Revolution Blues

Album: On The Beach (1974)


  • Neil Young encountered Charles Manson when he was a "player" in the California music scene. After Manson and his "Family" committed their awful crimes, Neil wrote "Revolution Blues."

    The line, "10 million dune buggies" is a reference to Manson's plan to assemble ample forces in the Mojave desert to carry our his race war. Young describes Charles Manson as not so much of a songwriter as a "song-spewer." But he remembers actually telling record executive Mo Ostin, "This guy, he's good. He's just a little out of control." Maybe not such a good judge of character, then?

    Young was particularly impressed with Manson's musical ability. In a 1985 interview with NME, he said, "I can see these things in other people. You can see it and feel it. Manson would sing a song and just make it up as he went along, for three or four minutes, and he never would repeat one word, and it all made perfect sense and it shook you up to listen to it. It was so good that it scared you."

    According to Young, the biggest obstacle to Manson achieving fame was that he was so improvisational and unpredictable that a band wouldn't have been able to keep up with him. This was all before the murders, of course, though Young has continued to be honest about the respect he had for Manson before the terrible Helter Skelter crimes. He has insinuated at least once that many other Laurel Canyon musicians felt the same, but none would be as willing to admit to their association with one of American history's most infamous criminals.
  • Neil Young recalled the time he spent mixing with the Manson Family to The Observer Music Monthly October 2008: "Spooky times. I knew Charlie Manson. A few people were at this house on Sunset Boulevard and the people were different. I didn't know what it was; I was meeting them and he was not a happy guy but he seemed to have a hold on girls. It was the ugly side of the Maharishi. You know, there's one side of the light, nice flowers and white robes and everything, and then there's something that looks a lot like it but just isn't it at all."
  • Even though David Crosby is playing guitar here, he didn't like the song at first. According to Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Crosby cautioned Young, "Don't sing about that. It's not funny."

    Young spoke at greater length about Crosby and the public-at-large's reaction to the song in the 1985 NME interview: "Well, see, I wasn't touring at the time, so I didn't really feel the reaction of On The Beach. Then when I went out on the road I didn't do any of it, so... I did end up playing it on the CSNY reunion tour though.David Crosby especially was very uncomfortable, because it was so much the darker side. They all wanted to put out the light, y'know, make people feel good and happy and everything, and that song was like a wart or something on the perfect beast."
  • Charles Manson is quite a musical study, and his influence is seen through a wide array of music culture. Marilyn Manson takes his stage name from him. Several bands cover his songs, most notably Guns N' Roses on "Look at Your Game Girl," a hidden track at the end of The Spaghetti Incident. The Beach Boys changed Manson's original song "Cease to Exist" into "Never Learn Not to Love" for their album 20/20. Ozzy Osbourne's song "Bloodbath In Paradise" is about Manson. And then Manson himself was tremendously influenced by the Beatles, of course talking the title of the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter" as the name for his own imagined Armageddon. One more: John Moran wrote a stage opera called The Manson Family.
  • Country musician Rusty Kershaw played fiddle on "Revolution Blues." He also wrote rambling, grammatically indifferent liner notes for On The Beach. In those notes, he wrote (verbatim): "On Revolution Blues, I turned inot a Python, than an aligator, I was crawling like one, makeing noise like one, Plus I was eating up the carpet and the mike stands and such. and in the meanwhiile I started to crawl up towards Neil; Which is pretty Spooky."

Comments: 17

  • Rob from PhiladelphiaI agree with Hugh that this song sounds a bit like Dylan. Seems like every artist from the 60s-70s had a 'let's try to write/sing like Bob Dylan' moment. Guess it sounds easier than it is.
  • Bob from Little Rock, ArSugar Mountain has nothing to do with the Manson Family. Neil wrote this song in the early sixties well before Manson was at any Barker Ranch. Come on, where do you get this stuff?
  • Mark from Sf, CaThe references that Neil Youg has in his songs about Manson goes way back to 1970 to the song Sugar Mountain. In the lyric (with the Barkers and the colored ballons) Manson stayed at the Barker ranch as a hideout in the desert. Manson was in prison with Al Karpis who was a member of the Ma Barker gang. That was their same hideout back in the 1930s
    The song Revolution Blues has the lyric (I hate the stars in Laurel Canyon like lepers and I kill them in their cars) refers to Steve Parent who was shot in the driveway of Cielo drive while sitting in his car!! Mama cass Eliot of the Mamas and the Papas threw the Manson family out of her house in Laurel Canyon a few months earlier. She was at the Tate residence about an hour before the murders happened but flew out to a gig and didnt get killed. John Phillips the leader of the Mamas and the Papas who didnt want to record Mansons music also lived in laurel Canyon. He was invited to the Tate residence the night of the murders but decided not to go.
    The lyric in Revolution blues (that was me outside while your dog was barking) was about Terry Melcher the producer of the Beach Boys who didnt want to record Manson either. The lyric (I dont like the rejection so I hope you make the connection} was aimed directly at Melcher. Melcher was living at Cielo Dr but moved out before the murders happened because he was scared of Manson. He got a big guard dog to protect himself from "The Family"
  • Steve from Houma, LaCan someone explain to me what NY means by:

    "Yes that was me with the doves setting them free at the factory where you built your computer, love"?

    This is the only line in the song that I don't get. Are the doves and the factory supposed to be symbolic of something? Any help would be nice!
  • Ray from New York, Nyand manson was sentenced in 70 or 71, didnt revolution blues appear in 74 or 75, i dunno but maybe quite an after thought,i also think that the songs lyrics deserve autonomy of any stigma of supposed content,it just an amazing poem, and an amazing song, oh yeah and i think on the beach may have been the album after the 3xditch albums, i believe..
  • Ray from New York, Nyneil young may have mixed some facts to not elude to the facts of the case of manson so specificly, like the boys who was shot in the car wasnt a star,for example, the stuff about dogs im not so sure refers to manson, or i know atleast that manson wouldnt harm a dog or any animal for that matter(other than a human of course),and even if im wrong about these things one things for sure, and thats manson was a realy good musician and neil young could sense that i would presume.
  • John from London, United KingdomThat's 'dune' buggies dipstick.
  • John from London, United KingdomYoung once said in an interview that the single 'Heart of Gold' from 'Harvest', had taken him to the middle of the road where he became bored, so he headed for the ditch. What followed was the three so called 'ditch trilogy' albums, of which 'On the Beach' was easily the best, and remains, for many, his best work to date. This album is a delightfully world weary rant at just about everything. 'Revolution Blues' said to be about Charles Manson, contains an apocalyptic vision of doom buggies and celebrities being murdered in cars. Neil must have been in a dark place himself to have written such lyrics; he even, supposedly, suggested to his record company that they sign Manson up. The mood remains bitter and cynical throughout the album, on the last track, 'Ambulance Blues' Young reels off a list of bitter beefs, including a few choice words for his critics, a few more for Nixon, and the famous 'pissing in the wind' line about Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Listen in the dark, alone.
  • Hugh from Calgary, AbDoes anyone else think he sounds sort of like Dylan, musically and lyrically? It could be because of Helm and Danko backing him.
  • David from Huntington Beach, CaThis song is awesome. Neil is such the "antistar" but a "star" at the same time lol. He's one of those few guys so brilliant that you can love his work and dislike his work at the same tiem.
  • David from , CaShakey also says that this song made David Crosby very nervous. Something about wanting to kill stars in Laurel Canyon didn't sit right. ;-)
  • Matt from Portola Valley, CaLevon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band play on this track.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaJeez, it does sound like Charles Manson. You're right, Stefanie.
  • Cadence from Sacramento, CaNo, Joe has it right. In Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, Neil says he gave Manson the motorcyle. Manson said Neil was the only one who remembered him.
  • Dave from TorontoJoe, you've got it backwards. Manson gave Neil a motorcycle. Neil met Manson a few times at parties. He thought that Manson was a great musicain and with the the right band that he would have been huge.
  • Joe from Ne Pa, PaEven to this day, Manson still speaks highly of Neil Young. While Manson was a part of the California music scene of the late 60's, Young once gave him a motorcycle.
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScHhyw creepy1 Just read the lyrics. It's definitely what Manson would say if he had written it.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Brenda Russell

Brenda RussellSongwriter Interviews

Brenda talks about the inspiration that drove her to write hit songs like "Get Here" and "Piano in the Dark," and why a lack of formal music training can be a songwriter's best asset.

Philip Cody

Philip CodySongwriter Interviews

A talented lyricist, Philip helped revive Neil Sedaka's career with the words to "Laughter In The Rain" and "Bad Blood."

Jay, Peaches, Spinderella and other Darrining Victims

Jay, Peaches, Spinderella and other Darrining VictimsSong Writing

Just like Darrin was replaced on Bewitched, groups have swapped out original members, hoping we wouldn't notice.

Bob Dylan Lyric Quiz

Bob Dylan Lyric QuizMusic Quiz

Think you know your Bob Dylan lyrics? Take this quiz to find out.

Michael Sweet of Stryper

Michael Sweet of StryperSongwriter Interviews

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

N.W.A vs. the World

N.W.A vs. the WorldSong Writing

How the American gangsta rappers made history by getting banned in the UK.