Neil Young

Revolution Blues

Composed by Neil Young

Song Review by

Neil Young wrote "Revolution Blues" as a tribute of sorts to serial killer Charles Manson. A central piece on the 1974 album On the Beach, "Revolution Blues" is one among a collection of songs taking on the personal and collective psyche in Nixon-era America. Alluding to a cult armed to the teeth in Laurel Canyon, Young may have been expressing a certain empathy toward the Manson family and their insanely executed agenda toward socioeconomic equality. But oddly, Young himself could've been among the exact type of public figure that Manson might have targeted; like many musicians of his generation, Young claims to have met Manson and found him "mysteriously compelling." According to author David Downing in his book, A Dreamer of Pictures: Neil Young, A Man and His Music (Da Capo, 1994), Young was suitably impressed by Manson's musicality (though not enough to do anything about helping the sociopath break into the record business). The song illustrates the idea that the angelic and demonic reside in all of us; that on any given day, we may be the ones doing the killing just as easily as we could be the ones at the killer's mercy. It's a chilling point and one worth making, but musically, "Revolution Blues" doesn't really match up to the profundity and drama inherent in its mission statement. Subdued, yes -- as is all of the work on On the Beach -- but any attempt to capture a feeling of "repressed violence" fails; author Downing asserts that all "Revolution Blues" amounts to is "repressed." He has a point: the garage rock guitar strumming is bright and burns in all the right spots, the leads characteristically stinging, but the song never really achieves lift-off -- it doesn't go anywhere and fades rather unexpectedly, much like Manson's own misguided attempt at revolution. Young would often perform the song in a solo acoustic arrangement in the period immediately following its release. David Crosby, who sang background on the recorded version, compared Young performing the dark number on a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tour to "a wart on the perfect beast."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
On the Beach 1974 Reprise 4:03
Official Release Series, Discs 5-8 2014 Reprise / Warner Music 4:03