Friday 18 June 2010

The Beach Boys" Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!) (1965) (News, Views and Music 65)

You can now buy 'Add Some Music To Your Day - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Beach Boys' in e-book form by clicking here


(Originally published June 18th 2010; Revised edition published June 5th 2014)

The Girl From New York City/Amusement Parks, USA/Then I Kissed Her/Salt Lake City/Girl, Don’t Tell Me/Help Me, Rhonda/California Girls/Let Him Run Wild/You’re So Good To Me/Summer Means New Love/I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man/And Your Dreams Come True

The Beach Boys “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!)” (1965)

So here we are at Beach Boys album number nine, summer 1965. The Beatles have just released ‘Help!’, The Kinks are putting together ‘The Kinks Kontroversy’ and The Rolling Stones are ‘Out Of Their Heads’. Brian Wilson’s biggest competition is divided between those Merseybeat meisters from across the pond who have just enjoyed the first anniversary since the Ed Sullivan show - and contrary to all reports show no sign of stopping - and Brian himself. Now, The Beatles only made 11 ‘proper’ records during their whole time together (if you count ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ as an EP as it was originally in Europe and ‘Yellow Submarine’ as a non-LP soundtrack album with just four new songs) yet Brian and his fellow Beach Boys will reach that same milestone i  just two album's time. Add in the extra-curricular Beach Boys activities (writing #1 hits for Jan and Dean and recording hits under a multitude of names, most famously The Survivors) and it’s easy to see why The Beach Boys might have been approaching burn-out status. Certainly, Brian wasn’t well in this period, albeit not as ill as he will yet become, having suffered a nervous breakdown on an aeroplane during yet another tour away from home in December 1964 and his concert appearances with the band he formed have all but dried up in this period.

There's also a small but significant clash between Brian on the one hand and most of the band and the record company on the other. Predecessor 'The Beach Boys Today' is a career highpoint for the band, split between the most elaborately pop songs created up to 1965 and some gorgeous orchestrated ballads that were just that little bit too far ahead of their time for some fans of the day. Capitol have therefore turned around to Brian and done the worst thing you can to do to creativity - telling Brian in no uncertain terms to drop the 'deep' stuff and make a more 'Beach Boys sounding record'. That sort of statement will have major repercussions come the 'Pet Sounds' era, but for now Brian is up to the challenge and gets his best thinking cap on as to how to combine his two loves. By and large he gets this album spot on, with skeletons of songs written like the band's 'early days' (all hooks, block vocals and a strong catchy beat) but wearing the sophisticated clothes of his recent work. Thematically 'Summer Days' is an album that goes backwards a couple of steps, the subject matters turning once more to songs about girls, sun and summer (though there are no car songs this time around). However no other writer in 1965 would have moved so far ahead of the field that delightful pocket symphonies like 'Help Me, Rhonda' and 'California Girls' would represent  a 'back' step. Perhaps the biggest impact on Brian's writing is how few ballads there on this album compared to normal - clearly Brian considers 'upbeat' songs to be more 'commercial' despite the success of 'Surfer Girl, one of the slowest songs ever to make #1 - with only the exquisite a capella 'And Your Dreams Come True' and the instrumental 'Summer Means New Love' recorded without a beat you can dance to. 

Compared to 'Today' - an album that's made up of two-thirds ballads - the change in style is significant.
Another significant change is the first appearance by Brian's 'tour replacement' Bruce Johnston on record. Due to a bit of record company dominoes Bruce isn't fully credited on the album and won't appear on a Beach Boys sleeve until as late as 'Wild Honey' in four records' time (Columbia still had him under contract for his solo work' Capitol were afraid fans would think Brian had left the band if they only included shots of the touring group on the cover). Poor Bruce gets a bit of a rough deal out of all this: he plays a bigger role on this album than, say, Dennis Wilson does (the drummer having gone through one of his periodic too-big-to-turn-up-to-sessions phases that happen one in every two albums across most of the Beach Boys' run), adds some nicely fitting piano parts to some of Brian's arrangements and his vocals are key to quite a lot of the harmonies, effectively giving Brian a 'clone' of his own key and pitch to play with but with a fascinatingly different timbre. Bruce's first session was 'California Girls' where Brian gave him the major role of swapping leads with him over the cod, which is still arguably Bruce's most heard contribution to the band even now: talk about being thrown into the deep end!

The other big winner in all of this is Al Jardine. Up till now Al's been the least known member of the group - he'd joined the band late (joining midway into sessions for album number three 'Surfer Girl') and hadn't received a 'lead' vocal until as late as the Christmas Record at the very end of 1964 just two albums ago. Now, though, he's effectively singing third lead on the album, chosen by Brian to add a folky blend to number one hit 'Help Me, Rhonda' (Al's vocal is one of the few things kept intact when Brian promotes this album track from 'Today' into a single and the band re-recorded it) and the almost as big hit 'Then I Kissed Her'. His fellow guitarist Carl Wilson, meanwhile, gets his very first vocal on a Beach Boys album - ridiculously late into the Beach Boy years for someone whose going to become one of the band's most celebrated singers! (Ah well, that's what happens when your big brother is in charge of picking who sings what!) Brian tailors 'Girl Don't Me' especially for his sibling, writing for a style he knows the fab four adoring Carl will love. The result is the closest the Beach Boys ever come to sounding like the Beatles (not withstanding the three fab four covers on 'Party!') and shows Brian has been paying close attention to his biggest rivals: the ringing guitar, the one-two stomping 'Ringo' beat, the way the vocal phrases turn down at the corners at the end of every line (instead of up as per the average Beach Boys song): the only thing missing is the harmonies and this song could easily have graces the 'A Hard Day's Night' LP. Carl struggles a bit with his big moment (he really struggles to use double-tracking, but he shouldn't feel too bad - his elder brother had the same problems till not long ago) and yet this song is historically significant because you can almost feel the pieces slotting into place for future Beach Boys recordings. The group harmonies, Brian and Mike's interplay, even the songs have been there or there abouts but now with Carl and Al key members of the band rather than simply backing singers the Beach Boys have some great new tones to play around with that will pay dividends during the post-Brian years. By the way, all that exposure backfired in poor Al Jardine's case: his biggest moment on a Beach Boys yet (possibly ever) and he was taken poorly on the day of the cover shoot, leaving four Beach Boys to look ill at ease in the biting Californian harbour winds instead of five (or six with Bruce).

Given all the above dramas, ‘Summer Days’ should be a pretty awful record, either a treading water album paving the way for 'Pet Sounds' the following year or more of the same from a band under enormous record company pressure to keep releasing hits. ‘Summer Days’ has enjoyed something approaching that reputation among Beach Boys fans over the years, mainly because it’s the first ever Beach Boys record that doesn’t improve or sound more mature than its predecessor (the fondly regarded orchestral masterpiece ‘Today’, a true nod at The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’). Yet had your average casual Beach Boys fan come across this album then or now without knowing the ins and outs of the catalogue then they'd probably assume 'Summer Days' was a 'compilation': there are no less than five hit singles – two of them number ones – to savour and quite a few tracks well regarded by early Beach Boys aficionados. Not only are there ‘California Girls’ and the single version of ‘Help Me, Rhonda’, there’s also 'Then I Kissed Her' - released in the gap before 'Pet Sounds' in the UK and another big hit -  the charting B-side 'You're So Good To Me' (which gained almost as much fuss as A-side 'Sloop John B') and the forgotten early psychedelia of ‘Let Him Run Wild’ (which charted in it's own right as the B-side to 'California Girls'). This latter song is the least known but arguably the most important of all of these songs: its the one recording on the album that moves forward from even the 'Today' album forward into 'Pet Sounds' 'Smile' and beyond, with ever more complex backing vocals.
On the one hand ‘Summer Days’ is the last real traditional Beach Boys sounding record till at least 1976, the last chance to hear the band run through those surf, sun and car songs one last time – and yet the song plots and productions are noticeably deeper and more mature than in earlier songs. The characters are older, no longer young teenagers out for innocent fun but young adults straining at the leash to be let out into the real world on their terms as a couple. Just listen to the opening song ‘The Girl From New York City’, related to us in the second person as a bloke at the beach recounting how all the guys have gone mad for a new girl in town, but she’s no blond innocent being seduced like before but a flat-owning girl about town confident about making the right decision which suitor to spend time with. Even a comparatively backward track like ‘Amusement Parks USA’, which is effectively a re-write of ‘County Fair’ from ‘Surfin’ Safari’ is in a completely different league, filling up every available space with an intriguing riff or some snappy production work unlike the rather plodding but fun original. The couple also use the girl’s car to visit the amusement park – quite a twist for a Beach Boys song where the boy having a car to pull girls is the whole point of the song. Of the whole album only the jokey-but-so-autobiographical-it’s-not-funny ‘I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man’ sounds like it comes from the first half of the 60s, even if the subject matters and lyrics are firmly in the 1963 mould.

Talking of which, where did this unfunny comedy song come from? I can both understand and sympathise with the Brian Wilson of 1962 through to 1964 writing it: the song is so obviously and painfully about his dad Murry's abuse of his sons as to strike anyone who'd done their homework enough to know the full Beach Boys story. But the song is something you record during a war, not after a battle has been won on your terms. It's the musical equivalent of the allied army recording a song titled 'You all got fooled by Hitler, ha ha ha ha ha!' as a VE day single or Nelson recording Abba's 'Waterloo', in French, with a line about Napoleon being so short he got caught. It wasn't as if Murry was in the background, ripe for picking only by recent Beach Boys historians either: Murry was arguably the best known parent-of-a-pop-star in the whole of the 1960s and his 'sacking' by Brian had caused if not quite a stair then a ruffling of feathers amongst fans (while session tapes and interviews with the band has revealed quite what an unstoppable force Murry was and how much we agree with Brian's decision when he finally snaps during the session for the 'original' 'Help Me, Rhonda' as heard on 'The Beach Boys Today' record that wasn't how many fans would have seen it in 1965, as Murry could be quite nice and generous with his time to fans when the mood took him). By 1965 the war is over and the band have won: they've proved that they don't need their 'dad/manager' to hustle them into making popular, successful music and Brian is already long gone, out of the Wilson family home and in with his future wife Marilyn Rovell and her family. So why does Brian feel the need to crow about it now? 'Bugged' isn't an unlikeable song - it tries hard to talk about the family dramas in the kind of language his teen followers will understand and even has a mini-twist where the narrator isn't quite as goody two-shoes as he seems ('I got suspended from school!' he howls; Brian was always far too conscientious to be suspended from anything - his brother Dennis already caused enough trouble for any family). But in the context of the split lines like the pay-off 'he doesn't even know where it's it at' and the fact that Brian 'makes up' a lot of stuff about his dad when the reality was both funnier and worse seems unfair somehow: Murry never had a chance to reply to it because by that time he'd 'lost' his oxygen of publicity, although what he had to say about it was most likely unprintable. The fact that Brian uses the boogie woogie chords his mum Audrey had taught him - as if emphasising how she was the musical genius in the family, not his failed songwriter dad - seems particularly mean and un-Brian like (what happened to 'love and mercy?) Ah well, if even a quarter of the events in Brian's childhood (as recorded in the dubious Brian Wilson autobiography 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' ) are true then I'd probably have been out for revenge too.

Overall, though, 'Summer Days' is a very peaceful record (which is why this piano-only track sticks out so badly on it). Despite (or perhaps because) of all the turmoil going on, Brian seems to be suing music as an 'escape' more than ever and along with 'Today' there's a quiet serenity about 'Summer Days' that makes it both a successful commercial album and an artistic 'mood piece' where the pieces seem to belong together ('Bugged' aside). The difference between 'Summer Days' and 'Today' though is that a lot of the narrators are suddenly highly confident and happy-go-lucky, looking forward to a fun time in 'Salt Lake City', recognising that despite travelling round the world the best girls come from the band's home state in California, delighting in the 'la la la la la la' silliness of love in 'You're So Good To Me' and dreaming of the next time a girl can visit in 'And Your Dreams Come True'. Even 'Let Him Run Wild', a song about betrayal, has the narrator doing the betraying at the song's end, getting in before his love rival 'hurts' his beloved and being surprisingly proactive for a Brian Wilson narrator, with the song getting a happy ending. This is a subtle but likeable shift in Brian's writing. Other albums would have mourned having to leave 'Salt Lake City', being away from the 'California Girls' on tour, fearing that the 'la la la' silliness of 'You're So Good To Me' is about to end any minute and sobbing because the girl of your dreams has just been chucked out by your mum  and dad for staying too late. Brian is in a good place then - and about time too!

Overall, ‘Summer Nights’ is an unfairly neglected step in the path of Brian as a writer. While nothing on this record approaches what he will be writing later in the decade as ‘Smile’ there are definite glimpses at the greatness to come. Everybody knows ‘California Girls’ and once the song starts proper it is in truth not all that far removed from the old tried and tested Beach Boys formula. Yet that 30 second orchestral opening with it’s gorgeous, down circling theme – which has nothing whatsoever in common with the song to come – is so completely different to everything else heard in mid 65 that we’ve forgotten just how daring and brave it was back then. ‘Let Him Run Wild’ is another forgotten branch out into the new too, a relative flop single based around a sumptuous Beach Boys harmony heaven chorus matched to a fairly rocky walking pace backing track where the two paths only happen to walk side by side at a handful of points across the song. Finally, ‘Summer Means New Love’ continues the long-standing tradition of Beach Boys instrumentals and yet it’s session musician-led guitar-meets-orchestra, surf-meets-Mantovani backing is so far removed from the earlier primal Beach Boys surfing instrumentals it's hard to believe they were recorded by the same band just a year or two apart.

In fact, there are many nuggets of genius added throughout where frankly they didn't need to be: the symphonic opening to 'California Girls' is beautiful (and Brian's favourite piece of his own music ever, quite rightly it has to be said) but the rest of the song could have got by without it. 'Help Me, Rhonda' was already a perfectly acceptable album track before Brian decided to tinker with it and make it even better. Brian's started playing around with horn parts, most notably on 'Salt Lake City' and 'The Girl From New York City' - songs that would have been more than fine without them. 'Girl Don't Tell Me' is a generous offer to give his younger brother something he'd 'love to sing' that Brian didn't need to have made. 'Summer Means New Love' is delightfully lush back at a time when pop music this elaborately arranged and with such time spent on it was rare. Brian didn't need to do any of these things: with Capitol breathing down his neck he could have taken the 'easy' way out and recorded variations on 'Fun Fun Fun' and 'I Get Around' till the cows come home. But 'Today' helped Brian 'unlocked' that 'secret ingredient' - whatever it was - and now even record company pressures, time restraints and his own failing health post-breakdown can stop him from digging his heels in and doing the best job he can do. Slaying record company dragons, duelling with competitors head on and having just lead a peasants' revolt against the 'adults' the year before, the 1965 mark Brian Wilson is very much your traditional hero, tackling all the problems around him with only a warring bunch of brothers, friends and cousins to see him through.

The Songs:

‘The Girl From New York City’ is the first track on the album and whilst it shares some DNA with previous Beach Boys songs about girls on the beach, this is so much tighter and more grown up than before. Mike’s lead isn’t belted out at a hundred miles an hour as in the past and instead meanders in a laid back way despite the incessant backing and growling ‘yeahs’ from Dennis on one of his rare appearances on the album. Having a sudden key shift between the chorus and verse is an old Brian Wilson trick that goes back more or less to the Beach Boys’ beginnings and yet the use hear is almost casual – instead of being the whole point of the song the shift from laidback girl gazing to block chorus shouting is introduced with the line ‘And I say’. This successfully mimics the girl of the song who is extremely causal about her love life this summer and holds her cards to her chest over which of the boys courting her she wants to be with. It’s probably the first time on a Beach Boys song that the woman in the song is pro-active rather than passive and to be honest it’s not all that common after this point – even the band’s so-called feminist statements such as ‘Hey Little Tomboy’ have less ‘grown up’ sense than this!  The backing is impressive too, with a piano, saxophone, guitar and drums adding up to a sound that’s closer to soul than surf. The band’s harmonies are as excellent as ever, too, and even Mike Love excels himself on this track with a charismatic and believable lead that’s not so much his normal swagger as Mike in storytelling mode. All in all, a successful opening track, although like many of the tracks on this album’s there’s something slightly wrong with the mix, with the song sounding distant and uninvolving despite its many qualities.

‘Amusement Parks, USA’ is a fun-filled rollercoaster re-write of  ‘County Fair’, although this time there’s no girl going ‘ooh win me a koala bear muscles’, which is probably a good thing. The whole thing sounds massive and is delivered like a Phil Spector song – nothing unusual there, what with Brian being Phil’s biggest fan – but like many Spector songs both the subject matter and the lyrics sound a bit trivial, like the worst kind of candy floss pop songs. The contrast is what makes the song – the sheer size of the song really demonstrates all the excitement of being at the fair and the fact that impressing his girl is the most important thing that’s ever happened in the narrator’s life, ever. Along the way we see Stella the Snake Dancer (‘she walks, she talks, she wiggles on her belly...’), pay a visit to the bumper cars, the fortune teller, look at the crazy mirrors and try the jackhammer (with a bit more success than in 1962 when the narrator loses his girl to the muscly man next in the queue), all delivered breathlessly in a single line as if the narrator can’t wait to see what to do next. Listen out for famous session drummer Hal Blaine, star of many a Beach Boys song, doing a good secondary job as the carnival barker inviting us to ‘The Beach Boys’ Circus’), although alas the rest of the group can’t match Brian or Hal’s vision: the in-joke about the snake dancer ‘looking like a fig’ must be nonsensical to anyone who didn’t know that ‘fig’ was the band slang for ‘idiot’ (as also heard in the ‘Bull Session With The Big Daddy’ interview on the ‘Today’ album) and the annoying ha-ha-ha laugh which ends every chorus sounds like Hanna-Barbera favourite Hardy Har-Har with a bad throat. 

‘Then I Kissed Her’ is the real deal: the first Spector song covered by Brain, although unlike the later ‘For Once In My Life’ – which truly swamps the original – this song seems to miss the point. We’ve complained already about the distant and uninvolving mix on this song but its at its worst on this song – the plodding backing and echoey mix means we just don’t care about the narrator’s exciting time, which to be frank doesn’t sound all that exciting at all. And yet there’s a great twist in the arrangement, namely the fascinating backing harmonies that take all the attention away from poor Al at his most anonymous. From the second verse onwards Brian and co deliver one of their most mournful ‘oooh’ vocals, giving the song a real horror and dread. Taken together with the plodding backing (which is very Spector-ish but not very Beach Boysy), it’s as if the narrator or his girl has died and the other is looking back on the past with regret, remembering how different the future was going to be. It’s all good practice for the multi-dynamics of later Beach Boys albums, but this fondly remembered song is in truth a rather odd choice to put out as a single – even a late-in-the-day single released to fill the gap before Pet Sounds was ready. All in all, not one of the band’s better cover versions.

Brian can’t have known he was waving goodbye to all the plots and ideas that had served him so well from 1962-65 and the use of so many old themes and riffs are probably borne out more from the pressure the band was under than anything, but there’s something neat about the full circle way Brian ties up his loose ends. ‘Salt Lake City’ alone uses a whole bunch of old Beach Boys traits: the saxophone riff from ‘Shut Down’, the piano break from ‘Boogie Woodie’, etc. ‘Salt Lake City’ is some blatant advertising from the band, celebrating all the best features of one of the more fanatical Beach Boys states. ‘Salt Lake’ played a key role in the band’s early days – their radio station, which gets an indirect mention in the song, was one of the first to play the band’s records and the concert turn-outs in that state were among the biggest of the band’s career. The band repaid the song with this track – 1000 copies were pressed up in the town as a special treat and sold out within days.  It’s almost as if Brian is saying goodbye to the biggest champions of the Beach Boys Mark I now that he is preparing for the Beach Boys mark II in his head. The whole effect should be annoying for anyone not from Salt Lake City and yet the song is one of the catchiest and most memorable of the period, with a backing track chock-a-block full of exciting sounds from the xylophone to the saxophone and impressive harmonies to match, especially on the coda. Best of all, there’s two bass riffs playing in tandem, sometimes walking together – sometimes duelling, but unlike other songs that try the same idea (The Beatles’ ‘Think For Yourself’ for instance), the song is already so top heavy with the other instruments that it doesn’t sound strange. Lyrically, though, this is something of a backward step, with its ‘groovies’ and ‘outtasites’ sprinkled throughout the track, perhaps because unusually these words were written by Brain again rather than his cousin Mike Love. As a result, the song just about gets by thanks to the goodwill of the message and the brilliantness of the tune, but its frustrating that this classy backing track couldn’t have been kept for a more important work. Listen out for the sax solo in the song, where if you listen clearly you can hear Brain muttering something to the other Beach Boys.  
‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ is an interesting track. The Beatles were generally seen as the band’s biggest competition and at father Murry’s instigation were seen as ‘the enemy’ within the band, English interlopers who were copying the style The Beach Boys had made for themselves in mid-1962. Brian certainly felt competitive with Lennon and McCartney, but it was Carl Wilson who impressed on the others just how special this other group was and that each side had something to learn from the other. Despite his dad calling him ‘the traitor’, Carl covered his bedroom walls with Beatle posters and filled his draws with their singles and nagged at his brother to write something Beatleish for him. ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ is notable for being the first time Carl Wilson sang lead on a Beach Boys song – and he’ll be doing nothing else from this point on – amazing for a band 11 albums in and desperate for every gimmick they can get! ‘Girl’ is certainly very stylised, a sort of cross between the style of ‘Ticket To Ride’ and the quiet sighing of ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ (not to mention a ringing chord ending nicked from ‘Anytime At All’), although Brian rather sells the Beatles short with this song: its the simplest original song since the band’s second  or third album, suggesting Brian was still feeling competitive and wanted to put the ‘other’ band down. That’s a shame, given what a treat it would have been to hear the Beatles style overdubbed with Beach Boys harmonies and certainly the Beatles have much more respect the other way (‘Here, There and Everywhere’ is Macca’s rather more respectful take on The Beach Boys, although ‘Back In The USSR’ is a similar spoof). Carl does well with such an un-gamely song, though, with just the right indignation against the soulmate who promised to write to him last summer and never did and their rather huffy re-embrace the next year. Interestingly, though, even this simple song sounds rather more grown-up than earlier Beach Boys songs, what with its summer love turned sour theme.

‘Help Me, Rhonda’ is the #1 UK hit that will have everyone singing along at this point, although is it just me or is this actually one of the weaker and less commercial tracks on the record? Certainly its a long way away from the original album version (as heard on ‘Today’), which was terribly gauche in its fade in and outs and its almost slapstick harmonica lick. This version is far more confident, with Al’s vocal so much better the second time and the band’s backing harmonies, whoops and yells much more exciting. The part of the song that most people miss is the opening line: ‘well since she put me down I do it in my head’. A surprisingly nonsensical line from Brian which together with the next line – ‘I come in late at night and in the morning I just lay in bed’ – suggests a rather grumpy song, perhaps a flashback to Brian’s breakdown at the end of the previous year. Unlike the album version this single variation isn’t grumpy at all, just pleased to be alive, which sits rather uncomfortably with the theme of the song. This is a man asking for help after all, even if it’s for another girl to come into his life to get rid of his memories of the old one and somewhere at the heart of this song beats something uncomfortable. Still, enough people liked it for it to keep the Beach Boys’ track record going – even though this track does little for me.

Now then, what can I possibly write about ‘California Girls’ that hasn’t been rewritten several hundred times before? Erm, let’s start with the part of the song that not as many people notice: the backing track. Practically every song circa 1965 uses a guitar riff to get their message across – this one divides its main theme from xylophone, keyboard and bass, each of them taking it in turns to either churn out chords or go for a ‘walk’ around the root note of the song. This is unusual by any standards but compared to what the rest of the world was doing in 1965, its a revolution. Add in a chorus full of Beach Boys at their best (featuring Brian’s touring stand-in Bruce Johnston on his first trip inside the studio with the band – hwta  a first session that must have been!), a double-tracked Mike Love on fine form and an orchestral arrangement that adds another fine layer of texture to the song and what is there not to love? Well, the lyrics for one: this song is so close to the Beach Boys formula that its arguably the one that’s suffered the most from spoof productions – a list of girls around the world that can’t add up to those from the narrator’s home state is the kind of righteousness rubbish that would have put everybody’s backs up had it been attached to a backing track any less gorgeous than this. Again, like many a track on this album, the words would be OK on any earlier Beach Boys album but here they’re just such a poor substitute for the music that you wonder what on earth’s going on. Oh and as a historical note, only Brian is credited with this song again but it seems to be an oversight on the part of the band’s label – actually Mike wrote most of the words, although they’re not his best. Certainly Brian seemed to realise he needed to raise his game in this period, recruiting first Tony Asher and then Van Dyke Parks to write the words for his next magnum opuses, although understandably that didn’t fit too well with the man they replaced... For all my anti-lyric diatribe, however, one listen to that opening orchestral passage and I can forgive anything; I really am well and truly hooked and Brain doesn’t let the listener go till the end of the song, making ‘California Girls’ a virtual template for successful song-writing.

‘Let Him Run Wild’ might be less well known compared to the last two tracks but heard in its album running context – rather than an adventurous single with poor commercial hopes – it sounds just as good if not better. The backing and the theme are true ‘Pet Sounds’, telling a close friend to let her boyfriend run wild before he hurts her is an interesting twist on the ‘She Loves You’ idea, especially given that the sheer romanticism of the vocal and airy backing suggests that the narrator is really in love with the friend himself and doesn’t want to see harm come to her. At long last the lyrics of this track are worthy of their backing, uncomplicated without being stupidly simple and Brian especially turns in a really powerful vocal on this track, really pulling at the heart strings. The backing is something special too: we have the same ear-catching opening as ‘California Girls’, a similar plodding bass riff set against a repetitive guitar lick and a steel guitar going walkabout somewhere between the two. The whole piece really builds and builds to a huge climax in the first chorus when Brian’s narrator loses his control and screams ‘let him run’ over and over and the funny little chord change at the end of the chorus, leading us back to the passive verse (‘guess you know I’ve waited for you girl...’ ”) is classic Brian Wilson, killing the aggressive mood with a thoughtful sigh back to the minor key. Together with the similar same-period single-only flop ‘The Little Girl I Once Knew’, this is the Beach Boys at their moving and intelligent best and really deserves to be much better known than it is. 

Alas, the song filling the gap where this song should be on most Beach Boys compilations is ‘You’re So Good To Me’, a song that isn’t so much bad as simplistic. A single repetitive riff and a rather ropey lead from Brian can’t match the passion heard in the last track, although its nice to hear a track on this album that isn’t surrounded by strings for once. As the excellent sleeve-notes by David Leaf tell us, this must be one of only a small handful of Beach Boys songs written in 4/4, the time signature on which practically all of rock and roll is based. As a result, this song sounds horribly out of place and its place in the running order – sandwiched between one of the band’s most mature tracks and an orchestral instrumental – makes it sound even more out of place. Still, if its fun and simplicity you’re looking for, this track does have a sort of charm with it’s ragged soulful riff and la-la-la backing. The lyrics, too, have their moments, such as Brian’s narrator’s admission that his girl is so wonderful she forgives him even when he’s ‘in a bad mood’ – a rare admission from a pop star in 1965 when they were still groomed to seem perfect. This is also, incidentally, one of the best Beach Boys songs to sing along too – if only because it’s one of the few times they don’t sound a million miles better than I do.

I can’t sing along to ‘Summer Means New Love’ at all, which is a shame because it feels like I should be singing along to it. Like many Brian Wilson instrumentals, it’s not the most obvious candidate for becoming an instrumental – heck if he can write words to the downright peculiar riff of ‘Our Car Club’ then he can surely manage writing them to this comparatively straightforward piece. Because as lovely as ‘Summer’ is, it still sounds terribly unfinished and I’d much rather hear some block Beach Boys harmonies taking the lead than that awful 60s-stylised surf guitar. This track also sounds nothing like The Beach Boys as we know them, even with all the work Brian had put into writing orchestral pieces in this period (at least ‘Let’s Go Away For A While’ and ‘Pet Sounds’ sounded like The Beach Boys, even if it was new age vocal-less Beach Boys) and is yet another track on this album that sounds lost in the running order. Incidentally, this song was the surprise choice for release as the B-side of the ‘Caroline, No’ single, credited to Brian Wilson solo rather than the group for some rather odd record company reason. The highlight of the song, though, is the wonderful tag when the song seems to have stopped playing only for the violins to swoosh in from nowhere and sounds like one of the most mournful passages of any Beach Boys track. If only the whole song had been based around this riff...

‘I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man’ is the joker in the pack, a truly oddball back-to-basics rocker featuring Brian on lead and piano, the rest of the band on backing vocals and...well...not much else really. To be honest, this song would have been better without the jokey backing vocals too, given that despite the spoof tone of the song this song is a very very real put down song about possessive father Murry. You only have to read a biography (Brian’s auobiog will do even better) or watch a documentary to learn how much the Wilson’s father was the driving power behind the Beach Boys and how much his uncontrolled passion and anger did to unravel the band. While hang-ups about parents and authority figures are a staple of rock and roll then and now (especially Beach Boys classic ‘Fun Fun Fun’), this song sounds really odd because there’s no twist at the end: the hapless teen narrator can offer no come-uppance for his scroogy parent and is in an even worse position at the end of the song than at the beginning. This song is uncomfortable not just because we know how irritating and disruptive Murry could be but because we, too, can see no way out. The narrator has lost his radio, been suspended from school, lost his girl and is by the last verse locked in his windowless bedroom and the rather tuneless shriek with which he ends the song sounds more agonising than funny. Brian’s vocal makes it clear that this song is seen by him – and some of the backing band – as the next in the long line of ‘funny’ (to the band) songs which to date had seen a spoof fight over vocals, a rather phoney sounding outtakes compilation and will culminate in ‘Beach Boy’s Party’s disintegration of two Beach Boys classic the following year. This back to basics boogie woogie is even less funny than these ‘songs’, but all the more heart-warming in the way Brian cautiously gets some of his bug bears off his chest, still unsure whether its him or Murry who’s wrong. As the little glimpses of sheer genius elsewhere on this album show, Brian was right all the way and his deviations from the band’s formula only enhanced the band’s reputation and didn’t destroy it.     
 Closer ‘And Your Dreams Come True’ is a fascinating song. On the one hand its a gorgeous a capella song about a girlfriend kissing her boyfriend goodnight, longing for the time next year when the pair will be married and they no longer have to go home to separate houses (well, this was 1965, this probably wouldn’t be a problem for couples now but was a big thing back then). Yet here, hidden away as the last track on the last ‘traditional’ Beach Boys record, released more or less a year before Pet Sounds and it sounds like Brian Wilson is waving goodbye to his younger self. For a start, its the last time on a Beach Boys track possibly ever that the vocals are the whole point of the song, the last time the band show their huge Four Freshman influence and the lines about ‘growing up’ and becoming adults in one year’ s time surely can’t be coincidence.  This overlooked fragment of a song is also pretty much the last time the band will be in ‘harmony’ together – before the squabbles about direction and song credits that will mire 1966 for the band – and they have never sounded better. Al Jardine is now firmly re-instated as a major part of the blend, Mike Love is content to hold down the bass in harmony with the others without the need to show off, the band finally have enough confidence in the youngest Wilson, Carl, to let him be a major part of the band’s sound and best of all Brian’s velvety lead is so pure, youthful and innocent – for pretty much the last time – that it’s hard not to shed a tear. Even the Four Freshman could never match these harmonies (and I say that as a Four Freshman fan) – so many parts going on at once all working together for the same thing. No wonder the band called Brian ‘dog ears’ behind his back for picking up on all the little mistakes other people can’t hear; hearing the arrangement for this track so many times over for this review I’m starting to think he isn’t human.    

In short, ‘Summer Days’ can’t compete with its predecessor ‘Today’ because it’s not trying to be as new or as groundbreaking and as a result it can be seen as a comparative failure. There are also too many ‘filler’ tracks that are clearly there because Brian is running out of time and needs to come up with something rather than because they ought to be there or thematically fit.  But it’s a measure of how strong The Beach Boys’ output was that an album with four hit singles and only one or two real misfires can be regarded as a backwards step by most Beach Boys followers. As a last gasp burst of glorious summer sunshine from the band who could write carefree songs like no other ‘Summer Days’ is hard to beat and even taken on adventurous, ground-breaking terms this record still has its fair share of success stories. So remember this album this summer when you’re wondering what music to pack for your summer holidays – ‘Summer Days and Summer Nights’ is so much more than ‘just another Beach Boys album’ like it’s so often labelled. Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫♫ (6/10).  

Other Beach Boys articles from this site you might enjoy:

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

Essay: The Beach Boys and The American Dream
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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