thoughts as groundless as I really know nothing about Marsh. But there needs to be some explanation for his bias.

I recently read a review of Cormac McCarthy's new novels in Salon magazine: same sort of overt bias. It is hard to write real criticism, at least something that does not collapse into one's own political agenda, social proclivities or whatever.

At 11/02/2022 11:15:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Abner, It raises fundamental questions about the nature of criticism. What does criticism mean (or even what is it?) without reference to something external to both the object (text) and the critic? Is such distance even humanly possible? Are all external referents equally an “agenda”? is an agenda always bad?

On a lighter note, the description of OtB as “whiny” is funny. And then five stars for TtN. have heard the TtN version of Mellow my Mind, right? Words like jagged and strained don’t begin to explain the sound.

At 11/02/2022 11:17:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Finally I think it underlines the difference between commercial reviews and in-depth criticism.

At 11/02/2022 01:08:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Yes, MR, no doubt- comment was made without various qualifications about criticism. What I was trying to say is very simple, Marsh has what is analogous to a cognitive bias when it comes to Neil Young. The bias interferes with the real substance of criticism, which is not to say we can achieve a view from nowhere.

At 11/02/2022 03:46:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Even if we could get “view from nowhere”, how useful, meaningful, or even enjoyable would it be? But I digress. Yes, the bias is detrimental to the extent that Marsh ends up reviewing the person rather than the music, not a helpful exercise generally.

At 11/02/2022 08:19:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

MR- pure aesthetic criteria deduced from Plato's forms!!! Ha ha ha.

I think there are "axioms" for interpretation and criticism, but they are contingent and subject to revision- hence the scare quotes.

I have to get back to some papers on literature. My whole life for the last year all about environmental philosophy and the fight against big ag in the midwest. And the fight is a losing battle. One only hopes we can win the war.

At 11/03/2022 04:58:00 PM, Blogger Kevin D. said...

"The Essentials" well said Old Grey Cat and another great article by our favorite cat. On The Beach was the third maybe fourth Neil album I bought after the triple play of EKTIN, AGT and Harvest. To say it was a surprise was an under statement. Truth be told after that initial triple play I was more than a little confused lets say after my first play of this wonderful album. With each listen I got deeper into it and for me it truly is an essential album. One of the first things I remember noticing when I bought the album second hand around 1975 or so was the pattern from the underside of the umbrella is on the inside of the record cover (not gate fold) but the back side of the actual record cover normally cardboard. Nice touch! All the folks I played it too never gave it to much thought as their view was it was a downer to listen to. To each their own the more I played the more I agreed with Rusty Kershaw's comment on the inner sleeve - " there is good music in this album". As the years went by I also invested in the DVD-A which saves my album from too much abuse. With the gallery scrolling and the music playing and a brew by my side - life is good. No honey slides necessary but always an option.

So take advantage of this time before the mother load of Harvest 50 comes out in December and follow the Old Grey Cat's advice and give this album a spin, you won't regret it.

Kevin D. in Morro Bay


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