Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Beach Boys/Dennis Wilson

"I don't think I am a genius. I believe the word genius applies only to people who can do things that other people can't do. I can't do things others can't. I wasn't a genius in high school, and I'm not now" - Brian Wilson 

Surfin' USA (1963)

Forget all those drug-addled witterings about vegetables and wind chimes, there is still a lot to be enjoyed about The Beach Boys' early "surf and cars" albums. Stick this on during a hot summer afternoon and tell me that your spirits weren't lifted. Yes, this is no work of "genius" but in a way, maybe it is. Sometimes, you can't beat a collection of two minute great pop songs. Just look at the early Beatles' albums and their popularity. Furthermore, these "mono/stereo" remastered releases are excellent. I am a stereo man myself, although I recognise these songs were originally presented to the world in mono. 
Surfin' USA is a stonewall delight, of course, but I have developed a weakness for the "surf instrumentals" Misirlou and Stoked, and Farmer's Daughter is much better than some often say it is. The rest of the tracks are not really worthy of any deep analysis, they just come at you, one after the other, like a series of big waves. Ride them. 

Surfer Girl (1963)

On all these mono/stereo remasters, I prefer the stereo versions, they give a new vibrancy to material that was admittedly originally intended for mono. I feel the stereo mixes highlight just how good musically these two/three minute surf and car songs were.
Brian Wilson’s songwriting was really coming on here. For such a young man to come up with songs as beautiful and concise as Surfer Girl and In My Room is quite astounding. They are works of pop perfection. Surfer Moon is nice too. The upbeat stuff - Hawaii, Catch A Wave and Little Deuce Coupe - are just plain enjoyable. I would rather listen to this than Smiley Smile any day. Yes, really. The sound quality is, as on all these releases, excellent. A revelation, in fact, considering this music was originally recorded in 1963.


Shut Down Vol. 2 (1964)

Another great mono/stereo remaster. Personally I love the stereo mixes. I know that originally the music was mono, but these new mixes just add some vibrancy to the songs we have known for all these years. I have tried with mono, again and again, but stereo wins for me every time. Just personal taste. I understand those who prefer mono, but I have a weakness for the fullness and the "activity" of stereo. Having said that, the mono recordings are full, balanced and punchy and very enjoyable. So, to the girl who "walks, looks and drives like an ace now..."

This is possibly the best of The Beach Boys' "surfing, girls and cars" albums. Up there with Today!Shut Down Volume Two is an enjoyable romp kicked off by Dennis Wilson's girlfriend at the time taking her daddy's car and cruisin' to the hamburger stand (now). Personally I think Fun, Fun, Fun is a great little song - funny, and character driven in a way that say She Loves You and I Wanna Hold Your Hand just are not. I have always been able to visualise the girl in her California sun and she knocks spots off the girl from She Loves You who I always imagined waiting in the rain outside the Gaumont in her Mac.

Up next is the album's undoubted jewel, the peerless Don't Worry Baby. How old was geeky Brian Wilson when he wrote and sang this? 19? 20? A truly stunning, beautiful song, and the phraseology - wow! That first line "well it's been building up inside of me for oh I don't know how long" gave me shivers down my spine when I first heard it on a hot summer afternoon in 1977 and it still does now. Also wonderful is the third verse - "she told me baby when you race today just take along my love with you..." Sheer poetry and wordsmithery from one so young and awkward.

In The Parkin' Lot is underrated but the less said about "Cassius" Love Vs "Sonny" Wilson the better! Why did The Beach Boys always have to put some dreadful studio "goofery" on their albums? 
The Warmth Of The Sun is truly beautiful and again, belies Wilson's tender years. This Car Of Mine and Pom Pom Play Girl are unadulterated FUN and Why Do Fools Fall In Love is a more than acceptable cover of the Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers doo-wop classic. Keep An Eye On Summer is lovely and Shut Down Part Two a jaunty surf instrumental. Louie Louie is not quite as convincing a cover and Denny's Drums ends the album not quite as barnstormingly as it began, but that is splitting hairs. Stick this on on a hot summer day, your spirits will be instantly lifted! PS - check out both Ronnie Spector and Billy Joel's covers of Don't Worry BabyThe former's Be My Baby was the inspiration for the track and her version of it is wonderful.

All Summer Long (1964)
This is still very much a surfing, cars, girls, beaches and drive-ins album. There is just a great vitality and joie de vivre about it though that makes it irresistible.
 As always, the hit single, I Get Around is the best track on the album by far. 
Although the melody of All Summer Long is totally infectious. It could have been a huge hit single too to be fair. From the lyrics, it seems that miniature golf and Hondas were where it was at. Now for some true Beach Boys heaven. A wonderful vocal harmony intro ushers in Hushabye - just listen to the huge, crashing music intro and then more simply glorious vocals. Tracks like these two are certainly not "filler" (an accusation that has often been levelled at the non-single tracks on these early-mid sixties albums). Hushabye is one of the group's best ever tracks from this period. It is both sad and uplifting at the same time.

Little Honda is a fun, lively song about their favourite brand of Japanese motorbike, "just a groovy little motorbike" with a throbbing bass line and great vocals. 
We'll Run Away is a harmonious romantic song about eloping and getting married, a very contemporary theme, as teenagers rebelled against their often dictatorial parents. Carl's Big Chance is an impressive, upbeat instrumental (with hints of Can I Get A Witness). Some nice guitar parts in it too. It sounds great in stereo. Wendy is another summery song with more great harmonies, a candidate for being on a "best of" compilation while not being a hit single, while Do You Remember is a breakneck tribute to the early rock'n' roll singers, with a piano intro straight out of At The Hop by Danny & JuniorsThe already nostalgic (for a time they were living in) Girls On The Beach is vocally pleasing, but a little bit "barbershop". Drive-In is another of the group's regular celebrations of aspects of sixties Americana but, unfortunately Our Favourite Recording Sessions is another example of idiotic studio goofery left on the album as a supposed track. Unforgivable. No need for it whatsoever. Thankfully it segues via a great drum beat into the I Get Around-esque Don't Back Down.

Overall, this is a pleasant album, without as much of the dreaded "filler" as popularly perceived. Yes, it is lightweight, but so was The Beatles' output at the time. The stereo version is a revelation, showing just how advanced US studio techniques were at the time (compared to The Beatles' rudimentary stereo from a few years later, even). However, the mono version is also enjoyable, with a full, bassy, powerful and balanced sound. Both are worth owning, to be honest.

The Beach Boys Today! (1965)

As I have said earlier, just before The Beach Boys started blathering on about vegetables and wind chimes, they were releasing classic pop songs like the wonderful When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)Help Me, Rhonda with its great bass line and harmonies and Dance, Dance, Dance. Give me this material over those supposed works of “genius” any day of the week. Here is where the genius lay in many ways, in classic two-three minute perfect pop songs. The Wilson brothers were still so (comparatively) young, it is often overlooked.

The harmonies on Do You Wanna Dance and Good To My Baby are just so uplifting and supposed “filler” songs like Don't Hurt My Little SisterI'm So Young and the beautiful, sensitive She Knows Me Too Well are more than just afterthoughts. Yes, they couldn’t just keep putting out material like this and I guess they had to experiment with other styles eventually, but taken for what it is, this was just so good. Just as I enjoy listening to Beatles For Sale I enjoy this. These innocent albums had a real appeal, and still do. Just listen to Please Let Me Wonder, echoes of Don’t Worry Baby I know, but still such a pleasure to listen to. Regarding the mono or stereo choice, give me the stereo versions most of the time. Not that the mono is without good points too. It certainly has a full, balanced sound I own both and listen to both.

Summer Days (And Summer Nights) (1965)

First off, I'm a stereo man. I realise the cultural and historical importance of the mono recordings but I just love that stereo sound on these pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys classics. The mono is perfectly listenable though, powerfully balanced from the centre of your speakers, with crystal clear reproduction. Then I Kissed Her is a perfect example. There is a real bass power to the mono recordings that make them definitely worth owning.
The classics on here are the obvious ones - the beautiful Then I Kissed Her; the singalong Help Me, RhondaCalifornia Girls, which speaks for itself and the sometimes overlooked but beautiful You're So Good To MeAs for the rest, there not as much good stuff on there as on others. I'm Bugged At My Old Man is best consigned to history. There was always one dreadful song on each of the early/mid sixties albums, it seemed.

Salt Lake City is just plain fun, Amusement Parks USA has a sort of goofy, fairground in summer appeal and the lovely, harmonious, bassy Let Him Run Wild and Girl Don't Tell Me are surprisingly mature compositions. 
The Girl From New York City is an upbeat enough opener, with some great vocals, but on the whole this album is pleasant but certainly not essential. By now, yet another album about the joys of a Californian summer was always, of course, going to be pleasurable, but it was a bit like being on holiday and drinking large cokes with ice every day as a kid. After a while it loses its appeal, just a bit. The Beach Boys couldn’t carry on, year in, year out, as the “niche boys”, could they? The needed to diversify away from the beach at some point.  Nevertheless, I could listen to You’re So Good To Me endlessly. Summer Means New Love was a delightful instrumental too. Incidentally, on the cover Brian Wilson looks decidedly uncomfortable on board ship (which apparently he was) and nerdy, while Mike Love looks, as he always did - old.

Pet Sounds (1966)
This was, of course the big one for The Beach Boys, coming only a few months after still putting out songs like Amusement Parks USA and Barbara Ann, the troubled but manically inspired Brian Wilson managed, somehow, to cobble together his Spectoresque idea of manifold musicians playing as many instruments as they could get their hands on and, multiple takes later, they came up with this, his meisterwerk. It is far more of a Wilson solo album than a Beach Boys one, although the rest of the lads' fantastic voices and harmonies are integral to the album. Also present, instrumentally, are layered strings, keyboards, saxophones, bells, whistles, harpsichords, flutes, Hawaiian instruments, the Theremin electronic synthesiser, car horns.... Wilson has them all in there, like a huge wall of sound even greater than Spector's. Just how he conceived of this seemingly out of nowhere is barely comprehensible. This was a year before Sgt. Pepper, remember. While this didn't directly inspire Pepper, what it did was push the boundaries of popular music right over the edge. Anything was possible in the studio now.
On to the songs. Wouldn't It Be Nice is actually a classic Beach Boys teen romance song that would have fitted quite nicely on previous albums. It has a superb keyboard intro though. It is simply a piece of pop perfection. I never, ever tire of it. The vocals, the harmonising, the refrain. Top quality. 

You Still Believe In Me was, I am sure, written by Wilson for his long-suffering wife, Marilyn, who saw him through what had been a difficult time for him, his fractured relationship with his father and, at times, bandmate Mike Love saw him close to a breakdown, along with his self-inflicted pressure trying to make what he wanted to be "the greatest album of all time". The song is classically-influenced in places and has a yearning vocal, and a honking car horn at the end, for some reason! That's Not Me has Wilson again looking into himself, talking about leaving "for the city" over some immaculate, melodic backing. This is a slow growing, catchy song that sticks with you after a while. Don't Talk is actually a Beatles-ish song, with Pepper-style drum backing in places, before The Beatles went there. George Martin must have been influenced by this, he really must.

I'm Waiting For The Day is another typical Beach Boys slow ballad but, as with the others, it is the massive orchestrated backing that makes it different to something like Surfer Girl, for example. On this album, Wilson takes the group's old, often barber-shop type vocals and backs them with the most experimental, inventive music, turning it into something really quite remarkable. It was almost symphonic in places. 
Let's Go Away For A While is a jazzy, cacophony of an instrumental. This really was ground-breaking stuff. Also notable is the shift from all songs being teenage love songs to many being earnest, philosophical, self-analytical numbers.

The uplifting, singalong Sloop John B was a last minute addition. No matter. Its great. Always has been. Some feel it sits incongruously. Not Me. I love it being there. 
Then comes Paul McCartney's favourite song of all time, the sublime God Only Knows. Is there a more perfect love song? I doubt it. I Know There's An Answer sees Wilson getting cynical and questioning about human behaviour over a lively backing that has hints of Then I Kissed Her about it. Here Today is another typical Beach Boys song given the big treatment, which lifts it from being an ordinary song into something more interesting. Some of the album's songs would just have been regular slow numbers on previous numbers. On here the inventive backing turns them into something altogether different. I Just Wasn't Made For These Days is an intense, self-analysing piece from Wilson. The words are actually very sad and you realise what a miserable time he was going through, while creating this wonderful piece of work. Pet Sounds is actually an intriguing instrumental, saxophone-enhanced, but all sorts of other sounds in there. Caroline, No is a straight-up lovely song. No need for the kitchen sink in it, just a bit of addictive percussion and a few Ringo Starr drums before he started playing them like that. What was a shame was that after this creative hit, we had the absolute nadir of the appalling, puerile and idiotic indulgence that was Smiley Smile. From the sublime to the ridiculous indeed. It would never get this good again for Brian Wilson, ever.

Smiley Smile (1967)

I have listened to this album over and over again, albeit periodically, over a period of 50 years, trying in vain to get its "genius". Each time I feel compelled to give it another go, and I do, listening to it in full, so this is not a simple rant from someone who doesn't like The Beach Boys. It is genuine criticism from someone who loves 85% of The Beach Boys' output.
The two clear quality tracks aside, I believe this to be the drug-addled, close to cracking doodles of one man and his nonplussed bandmates who just took some more drugs, drank a little more and went along with it for the ride. I simply refuse to accept that this is a work of genius, as so many people do. Let's look at the album's many offenders - Heroes And Villains and Good Vibrations apart, (unsurprisingly), the rest of it sounds like The Goons have joined the band in the studio...

Vegetables - Instrumentally quite appealing, but otherwise two minutes' of inane, puerile lyrics about vegetables, accompanied by crunching vegetables as a replacement for percussion. Oh yes, very clever. I could have done that at primary school. Fall Breaks And Back To Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony) - Supposedly reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. Oh yeah? Two minutes of classically influenced music and a slight air of the Woody Woodpecker theme every now and again. Lord give me strength. She's Going Bald - The album's nadir. Utter tripe. Bizarre lyrics abut a woman's hair falling out, and then some maniacal laughter followed by Goon-style noises. "Ying-Tong Tiddle-eye Po" indeed. Amongst all the penchant for influence and counter-influence in 1965-67 has nobody acknowledged The Goons' undoubted influence on this meisterwerk? - that was my little "joke" to go along with all the hilarity this album is supposedly chock-full of...

Little Pad - A complete shocker of a song about getting a flat-apartment. Noisy and goofy. Makes the worst of those surf-car songs sound like A Day In The Life. With Me Tonight - At last a bit of potential, somewhere. Just. Irritatingly "barbershop" though, but a song in there. Just when it becomes moderately enjoyable - it ends. Sums up this "non-album" in so many ways…Wind Chimes - Nonsense about wind chimes tingling outside his window. Honestly, I could have written that. Gettin' Hungry - The best of the dross. An actual song at least. It would still be the worst cut on a decent album. Wonderful - Similar feelings about this one to With Me Tonight. A reasonable song foundation fades out into a passage of bizarre nonsense. Then the song returns but by then he has totally lost me. Whistle In - Not even worth bothering about really. A minute or so of musical doodling. Consider that the man who conceived this half-baked dross gave us Don't Worry Baby, God Only Knows, Wouldn't It Be Nice, Caroline, No and Good Vibrations and one is in the realms of the totally incomprehensible.

The albums that followed are vast improvements. Wild Honey is nowhere near as bad as many would have us believe. Ditto Friends, Sunflower, Surf's Up and Holland. As I write I am listening to tracks from Smiley Smile interspersed with ones from Sunflower. The difference is night and day - not even worthy of comparison. Sorry everyone - It's not you. It's me. Must be. Everyone seems to rate this fucking tosh. The Smile Sessions are even worse. What was it about 1966-68 - everyone seemed to think they had to release some "experimental" or "minimalist" tosh. If it was not stuff like George Harrison's Piggies, The Beatles' Revolution 9, Dylan's Rainy Day Women, The Rolling Stones' On With The Show, The Beatles' Why Don't We Do It In The Road and Wild Honey Pie it was throwaway songs like Rocky Racoon, Yellow Submarine and Gomper. They were all at it. However, nothing tops The Beach Boys for this miserable offering. Wind chimes tingling, vegetables, women going bald, getting a little pad. Give us a break guys. I'll just about accept Gettin' Hungry in a "possibly something about it demo" sort of way. Just about, and that's pushing it. Come on, it is no work of genius. It's drivel. No more. No less. Time to put Blonde On Blonde on…..

Wild Honey (1967)

Coming after the abomination that was Smiley Smile and its half baked, often disturbing puerility, it comes as a blessed relief to hear a PROPER track kick off the album in Wild Honey. The track is admittedly unusual, innovative an experimental, but at least it is a full creation, unlike the tosh served up on Smiley Smile.

Aren't You Glad continues the album in its organ, bass and brass 60s fashion which led many to say this was The Beach Boys' soul album, an impression continued with a belting cover of Stevie Wonder's 1967 hit I Was Made To Love Her. The new thing of "country rock" is experienced in the pleasing Country Air as they go all Byrds. 
A Thing Or Two is pure late 60s pop-rock, with some jazzy parts for good measure, using the riff later to be used on Do It Again. These five opening tracks show clearly that the drug-fuelled, irritating excess and lack of finished product on Smiley Smile was put firmly in the past. Just listen to Aren't You Glad and you realise The Beach Boys are back on solid ground again. It is a much-underrated track in their canon.

Darlin' is classic Beach Boys and deservedly is on every "Greatest Hits" package. I'd Love Just Once To See You is as beautiful as anything on Pet Sounds
Here Comes The Night with its beautiful bass line and Let The Wind Blow continue in the same vein. The former would have made a great single, in my opinion. The latter is an example of how many of the "semi songs" from the Smile sessions should have ended up. How She Boogalooed It could be from 1962-65 in its "surfy" rocking feel. Beautifully upbeat. Things are fine again. Maybe. Give me this over Smiley Smile any day. No comparison. They are light and day apart. One is an unlistenable disgrace. The other is a welcome relief and most enjoyable. Proper songs. Thankfully.

Friends (1968)

After a reasonably calm album in Wild Honey after a turbulent year prior to that, The Beach Boys seemed to have managed to get together again, in a reasonable state of mind. In contrast to 1968's surfeit of psychedelic rock albums from the likes of Cream, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, the bluesy Beggars' Banquet from The Rolling Stones and student rebellions taking place and so on, The Beach Boys recorded this incredibly peaceful, airy, light and relaxing album round at Brian Wilson's house. All the nonsense from Smiley Smile seemed to have dissipated and the result was a very short, commercially very unsuccessful album. It seemed a complete cultural irrelevance. It is, however, an entirely pleasant listening experience. It must be noted, also, that Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Byrds released laid-back country-influenced at the same time. The problem with the album is that it was neither joyful, lively surf music nor inventive Good Vibrations-style works of genius. It was just peaceful and, to be blunt, just a bit ordinary. It is all tranquil and harmonious enough, however, with excellent sound quality, and is a gentle half hour's listen. A group other than The Beach Boys would probably not have got away with it. Actually, they didn't, particularly, either. It sold poorly and their stock fell considerably.
Wake The World is beautiful and tender, with some lovely background brass backing, but it ends far too soon. Be Here In The Mornin' is a fetchingly hippy-ish number, as indeed is the relaxing, melodic Friends. When A Man Needs A Woman is a jaunty, pleasant little song about impending fatherhood. All very chilled-out, at one with the world. Passing By contains only backing vocals over an appealing, fairground-ish organ backing. Anna Lee, The Healer is obviously influenced by Mike Love's meditative experiences in Rishikesh, complete with some Eastern-sounding percussion. It also has an addictive bass sound and a rock'n'roll instrumental refrain (possibly from The RascalsGood Lovin'). Little Bird has a sort of Beatles-style strings backing in places. To be honest, the rest of the album is like that which has gone before - all very inoffensive, unthreatening, mature and quiet. The instrumental, Diamond Head, notably, features the sounds of waves gently lapping against the shore. It acts as a symbol of the album. It gently washes over you.

20/20 (1969)

The late sixties-early seventies were a strange time for The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson's implosion and subsequent declining sales-cultural relevance were taking its toll. As everyone knows, the group was slowly and painfully half splitting up and half staying together in the midst of all sorts of turmoil. Post the Smile sessions, tracks from it were turning up on all the albums from 1967 to 1971, which sort of prevented the offerings from having too much cohesion as "new product". Echoes from the past were always there. This album actually was not an official one. It was a compilation of previously unreleased tracks to meet contractual obligations to Capitol Records. That said, I really like it. Whisper it quietly, I prefer it to the quirky Surf's Up. Actually, maybe not, but it certainly starts well. It struggles to retain the quality throughout though.
The first two tracks are absolute corkers - the nostalgic, insistent shuffle of Do It Again, and the Spectoresque majesty of I Can Hear Music. The latter is one of my favourite Beach Boys songs. It was a cover of a Ronettes song from 1966 and Ronnie Spector does a great live version of it, incidentally. Bluebirds Over The Mountain is a lively, singalong non-group composition, (written by one Ersel Hickey, a late fifties rockabilly singer). Dennis Wilson’s grandiose, melodic Be With Me is impressive as is his pumping, guitar and drum-driven frenetic rocker All I Want To Do. Both really good cuts. Bruce Johnston’s strings-dominated, peaceful instrumental The Nearest Faraway Place is both atmospheric and pleasant. I have always loved the uplifting cover of Huddie Leadbetter's Cotton Fields. This is the first version The Beach Boys did, with a harmonious Sloop John B. feel to it. It was re-recorded later in 1969. This original has always had a vibrant appeal.

Went To Sleep is a short, melodious and harmonious number (only a minute and a half in length) as indeed is the beautiful Time To Get Alone. It is a Brian Wilson song written in the "baroque pop" style that he employed a lot around 1967. 
Dennis Wilson's Never Learn Not To Love was rumoured to have been written by Charles Manson during Dennis's ill-fated liaison with the mass murderer. Dennis supposedly improved considerably on Manson's original song. Let's hope Dennis did just that, because it has an appealing Beatles-esque sound that makes is most likeable. Our Prayer is a pretty pointless short piece of vocal harmony (the album is beginning to fade away a little by now). Cabinessence is the album's final track, dating from the 1966 Smile sessions. It is revered by many fans as some sort of work of genius. Me, I find it a bit of a frustrating mess with periodic invigorating parts that ultimately lead nowhere. Sort of the best bits of Good Vibrations going up a blind alley. So, what starts as a really good album fizzles out somewhat, but, as a somewhat under-discussed offering it certainly stands up well against the others before and after it from the same turbulent four-five year period.

Sunflower (1970)

After an album that I enjoy a lot personally in Wild Honey, The Beach Boys continued rediscovering their mojo with this greatly underrated classic from 1970. You can stick your vegetables and wind chimes, this is an eminently preferable Beach Boys album. The harmonies in here are perfect, as is the backing. The songs are full and back to being perfectly constructed. The instantly catchy This Whole World, the quirkily appealing Add Some Music To Your Day and the uplifting, thoroughly beautiful Forever are standouts. 
Got To Know The Woman is both powerful and harmonious and Deirdre is a throwback to their best early-mid sixties material. 

It's About Time is a rocky number with some decidedly un-Beach Boys style percussion and a big rumbling bass line in the middle. Even a bit of rock guitar. I love this one. So different to pretty much anything they had done before. As indeed, is Tears In The Morning which somehow has echoes of John Lennon, I think, anyway. 
All I Wanna Do has a Beatles-ish drum sound too. Our Sweet Love is just beautiful. The songs on here are what Smile should have sounded like, in my opinion. They are considerably better than any of that drug-addled, half-baked drivel. Mind you, At My Window has uncomfortable echoes of those bad days though. Forgivable on this album. The same applies to Cool, Cool Water which has some intoxicating parts. This is just a perfectly constructed, laid back, beautiful album. It is a mature, adult album. It rarely gets mentioned, like the equally underrated Holland. The remastered sound is very good too. Well worth a listen.

Surf'S Up (1971)

Surf's Up is regularly rated as one of The Beach Boys' classic albums. For me it is a strange one. It is certainly by far superior to the execrable Smiley Smile and since then there had been the quirky Wild Honey and three patchy offerings in Friends20/20 and Sunflower, so it stands out as being the group's best album for quite a while. Despite also possessing a fair amount of idiosyncrasies too, it definitely has some moments of brilliance. It is a sad album, though, giving a poignant notice that The Beach Boys in the seventies were a group in turmoil, a group long distanced from the carefree glory days of 1963-1967. Taking into account its role as a symbol of chronological transition it is an important and relevant album. It is a work of genius? No. Is it a beguiling, evocative and symbolic release? Undoubtedly.

Some of the material on the album had been knocking around for a while, but there is more of a cohesion present here, in comparison with Smiley Smile, far more. It works much better as an album. I still find it a somewhat disparate creation, though, full of different material from different writers all intent on doing their own thing. A bit like Let It Be it was a work from several different individuals by now masquerading as a "group".                                   

Don't Go Near The Water is the very antithesis to the "glory of sea, sand and surf" songs that so characterised the group's sixties output. Here the water had now become a polluted hazard to health that people needed to stay away from. It was a cynical, terribly sad way for the seventies to begin, but thought-provoking and highly moving too. It was an example of the group's efforts to write more socially-conscious material, possibly as a reaction to the contemporary zeitgeist, possibly at the behest of their latest manager, an ex-journalist called Jack Rieley.

Long Promised Road is a harmonious, soulful piece of pop from Carl Wilson. It was similar to the stuff that he did for the Carl And The Passions album and it wouldn't have sounded out of place on 1973's Holland either. 
Take A Load Off Your Feet is melodious enough and vaguely appealing, but it is also a bit of a silly song, (about painful feet), of the sort of semi-nonsense that Brian Wilson had been coming up with since 1967. Despite its silliness, the vocals and backing are quirkily pleasurable. Bruce Johnston's Disney Girls (1957) is, for me, by far the best track on the album - evocative, nostalgic and basically wonderful, musically, vocally and lyrically. Johnston's lead vocal is hauntingly beautiful. It rarely appears on "best of The Beach Boys" compilations. It should do. Student Demonstration Time has a Revolution-style buzzy guitar riff before blasting into that Elvis brass riff rock 'n' roll thing, using Lieber and Stoller's Riot in Cell Block No 9 to provide the melody. The song tells of the social upheaval of several violent student, anti-war demonstrations of the time. It is a most un-Beach Boys number. Anarchic social comment and heavy guitar riffs? Surely not. I guess this is what makes this album unique. 

Carl Wilson's Feel Flows is a melodic, gentle number reminiscent of the material on Sunflower, while Looking' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song) is a vaguely Beatles-esque short, hippyish acoustic number. The Beatles and psychedelic vibes continue with Brian Wilson's oddly moving A Day In The Life Of A Tree. 'Til I Die is also experimentally unusual, as indeed is the Sgt. Pepper-ish Surf's Up. Again, there is something very psychedelic about these final three tracks and for many people, it is these three that are the best tracks on the album. I can see where they're coming from, but me, I prefer the blatant sentimentality of Disney GirlsFor a comparatively short album of vastly differing songs, with several seemingly throwaway tracks,  it is is surprising how much can be be written about it. One could write far less about much better albums.

Carl & The Passions: So Tough (1972)

Carl Wilson was now leading the proceedings, as "musical director", and, with Brian Wilson's contributions becoming less frequent and more erratic he hired Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar to join the line-up. The result was an experimental, in parts most enjoyable, but often overlooked album.
Elton John loves this underrated album from 1972 and it's not hard to understand why. You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone has that upbeat, bluesy but driving rocky sound that Elton loved throughout the 70s. Add to that some Beach boys harmony and you have something worth listening to. Here She Comes has a truly thrilling bass, drums and jazzy Elton-style piano intro and a thumping jazz rock feel all through it. Vocalist Ricky Fataar’s voice is a bit weak though, to be honest. This track sounds an awful lot like The BandHe Come Down features many assorted Beach boys members on vocals (Carl, Mike Love, Al Jardine, as well as Blondie Chaplin) and the harmonies are predictably great in this, at times, gospelly rumination about religion, God and gurus and the like.

Marcella was probably the most “typical” Beach Boys track - summery, trademark harmonies, catchy hook, about a girl and so on. Just an uplifting song. Hold On Dear Brother is a song that you could see would have appealed to Elton John - although it sounds like stuff he recorded himself in the two previous years, so who influenced who? Make It Good is a couple of minutes of vocal harmony "filler" that is a bit of a waste, but All This Is That is a wonderful return to quality. Beautiful ambience, marvellous vocals another great song of summer. It should deservedly be on any “best of” compilation. Dennis Wilson’s vocal on the plaintive, somewhat over orchestrated Cuddle Up is an interesting end to the album. Something of an experimental track but certainly with its beautiful moments, especially the piano and strings, and when the harmonies come quietly in at the end it is quite spine tingling. As with all Beach Boys' seventies and beyond product, it falls short when compared with a lot of their sixties work, but taken away from that context, it is not a bad album.

Holland (1973)

Recorded in The Netherlands in 1973, this is nowhere near as bad an album as history would sometimes have us believe. Somewhat laid back, it is a far more enjoyable listen than some of the drug-addled nonsense of the Smile sessions and the appalling indulgence heaped upon Smiley Smile. It is a most underrated album, in my opinion.                         

The lead off track, Sail On Sailorwith vocals by new member and now sometime Rolling Stone Blondie Chaplin is a solid start as is the next track, the slightly funky SteamboatThe following California Suite of three songs has its moments, particularly the last movement, which features the most “Beach Boys-y” bit - "have you ever been south of Monterey..?" Even the much-criticised middle spoken word part on The Beaks Of Eagles is quite evocative and atmospheric. The Trader is possibly the standout track, with some great bass work on it and enjoyable changes in tempo and ambience. 

The vaguely Dylanesque Leaving This Town and Only With You are appealing too, good harmonies, feel and melody and the final track, Funky Pretty is excellent. The Beach Boys really do go funky. Who would have thought it when they were blathering on about vegetables. The Beach Boys had not lost their direction here, despite recording problems in Holland which left a few tiny crackly bits in the sound here and there, they had just grown up a bit. This was the result. Give it a go with an open mind. Ten years on from Fun Fun Fun etc this is exactly the sort of album one would have expected/wanted from them.

20 Golden Greats

Despite the ground-breaking "genius" (as contemporaneously promoted) of Pet Sounds, the experimental Wild Honey and the laid back Sunflower and Holland, and ignoring the debacle that was/is Smiley Smile this is, for many, the best way to listen to The Beach Boys. Hit after glorious hit. One after the other. On a sunny afternoon. It doesn't get much better. Yes, they produced some undoubtedly wonderful albums, but in many ways the Beach Boys were a singles band. The "single" was so important in the 1960s and here they all are in all their "big wave" majesty. Twenty greater hits it would be difficult to match. With regard to the sound problems mentioned by reviewers of this album over various media -  a good thing to do, in this digital age, if you can, is use the newly remastered STEREO versions to make, in effect, a remastered edition of this classic "Greatest Hits" release. Or, if you prefer, make one with the MONO recordings. Just put it on. A hour's worth of pure pleasure. It includes the often-overlooked and beautiful Break Away too.

Here is Dennis Wilson's best known piece of work....

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)     

After his unfortunate late sixties dalliances with Charles Manson, Dennis Wilson spent the early seventies in a cocaine-addled haze before emerging looking aged, as if he had spent several years in a cave. This was an album a long time in the making, with songs dating back to 1970 and finally appearing in 1977, Wilson wanted his solo project to take some aspects of the way his main group had progressed over the 1967-1975 period but also to use much of his own innovation that would take the sound a long way away from that of 
The Beach Boys. Fair enough, but the results are patchy, Wilson himself disowned the album as having no substance and I do not hear in it any work of genius. Sure, there are good bits in it appearing at regular intervals, but there are many production/sound problems and a lot of the material sounds exactly what it was - the product of coked-up weeks and months of seventies indulgence. In that respect though, there are always odd benefits, such as on Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Going On - drug-addled pieces of seventies indulgence such as these invariably contained good points and this is no different. In many ways it is as much a symbol of seventies rock as Exile On Main Street, Physical Graffiti and Rumours. It just never really caught on. Nobody much listened to it at the time, despite good reviews. It did get a lot of retrospective critical kudos, however, some of it justified, some of it not.

What I will say, though, is that the album really grows on you, a bit like Dennis's brother Carl's Carl & The Passions album from 1972, but even more so. The more I listen to it, the more it gets into my bloodstream. The album should be added to any list of seventies Beach Boys' albums, to be honest. It has a valid place alongside them. The afore-mentioned Carl Wilson appears throughout the album too. Dennis himself plays all sorts of keyboards as well as drums, displaying a hidden talent.
The increasingly attractive River Song starts with a piano coda straight from Elton John's Your Song before it settles down, through the backing vocals, into a sort of Elton John meets The Band number. The final part of the song is a soulfully delivered passage bemoaning the state of the city, presumably Los Angeles, as this is a very SoCal album - Dennis is showing his environmental concerns, much as other Beach Boys did on 1973's Holland. Although it is an innovative song, it is somewhat buried under a mountain of backing vocals that tend to drown out Wilson's own vocal. The album suffers from a wishy-washy, muddy indistinct sound similar to that of Leonard Cohen's Death Of A Ladies Man and this is certainly continued on the otherwise jaunty What's Wrong. This is a lively, fun song, however, and is definitely the album's most "Beach Boys" offering.

Moonshine is a slow, reflective number that is again blighted by that inferior sound. These songs in many ways seem to have sprung from The Beach Boys late sixties and early seventies material, but featuring a bit more mystique and experimentation. The album actually took seven years to record and compile, would you believe, so those influences are not surprising. Some decidedly different material is up next - Friday Night is a deceptively powerful and slow, chugging rock/blues number with some nice bass, impressive guitar and a gruff, grainy vocal from Wilson. 

Dreamer is also a great track - packed full of seventies blues rock feel, solid bass, punchy brass and muscular drums. The sound is good on this one. I guess the fact that the songs were all recorded at different times leads to the variance in sound quality between some of them. 

The album takes a sombre, mournful turn now, though, with the bleak tones of Thoughts Of You, which features a Lennon-esque dour vocal over some stark piano and depressing-sounding strings. Furthermore, Wilson sounds out of it and thoroughly miserable throughout the song. The atmosphere is not improved on Time, a song which sounds like brother Brian's most heart-rending, self-pitying material taken to the nth degree. It is lyrically and vocally maudlin, but is redeemed by a haunting trumpet solo which suddenly leads the song into a brass-driven, chunky denouĂ©ment. You And I is a gently rhythmic, languidly appealing number with a definite early seventies Beach Boys vibe to it. It is actually a most infectious, disarming song. As was also the case with with many late sixties/early seventies Beach Boys material, however, there is a vague unfinished feeling to it. Pacific Ocean Blues is a delicious slice of funky country-ish slow burning rock, with strong echoes of Little Feat in there. It is one of the album's stronger, more cohesive tracks. 

Farewell My Friend
 is a strangely intoxicating but doleful ballad that features some odd bleepy sound effects that add to its appeal. Rainbows has a sort of stompy, folky feel about it that again has more appeal after a few listens. End Of The Show ends the original album on a plaintive, vaguely Beatles-esque note. It is another grower. Overall, this was a decidedly downbeat album and one that was difficult to absorb immediately. As I said, though, it does grow on you, with every listen, and it has developed a considerable cult status over the years, often making it on to those lists of great albums. I certainly wouldn't go that far - it is confused, possibly indulgent and directionless but it is in possession of a sad, haunting ambience that gives it a bit of a special quality. I have to admit it has an understated, emotive beauty.

** Incidentally, the bonus track Only With You is sadly beautiful as is the chilled-out instrumental Holy Man.


  1. I don't like Smiley Smile much - it's clearly a cobbled together collection of stuff, some of which is pretty weak. I do enjoy Smile though - both Wilson's solo version and the Beach Boys' sessions that came out in 2011 (although I just have the main album - not obsessive enough to need the outtakes). Songs like Our Prayer, Surf's Up, Cabinessence that dribble out in the late 1960s and early 1970s were highlights on their respective records. Brian Wilson was amazingly good in the mid 1960s, but only really intermittently productive since.

  2. I have listened to some of the outtakes - once. Like you, I prefer the final product.

    Regarding Smiley Smile, I felt bad about giving it a hammering (it is the only review where I have done so), because I usually try to find something good in every piece of work, but, apart from the two obvious classics, I can't find anything.