On The Beach

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  • The title track of Neil Young's fifth album, "On The Beach" finds him contemplating the nature of his fame and discussing the inner turmoil he feels because of his success.

    "I need a crowd of people," Young laments, "but I don't need them every day." This simple line clearly illustrates a conflict that seems to have tormented Young since his earliest days as a rock star. He yearns for an audience sometimes, but intensely wants to be left alone at others. He wants to be rich and famous, yet he also wants to be a regular guy and seems to have always suffered guilt around money. Through it all, he resists the reality that all fame and anonymity are mutually exclusive, and no amount of bewailing is going to change that.
  • Another revealing line in the song is:

    Though my problems are meaningless
    That don't make them go away


    The thought reflects a common problem reported by dissatisfied stars: they know they are supposed to be happy because they have what most people are after, but this only compounds their own guilt and depression.

    After Young explores these feelings and his fear that the world is "turning away" from him, he ends with the decision to "head for the sticks" with his "bus and friends." This has been Young's go-to escape throughout his career.
  • The song features representatives from every key landmark in Young's career to that point. In addition to Stray Gator Ben Keith on hand drums, there's Ralph Molina of Crazy Horse playing drums and Graham Nash of CSN&Y on electric piano.

    It's intriguing to imagine that Young assembled this cast consciously for this song about musical fame, but Young has never said anything to validate the idea. As with Rockets guitarist George Whitsell performing on "Vampire Blues," Young's reasoning for selecting backing musicians is a mystery.
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