On The Beach

Album: On The Beach (1974)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • 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.

Comments: 2

  • Gabor from Szekesfehervar, HungaryI love this song!
  • Beagle from Bilbao"I need a crowd of people," Young laments, "but I can't face them day to day."
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Frankie Valli

Frankie ValliSong Writing

An interview with Frankie Valli, who talks about why his songs - both solo and with The Four Seasons - have endured, and reflects on his time as Rusty Millio on The Sopranos.

Michael Sweet of Stryper

Michael Sweet of StryperSongwriter Interviews

Find out how God and glam metal go together from the Stryper frontman.

Band Names

Band NamesFact or Fiction

Was "Pearl" Eddie Vedder's grandmother, and did she really make a hallucinogenic jam? Did Journey have a contest to name the group? And what does KISS stand for anyway?

Rick Springfield

Rick SpringfieldSongwriter Interviews

Rick has a surprising dark side, a strong feminine side and, in a certain TV show, a naked backside. But he still hasn't found Jessie's Girl.

Chris Isaak

Chris IsaakSongwriter Interviews

Chris tells the story of "Wicked Game," talks milkshakes and moonpies at Sun Records, and explains why women always get their way.

Timothy B. Schmit

Timothy B. SchmitSongwriter Interviews

The longtime Eagle talks about soaring back to his solo career, and what he learned about songwriting in the group.