Monday, 8 October 2012
The Beach Boys "All Summer Long" (1964)
“I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip, gotta find a new place where the kids are hip” “We always take my car ‘cause its never been beat, and we never miss yet with the girls we meet” “T-shirts, cut-offs and a pair of thongs, we’ve been having fun all summer long” “Every now and then we hear our song” “Hushabye, hushabye, oh my darlin’ don’t you cry, guardian angels up above, take care of the one I love” “It’s not a motorcycle, just a groovy little motorbike, it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys on a two-wheeled bike” “We know they’re right when they say we’re not ready, but all we care about is how we feel right now, we’ll go ahead just the same, prepare to take the blame, we’ll run away and get married anyhow” “It wasn’t too long ago that our folks were going through the same things we’re going through right now, but one thing they’re forgetting, a thing they’re not regretting, they ran away and got married anyhow” “Little Richard sang it and Dick Clark brought it to life, Danny and the Juniors hit a groove that was sharp as a knife, well now do you remember the guys that gave us rock and roll?” “The critics kept a knockin’ but the stars kept a rockin’, and the choppin’ didn’t get very far” “As the sun dips out of sight, on couples on the beach at night, the girls on the beach are all within reach, and with the boys tonight” “Every time I have a date there’s only one place to go, that’s to the drive-in, it’s such a groovy place to talk and maybe watch a show, that’s at the drive-in, forget about the plot you’ll do very well, but make sure you see enough so you’re prepared to tell about the drive-in, we love the drive-in” “Don’t sneak your buddies in the trunk or they might get caught down at the drive-in, and they’d look pretty stupid getting chased through the lot down at the drive-in” “Will you take off that hat? You look like George Washington!” “You gotta be a little nuts, but show ‘em you got guts, don’t back down from that wave!”
The Beach Boys “All Summer Long” (1964)
I Get Around/All Summer Long/Hushabye/Little Honda/We’ll Run Away/Carl’s Big Chance//Wendy/Do You Remember?/Girls On The Beach/Drive-In/Our Favourite Recording Sessions/Don’t Back Down
Do you remember that feeling you get heading into Autumn, when you know the Summer won’t be around for another nine months? If you do then either you’ve got a really good memory (the UK hasn’t seen sunshine for longer than 24 hours in about five years now) or you live somewhere with a decent chance of sunshine all the time (lucky you). Anyways, there’s no better album that sums up those bittersweet feelings of having lived life to the full, with a trunk full of stored up memories and the awful thought that that part of your life is now (literally come the Winter) put on ice again than sixth Beach Boys album ‘All Summer Long’. Most non and even casual fans assume that every Beach Boys ever made is a cornucopia of beaches, surfboards and cars – but actually this BB album is a last hurrah for all those subjects, which from now on will either be revisited in a postmodernist philosophical metaphorical way (the glorious ‘Surf’s Up’ from ‘Smile’) or will be on one of the band’s increasingly backwards-looking wannabe Beach Boys albums from the 1980s. In other words, this is the last time the Beach Boys sound young and innocent, a world away from the more adult themes they’ll be tackling in the late 60s.
Brian Wilson, the unquestionable king of surf writing despite having only tried the sport once in his life, hangs up his board and his woodie for good after this album, which might be why the whole LP has such a mournful, melancholic air throughout in both cover and contents. (The front sleeve looks like a scrapbook of holiday photos, the sort everyone sighs longingly at come Autumn when the summer heat is long gone even if they hated it at the time – the back sleeve features ‘memories’ from each of the band on their first couple of years of the band together, with carefree Dennis, of all people, acknowledging how ‘[this life] won’t last forever, but the memories will’; in retrospect its very eerie that the band are waving goodbye to their past in such a blatant manner). There’s even a ‘goodbye’ song celebrating the fading rockers of the 1950s, decades before anyone else thought to say farewell to them and years before the rockers themselves noticed that Beatle and Beach Boy mania was seeping them aside, not to mention the ‘last’ of many surf instrumentals, the ‘last’ cover material on a BB album till ‘Wild Honey’ and the last glorious songs written directly about the beach and about summer.
Probably not co-incidentally, given the ‘end of summer’ feel, it’s the last album of original material recorded before Brian’s much discussed nervous breakdown, caused not by drugs as many assume but by a ridiculously tight schedule that saw Brian in an un-relenting round of writing, rehearsing, producing and touring. The turning point came in December 1964 when Brian got on board a plane due to fly to Houston for yet another show he was ill prepared for and didn’t want to play (strapped in a seat next to a hapless Al Jardine in what must have been one of his least favourite moments as a Beach Boy). When the plane was turned round and Brian got off, he was never the same again, his music deeper, more complex and less teenage-orientated than before and – against all odds – he’s actually given time off the road to concentrate on writing, recording and producing his masterpieces, with this album the last to contain such a large percentage of ‘filler’. In retrospect, ‘All Summer Long’ sounds like a long goodbye note from Brian to a way of life that had made him famous, but that he knew would be unable to sustain; a unique blend of childish innocence and adult knowing, with shadows darting from several corners (the title track especially sounds distinctly edgy despite the happy lyrics celebrating the summer). At times you can believe this is the same band that appeared on the ‘Surfin’ Safari’ back in October 1962, goofy teenagers with having a good time the only thing on their minds; on others Brian is already going further out into the adult world of pop music than ever before, the band growing up before your ears. As a result ‘All Summer Long’ sounds like all the earlier Beach Boys writ large, with more sun, fun, girls and cars per square inch than perhaps any of their other records.
Many critics, like me, have gone to town on how the breakdown caused the change in Brian’s music – but it’s far from the only significant factor that changed the elder Wilson brother’s outlook on life. December 1964 was a busy time for Brian as ‘All Summer Long’ is also the last album to be made before Brian gets married for the first time, to girlfriend Marilyn Rovell, the same month as his breakdown (no jokes about marriages and breakdowns please). There are multiple references to getting married and settling down on this album and it may be that, as a newly married man looking for stability rather than escape, Brian never wanted to go back to the ‘girls on the beach’ style lyrics of this album; he’s a ‘grown up’ now. Note the fact that an old song, ‘We’ll Run Away’ written a couple years earlier, finally make the album now that Brian really is getting married and can open his heart about such things and the fact that the nostalgic title track comes complete with the line ‘Remember when I spilt coke all over your blouse?’ (exactly what a nervous Brian did the night he met Marilyn, a Beach Boys fan, backstage at an early gig!) In 1964 marriage was the most grown-up thing a young-ish person in America could legally do (apart from join the army at least), so it’s no surprise how ‘adult’ many of these songs are becoming, a point often missed in discussions of this album.
A third factor is that it was during early sessions for this record – during the recording of ‘I Get Around’ in fact – that the band parted ways with their manager and (for 3/5ths of the band) father Murray (they do work with him again on isolated songs, notably ‘Help Me, Rhonda’, but he’s on call when and if they want him rather than part of the studio furniture, as it were). If Murray had had his way the band would still have been doing clones of ‘Surfin’ for every single since 1961, so his absence means that for the first time Brian feels ‘free’ to experiment with his sound without having to be catchy and commercial every single time – although its notable how, for this first ‘solo’ album at least, the band are sticking rigidly to their successful formula. Murray was always difficult to work with, especially for Brian and the rest of the band but also for the engineers and sound mixers who kept being interrupted trying to do their jobs, so the break was inevitable sooner rather than later. That said, it shouldn’t be underestimated how hard it was for the band to finally bring things to a head and call time on their ‘partnership’ – Daddy Wilson was a force to be reckoned with and seemed to approach the band with a confusing mix of pride and jealousy (a filed songwriter himself, with only one pre-Beach Boys recording to his credit, he must have looked on Brian’s sudden swirly rise in the business particularly bitterly). The end result of this divide is not good: Murray, betrayed, fumed at home for a few years in a great depression and then, when the band began to fall commercially in 1967, sold the publishing writes to Brian and Mike’s songs for a paltry sum without even consulting his son and nephew first, although he does make sort of peace with his sons over the next few years (one of the band’s greatest ever songs and their last for Capitol, ‘Break Away’, is the sole collaboration between father and son in the band’s canon). Freed of the need to be a ‘teenager’ for the sake of selling records because his dad told him to, Brian did what every teenager with free choice has always done – he grows into an adult. As a result there are songs and topics on this album that wouldn’t even have been considered in albums past (is that why the two-year old and faintly risqué song about teenagers running away to get marries ends up on the album?) and the first few tentative steps into writing and recording something deeper.
A fourth and final factor is the spectre of Beatlemania reaching America and giving the band serious competition as feel good purveyors of youthful energy and pop records for the first time. The two bands were linked together from the first (this week marks not only 50 years since the first Beatles single ‘Love Me Do’, it marks 50 years since the Beach Boys’ first album ‘Surfin’ Safari’) although sadly the band’s lack of credibility after the failure of Smile and the no-show at the Monterey Pop Festival means few fans today remember that in their homeland the Boys had a two and a half year advantage before the Beatles' first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964. Brian really ups his game from hereon in, wanting to match the fab four with his fab five note for note and in retrospect its amazing how Beatlely the next run of singles from this album’s ‘I Get Around’ sounds. What’s less reported is how much the Beatles and indeed the whole of the British Invasion were influenced by the Beach Boys who – in the years up to 1967 – were exotic and ‘cool’ in Europe despite those dated striped shirts (Mick Jagger plugged this album’s ‘I Get Around’ almost as much as his own songs in mid 1964 and helped make it the band’s first top 10 hit in the UK). Listen to ‘Beatles For Sale’ released six months after this album, with its mix of melancholy, determination and goodtime fun and its interesting clearer ringing production and you can hear more than a few similarities (this album in turn seems to lead on from ‘I’ll Be Back’, the downbeat finale to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ released in tandem with this record).
‘All Summer Long’ is, also not coincidentally, the last Beach Boys album to sound ‘rushed’ - the band’s ninth album in a little under two years (counting the ‘In Concert’ and ‘Christmas’ records), it’s the last to feature surfing instrumentals and almost the last of those weird filler what-the-hell-is-this-doing-on-the-record? moments with the outtake special ‘Our Favourite Recording Sessions’. Brian and the gang will really start to grow from the next record ‘Today’ (a real fan favourite full of orchestral ballads and more adult lyrics about love and life) and within another year will be making the most grown up music of any band ever made, so much so that even by Christmas 1964 albums like ‘All Summer Long’ were becoming forgotten along the way. Ignore it at your peril however: as the first Beach Boys album recorded after Beatlemania reached American shores (and gave Brian serious competition for the first time), it shows signs of a band straining at the leash to get into heavier, harder material. Like all Beach Boys albums released in the first half of the 60s, half of this album is majestic inspiration – the other is hurried hackneyed perspiration (and fans have argued ever since about which is which).
For me the biggest practical development on this album is that Brian and cousin Mike Love have gone back to working together again. For much of 1963 and 64 Brian had been writing with partners – the Love’s neighbour Gary Usher and radio DJ and car enthusiast Roger Christian, two men who helped Brian develop a teenage vernacular and breathless enthusiasm for life that he didn’t always share (and who both failed to get on with band manager ‘Dad’ Murray Wilson). He’ll go on to work on songs with more ‘adult’ writers like Tony Asher (‘Pet Sounds’) and Van Dyke Parks (‘Smile’), but for a couple of years his closest companion for his feelings was cousin Mike. Despite the bad press Love gets from fans and critics (his decision to ‘split’ the reformed band and go back to ‘his’ line-up this very month hasn’t exactly warmed the band’s audiences towards him either), his lyrics on this album and the next two (‘Today’ and ‘Summer Nights’) are perfect fits for the music, adding a more upbeat feel that still doesn’t overwhelm or obscure the slight melancholy in Brian’s choice of melody. ‘I Get Around’ is the best known example from this album, turning teenage frustration about being trapped into a groovy song about escaping to new horizons, but it’s by no means the only one on the album which marks perhaps the high point (along with ‘Today’) of the cousin’s ability to get the best out of each other.
In fact, frustration and regret is a bit of a recurring them on this album, for all the images of summer living, loving and laughter. ‘All Summer Long’ doesn’t simply celebrate summer, it mourns the fact that it can’t last forever; ‘We’ll Run Away’ is a template for ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’ where a teenage couple wish they were old enough to marry without their parent’s permission; ‘Wendy’ is a girl who no longer cares for the narrator the way she once used to; ‘Do You Remember?’ sounds surprisingly nostalgic and upset that the way of life of the 1950s is fading while even the use of outtakes on ‘Our Favourite Recording Sessions’ is about the frustrations of the band trying time after time to make things perfect (as well as the chance to have fun with the sound effects cupboard). Considering that this album came out in mid 1964 – as a near contemporary of such albums as ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ ‘Stay With The Hollies’ ‘Rolling Stones’ and ‘The Kinks’ – its impressively ahead of its time in treating pop music as a medium to express ‘real’ emotions, not simply escapist fun. The Beach Boys had already reached further than most bands in trying to encapsulate the joy and energy of being a teenager in early 1960s America, and seemingly with this record they’re trying to capture the ‘full’ range of life, not just the ‘good’ bits.
To be honest, though, ‘All Summer Long’ is also and simply really good fun – albeit with melancholic twinges. Songs like ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Little Honda’ feature the same old Beach Boys energy and enthusiasm sounding louder than ever before, thanks to some cooking backing tracks (this album is one of the last to feature the band playing their own parts) and a particularly sparkling production (the Capitol Beach Boys start off in 1962 sounding a long way behind, say, EMI, but catch up quickly – unlike Decca, who don’t quite twig how to record rock and roll groups in a different way to classical music till at least 1967!) The mass band harmonies are almost always used here for energy and extra pizzazz, something that Brian knew his rivals couldn’t compete with, and even silly songs like ‘Drive-In’ sound amazingly big and ‘heavy’ for the day and age. In fact, for all the talk now about what a ‘stepping stone’ to greatness and depth this album represents, if you’d been around in 1964 and bought this album you’d probably be shocked most by how upbeat and powerful ‘All Summer Long’ is, even on its saddest moments.
Talking of sad moments (and boy did this band have their fair share of those!) as I write this article about a week or so after the news that, yet again, the Beach Boys are split and the differences between cousins Brian Wilson and Mike Love have put an end to an unexpected treat of a reunion. In terms of recording, it’s no great loss – the newest (as I write) Beach Boys album ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’ is almost all garbage and not even up to the last handful of Brian Wilson solo albums, never mind the band’s own high standards (the fact that fans are calling it ‘the band’s best album since 1981’ merely shows up how bad the albums from ‘Keepin’ The Summer Alive’ onwards are). But in terms of the band’s history it’s a devastating blow as, time after time, this band have overcome obstacle and obstacle and still refused to ‘back down’ and – at long last – they appeared to be heading back into Summer away from the cold dark Winter that’s existed since about 1967. What’s interesting to me is that, by and large, the themes of the record follow on where ‘All Summer Long’ left off, returning to this album’s themes of departing sun shine and bad times around the corner (it even ends with a song called ‘Summer Gone’). In Brian’s head, at least, this album is where people’s idea of what the Beach Boys sounded like ended – and the album he wanted to return to some 48 years on.
In a nutshell, then, ‘All Summer long’ is the latest in a series of gradually improving Beach Boys albums that all show gradually increasing sophistication, nous and intelligence (although I must admit I still have a soft spot for ‘Surfin’ Safari’, the earliest AAA album of all and the template for so much of what’s to come). If you’re a modern fan, though, then you’re still better off collecting what comes after this album: ‘Pet Sounds’ is the album everyone tells you is the masterpiece but it’s actually the four albums either side of it that represent the best of this band in their heyday (‘Today’ ‘Summer Nights’ ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Friends’ – we’ll ignore the troubled history of Smile/Smiley Smile for now) and later albums like ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Holland’ that have the most staying power. If it’s an understanding of what life was like in 1964, however (happiness and excitement, tinged with a fear of the future) then it’s this album and ‘Beatles For Sale’ you want to go straight out and buy, bittersweet albums both. And if you’re here simply for the sea and surf songs then you’ve made the perfect choice, with some of the best songs on the subject the band ever made – along with a few instances of hurried filler. Yes ‘All Summer Long’ is far from a perfect record, but it’s easier to excuse its faults than most, both because of the OTT recording schedule (four albums a year – artists are hard working with an album every four years now) and for its sheer likeability.
‘I Get Around’ is a masterpiece in miniature, an urgent driven song that on first hearing seems to be prime period upbeat Beach Boys, with shimmering harmonies a catchy chorus and a dynamic arrangement that makes each section of the song hit you flat in the ears. It’s like the Beach Boys of the past two years but amplified and exaggerated, so that all the elements here are really designed to knock out the listener, rather than merely entice them into buying the record. However the more you analyse this song the more you sense an air of unease and discontent: the narrator isn’t driving around for fun like he did on ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ et al, he’s frustrated, ‘tired of driving up and down the same old strip’. Mike Love’s lyrics about wanting to ‘find a new place where the kids are hip’ are interesting, the closest he came to channelling his cousin’s feelings and might well have been written after talking with Brian about the Beatles coming along and shaking up the music scene in 1964. In fact, it’s tempting to see this whole song as a metaphor for the band’s position in the music charts, ‘left alone’ by their local competitors and ‘making real good bread’ (that’s money to you and me) but wanting more. It’s probably no coincidence that the Beach Boys all but leave their career-long California setting after recording this song and really do find a ‘new place’ to write about – but then again it might just be that, as touring went on and the band got ever bigger, they had less time to stay at home and be influenced by life in Hawthorne, CA. Irrespective of what inspired it, this is one of the more arresting Beach Boys songs, making the most of Mike’s angry lead, Brian’s sweet falsetto and some of the best group harmonies the band ever gave. The use of a stomping percussion-heavy feel on the verses helps add a real punchy feel to the song, too, while the hand-clapping and foot stomping bring s to mind the teenage gangs of the 1950s rather than the slightly more laidback 60s. A fine melody that mixes frustration with hope and optimism is the icing on the cake of what was, deservedly, one of the band’s biggest hits of the period, both their first #1 in America and their first top 10 single in the UK. Disappointingly the song has only ever been released in stereo and the master tapes are missing from the archives so it can’t be remixed (the backing track released on the ’30 Years Of Good Vibrations’ box set is actually the ‘re-recording’ made for the ‘In Concert’ album and smothered in screams!)
‘All Summer Long’ is best known to modern audiences from its appearance in the film ‘American Graffiti’, where it appears over the credits as a slightly edgy goodbye to innocence (as well as Summer). At the time of release, however, it would surely have been taken on face value as a very Beach Boysy song full of references to summer activities and endless fun, one with several familiar trademarks (glossy band harmonies, dappy lyrics, a cute tune) and some new ideas (a xylophone accompaniment and a curious orchestral solo where a saxophone answers some passing flutes that are never heard again the rest of the song. Many fans rate it as a favourite, although I can’t say its high on my list of favourite Beach Boys songs – the lyrics are too generic , the tempo too ploddy and the vocals too disinterested for one thing. But what I do like is the idea that now the summer is over all the couple have left are memories and the various autobiographical allusions that give this song a little extra sophistication (as mentioned above, Brian really did accidentally spill coke over his date – who turned out later to be his wife). It’s hard to imagine Mike’s narrator character being that clumsy and apologetic, however, and by Beach Boys standards even the backing vocals are lacklustre (Dennis has been brought to the front – that’s him on the ‘not for us now!’ tag – and sounds as if he’s worse for wear and has been out drinking all night; an event not all that unlikely to be honest!) The melody too seems to be all on one note, with simplistic descending chords that don’t really compare to the rest of the album – certainly the track we’ve just had. A bit of a disappointment to be honest. You can hear a 15 second snippet of an outtake from this song on the forthcoming ‘Our Favourite Recording Sessions’ where the band sound in a particularly tired and ratty mood – perhaps that explains why this song never quite gets going?
‘Hushabye’ is a glorious lullaby ballad of the type you just don’t hear past about 1966 (when the nation’s youth never slept!) It’s actually an obscure song by a band named The Mystics who just about scraped into the top 20 in 1959, which probably caught Brian’s ear because of the similarities to his own beloved Four Freshman. The Beach Boys cover is superior in every way, speeding up the tempo to make the most of the song’s pretty tune and turning in some of their sweetest and most complex harmonies in the backing. It’s Brian’s who really shines, however, with a jaw-droppingly fragile and difficult falsetto part that carries on a fulltwo octaves higher than the rest of the band (who, admittedly, do sing in a lower register than normal). The melody is a good one and the band make the most out of it, with even Mike Love turning down his anger and energy to sound sufficiently sensitive and romantic on the middle eight. All that said, though, this song fails as a lullaby: surely anyone hearing this would be too excited to go to sleep?! This song is best heard on the ’30 Years Of Good Vibrations’ box set where a curious vocal/band split means you can listen to the stunning harmonies a capella if you hold only one headphone in your ear – this, surely, is the sound of heaven.
‘Little Honda’ is another of my favourites, a simplistic song about a scooter rescued by virtue of a stunning band performance and a dynamic arrangement that makes even a non-car owning pedestrian like me want to take to the road. The band planned it as their Spring 1964 single before getting cold feet (they were probably right not to release it despite its commerciality; it appeared on the EP ‘4 By The Beach Boys’ which did well in the charts, but with ‘Wendy’ the song most fans bought it for according to over-the-counter requests; a cover by Brian’s old friend and writing partner Gary Usher under the name ‘The Hondells’ struggled to #10 in the charts; many radio stations would probably have banned it fort advertising too – ‘Honda’ being a manufacturing name – indeed the band actually sang ‘Little Cycle’ when plugging this song on the Andy Williams show in 1964). I love it though, as this track sums up everything the Beach Boys were so good at, namely making the ordinary seem extraordinary; the driving echo-drenched guitar work gives Phil Spector a ride for his money, the central guitar riff would sound at home on any heavy metal album and the Mike Love’s double tracked lead is perhaps his masterpiece, warm and enthusiastic and effortlessly handles what’s a pretty difficult part to sing (just listen to how much Ray Davies struggles double-tracking on the first two Kinks albums from this period). Listen out too for Brian’s subtle use of the band humming their way throughout the song, making the occasionally difficult chord changes pretty easy to navigate around and Dennis’ double-tracked second vocal (‘Faster!’) that’s one of his earliest lead parts on a Beach Boys record. The end result is a fantastic piece of craftsmanship that overcomes the often simplified words (it’s certainly no ‘I Get Around’) and a shoe-in for the band’s best car/bike song (along with the forgotten ‘Our Car Club’). Every Beach Boys reference book I’ve consulted seems to be in some doubt as to who shouts ‘Go!’ at the start of the song – surely it’s Mike, not Dennis as most of them suspect; what do you think?
‘We’ll Run Away’ is another strong song and one of the band’s prettiest early period ballads if you’re in the right mood of all that treacle. Effectively a first version of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’, another song where a loving couple discuss how great it would be to be older, I actually prefer it as its innocence seems more genuine and heartfelt (whereas the Pet Sounds epic always sounded forced, ugly and angular and badly arranged to my ears). The writing co-credit to Gary Usher suggests that its probably one of Brian’s earlier songs from 1962 or thereabouts, although it might have been re-written since. It’s actually among Brian’s more sophisticated pieces of the era, with a lovely sing-songy melody that sounds like one of Paul McCartney’s and perfectly cast for Brian’s sighing lead part. The lyrics, too, are pretty special, full of complicated rhymes halfway through each line that’s awfully hard to pull of across a full song and yet sound entirely heartfelt, especially when the teenagers turn on their sets of parents and point out that they too married young and ‘ran away’ to get married. The only thing that lets this song down is a rather boring ‘aaaah’ backing harmony part and a slightly cloying backing of strummed acoustic guitar and organ that sounds like its walked out of a 1950s beach movie. Still, there’s a great song in here somewhere and it would be odd indeed if this song was left off five earlier horribly rushed and tight-to-deadline albums (did Murray worry that the song might encourage teenagers to actually ‘run away and get married’ – and did Brian push for its inclusion on an album after his dad was fired?)
‘Carl’s Big Chance’ is the band’s last surfing instrumental and possibly their best (along with the forgotten ‘Moon Dawg’ from their first album). The band have come a long way from ‘Surfin’ USA’ where instrumentals (originals and covers) make up for half the record and its noticeable how out of place this song sounds, like a relic from another era. Like many instrumentals, it goes on too long and would have benefitted from lyrics, but there’s a nice Chuck Berry-ish groove to enjoy, a terrific drum break every few bars (probably not Dennis by the sound of it) and the chance to enjoy Carl Wilson playing unadorned (even if he muffs up about three notes in and has to correct it). A kind of ‘brother’ song to Denny’s Drums’, it could be that Brian is trying to put his siblings into the spotlight a bit more across these records or simply that the band are pushed for time and need something quick. The song was originally titled ‘Memphis Beach’ apparently, although who changed it and why is sadly not recorded. Filler you won’t want to hear too many times, but not as obnoxious as some of the filler on earlier Beach Boys albums (the run of ‘nothing’ songs towards the end of previous LP ‘Shut Down Volume 2’ all but brought that album to a halt).
‘Wendy’ is one of the album’s better known tracks, an ominous tale of betrayal by a girl that the narrator thought loved him madly that definitely points the lyrical path forward to ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ by acknowledging slightly deeper emotions than the norm. Like the forthcoming ‘California Girls’ it features a fascinating ‘slow-motion’ opening that bears no resemblance to the rest of the song but certainly catches the ear and may well have been an experiment by Brian to seed what he could ‘get away with’. The lyrics and melody to this song are a tad more generic than the opening suggests, with such awful rhymes as ‘I can’t picture you with him, the future looks awful dim’ and the production is sloppy (there’s a much discussed cough in the middle eight that’s mixed louder than anything else on the record and some murmuring in the background that illustrates how time must have been running short). Not content to ruin ‘We’ll Run Away’ with an unnecessary organ part the band another one here, too, as a solo of all things – cheap and hammy it ruins the rest of the song. But for all her faults ‘Wendy’ is still quite a likeable song, full of exotic and unexpected shifts in chord and key that only a mass choir like The Beach Boys en masse could make compelling. It was also a big hit – well, it helped get the ‘4 by 4’ EP up to 44 in the charts on the back of fans asking specifically for this song anyway! Brian obviously had a fondness for this song as he named his second daughter (born 1969) after this song (she ended up part of the hit trio Wilson-Phillips in the 1990s along with her sister Carnie and Papa John Phillips’ daughter Chynna).
‘Do You Remember?’ is surely unique among albums released in 1964 – while everyone else is looking ahead to the future with excitement and knows that rock and will never die, the Beach Boys look to the past and admit that, yes, old rockers can fade away in obscurity (a brave idea in 1960s America). The band are clearly enjoying themselves on a song that musically sounds more like Jerry Lee Lewis despite lyrical references to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Many fans have disputed this song’s distorted take on rock history (Dick Clark mentioned not Alan Freed and no references to Buddy Holly or Bill Haley) but remember this is 1964 and we hadn’t had any of the hundreds of documentaries about the roots of rock and roll and magazine articles published both sides of the channel. This is very much Brian Wilson’s take on rock history and in fact he only has a verse to mention anybody – the rest of the song uses the familiar in-concert trick of getting each of the band to sing a part a line at a time. The result is a lot of fun and a good chance to hear the band’s influences, although you’d have to look till ‘Add Some Music To Your Day’ in 1970 to hear Brian properly writing about what music means to him – this is just a bit of fun for the band and fans. Mike Love again turns in one of his career best vocals and its fun to hear the rest of the band sound like a 1950s doo wop group, although Brian sounds unusually ropey here, struggling to cope with the double-tracking Mike seems to have taken to so fast.
‘The Girls On The Beach’ is pure Beach Boys, however, a soft (some would say soppy) Four Freshman type song about, well, girls on the beach. Musically this is ‘Surfer Girl’ with some lyrics from ‘California Girls’ attached, but sadly neither words nor melody are all that inspired. The highlight of the song is the chance for Dennis Wilson to get a whole middle eight to himself and he out-sings even brother Brian on a song that’s become something of a retrospective hit (it might amaze new fans to learn that this song never came out as a single – and wasn’t even thought strong enough to include on the EP). There are some truly questionable rhymes here (‘On the beach you’ll find them there, in the sun and salty air’) and the song manages to last the full distance without actually saying anything (except that, gosh, girls like to go to beaches) and yet the more you analyse this simple-sounding song the more you realise how ridiculously complex and complicated it is. Despite nicking the tune from Disney hit ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ for the second time (see ‘Surfer Girl’) this song passes through more chord and key changes than the Coalition Government go through U-turns and is wonderfully difficult and challenging by mid-1964 standards (The Beatles won’t be hitting songs this difficult until ‘Revolver’ two years later!) For all that, though, this song is one you admire rather than like or indeed love, with some of the worst lyrics of any Beach Boys song and a woefully slow tempo that slows the while thing to a crawl. Perhaps Brian was getting just a little bit too clever for his own good here? The Beach Boys appeared in their own film in this period, named ‘Girls On The Beach’ where they sing this song, ‘Little Honda’ and the past classic ‘Lonely Sea’ – it’s pretty awful and not recommended viewing unless you’re a real surfer yourself but what’s interesting is how quickly the band got away with disowning it (you’d expect this record to be named after the film, for instance). Complex filler.
‘Drive-In’ is one of the simplest and possibly dumbest songs the Beach Boys ever did – in fact the lyrics, celebrating kissing girls at drive-in movie theatres sounds more like a spoof lyric than a real effort, especially the knowing way Mike Love sings the lead vocal. But heartfelt or jokey, it’s still a great song with a driving rocking backing track and some of the best band harmonies on the record. The band sound like they had a lot of fun recording this song – they even re-use the melody for an aborted version of ‘Little Saint Nick’ they record during the band’s next album ‘Beach Boys Christmas’ that comes close to eclipsing the real thing (unreleased till the 1990s its now on most of the interminable re-issues of the Beach Boys’ festive material every Xmas). The song’s lyrics find the narrator being teased for forgetting the film plot (he was too busy kissing his girlfriend to notice!), fogging up the windows of his car with his warm breath and getting scared by the security guard, spending all his money on expensive food and – ridiculously – hiding his buddies in the boot of his car and watching them ‘look awful stupid getting chased through the lot’. Listen out for the daring ‘silence’ before the last verse (Brian played around with gaps a lot in this period – the single ‘The Little Girl I Once Knew’ from 1965 goes even further and was a real no-no at the time because so many radio stations would play albums all the way through and weren’t allowed to have silence on the air in case listeners changed stations). The line ‘Only you can prevent forest fires’ has confused many a modern fan, but I know my animation and its actually from a Barney Bear education short shown before a lot of teenage fans in the early 60s (fires in forests are an occupational hazard in America and can become unmanageable really quickly; that’s not the case over here in the UK where our dumbwit politicians have sold most of it off to developers). This isn’t the Beach Boys at their deepest, as you can probably tell, but if I have to listen to filler songs then I’d rather hear a daft but fun piece like this than the auto-pilot of the last song – and the sheer weirdness of the next.
‘Our Favourite Recording Sessions’ is the middle of – gulp – three spoken word pieces show-horned onto Beach Boys albums in order to fill up another three minutes of precious space. This set of outtakes is at least less arch than the previous album’s ‘Sonny Love vs Cassius Wilson’ (where a very stagey fight takes place between Mike and Brian) and slightly more entertaining than the rather dull interview that appears on next album ‘Today’ (‘Bull Session With The Big Daddy’) but it’s no great revelation. The piece starts with tape engineer Chuck Britz re-winding tape at high speed ( a very sci-fi effect as you can hear), Mike attempting the first verse of ‘Do You Remember?’ and getting the words wrong before breaking off and jokingly suggesting overdubbing some finger popping on the song; Brian tells him his hat ‘makes you look like George Washington’ (this is the period when Mike began wearing hats to hide his bald spot) – Mike less jokingly adopts his best film voice and announces he’ll ‘throw you across the room’; a take of the title track breaks down when Carl accidentally sings the second verse instead of the first (coming up with the rather risqué ‘Teachers in my car, outside your house’ which sets the others into fits of laughter); somebody unknown accidentally breaks a surprisingly husky Brian’s tie-pin; Brian uses the echo chamber to announce Carl Wilson ‘has flown all the way from Hawthorne, California to jump into a 2-bit cup’; finally Brian looks for the note he needs (actually the one that starts the next song on the album) and does some mock-operatic singing. The end result is a fascinating glimpse of the band at work having a bit of joke and speaks volumes about their personal relationships. That said, it really doesn’t belong on a ‘proper’ studio record and spoken word pieces like this are the first to go the moment Brian gets a little extra time to craft his music and make the album he wants to make.
The final track on the album, ‘Don’t Back Down’, is almost eerie in the way it depicts Brian as the hapless surfer fighting overwhelming odds and struggling to overcome his insecurities. The ideas of the song is ‘Don’t back down from that wave’, but seeing as this is the last time surfing or waves are mentioned by the band for some time, it’s clear his thoughts are elsewhere (he’s probably thinking of the competition the Beatles have given him). The band spent a lot more time on this song than they did on most album tracks not earmarked as singles and a completely different (new tune, new words) version mesmerised many when it appeared as a bonus track on the ‘two-fer’ CD re-issue of the ‘All Summer Long’ album in the 1990s because it was so staggeringly different. Interestingly, the ‘cuteness’ of the early version is long gone by the time of this finished version, with some ‘de-dum-de-dum’ harmonies replaced by a chanting ‘Don’t Back Down’ and some new lyrics adding that to fight back waves that big ‘takes guts’ but ‘you’ve got to be a little nuts’. It makes for a very downbeat end to the album and indeed sounds very like The Beatles’ ‘I’ll Be Back’ from ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ from a month earlier, a sad quiet reflective ending to an album ;largely full of amusement and energy. What’s sad, too, is that this is the last time we’ll hear a completely ‘stable’ Brian Wilson on a Beach Boys album and already he seems to know what kind of rollercoaster ride he’s in for for the rest of his life, full of obstacles to be overcome. Eerily Capitol’s first printing of the record sleeve lists this song as ‘Don’t Break Down’, almost as if the record company almost singlehandedly funded by Brian’s band were warning him to do just that. It’s an unsettling song this, without the usual bounce and optimism of the Beach Boys in the pre-1966 days and makes for a rather sad and lonely end to a long string of albums where the band encapsulate everything that was great about being young in the 1960s.
Overall, then, ‘All Summer Long’ reaches both forward and back, building on past success while trying tentatively to add the complexity and the melancholy of later albums for the first time. Despite having the word ‘Summer’ in the title, the summer on this album is all in the past, a ghostly memory that won’t be around much longer when the Winter hits. Brian is progressing at an alarming rate and, for now, the band are just about keeping pace with him (especially cousin Mike whose at his best on this album and ‘Today’), but he doesn’t have the time yet to make his grand opus and while parts of this album hint at what might have been given more time and energy other parts merely point to how tired and fed-up the band must have been six studio albums into a stomach-churningly aggressive record contract. With the two sides scattered randomly across the LP its hard sometimes to realise that it’s by the same band and the problem is that its hard to reconcile the genius of ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Hushabye’ with the amateurs of the title track and ‘Our Favourite Recording Session’. Ignore this album at your peril, however, because it still remains one of the best albums about summer fun and happiness ever written – even with the darker shadows of what’s about to come intact. Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫♫ (6/10).
Other Beach Boys reviews on this site you might be interested in:
'Surfin' Safari' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/news-views-and-music-issue-28-beach.html
'Beach Boys Christmas' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/12/news-views-and-music-issue-17-beach.html
'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/news-views-and-music-issue-65-beach.html
'Wild Honey' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-115-beach.html
'Pacific Ocean Blue' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-97-dennis.html
'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased)
'L.A.Light Album' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-75-beach-boys-la-light-album.html
'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008_06_29_archive.html
'That Lucky Old Sun' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/news-views-and-music-issue-55-brian.html
'Smile Sessions (band outtakes) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/news-views-and-music-issue-142-beach.html