In-depth reviews of classic or neglected albums, mainly from the 1960s and 70s, plus a weekly newsletter featuring all the latest news, views and music. Artists covered include Beach Boys, Beatles, Belle and Sebastian, Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash, Dire Straits, Grateful Dead, Hollies, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Kinks, Nils Lofgren, Monkees, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Searchers, Simon and Garfunkel, Small Faces, 10cc, The Who and Neil Young.
Monday, 18 August 2014
Beach Boys Solo/Live/Compilation/Unreleased/Rarities Albums/Box Sets Part One 1961-86
Dear all, as you know the last month has been spent surfing through the Beach Boys catalofgue in an attempt to bash our first AAA album into ashape. Given that I'm a tad behind and don't have the time to write a 'top ten' this week I thought I'd publish the first of two parts looking at all the 'Beach Boys' paraphenelia which we either haven't covered till now or have only reviewed in brief. Hopefully all out books will include short pueces on each live album, the key compilations, unreleased albums, early recordings, rarities sets, box sets and any solo albums we haven't covered along the way, listed here in chronological order. For now, though, here's your chance to read them a couple of years early, without the main reviews in the way. Part One runs from 1961 to 1986; part two will follow next week, just as soon as your eyes have recovered....
"Lost and Found 1961-62"
(DCC, 'February' 1991)
Luau/Surfin'/Studio Chatter/Surfin' #2/Studio Chatter/Luau #2/Luau #3/Barbie/What Is A Young Girl Made Of?/Surfin' Safari/Studio Chatter/Sufin' Safari #2/Studio Chatter/Surfer Girl/Judy/Judy #2/Beach Boys Stomp (re-titled 'Karate' on some copies)/Surfin' Safari #3/Lavender
"This Is Dennis Wilson speaking to you with the tone of his voice, I live at Hawthorne, California but not for long because I'm planning to get outta town and see some chicks as soon as I've finished helping my brothers make a record..."
These are the first professional recordings the Beach Boys ever made, taped at Hite Morgan's studio in Hawthorne, California, after he (and particularly his wife Dorinda) thought the band's 'audition' for his tiny record label 'Candix' showed promise. The band actually sang an early, Four Freshman-style arrangement of 'Sloop John B' but the producer was tired of hearing 1950s style arrangements and asked the band if they could do anything else. The band were in the middle of shaking their heads and looking towards the door when drummer Dennis Wilson yelled that his brother Brian had written this really 'cool' song about surfing for him. Despite Brian's protests that the song had been written for a giggle and wasn't finished, the band duly trooped back into the studio the next door and impressed Mr and Mrs Morgan, who offered them a contract there and then, recorded a reel of sessions during a single day to pick and choose the first (and as it turned out only) single: 'Surfin' on the A-side and 'Luau' on the flip. For this recording the Beach Boys have yet to recruit Dave Marks but do have Al Jardine in tow, on his final Beach Boys recording until 1964.
Imagine, if you will, that you are an archaeologist from the future searching for treasure. You've just found a box you reckon no one could possibly find valuable - it's just a bunch of gawky teenagers playing a bunch of not particularly great cover songs and one or two originals in between an awful lot of messing around. The name on the tape - 'The Pendletones - means nothing to you either, even though the stripy shirts on the cover look vaguely familiar. But when you come back and mention this to your colleague he flips his 11 wigs (or however many heads we get to have in the future): he knows that what you have is a tape by The Beach Boys under their original name (which is changed accidentally, without their knowledge, by local record label boss Hite Morgan when their recording of first single 'Surfin' gets mixed up with another similar band called The Beach Boys). Hearing it with new ears you begin to hear all sorts of actually pretty impressive invention: 'Surfin Safari' already rocks with a poise and confidence a band this young (Carl was 14) shouldn't possess. Brian already soars like an angel, Mike already sounds born for a lead singer role and the backing harmonies, though an awful lot wobblier than what's to come, are undoubtedly there. Excitedly you both retrieve the tape and play it to a third colleague, whose never heard of The Beach Boys she clearly went missing when the 'Brian Wilson Is God and 'Smile' is his commandments' syllabus on the band came up at the Alan's Album Archives College in the year 3763). She doesn't care who these kids grew up to be - they're clearly just kids, messing around, without a clue of what they're doing yet.
The thing about 'Lost and Found' is, everybody in that scenario is right. Debut record 'Surfin Safari' might have sounded a little ropey compared to the later Beach Boy gems but that's nothing on how unrehearsed and tentative the three goes on this tape sounds. First passes at 'Surfin' and 'Surfer Girl' somehow sound worse. The 'unknown material' isn't all that special either: 'Luau' - written for the band by record plant owner Bruce Morgan in a sneaky attempt to get in on the act - is extremely irritating, a middle aged man's idea of what will interest a teenager (although good on him for not just releasing it as the A-side of band's first single anyway). Morgan's two other songs, 'Barbie' and 'What Is A Young Girl Made Of' are also pretty poor, although they do at least sound like something The Beach Boys might sing (the former, especially, is the best recording of a song on the album that won't be re-recorded later, sounding at one with Brian's first-name odes to various girlfriends). The CD version of the album adds another Morgan song, 'Lavender', heard in demo form - not that this adds any great deal to your enjoyment of the album. Even the two Beach Boy originals aren't that great: an older, wiser Brian would have known how to get the most out of the sweet but trite 'Judy' but Brian's lapses too easily (if understandably, given the circumstances) into shrillness, while 'Beach Boys Stomp', an instrumental with the single phrase 'Karate', isn't even up to the similar filler the band will be recording on their first three albums. The band sound shaky throughout, accompanied by just Carl's guitar and Brian's tap-tap on a cymbal hi-hat (Dennis and Al just sing for now, as of course does Mike), without the spit and polish associated with the band later.
All that said, 'Lost and Found' is still a fascinating album for the collector and by being one of the rare cases of a pre-fame AAA recording actually intended for release its arguably more important than The Beatles' 'Star-Club' tapes, The Searchers' 'Iron Door' demo tape or The Who when they were The High Numbers. Hearing the band before Murry Wilson became properly involved with his three sons' musical endeavours reveals just how much Brian has worked at this, drilling a band made up of brothers, cousin s and friends in this -to varying degrees - for a laugh. Compared to other period records out (even those by Brian's beloved favourites The Four Freshman) and these recordings are way ahead of their time, livelier and more exciting than pretty much anything out in 1961 (at a push Johnny Kidd and the Pirates could have given the band a run for their money but I doubt anybody in California had heard of them). 'Surfin' and 'Surfin' Safari' may be as tentative as everything else here, but you can already feel the 'glow' as the Beach Boys perform in tandem, really getting into the song and ending up with a song that's clearly a stepping stone from a 1950s sound but one that points to a whole lot more. Even 'Surfer Girl', while still a pale and rather weather-worn old thing in this incarnation, is recognisably the same beauty who'll stride up the pop charts a couple of years later. In short, The Beach Boys are one talented band, even if their talents haven't quite congealed yet (they were expecting to play harmony-drenched ballads, remember, not Chuck Berry style rock songs). Good on Hite Morgan for realising this, despite the fact that The Beach Boys are already far ahead of the market for 1961 and taking a gamble on a band he must surely have known he'd lose to the big guys at some record label somewhere even on the minute chance the single did score big. Yes, OK, his songs are awful and detract from what might have been the record release of a lifetime had the band been able to record what they wanted to without interference. But wouldn't you try the same if the teenage group in front of you asking for help were both this naive and untested and yet this good all at the same time? In short, 'Lost and Found' is an essential purchase for any passionate collector fascinated to know what the Beach Boys sounded like before their first studio album - but if even 'Surfin' Safari' is too rough and ready for your liking then my advice is to stay away and leave this recording 'lost' for a bit longer. A word of warning too - when these tapes went out of copyright sometimes around 1990 a number of enterprising companies bought them and tried to 'modernise' them with a number of overdubs (mainly booming 1980s drums), generally re-titled simply 'The Beach Boys'. Astonishingly these fail to improve even the too-bad-for-the-Spice-Girls recording 'Luau' (although they do a good job at drowning out the vocals) and are the archaeological equivalent of putting a McDonalds sign on top of an Egyptian Pyramid -cultural vandalism at its worst. Get hold of the 1991 release actually titled 'Lost and Found' if you can.
"Beach Boys Concert"
(Capitol, Recorded 8th January 1964, Released 19th October 1964)
Fun Fun Fun/The Little Old Lady From Pasadena/Little Deuce Coupe/Long Tall Texan/In My Room/Monster Mash//Let's Go Trippin'!/Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow/The Wanderer/Hawaii/Graduation Day/I Get Around/Johnny B Goode
"And now, from Hawthorne California, here to entertain you tonight, with a killer concert and a recording session - the fabulous Beach Boys!"
‘The Beach Boys Concert’ is one of life’s little curiosities, the earliest AAA live recording of the whole bang lot (some 100-odd at the last count, although the Rolling Stones will probably double that in the next ten years given their current rate of concert recordings) but, not necessarily, the template that others looked to follow. By January 1964 the Beach Boys were at the peak of their first era, all striped shirts, hundreds of screaming teenagers (probably not yet ‘thousands’ in one sitting, though, as it says on the sleeve) and there was a real buzz and excitement from any performance they gave. In this context you can tell why Capitol would want a live album from the band and why they would acquiesce - they were really making a name for themselves on stage and if even a little of all that adoration made it onto record then this could be a killer LP. Certainly the audience play their part - if you've come from the post-Smile school of thinking that 'The Beach Boys were never popular' then you only need to hear the screams of adoration hitting the band as they walk on stage; not until The Beatles at Shea Stadium will this much audience worship be caught in one place give or take an Elvis recording or three.
However, the band don't play ball. The sensible thing would, surely, be to get the gang to record all their hits and best loved songs on one night and simply release that as a cheap and cheerful alternative to the no-doubt worn-out studio singles and albums. However Beach Boys setlists in 1964 tended to be both erratic and short, more erratic and shorter, even, than The Beatles or Rolling Stones gigs of the day. Even this early on in their career, hits like ‘Surfin’, ‘Surfin’ Safari’ and even ‘Surfin’ USA’ have been given the push from their repertoire, leaving the Beach Boys with just ‘Fun Fun Fun’ ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ and ‘I Get Around’ from the list of songs you might realistically be expecting to hear, with ‘In My Room’ their only 'hit song from an album' at this stage in their development. Additionally the band perform two songs that seem to have been randomly plucked from their already-released discography: the slightly lacklustre Brian-and-Mike composition 'Hawaii' and anonymous Dick Dale cover 'Let's Go Trippin'. Admittedly both sound a little better here than on record, but neither feature performances so overwhelmingly powerful they leads to any new appraisal - these are still average songs by Beach Boy standards and the lacklustre audience applause suggests the audience knows that too (just listen to how the screams fade away during the first verse of 'Hawaii' when most fans begin to realise they don't know the song).
To be fair the band are playing well - even with a little rumoured touching up back in the studio afterwards taken into consideration - but even the relatively polished singles sound pretty good here live, almost equal to the originals - and you can't say that about many early 1960s live performances. What's more its great for fans to hear a band that's usually so perfect sound this raw - well, OK, not that raw but raw by their standards - with the delightful demented Carl-on-guitar, Denis-on-drums thrash on cover 'Little Old Lady From Pasadena' one of the greatest rocking Beach Boys moments. What's more, this album is also arguably Mike Love's finest moment - he's at the peak of his powers here and is a commanding presence both vocally and for his between-song patter (his quips get quite irritating by the later records but he’s genuinely funny here). Mike opens 'Graduation Day' by claiming his fans can always 'go to hair school' if they don't get their grades before talking about night school ('I went there for two semesters - you don't need to tell me about that!')
One thing that's encouraged collectors to look on this album more kindly than similar cash-ins is the sheer amount of cover songs exclusive to this set. However, if that's already set your heart racing, let me clarify that remark: there are several cover songs that were never deemed good enough to make a proper bona fide Beach Boys LP. Seriously, even with five songs of pure instrumental filler on the 'Surfin USA' album, these songs are worse. Hearing Mike Love goon around during Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers’ contemporary novelty song ‘Monster Mash’ is a strong candidate for the most jaw-dropping two minutes of your life, omplete with evil laughter and ghoulish backing vocals. Even as a fan of the original I would never, ever have chosen this song for the Beach Boys to record; comedy is not their forte (as we've already seen discussing 'County Fair' and 'Chug-A-Lug'). That cover song has nothing on the screechy nonsense of 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow', though, a 1962 hit for the Rivingtons which amazingly the Beach Boys release twice (there's an only slightly less hysterical version on 'Beach Boys Party!' How Mike was ever able to feel taken as a serious vocalist again after screeching the title phrase at the top of his lungs and how Brian ever kept his voice intact after wailing alongside him is one of the biggest Beach Boys mysteries. Like 'Monster Mash' the original was a lot of fun - but it was silly, indulgent fun of the sort you reserve for messing around with mates and end up releasing as B-sides (or at least issuing under a pseudonym) - letting one of the leading bands of the day risk their reputation with it on a do-or-die LP (live rock and roll recordings weren't exactly common in 1963) once is pushing your luck - two seems like career suicide. 'Johnny B Goode' is a noisy encore, as raw and wild as anything the band will ever do but here at least that's not necessarily a good thing - Chuck Berry must have been mighty sick of hearing one of his best and most carefully controlled songs being pummelled by the next generation by the time this album came out. As for 'Long Tall Texan', shoot me now. I can't even bring myself to call Mike acting the part of a yodelling cowboy to the tune of 'Hi Heeled Sneakers' a novelty song - surely nobody thought this Henry Strezlecki song was funny the first time? Sample lyric: 'People look at me and say 'oo-arr-oo-arr is that your hat?' 'Good Vibrations' is only two years away, remember people. Hearing this again has made me wonder whether I should go back and change my choice of 'Worst Beach Boys' song for the back cover, even though it means I break my own rule about not including cover songs as early as book one...
Thankfully the other three exclusive-to-this-album songs are slightly better. 'Little Old Lady From Pasadena' sounds like a Beach Boys song, thanks to the fact that band friends Jan and Dean sang it and Brian's sometimes lyricist Roger Christian helped write it. The song is taken at breakneck speed with lots of space for soaring harmony vocals (with Brian's falsetto especially golden), while Dennis proves just how far he could have gone as a drummer had the band given him simpler, more energetic songs like this one to play on. All in all this is one of the key lost Beach Boys recordings of their key year of 1964. Dennis is also the star on 'The Wanderer', his one token vocal on the album - although playing the drums while singing is a bit of a stretch even for the middle Wilson brother. Interestingly quite a few of Dennis' future songs will pick on this theme of him being 'a wanderer' - clearly he identified with the song, although it was him who chose it or whether brother Brian picked it for him is unknown. Finally, 'Graduation Day' is a Four Freshman song that was one of Brian's favourites and the band recorded an even better studio version of the song (included as a 'bonus track' on the CD re-issue of 'Today' and 'Summer Days and Summer Nights!!!)' This live version is wonkier and less effective than the studio take but what's impressive is how close together the band's harmonies float even in concert - yes there are mistakes and someone even walks into a microphone stand just before the middle eight, but considering the poor playback techniques of the day (there were no monitors to speak of back then) this is remarkable stuff. The band have also clearly been rehearsing their closing 'gag', building up to a big finale that gets interrupted by Dennis shouting the last word 'day' from his far-off drum-stool.
So there you have it - three songs worth owning the album for, plus a few versions of songs you know and love that are just like the records - only slightly worse. Not much to build a reputation on, but 'Beach Boys Concert' is charting new territory (only Elvis had gotten away with releasing a live album this raw and this short) and setting the standards for much of the 1960s live albums to come. Not really essential in comparison to the studio albums, but for anyone who ever wondered what it would have been like to have been at a Beach Boys concert at their commercial peak then here's your answer: noisy, frenetic but tremendously exciting. The CD issue sensibly paired this album with 'Live In London' - the next Beach Boys concert from 1969 - and added three bonus tracks, one of them 'Don't Worry Baby' recorded at this show but left off the album. That’s a shame for fans of the time because it's about the best thing here, as sweetly innocent yet deep as anything around from the era!
"The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson"
Love Won't Wait/The Happy Song/The Warmth Of The Sun/Broken Heart/Leaves/The Plumber's Tune//Painting With Teardrops/Island In The Sky/Just Round The River Bend/Italia/Heartbreak Lane/Betty's Waltz
To date, the only album made by the dad of an AAA member is - as you'd expect - about as far away from The Beach Boys' sound as you could imagine; a whole generation in fact. Lounge music of the type that was big in the 1940s, 'The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson' is an album out of time: to think that this album was released four months after 'Sgt Peppers' is somehow deeply wrong. And yet this one bona fide chance to compare Murry's repertoire with his sons throws up some intriguing comparisons: listening to this album you can tell where Brian got his love of lush strings and the surge of emotion on tracks like 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder') (the closest sounding of any of his tracks to this album). Murry even gives the big Beach Boys fans he must surely know are going to make up most of his target audience a couple of rarities to enjoy. One is a surging, orchestrated version of 'Warmth Of The Sun' (often said to be Murrys' favourite band song) that wouldn't have sounded out of place in a movie soundtrack. Filled with as much grief and longing as the original but on a scale a hundred times bigger, it's by far the most successful piece here (and works even better as a eulogy to a fallen president). The other oddity is the funky Al Jardine song 'Italia', the first song ever published by a member of the Beach Boys outside Brian and Mike (and Carl's 'Big Chance'). Murry, always close to Al despite or perhaps because of his status as a 'non' family member of the band (Murry took his promises to first Dave and then Al's parents to keep them out of trouble on the road very seriously - and Al was far less of handful than Dave had been!) and may have been doing his old pal a 'favour'. Despite the title and the Italian flavour of the orchestration (accordions and the like) you could easily imagine this stop-start song in the Beach Boys' repertoire: indeed there's meant to be a band version of the track although sadly I've never heard it. Elsewhere what you get is fairly standard lounge music of the just-slightly-postwar variety; its not particularly better or worse than any other examples, it just kind of drapes itself over you without making much of an impression. Still 'Betty's Waltz' (co-written with wife/mum Audree) has a pretty tune, 'The Plumber's Tune' begins like Henry Mancini's 'Pink Panther's score and ends up as Mr Magoo, while the lilting 'Leaves' is the song that keeps getting stuck inside my head (Murray should have got together with Paul McCartney's dad 'Jim' - this piece is a close cousin of 'Walking In The Park With Eloise, recorded by Wings under the name 'The Country Hams!) This album used to be dead rare (it didn't sell that many copies understandably, although it wasn't all that far off the nearest Beach Boy LP 'Smiley Smile'); thankfully a Japanese CD re-issue has seen it regain its rightful place in many fans' catalogues. We might not play it much, but it's nice to have it there.
"Best Of The Beach Boys Volume Two"
(Capitol, July 24th 1967)
Barbara Ann/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/Long Tall Texan/Please Let Me Wonder/409/Let Him Run Wild//Don't Worry Baby/Surfin' Safari/Little Saint Nick/California Girls/Help Me, Rhonda/I Get Around
This time Capitol were plugging a hole where 'Smile' should have been, with more of the same that you saw on volume one - a curious mix of the so-obvious-it-should-have-been-on-volume-one and the downright bonkers. Personally I've always maintained there should be a law against releasing any compilation within ten years of another - that way an artist might actually have produced something extra to make it worth your while buying. That said, The Beach Boys were better placed than many to offer up a 'volume two' quite so soon after volume one and the sheer amount of ground they'd covered in their first five years (13 albums and 21 singles) and I actually find this compilation more enjoyable than volume one, with the balance between hits and oddities much better. However yet again some tracks seem to have been plucked at random (please tell me 'Long Tall Texan' isn't anybody's real idea of 'The Best Of The Beach Boys'!)and notably there's nothing here from the 'Pet Sounds' period, suggesting Capitol were already looking towards releasing a 'volume three', which is quite frankly daft (where the heck is 'Good Vibrations' while we're on the subject, the band's biggest hit!) There's also the rather daft fact that the festive 'Little Saint Nick' was re-released on an album that came out in scorching hot July...
Perhaps Capitol were wise to keep some songs back though - 'Volume Two' didn't sell anywhere as near as well as 'Volume One' in America as the band were rather out of fashion with the non-appearance of 'Smile'. In fact this compilation did their trendy street cred some harm thanks to songs thanks to an emphasis on older songs out of time with the 'summer of love' and a rather dated shot of the band sitting on a log in a forest (at least they weren't wearing their striped shirts I suppose).However the band were still riding high in the UK after the success of 'Pet Sounds' there and did well to make #3 in a chart dominated by musicals and The Beatles' 'Sgt Peppers'. Yet again the UK track listing was changed quite severely from the US version, creating a 14 rather than a 12 track edition that looked like this: 'Surfer Girl' 'Don't Worry Baby' 'Wendy' 'When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)' 'Good To My Baby' 'Dance Dance Dance' 'Then I Kissed Her' 'The Girl From New York City' 'Girl Don't Tell Me' 'The Little Girl I Once Knew' 'Mountain Of Love' 'Here Today' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' 'Good Vibrations'. As with volumes one and three, this compilation was never released on CD having been superseded by other sets by then.
(Capitol, August 19th 1968)
Darlin'/Salt Lake City/Sloop John B/In My Room/Catch A Wave/Wild Honey/Little Saint Nick//Do It Again/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/God Only Knows/Surfer Girl/Little Honda/Here Today/You're So Good To Me/Let Him Run Wild
A candidate for the strangest Beach Boys album in this book (yep, even counting 'Beach Boys Party' and the 'Mount Vernon and Fairway' EP), 'Stack-O-Tracks' is Capitol taking contractual demands for product to a whole new level; a kind of a remixed compilation with one key difference: there are no vocals across the entire album. You can just imagine the outcry there'd be if EMI had suddenly decided to release a second 'Sgt Pepper' sans harmonies or Decca had fixated on Keith Richards' guitar sound at the expense of Mick Jagger. And yet in many ways this sabotage to the Beach Boys' work is even worse: surely this is the band who, above all others, are about the voices - taking them away is like going to a record shop to buy a sleeve and leaving the vinyl behind the counter. And yet 'Stack-O-Tracks' became possibly the most in-demand Beach Boys album in the days before CD, with fans desperate to hear their heroes' work in such a new and unique way (it goes without saying that if the Beach Boys couldn't sell a regular LP in 1968 they couldn't sell a work like this - the album became the first Beach Boys work not to make the charts at all in Britain or America, not even a little way up them).
These recordings range from the naively simplistic (two guitars, bass and sleigh bells for ‘Little Saint Nick’) to the jaw-droppingly complex (Salt Lake City sounds like a completely different song!) Brian Wilson's productions from late 1964 into 1966 are among the most elaborate ever recorded by any producer, with session musicians drilled to within a single note of perfection (as you can hear on the later session box sets for 'Pet Sounds' and 'Smile' - surely one for 'Today' can't be far behind can it?!') Of course you could always hear those recordings behind the vocals without them anyway, but those harmonies are so ear-catching this is a useful document in the 'Brian Wilson is a genius' debate. 'Our Car Club' (one of three 'bonus tracks' added to the CD along with 'Help Me, Rhonda' and 'California Girls') for example, is mesmerising: I got to know this version long before I found the finished version on 'Surfer Girl' and the song turned out to be entirely different to the way I expected, with the Beach Boys effectively singing 'against' the tense, complex backing track here. The fact that the 'Stack -O-Tracks' version makes it sound like a mini-symphony rather than a rather lamely worded song about meeting up with your friends and swapping notes about cars is another plus on the side of this album.
However, not everything on this record sounds that good. If I'd had my way I'd have restricted the song selection on this record to the ones played by the session musicians: the earlier songs here sound even rougher and more hopeless than they did with the vocals distracting you, with Dennis' reputation not being done any favours. 'Little Saint Nick' is particularly bad, with some wretched xylophone playing thankfully buried on the finished version (although the later Beach Boys-played 'Wild Honey' from 1967 is a cooking track, though, I have to say). For some songs, such as 'Surfer Girl' , the whole point of the recording were those elaborate swooping harmonies: without them the backing tracks just sound ordinary and a little bit dull ('Surfer Girl' being revealed as the slow 12 bar blues with a melody nicked from a Walt Disney film that she really is). 'Do It Again' and 'In My Room' are both beautiful creations in any in carnation, but shorn of the vocals they are more or less on one chord throughout and both are shoddily played by the band themselves, rather than the session musos of the other tracks here. What's worse is that the way these songs were recorded back in the 1960s (with parts 'bounced down' on four or eight track machines to make space for separation), meaning that you get 'leakage' from the vocals every so often anyway (just listen to the fade of 'Saint Nick' when the ghost of Brian Wilson suddenly hovers before you unexpectedly): terribly distracting but with these earlier songs particularly there's nothing Capitol could do (so, again, why aren't there more songs from the more recent 1967-68 here?!) It's worth adding, too, that the backing tracks for 'Here Today' 'God Only Knows' and 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' are now redundant, full session tapes for both having now appeared on the 'Pet Sounds Session's box set (not that Capitol could imagine such things in 1968 of course).
Then again, 'Stack-O-Tracks' did do the job it was meant to do. It's release gave Brian more healing time back in bed and the rest of the band more time to get swansong '20/20' ready - we'll go on in that album's review to talk about the band's growing sophistication again post-Pet Sounds and they could only do that now that they had a whole year to work on their latest magnum opus. The release of this album is certainly way more interesting than simply 'Best Of The Beach Boys Volume Four' (what on earth would that have included? Two versions of 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow'?!) and to the few people still buying their records in 1968 it proved once and for all just how special the Beach Boys were, regardless of tastes and fashions. As the closest any of us will sadly ever get to being inside Brian's head, 'Stack-O-Tracks' is also a pointer to just how busy and complex it was in there, revealing Brian's genius as a producer and arranger as much as anything else (Carl too on 'Wild Honey'). At 15 tracks (or 18 on the CD), this record is also more generous than it needed to be.
Of course the real intention from Capitol hadn't been to interest worshippers of the Beach Boys' genius at all - their gamble was to make this a 'karaoke' album, complete with a booklet full of guitar chords to each song (something that sadly hasn't been replicated on the CDs so far!), a kind of 'bonus' album to go with sales of sheet music (still big business back in 1968). Back in this halcyon era rock and roll was still disposal and the only way that Capitol could get away with looking back to the past was by encouraging teenage girls with hair brushes to sing along to songs they vaguely remembered from their brothers' and sisters' record collections. Such is the genesis of true art, I suppose. Of course, our generation understands the market for 'remixes' and 'backing tracks' more than any before and I wonder whether the world would have been quite as ready for this sort of thing in the 1990s had it not been for 'Stack-O-Tracks' - in effect the first 'remix'/'karaoke' album ever made. The end result is a pioneering album thrown together to exploit the Beach Boys' name, intended for frivolous fans rather than serious collectors and an album both as inessential and yet as curiously central to the Beach Boys' experience as the similarly oddball 'Beach Boys Party' record. Thankfully Capitol's CD re-issues did the sensible thing and put the two albums together on the same LP...
Best Of The Beach Boys Volume Three"
(Capitol, August 19th 1968)
God Only Knows/Dance Dance Dance/409/The Little Girl I Once Knew/Frosty The Snowman/Girl Don't Tell Me//Surfin'/Heroes and Villains/She Knows Me Too Well/Darlin'/Good Vibrations
Volume three in the continuing adventures of the Beach Boys at Capitol was the label's knee-jerk response to the poor sales of 'Friends' but actually did even worse on the American charts (#153 compared to #136). The simple fact is that The Beach Boys were hideously out of fashion in 1968 and this hodgepodge of leftover hits was never going to win old fans back over. On the plus side 'Volume Three' gets to play with four genuinely accepted masterpieces the others didn't have ('God Only Knows' 'Good Vibrations' 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Darlin'), all of which were hits to a greater or lesser extent. On the negative side, Capitol have now got so desperate for anything that looks like it might have been a 'greatest hit' that they've even included first minor hit single 'Surfin' - a song that would have sounded horribly dated in 1968. There are some curious absences again too: where is UK #1 'Do It Again' (still a top 40 hit in the US?) Some of the other album track choices are rather oddball too: if it was up to me 'The Lonely Sea' 'Please Let Me Wonder' and practically anything off 'Friends' would have made it onto a greatest hits set by volume three - the fact that these songs have been pushed off for a festive cover of 'Frosty The Snowman' (which makes even less sense out of context than 'Little Saint Nick' did - at least that was a hit single) seems ridiculous! Frankly the only good choice here that isn't what you'd expect is flop single 'The Little Girl I Once Knew' - a song just that little too far ahead of it's time for audiences in 1965 but one of our candidates for 'earliest psychedelic song ever recorded' on one of our top ten lists a few years back (this compilation marked the first time this song ever appeared on an album - nowadays you can find it tucked away on the end of the 'Today'/'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!)' CD). Sadly no space was found for equal flop single 'Let Him Run Wild' which was a shame.
Yet again the UK version had already released the vast majority of the songs on this set on their versions of 'volumes one' and 'volume two' so they had to take drastic measures with the track listing, although for once their version came out at about the same time as the American one. Their 14 track version featured: 'Do It Again' 'Warmth Of The Sun' '309' 'Catch A Wave' 'The Lonely Sea' 'Long Tall Texan' 'Wild Honey' 'Darlin' 'Please Let Me Wonder' 'Let Him Run Wild' 'Country Air' 'I Know There's An Answer' 'Friends' 'Heroes and Villains'. As with volumes one and two, this compilation never made it into the CD age, having been superseded by longer and better (well, some of them) compilations by then.
"Live In London"
(Capitol, recorded in 1968 released in 1970/1976)
Darlin'/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Sloop John B/California Girls/Do It Again/Wake The World//Aren't You Glad?/Bluebirds Over The Mountain/Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring/Good Vibrations/God Only Knows/Barbara Ann
"Ladies and gentlemen, my pleasure to introduce to you two of the stars of the show from the USA, live here tonight with beautiful sounds - The Beach Boys!'
‘Live In London’ is an album with an incredibly complex history; it was recorded on two separate dates on the Beach Boys' European tour on August 12th and December 1st 1968 then parked in a drawer for eighteen months until the Beach Boys had left their record label Capitol for Warner Brothers. Looking for product to put out Capitol revamped it, gave the album the erroneous name 'Live '69' (this was taped back in 1968 remember) and released solely in Britain, the country where the Beach Boys currently had the biggest following after the 1969 #1 single 'Do It Again' (which barely went top 40 in the band's homeland). The album was successful enough for other releases too: in Japan in 1971, then France Holland and Germany (1972). The rest of the world including America then caught up in 1976 when Capitol jumped on the Brian-is-back-no-honest-he-is-he-always-goes-to-work-in-his-pyjamas record '15 Big Ones' when this album became known as 'Live In London'. To confuse matters even further , the CD re-issue paired this album with 'Beach Boys Concert' but stapled an extra song ('Heroes and Villains') from a 1967 rehearsal in Hawaii. In other words this humble live LP has a genesis that spans some eight years, two continents and a lot of head-scratching amongst collectors.
The band reportedly hated this album, which sneaked out in Britain to cash in on their post-Pet Sounds adulation (though three years is a bit late on that score if you ask me), without anybody from Capitol’s British Division actually contacting the band to see if they’d mind. To be honest, though, the album partly rescued their reputation - in Britain at least - with passable versions of many actually quite complex songs (and unlike 'Beach Boys Concert' there apparently wasn't much touching up going on - Capitol only deciding to issue it after the band had walked; as a result listen out for Mike messing up the words to 'Aren't You Glad?' and getting the giggles and at least three shockingly obvious edits). Had the band been slightly more together in the wake of 'Smile' they could have played half of this set at the Monterey Pop Festival and won the crowd over easy, whatever the critics of the day (Jimi Hendrix included) said about 'barbershop music' having it's day ('Good Vibrations' for one was perfect for the summer of love crowd to sing along to). What's more the band tackle some really good and unexpected material - 'Wake The World' and 'Aren't You Glad?' are two fairly neglected album highlights from 'Friends' and 'Wild Honey' respectively - neither of them strong sellers, while the band bravely re-create three songs from 'Pet Sounds' on stage without an orchestra to hand and get as close as anyone could to re-building 'Good Vibrations' for the stage. Better yet, the band don't take themselves too seriously while doing it - they sound as if they're having a good time and once again Mike Love on stage makes a lot more sense than Mike Love on record: yes some of the lines are awfully corny ('We're going to do a song in the darkness now - oh excuse me, and take your hands off me!' 'We're going to do a song in a capella now, which means in the nude - oh wait, no it doesn't, I lost my head!' 'What's with all the screaming? Are you sitting on an uncomfortable seat?!) but Mike does get the audience on his side and offers the intimacy the band need. Mind you, he is rather fond of the phrase 'lost my head' in this era and repeats it ad infinitum across this album (he's got a bit of a nerve, actually - having told Brian his song 'Hang On To Your Ego' was unacceptable and all). Brian, of course, wasn't even part of the touring line-up by this stage, having long taken to his bed and sadly his concert 'replacement' Bruce Johnston is all but inaudible on this recording.
The problem is kind of the same as 'Beach Boys Concert' in the fact that a lot of the material we know and love doesn't sound all that different to the versions we already know and love, only slightly worse and this time around there's no exclusive material to this album - barring a cover of The Four Freshman's 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring' which was unreleased at the time (although collectors from the 1990s onwards now know this song as a delightful return to the 1950s heard via a studio track included as a bonus recording on the 'Smiley Smile' / 'Wild Honey' CD). Like 'Graduation Day' the 'Live In London' version is an awful lot wonkier than the studio take but still mightily impressive for a live show - the band have clearly been plasticising this song and are remarkably tight, even if the song is taken a lick or two too fast. The band also veer from being fairly ropey to quite competent in the space of a track or so, depending on how long the track has been in their setlist at this point, with Dennis actually getting worse on the drums (sitting out the band's recordings from 1965-67 hasn't helped his playing much). Still, overall you have to say this album isn't bad at all for a band that were supposedly 'floundering' in the late 1960s and allegedly weren't worth going to see without Brian Wilson holding the reins (you can't hear it too much from the stage announcements with Mike doing all the talking but the band dynamic has really shifted towards Carl and Dennis by now - Carl didn't get a single lead vocal on 'Beach Boys Concert' but here he sings lead or co-lead on eight of the 12 songs). All in all one of the better Beach Boys live albums around, with a good mix of the known and unknown - perhaps they should have been taped without their knowledge more often! The CD release added a not-quite-contemporary rehearsal take of ‘Heroes and Villains’ from August 1967 with Brian back guesting with the band, which is nice but not really essential if you want to stick to the vinyl copy.
(Brother Records, '1970')
See The Light/Make It Easy/Hey Lord/Lady/Don't Worry Bill//Get Your Mind Made Up/Highs and Lows/I'm So Happy/Dove/Another Day Like Heaven/See The Light (Reprise)
What a shame that South African band The Flame only made one record: like many debuts this release by two future members of The Beach Boys is almost there, but not quite. The Flame were 'discovered' by the ever supportive Carl Wilson and won a support slot on the Beach Boys' tour across 1970 and 1971, with Carl both singing the band to the band's 'Brother Records' and producing this album: in the end this record became the only non-Beach Boys release ever out out by 'Brother Records'. While not the best, 'The Flame' is far from the worst 'Brother Records' release either: there are some catchy tunes, some great words and one or two songs that actually surpass what Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar went on to do with the band (The Flame split soon after thier lone album, just in time for Dennis Wilson to break his hand and prevent him from playing the drums for a full two years; the solution of hiring both men into The Beach Boys is Carl killing two birds with one stone: helping his band while supprting his new mates).
What's surprising about this album, though, is how little Blondie sings on it. The 'real' star of the album - in terms of vocals and writing credits - is Steve Fataar, Ricky's brother, who also plays most of the guitar parts, who has a softer, sweeter voice than Blondie. Unusually, too, Carl's production seems to have been to let the band get on with doing their own thing: there's none of his 'feel' for exotic arrangements and orchestrations here nor his love of modern technology. The end result is not as 'harsh' or as unusual as you might expect from the pair's Beach Boy recordings: instead this is a gentle soft-rock album not unlike the work of 'Badfinger' - it shares the same inherent musicality which, for better or worse, does rather have the effect of getting in the way of the album's deeper side. Rather too much of the album tends to drift past you, but there are still many highlights: the pretty 'Lady', the gentle ballad 'Dove', the gloriously bouncy pop song 'I'm So Happy' (which should have been a big hit!) and best of all the Brian Wilson-esque 'Highs and Lows', an exotic collage of sounds that veer from catchy and funky to pensive and quiet in the space of a few notes. The one song here that fans might know is 'Don't Worry Bill' - part of it was played on tour with The Beach Boys in 1972 as a medley with 'Wonderful' (as heard on the 1998 rarities set 'Endless Harmony'); the good news is that this album sounds more like the cheery chorus part than the rather gauche and self-aware first half, although it's still one of the weaker songs here.
I don't know if I'd ever 'recommend' this album to anyone - it's not a long lost relic in the sense of a 'Smile' or a 'Pacific Ocean Blues'. But what 'The Flame' does prove is that the couple of talented youngsters who go on to join The Beach Boys came with a pedigree: like Carl I think I sense the talent on this album enough to want to hear more of it too, making his drastic decision to turn the Beach Boys into a septet the most natural thing in the world.
American Spring: "Spring"
(United Artists, 'July' 1972)
Tennessee Waltz/Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby/Mama Said/Superstar/ Awake/Sweet Mountain//Everybody/This Whole World/Forever/Good Time/Now That Everything's Been Said/Down Home (CD Bonus Tracks: Shyin' Away/Fallin' In Love/It's Like Heaven/Had To Phone Ya)
"Maybe it won't last but what do we care? My baby and I just want a good time"
Brian's first wife Marilyn was a singer with her sisters Diane and Ginger (all three Brian's girlfriends at one time or another) long before Brian met her, although their career as part of 'The Honeys' (basically female versions of the Beach Boys, with the same family links) only took off after the couple had met. As a result, it's a surprise that - a brief 'hey hey take it away, take that ball and fight!' cheerleader part on 'Be True To Your School' apart - the first real collaboration between the pair came as late as 1971. 'American Spring' was meant to be the whole new rebirth of 'The Honeys' with Ginger having left the trio, with Marilyn and Diane now branded as 'American Spring' to keep with the 'water' theme. Brian spent an awful lot more time on their career across 1971 and 1972 than he did with his own band, giving them the pick of his new material and taking a much bigger hand in the arrangements and recording than 'Surf's Up' or 'Carl and the Passions'. Unfortunately this album had a troubled birth: The Beach Boys kept interrupting sessions to 'borrow' Brian's songs or vocals and a 1960s British act named Spring threatened to sue the due when word of their name got out (this may well have been when the 'American' bit got added: most collectors know this album simply as 'Spring'). As a result engineer Steve Desper - who'd done a fine job on the past few Beach Boys albums - became the de facto producer, with Brian throwing in ideas whenever he could.
The result is an interesting if uneven listen that's light on the ear despite some hints at a darker side (the arresting cover - a model sand sculpture of either of the similar looking sisters - hints at that too). Neither Marilyn or Diane are great singers but they are sympatheic intrepretors of Brian's work and artfully cope with the two extremes of Brian's art on this record: both the childlike and complex. The best thing about this LP is the chance to hear Brian's songs (and one of Dennis'!) the way the authors originally intended before the Beach Boys took over: of these 'Good Time' works the best, two years after the recording but five years before the release of this sweet but peculiar ditty on 'The Beach Boys Love You'; there'as even a lyric changem with 'my girlfriend Minnie whose kind of skinny' turning into 'my friend Ryan who sold three lions...' - no I don't know what this song is about either! 'This Whole World', however (already released by The Beach Boys on 'Sunflower' in 1970) sounds busy and fussy and a little empty without the band's block harmonies. Dennis' 'Forever' from the same album sounds pretty but isn't quite in the same league as the original (why none of Carl's songs to keep in with the family by the way? American Spring would have done a great version of 'Feel Flows'!) Mike, Al and Carl are all credited on the album along with Brian but their parts aren't all that audible (strange that there's no Bruce, although the band were having trouble enough getting Dennis' attention for band projects, never mind side-shows like this).
That leaves the album's biggest selling point: two completely otherwise unreleased Brian Wilson songs, one of them - 'Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby' - with lyrics by cousin Mike. This song is a sweet ballad that sounds not unlike 'Darlin' (some commentators claim it was the first draft and dates back to 1968), with Love presumably taking the piss with the lyrics ('I lie awake in bed, throughts running through my head...') Hardly a long lost classic - and certainly no match for 'Darlin' - it's still nice to hear. The other song you might not know is 'Sweet Mountain', written by Brian with a chap called 'Dave Sandler', about whom I can find out basically nothing. This moody song is much more interesting and the highlight of the album: the two sisters sing in call-and-response: 'I'm looking up (what do you see?) I see the sky (and tell me why?) I look and wonder (wonder about what?) when will I see him standing there?' The whole song is fused with the same tension and power as the nuggets of emotion on the likes of 'Smile' and even though the song's poppy chorus is wretched (and sung in French for no apparent reason!) the power of the song still rings true. Brian even sings a harmony part on the last chorus. A full Beach Boys proidyction of this song would have been fascinating and would have fitted in nicely on the similarly eerie Brian Wilson songs on 'Surf's Up'; it would be great if the Wondermints could revive this one day so that more fans can get to hear it. The rest of the material - covers of songs by the likes of Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett and Goffin and King - sound as good as any two singers used to singing harmony rather than lead would sound.
Thankfully what used to be one of the all-time Beach Boys collectibles (selling a paltry handful of copies on first release) has been much better catered for in the CD age. A 1988 release on Rhino simply reproduced the original album; a 1989 release on 'See For Miles' added a couple of unused songs from an aborted follow-up session in 1973; Finally a re-release in 1998 on United Artists added the full four songs listed above, most notably a version of 'Had To Phone Ya' shortly before The Beach Boys re-recorded it for '15 Big Ones' in 1976 and a cover of Dennis' 'Fallin' In Love' aka 'Lady', a limited-release single from 1970 that didn't appear on disc otherwise until the 'Made In California' box set of 2012. A lot of fans still don't know about it though: 'American Spring' is one of the better kept secrets in The Beach Boys catlogue; though no lost masterpiece it's worth looking out for.
(Recorded 'Winter 1972' and 'Summer 1973', Released on Brother Records/Reprise on November 19th 1973)
Sail On Sailor/Sloop John B/The Trader/You Still Believe In Me/California Girls//Darlin'/Marcella/Caroline, No/Leaving This Town/Heroes and Villains//Funky Pretty/Let The Wind Blow/Help Me, Rhonda/Surfer Girl/Wouldn't It Be Nice?//We Got Love/Don't Worry Baby/Surfin' USA/Good Vibrations/Fun Fun Fun
"One for all you oldies but mouldies fans...this song was found inscribed on a tablet left in Hawthorne, California!'
The early 70s ‘Flame’ line-up of the Beach Boys often gets short shrift from reviewers and fans, mainly because they don’t always sound like the band we’d known and loved in the 60s. But there's no denying a) that it's this line-up of the band who gained the Beach Boys a reputation as a concert force to be reckoned with )gaining Rolling Stones' 'band of the year 1974 award' despite this album and a flop Christmas single being their only releases that year) and b) this era of the band that became the first line-up to release an officially sanctioned live album ('Beach Boys Concert' was Capitol's idea while the band tried to cancel 'Live In London'!) But the presence of future Rutle Ricky Fataar and future Rolling Stone back-up Blondie Chaplin really enhances the mood of this album, ratcheting the professionalism of these performances up greatly. If the first two albums were lost opportunities for a variety of different reasons, then 'In Concert' is the Beach Boys' attempts to make good on the promise of both albums - with the rawness of the first combined with the intimacy of the second. At times this record, too, is raw (surprisingly so in a few cases, suggesting this is that rare 1970s beast: a double live album without overdubs later tin the studio) - but that's counterbalanced by a few really polished performances (the stuff from 'Pet Sounds', for instance, especially 'You Believe In Me' which is a good candidate for most difficult song attempted live on a concert stage). Somehow 'In Concert' manages to be both energetic and thoughtful - which is no mean feat!
If I have a problem than it's that The Beach Boys were a little too guilty of leaning on past successes on this album. There's one heck of a lot of car and surf songs in the setlist even though most of them are a decade old by now and while the band do well to stick as faithfully to the 'old' arrangements as they can that doesn't leave an awful lot of room for invention. That said, the band give the impression of not caring all that much about their legacy: Carl introduces a jazzy version of 'Caroline, No' with the comment 'my brother wrote it with, I think, Tony Asher' - something surely everyone in the crowd knew. The fourth side, particularly, suffers from three songs from the band's early years heard together, with 'Good Vibrations' plunked uncomfortably somewhere in the middle. Some of the band also seem to get very short shrift: Mike Love gets hardly any vocals (although at least he’s not cracking jokes every two minutes this time around) and Dennis (who fractured his writs just before the tour and was left as a harmony singer and one-handed pianist) only ever gets to sing as part of the 'group chorus' - surely there room for him to sing something (why only a couple of years before this he was dominating the band's sound, with the band performing his songs on TV shows more often than not!) Warner Brothers clearly think he's the 'star' still though: the cover features a drummer's-eye-view of the crowd, with Dennis reaching forward with a microphone stand; one wonders what Mike Love (the unquestioned lead singer of the band, even in 1974) thought of this. Brian, of course, is nowhere to be seen: one of the reasons the band stopped making studio albums was the sheer speed of his decline across the 1970s and 1974 was a particularly grim year for him. Rather than 'drop' these songs from the setlist, though, The others step in to cover his vocals as per usual on tour though and are their usual reliable selves: Carl singing 'Caroline, No' 'Sloop John B' and 'Surfer Girl'; Al singing 'You Still Believe In Me' 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?', while the pair split 'Don't Worry Baby' between them. In fact there's only three songs on this album Brian didn't have a hand in writing: so much for the band stepping out from under his shadow!) So 'right' does this sound that somehow it doesn't seem to matter that Brian isn't there: this is a band still delivering his songs as best they can to an audience who clearly want to hear them.
Despite all the above, there's plenty to love about this album. A lot of the performances here sound so full of life you half wish this line-up of the band had been around to record them ('Darlin', especially, knocks spots off the already impressive record, with Carl Wilson using his best grit-laden voice). What's more there are some real rarities nestling amongst the hits: the stand-outs being Chaplin and Fataar’s severely under-appreciated ‘Leaving This Town’ (almost as good as it sounds on ‘Holland’, though some fans think it’s even better!), a funky 'Sail On Sailor' with Blondie reprising his lead from the record and a far trippier and rawer take of Brian’s majestic ‘Marcella’. The four songs from 'Holland' sound pretty god here too (though surprisingly the mini-hit single 'California' isn't one of them), with a funky and pretty 'Pretty Funky' and the tricky chords of 'The Trader' 'Sail On Sailor' and 'Leaving This Town' handled with aplomb. Best of all though is probably a moving and slightly slower ‘Let The Wind Blow’ from 'Wild Honey' - hardly the most obvious Beach Boys song but a real gem here, with Carl offering another heartbreaking vocal. Indeed, as great as everyone else is here, this is Carl's album: he was effectively the un-credited musical director of this band and has done wonders to knock what used to be a cutely ramshackle family band into a really knockout band of heavyweights. His guitar solos (traded with Blondie and occasionally Ricky when Dennis' wrist was up to playing drums) across the album are superb and his vocals among the best he ever made.
There's even a 'bonus' for collectors in the shape of Blondie, Ricky and Mike's 'We Got Love' - a song written for 'Holland' but taken off at the eleventh hour in favour of 'Sail On Sailor' (Warner Brothers hoping that an unfinished song with Brian's name on the credits would count for a lot of extra sales - it didn't, but true fans fell in love with the song all the same so all is forgiven!) While hardly a classic or even up to the level of the 'Flame' duo's 'Leaving This Town' this country-rocker is well worth adding to the album and as ever Blondie is on great form (the studio version - still unreleased officially - is still the better, however).
We've come a long way from the days when the band played only a 20 minute set - and got used to speeding that up so they could get off stage quicker and back to the dressing rooms! This record lasts an impressive 76 minutes and of the 20 tracks only some of the real 'oldies' toward the end really pall. In a strange way thank goodness Warner Brothers rejected this album first time around when it was a mere half-hour filled with the 'hits' (plus a still unreleased unexpected encore of...'Jumpin' Jack Flash'! No I didn't see that one coming either...) - this album has a lot more character as a double record, containing everything you'd expect from a Beach Boys concert from 1974 but with enough room to show off the best of the more obscure end of the back catalogue too (only 'Heroes and Villain's from this alternate LP has ever been released - on the 1998 rarities set 'Endless Harmony'; it's nice but not up to the version on this LP). What a shame, then, that pretty much concurrently with this album's release Blondie had quit the band (partly because of a fallout with band management and partly for a solo career), with Ricky jumping ship a few months later too.
(Capitol, June 24th 1974)
Surfin' Safari/Surfer Girl/Catch A Wave/Warmth Of The Sun/Surfin' USA//Be True To Your School/Little Deuce Coupe/In My Room/Shut Down/Fun Fun Fun//I Get Around/Girls On The Beach/Wendy/Let Him Run Wild/Don't Worry Baby//California Girls/Girl Don't Tell Me/Help Me, Rhonda/You're So Good To Me/All Summer Long
Something strange happens to The Beach Boys about now. The band were a live force to be reckoned with as we've seen on the 'In Concert' album from 1973 and were really growing by word of mouth to a level not matched since 1965, but there's a three year gap between 1973's 'Holland' and 1976's '15 Big Ones' - quite a normal gap by today's standards but commercial suicide in the 1970s. The band's old label Capitol weren't slow to cash in on their success though, putting together what became a three-volume compilation of album tracks that are still beloved by many fans. More thorough than the 'greatest hits compilations' and yet every bit as good, hearing 'Endless Summer' and sequel 'Spirit Of America' together covers pretty much everything from the band's pre-'Pet Sounds' together in one handy package, with the bonus that it skips on the lame surfing instrumentals and the 'filler' band interviews/outtakes/fake jam sessions/drum solos. Apparently we have Mike Love to thank for this, who heard that Capitol were about to release a 'greatest hits volume four' and in a meeting with them suggested that they drop the 'volume' tag and concentrate on the album tracks; certainly the title 'Endless Summer' was his idea and it's one of the best titles the singer ever came up with hinting at the packed treasure trove of a record (although to be honest at 51 minutes 'Endless Summer' could have afforded to have been a little more packed).
The track listing is certainly an improvement on what a 'greatest hits volume four' might have included while also allowing Capitol to recycle a lot of volumes one and two again in a new context. The album contains an impressive ten top ten US hits, but also space for ten more tracks that offer a good flavour as to what the early Beach Boys were all about. Popular B-sides 'In My Room' and 'Don't Worry Baby' are there, along with popular album tracks like 'Catch A Wave' 'Girls On The Beach' 'All Summer Long' and 'Warmth Of The Sun'. Really the only song here that doesn't have a big fan following is 'Girl Don't Tell Me' - and even that song has some fans. The end result is that new fans get to experience just what breadth and depth there is to the Beach Boys' canon (the level really doesn't dip much at all from the hit singles), while old timers get the chance to replace their worn-out vinyl copies, back in the days before we all bought everything up again on CD anyway. Do be warned though: the compilation stops in 1965 with 'California Girls' so if it's 'Good Vibrations' 'Pet Sounds' or even 'Darlin' you want to hear then this compilation is not really for you. Hang around, though, because part three - 'Sunshine Daydream' released in 1982 - will be exactly what you're looking for (assuming, of course, that you can find it...)
The first two records, though, were a huge success, especially this first one which went all the way to #1 in the American charts. (As the CD sleevenotes to 'Surf's Up' it's a curious fact that the Beach Boys fall from grace almost to a week in the month Richard Nixon takes office - and bounce back out of nowhere the month of 'Watergate'; it's as if the nation wanted to remind itself of all the American things to be proud of and the Beach Boys dominated that summer taking the land of the free back to a time in the early sixties when they were - well, sort of, if you were the 'right sort' of person). Capitol certainly went to a lot of trouble promoting the album (indeed if they'd put half as much effort into the band's studio albums The Beach Boys would have been an even bigger band), climaxing in one of the first examples of the 'Aereoplane-flying-with-a-banner-and-leaving-messages-behind-in-the-smokebrand of advertising. Capitol were so proud of this feat they even included a poster of the aeroplane trail free inside with the record (which begs the question what you're meant to do with it - had Warner Brothers decided to do this with Jefferson Airplane or CBS with The Byrds it would have made sense, but who wants a poster of an aeroplane advertising The Beach Boys on their wall?) In fact the packaging was the weakest aspect of this compilation all over - for some reason they decided to head back to 'Smiley Smile' and 'Friends' for inspiration and included another awful line drawing of the band's faces half-hidden in some bushes (and I'm bushwhacked if I know why! What's wrong with a beach setting?!) Weirdly the band depicted are clearly the contemporary bearded Beach Boys, not the young carefree and innocent band heard on all the songs. For reasons best known to themselves, Capitol also decided to pair the albums a different way round to normal - so that side one came attached to side four and side two to side three. Oh well, this is an album you buy to listen to not to look at anyway...Join us in 1975 for the inevitable follow-up!
"Spirit Of America"
(Capitol, April 14th 1975)
Dance Dance Dance/Break Away/A Young Man Is Gone/409/The Little Girl I Once Knew/Spirit Of America//Little Honda/Hushabye/Hawaii/Drive-In/Good To My Baby/Tell Me Why//Do You Remember?/This Car Of Mine/Please Let Me Wonder/Why Do Fools Fall In Love?/Custom Machine//Barbara Ann/Salt Lake City/Don't Back Down/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/Do You Wanna Dance?/Graduation Day
Welcome back to Beach Boy compilation land part two, another double-album set that outsold any actual new Beach Boys product since at least 1966! Things are much the same as before, only Capitol have a few less hit singles to play around with (although top ten records 'Dance Dance Dance' 'Barbara Ann' 'When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)' and 'Do You Wanna Dance?' is still more hits than a lot of first volume sets have to work with these days!) For my money 'Spirit Of America' is an even better compilation: the title is even more spot-on for The Beach Boys (its lifted from a 1963 song and is actually about a car) and allows Capitol to come with some much more convincing cover art: basically a collection of every 1960s themed Americana item they can lay their hands on (a baseball glove, an American Indian head-dress, Mickey Mouse with Red White and Blue ears, an American Eagle and, erm, a rollercoaster - no don't worry, 'State Fair' isn't on this record or anything -Capitol would have to reach 'greatest hits volume 74' to include that).
Best of all there's lots of room for Beach Boys songs that have been unfairly neglected down the years, artistic peaks released at the band's commercial trough or simply crowded out on albums surrounded by too much talent. 'Dance Dance Dance' and 'When I Grow Up' are the band's great overlooked hit singles for me: impossibly inventive and yet gloriously simple; the fact that these two such different songs were released by the same band in the same year is testament to just what an eclectic talent the band were. For my money 'Breakaway', the final Capitol single and the only one not to be included on an album, is their best single of the 1960s: its poignant, emotional, gloriously arranged and yet adorably catchy. Flop single 'The Little Girl I Once Knew' (only a #20 hit back in the days the band got into the top three just by sneezing, or so it seemed) was arguably too far ahead of its day back in 1965 - but a decade on it sounded like a lost classic from a time that was both more innocent and darker than the present day (well, that's glam rock for you). 'Please Let Me Wonder' is a candidate for Brian Wilson's dreamiest song, exquisitely arranged and sung note perfectly. And talking of singing, I defy any band (except perhaps Crosby, Stills and Nash) to come up with a performance as tight and as controlled as the studio version of 'Graduation Day'. If you were there and this little collection of half-forgotten memories and cherished to death moments hasn't made you a little nostalgic then you're just not listening; equally if you were a new kid in 1975 bored of the lack of new groups on the horizon then this was a rare glimpse of a time when music was made to last and never got old (good new kid - your era was still better than mine in the late 1980s and anyone growing up today in the 21st century has my deepest sympathies).
Of course, Capitol had to go and mess it all up somewhere. Thankfully they didn't include 'Long Tall Texan' this time around, or even 'Denny's Drums', but they did find room for 'Tell Me Why', the hopelessly uncontrolled Beatles cover from the 'Party' album, complete with inappropriate giggling and breakdown near the end. Seriously guys - you passed over 'Cherry Cherry Coupe' 'The Surfer Moon' 'The Lonely Sea' and 'Don't Hurt My Little Sister' for this?! Tell me why? - I couldn't put that better myself! Still, even with that surprise choice, this is my candidate for the best Beach Boys compilation of them all (after the pricey box set from 1993 anyway!) What's more an awful lot of Americans seemed to agree - this compilation still made #8 in the Billboard charts despite being a 'volume two' set and the fact that this time around Capitol made only very basic promotion for the record.
"Good Vibrations - The Best Of The Beach Boys"
(Reprise June 30th 1975)
Sail On Sailor/Sloop John B/God Only Knows/Darlin'/Add Some Music To Your Day/Wouldn't It Be Nice?//Good Vibrations/Do It Again/Caroline, No/Friends/Surf's Up/Heroes and Villains
This, however, is, is just being greedy - Capitol licensing out the Beach Boys catalogue for another label a mere two months after milking it for the second time in a year themselves. That said, out of the three it's this compilation that had the most 'Beach Boys' input (not that you'd know it from the tacky title and album cover of waves hitting a big fat rock). This compilation is significant in being the first to unite the songs from the Capitol and Warner Brothers eras - at the time it was actually quite thrilling to hear 'Sail On Sailor' rub shoulders with songs from 'Pet Sounds' - but yet more contractual complications meant the band were only allowed to use tracks from the 1966 Capitol era onwards (so there's no 'Surfin' USA' 'Fun Fun Fun' or 'California Girls' to name just three). What's interesting is seeing what the band judged as their best work: there's 'Add Some Music To Your Day' from 'Sunflower' in the mix, while 'Surf's Up' is already being hailed as a classic despite being the one track on the album never released as a single. The market was already a little too saturated with Beach Boys product and the band were shocked to find this record peaking at a lowly #25 in the US charts - 17 places behind 'Spirit Of America'. The album was never released on CD, having been superseded by lots of longer and better compilations by then.
"20 Golden Greats"
(Capitol, 'June' 1976)
Surfin' USA/Fun Fun Fun/I Get Around/Don't Worry Baby/Little Deuce Coupe/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/Help Me, Rhonda/California Girls/Barbara Ann/Sloop John B//You're So Good To Me/God Only Knows/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Good Vibrations/Then I Kissed Her/Heroes and Villains/Darlin'/Do It Again/I Can Hear Music/Break Away
The year 1976 was a peak one for compilations and a good number of the AAA bands we cover featured in the British '20 Golden Greats' re-issue series somewhere. The United Kingdom never really took to 'Endless Summer' and 'Spirit Of America' for some reason so this was our equivalent 'second wave' (or is it third now?) of Beach Boys success and despite the most recent song on it being seven years old the compilation went all the way to #1, the record eventually staying on the charts for 86 weeks (or one year and eight months!) The Beach Boys '20 Golden Greats' is one of the more 'obvious' releases in the series, chiefly because the Beach Boys only released 27 singles on Capitol anyway (if you're interested the ones missing were the seven that sold the least: 'Ten Little Indians' 'Surfin Safari' 'Be True To Your School' 'Dance Dance Dance' 'Do You Wanna Dance?' 'The Little Girl I Once Knew' and 'Bluebirds Over The Mountain'). The record is perfectly acceptable and contains all the songs most Beach Boys fans would have been expecting all on one handy volume, which at 20 songs is pretty generous as compilations go. However, 'Greats' has been rather surpassed by later, even longer collections in the years since. The album was re-released on CD without bonus tracks sometime around 1990 and in fact has secured a shock re-release in the States in 2014 shortly before writing this article!
Bruce Johnston: "Going Public"
I Write The Songs/Deirdre/Thank You Baby/Rendezvous/Won't Somebody Dance With Me?//Disney Girls/Rock and Roll Survivor/Don't Be Scared/Pipeline
"I write the songs that make the whole world sing, plus a few that will leave the fans scratching their heads"
It took Bruce Johnston rather a long time to actually get round to re-starting his solo career; having left The Beach Boys to do just that in 1971 a combination of writing and producing had kept him busy. He'd also scored something The Beach Boys had never done (even Brian Wilson) - he waon a 'Grammy' for Barry Mannilow's cover 'I Write The Songs' (which has always seemed odd to me - how can you sing about someone else writing the songs that make the world sing from the heart?!) By the time this forgotten third and final solo album came out Bruce was only 18 months away from becoming a Beach Boy again. In truth, this album sounds like he needs them - especially in the vocal department (there's a cast of seven people credited with them on this album including 1960s star Gary Puckett plus a choir and they still don't make as much noise as The Beach Boys!)
The strangest thing about this album is how uptempo and commercial this album sounds. The only really slow-paced ballads on this album are Bruce's re-recordings of the songs you know anyway: The Beach Boys' 'Disney Girls' and Mannilow's 'I Write The Songs' . Everything else is fast-paced and commercial, presumably the sort of things The Beach Boys had in mind when they brought Bruce back to 'spruce up' the 'L A Light Album' (but actually sounds nothing like this album). Even 'Deirdre', the sweet little laidback beauty from 'Sunflower' has been given a makeover, complete with saxophones, burbling bass lines and uptempo strings: the effect is like seeing an old friend given a complete makeover: while you quite genuinely want to tell them how good they look you know they looked lovely enough anyway without having to go such drastic measures. 'Pipeline' is even more of a shock: a frugging disco song (in both senses of that non-word), with a strutting bass line and disco strings straight out of 'Saturday Night Fever' - hearing this it's easy to see where the Beach Boys got the idea for the discofied 'Here Comes The Night' from. However while I've already confessed elsewhere in this book to quite liking that band version, this one is horrid: music made for the sake of swaggering and nothing more. Even the standard 'Won't Somebody Dance With Me?', Lynsey De Pauk's cute song about shyness and loneliness is dressed up to the nines, losing something of the heart of the original along with the rags. Much better is 'Rendezvous', a more retro pop song that could have sounded fun with Mike Love turning it into a Beach Boys song and the lovely ballad 'Thankyou Baby', which is the only 'new' song here close to Bruce's usual style. Effective and moving, heartfelt and universal, it's like 'Endless Harmony, only nothing like as twee.
Overall, then, 'Going Public' is an interesting attempt to re-write history and show just what Bruce Johnston can do. Unfortunately the bits that work best are the parts where Bruce sounds just like he always has: sweet, romantic and a little bit vulnerable (he was picked Brian's replacement for a reason folks!) The end result is a mixed record with enough unusual ideas to keep Beach Boys happy (and two varyingly different interpretations of two Beach Boys songs), but not quite enough going on to make a solo career viable. Thankfully the call that gets Bruce back in the band is just a small time away...
Dennis Wilson "Bambu"
(Unreleased Album, Recorded 1977-1978)
Track Listing on 2008 CD Release: Under The Moonlihgt/It's Not Too Late/School Girl/Love Remember Me/Love Surrounds Me/Wild Situation/Common/Are You Real?/He's A Bum/Cocktails/I Love You/Constant Companion/Time For Bed/Album Tag Song/All Alone/Piano Variations
"He's a man in love with life - sometimes,s just keep him away from the bottle"
Dennis Wilson was never going to keep it together for long. You can tell that from the pained lyrics on 'Pacific Ocean Blues' alone: for every keep-it-together message to the self and a plea to Denni's maker to keep him on the straight and narrow there's another song about drinking and another where Dennis pleads to the audience to tell him straight, 'what's wrong with me?' The two forces kept duelling within Dennis across the rest of 1977 until, finally, in a neat repeat of his brother's two acclaimed masterpieces, he simply caved in - his boozing delaying session after session until he simply ran out of money and friends cand couldn't keep his second album afloat anymore. But although Dennis lost the battle (finally succumbing to his demons six years later) he still won the war: the unfinished 'Bambu' doesn't have the consistency of the first solo album or the sheer shock excellence in its favour, but this even wilder rollercoaster ride of emotions is still as powerful and emotional as any album in my collection, 'Smile' included. Who knows what Dennis might have done to round off 'Bambu' : with fifteen songs to choose from (plus four leftover from the previous session) there's easily another great 12 track album in there somwhere.
When 'Pacific Ocean Blues' came out the few critics who 'got' the album compared it to 'Pet Sounds': there's that same mixture of bravado and vulnerability, that emotional patchwork quilt of feelings felt during the past ten years of heavy living and the sense that the listener might recognise a few of them (though not me of course: the only Tony Asher lyric I identify with is the more 'Smile'-like 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times'). In that case 'Bambu' is 'Smile' - a dangerous, daring project that's far less instantly accessible and quite unlike any other recording Dennis ever made, as fully stretched to it's limits as music can be when it's main writer and singer is falling apart more and more by the session. At the same time, it's also an inherently pretty album: like 'Smile' our emotions are exhaustingly pulled back and forth, between right and wrong, between the dark and the light and - like 'Smile' too - because we never heard a 'final' running order, we never know which side 'won'.
James William Guercio - the president of Caribou who'd taken a chance on Dennis and adored the first album - did the best he can with the world's first legal issue of the project on CD in 2008. Without any notes from Dennis (who may not have thought things through that far) we don't know how this album would have held together, but I can't think of a better running order for this record: it starts off jubilant and full of the party spirit, segues down some sacry unfinished instrumentals that sound like the depths of hell and ends up the other side, the singer having taken one drink too many (the aptly titled 'Time For Bed') and back on his own again, nursing his wounds. Fascinatingly it's the two most pained songs from these sessions - 'Love Surrounds Me' and 'All Alone' - that The Beach Boys purloined for their group projects ('L A Light Album' and 'Endless Harmony' respectively) which has given 'Bambu' the rather unfortunate reputation as a melancholy, depressing record. In truth it isn't: it's an absolute bipolar seesaw between the exhilerating highs and crashing lows of life, as seen through the eyes of someone who knows that he'll be stuck in the cyle forevermore. For every sobbing broken heart and frightened weep of fragility there's another song preening it's feathers and chatting up the pretty girls (especially if they're underage - thankfully this album entered the shops a few years before the Jimmy Saville scandal broke or it might have been viewed rather differently).
Like 'Pacific Ocean Blues' this sprawling collection of emotions comes with arrangements that are highly suited to their topics. For the most part Dennis is again alone at the piano, sometimes surrounded by just strings, sometimes a funky rock and roll band, more often than not on his own. Some of the sounds and textures he creates on this album is remarkable: the mix of thundering piano chords, held synth string notes and whalloped percussion on the 'Album Tag Song' is extraordinary, even for someone who'd once particpated in the 'Smile' sessions. Dennis again writes with a whole group of collaborators: Greg Jakobson (who'd been writing with Dennis on and off since 1969 B-side 'Celebrate The News'), Geoffrey Cushing-Murray (more usually Carl's writing partner, who ends up penning more songs on 'L A Light Album' than any of the band) and The Beach Boys' occasional pianist Carli Munoz, who writes four tracks including the two songs that bookend the album (and have Dennis at his highest and lowest respectively). The other key player on this album is brother Carl, who has even more to do than on 'Pacific Ocean Blues', playing the role of Dennis' conscience on 'It's Not Too Late' and egging him on to another drink on 'Real Wild Siatuation' although the pair don't write together this time around (Carl, who was used to joining in with his brother's binges, began to worry about the health of all three Wilsons as 1977 turned into 1978 and figured he would be a better influence if he asbtained and stayed away, which makes Munoz's haunting 'It's Not Too Late' particularly eerie - the song wasn't written about Dennis at all). Perhaps the person who deserves the greatest priase for this record, though, is engineer Tom Murphy: when first Carl, then Jakobson, then MUnoz all drifted away after one scare too many during their wild ride with Dennis the engineer stayed faithful, making up for the loss of Dennis' own studio by setting own up in his house so Dennis could continue with the LP (with the mixing done in the kitchen!) Despite - or perhaps because - of the unusual surroundings 'Bambu' has a remarkable sound, quite unlike any other album I've ever heard: its sort of a Brian Wilson production merged with Phil Spector and a touch of George Martin thrown in: elbaroate and echoey, but also very precise and clear.
The album's real star, though, is Dennis. I'd love to know what comments fans did write in with after the drummer invited them to give their comments in the sleevenotes of his first LP - but on this album's session tapes the answer seems to be for Dennis to go even deeper into his pysche, to leave his voice even morer ravged and vulnerable and to mix even more the raw roar of the sea and the tranquil beauty of the musical waters in his vocals. We've already seen, across the book, what a deeply senitive soul lay hidden under that rough and tough exterior, but what's interesting about this album is that we get 'more' of both sides of Dennis: that suit of armour he wore so readily as much a part of this album as his breaking heart. A tough guy whose tough enough to cry: that's the sound of Dennis Wilson on 'Bambu', his vocals so 'real' for lack of a better word that every single sentence on this album sounds as if it's been 'lived', even when Dennis is singing the work of someone else. 'Bambu' isn't perfect: 'Under The Moonshine' is a little ordinary, 'I Love You' doesn't share the rest of the album';s beauty and intelligence and 'Comon' takes a full elongated minute up to set up the moment when the track truly finds its wings and flies. But everything else here is prime Dennis Wilson and every bit as good as the first LP: a truly essential release for any Beach Boys fan who thought there was more to the band's drummer than just his sex symbol looks.
We'll stick with the CD running order for our track-by-track rundown, but bear in mind that the 'finished' LP might have looked entirely different had it been released in 1978. 'Under The Moonlight' is a bright and breezy Munos song thatsounds underdevloped, lasting a single jazzy verse that's extended thanks to lots of repeats and a lot of instryumental work. Munoz seems to be writing about his role in the Beach Boys here: on the stage and enjoying the adoration of fans but not really a part of the band; the lyrics no doubt chimed with Dennis, who'd always felt like he was only a part of the band because his mum Audree made Brian include him in his plans. Sadly the track never quite gels and - for the only time on these two albums - Dennis sounds as if he's acting, not living and breathing the song.
'It's Not Too Late', however, is a gorgeous Munoz ballad that must have chimed even more with Dennis' way of thinking, six marriages into his life and wondering whether he's just made the biggest mistake of his life. Dennis' narrator pleads that a couple who seem to be goig their separate ways can 'wake up and live again'. The hint is that he's too much of a womaniser and rogue to ever truly act on what he says - and yet he still means it with every word he sings. Carl's vocal in the chorus (simply singing 'no no no it won't be long...' over and over) is tremendously moving: while the words simply reflect what Dennis has been singing, the second higher voice suggests the girl telling herself not to fall into his trap (because it 'won't be long' before he does something to hurt her) as well of course as sounding like the now sober Carl sadly turning his back on his brother and pleading with him to mend his ways. Despite being slower than almost every song in this book, 'It's Not Too Late' has such a hauntingly beautioful melody and so many twists and turns in the arrangement that it's never boring. The irony is, this song so knows it's too late for rescue but it dreams of it all the same. A small triumph.
'School Girl' is the night out after the night before, Dennis now back in full party mode and out on the pull with his friends. Wilson struts away to an impressive collage of sounds: all the tired elements of disco are here (strings, synths and a danceable backing track) but this backing couldn't be anything less like disco: it's powerfully, almost painfully funky and raw, despute so much going on. Dennis pleads with a school girl to elope with him, tells her that she's been under her daddy's rules for too long and that they'll meet up after 'final class'. Rather than sounding lecherous, though, Dennis sounds sad and desperate, convinced that surely someone this naive will believe him but secretly hating himself for what he's doing (the nearest comparable song to this is the Rolling Stones' 'Stray Cat Blues' and this song has nothing like the same wide-eyed leer and menace). It could be too that this song is a 'sort of' wish fulfilment: ruled by the rod of iron and never allowed outside his house lat at night, this song could be more about what Dennis wishes someone had said to him: that a partying rock star girl had taken him away from home and shown him that it's alright to party. The mood in the song cleverly turns sombre shade by shade before ending up with a song where the pitching has become so awkward that there's a really edgy tension in the room, with Denni's vocal suddenly not sounding half as powerful as it did when he strutted his way into the room.
'Love Remember Me' is a sweet little number that starts out quiet and sad with a truly exceptional melody (rising and falling on every sylllable of the title phrase) and some lovely Brian Wilson-esque chillike philosophy ('People live, people die, people laugh, people cry') And then the stars shine out from the darkness as a choir comes out of nowhere and sweetly intones behind Denni's party vocal that 'love comes tumbling down on you', while a guitar riff descends like raindrops glistening in the wind. Dennis clearly had his ex-wife Karen Lamm in mind for this one, opening with the lines that both of them 'ran away' before forgiving any infidelities with the remark 'it's wonderful that the people outside still love to play'. Dennis clearly thinks that his love runs deeper than anything anyone else could possibly offer - and on the evidence of this gossamer emotionally exhausting song I'm not going to argue with him there.
Next up, a contradiction: 'Love Surrounds Me' - the last song had Dennis never feeling more loved even though he was on his own; this time Dennis is surrounded by hangers on but it's him whose missing the deep love he used to enjoy. The original mix for the song that was included on 'L A Light Album' loses out in the sense that the vocal is unfinished and that Carl hasn't yet had time to overdub his 'response' harmonies. However without the sweetness of that finished version (all those whooping Beach Boys harmonies and so on) 'Love Surrounds Me' sounds even more 'real' and desperate, a real cry from the heart.I have to say, though, that I'm surprised it was this song that was chosen: while a very good song it's far from the best on this album; perhaps Carl picked it deliberately because he knew where his contribution to it would fit?
'Wild Situation' is, like 'Dreamer', a hymn with an edge: Dennis praises God for the wildness in his life and the girl whose promised to show him the 'promised land' without moving out of their bed, but recognises that the wildness is quickly becoming a double-edged sword. Goodness knows if things are too wild for Dennis then they've got to be pretty wild: the girl in the song doesn't even allow herself to be chatted up anymore; she simply 'takes off her clothes and heads in my direction'. Dennis' vocal is neatly caught somewhere between ecstaty, enjoyment, surprise and shock.
'Common' is a 'Smile'-like instrumental that makes the most of its peculiar noises, chords and textures (the song opens with a growl somewhere close to a wolf haunting it's prey). The song really starts to build when a series of twinkling one-two-three triple-time piano chords roll the song into prettier skies, the sudden lack of percussion making the song sound as if the stabilisers have been removed and the piece is truly soaring unaided, gliding on it's wings. The effect is quite lovely, eventually fading out into a spooky organ part that's not unlike the part played on Dennis' first ever recorded song 'Be Still'. An exhilerating ride.
'Are You Real?' is simply extraordinary. Dennis' narrator is having a real live conversation with 'his' God but isn't sure whether his vision is a real religious intervemtion or simply a haluciantion fuelled by booze. 'Are you my vision?' he asks, 'Can I believe in what I see?' before pelading with whatever it is he's seen not to 'run away'. The song then segues into a fitful piano-and-string based chase around his inner psyche, haunted by the revelations of what he's just seen but which is clearly too dramatic to ever be put into words. Like the best chase music, the track spins on getting more and more out of control in an attempt to either rush towards or escape from the vision. And what happens? The song trips over its big feet, suddenly being cut off mid-note. Was this always the intention? Or was this simply a clever way of the Legacy re-issue compilers making the most out of a track that would otherwise simply have broken down? Either way its a remarkable moment: just what did Dennis see that night?
'He's A Bum' is another great song, a slab of autobiography from a man who knows he's on the way out. Dennis wrote the song after a girlfriend's parting shot that the drummer was a 'bum', more at home with the buskers and homeless than the posing rock stars who courted him. Dennis cleasrly agrees, calling himself a 'hot dog' and a 'sinner' for good measure. Really, this is Dennis' theme song witht he narrator a walking contradiction, 'a man in love with life who worries about God every single night' and healing the world with cries of 'it's alright, you don't have to be afraid' that he only half-believes himself. What's more Dennis is deeply self-aware of what's happening to him: 'Some people say he lost his way' he sighs without having the heart to correct them before adding a new, world-weary philosophy, that 'everybody lives alone'. Another great song with a terrifc catchy melody this song manages to be both earthly and spiritual: two realms Dennis rarely explored as well as here.
'Cocktails' treads the same path as 'Common', a dreamy piano track with Dennis rasping rather than singing his words over the top. 'If I was a waterfall I'd float into you' Dennis sighs, 'If love had its way I'd build you a smile'. Knowing Dennis thissong is probably about one girl or another (Kren Lamm again?) but the few lyrics here could just as easily work for brother Brian, his younger brother promising to make another 'Smile' to keep the pressure off him. Alas unlike most of the other songs on this album, though, the low key mood doesn't really work.
'I Love You' is also a tad ordinary, a simple song where Dennis is so overhwlemed by feelings of love that that's about all he can get into words, the song jerking with each sudden burst of 'I Love You' spirnkled throughout the song. A surprise choir swell up from nowhere by the end of the song but despite some nice treatment with echo this track doesn't make much of an impact.
'Constant Companion' is the song from the album with 'hit single' written all over it - the true follow-up to the catchy 'Rainbow'. Dennis vows that despite his wayward ways he'll be a girls' ever vigilant companion, always at her side. Like the rest of the album, though, there's a deeper sub-plot to this: Dennis feels that 'being free, living free is what we all are here for' - and can't seem to quantify that with the idea of being at someone's side forever even though he still pledges to be there. The third verse then twists things completely: his girlfriend has children, they're going off 'to war' accompanied by 'the sound of thunder'; afraid of losing her too Dennis then vows that they will meet in the next life, and then the next: because who else could possibly compete? He knows 'the secrets to your soul'. A Nicely perky melody and some great horn parts makes this the catchiest song on the album without sacrificing any of the deep thinking.
'Time For Bed', the last song recorded for the album - and the last of any made by Dennis, give or take a bit of tinkering on 'L A Light Album' - is fascinating. The song struts with the same good time rhythms as 'Got To Know The Woman' but its clear that this is a narrator well out of control who didn't know when to stop. 'Marijuana, beer and wine are for me, don't care about my momma and my dad!' screams Dennis in the middle eight before promising to steal a car and 'cruise around, running round the ugly town - just for kicks! - as the world goes mad!' A deliberately ugly song, this taste of what Dennis must have been like in one of his uncontrollable moments is as compulsive as the car crash you know is going to happen if the narrator gets his way: much as you scream 'no' and try to look away this song's hypnotic grooves have too much of a spell on you. Intense.
The 'Album Tag Song' would presumably have gone by a different name had Dennis actually finished this album. A rocking, rolling series of piano chords, this song veers from yet more extremes, with a delightful quiet middle passage ('I Feel Only Love For You' each sylllable taking an age to speak out loud) and a roaring powerhouse of turbulent bass piano chords and an other-wordly synthesiser, used the way synthesisers should always have been played.
The last actual song on the album is 'All Alone', a final Munoz song first heard on The Beach Boys compilation 'Endless Harmony'. Dennis has never sounded more wretched or sad, angrily spitting out the lyrics about broken promises and misplaced trust as if kicking himself in song. 'If I could have my chance again I'd never do you wrong' he pleads before realising that his words have come too late: with only 'sadness and the love you left behind' Dennis is finally alone: his friends, his band, his wives and his girlcfriends haveing all walked out on him. The words may be Munoz' but Dennis clearly lives the song, his breaking voice in the middle eight before a sax solo finally cuts in and blooms into a kind of inverted rusty squeking promise of happiness, is one of the most exhilerating moments in this book.
That just leaves 'Piano Variations', a track that almost certainly wouldn't have made the album but has been included here as part of the album sessions. The track notes state that this is Dennis playing through his chords for 'Thoughts Of You', the turbulent ballad from his first album, but the chords do't sound that similar to me. This piece is still enjoyable in it's own right though, a gorgeous swirl of melody and pattern that acts as a sweet healing coda to the album and proves once and for all just how wonderfully naturally melodic Dennis was.
In case you're wondering what happened to 'Baby Blue', the other Dennis Wilson classic of the period released on 'L A Light Album', opinions differ as to just how much a part of this album's sessions that song was. The track certainly sounds as if it belongs to this album's early sessions, with Dennis and Carl trading lines over one of the most sumptuous melodies ever recorded - perhaps Legacy simply figured that enough people owned it on 'L A Light' to re-use it here? If so then that's a shame - 'Baby Blue' can never be heard by enough fans, with Dennis at his dreamiest best.
Ultimately 'Bambu' is aptly named: it's tough and brittle like the plant but also, while entirely natural, takes it's fuel from artificial substances (the unusual album title spelling was taken after a brand of roll-your-own cigarettes). This is the sound of an artist who knows he hasn't got long for the world and still has so much to say - if only that self-destructive streak didn't keep getting in the way. Like 'Pacific Ocean Blues' what we have left of 'Bambu' suggests it would have been another triumph. Would it have reversed Dennis' dwindling fortunes? Probably not - even with the boost from releasing this record the drummer probably wouldn't have got his act together for a volume three. But it would have allowed his faithful fans the chance to get to know the true genius of the middle Wilson brother an awful lot earlier. A very big deep heartfelt thankyou to everyone at Legacy who finally released this projects on CD, with some excellent packaging and inteiguing bonus tracks, all of which restore Dennis' reputation right back up there where he eblongs with his two brothers and whose double-disc set is my tip for the single best Alan's Album Archives release of the past ten years.
(Unreleased Album, 1977)
Period Recordings: Life Is For The Living/Hey Little Tomboy/Deep Purple/It's Over Now/Everybody Wants To Live/Shortenin' Bread/Lines/On Broadway/It's Trying To Say/Still I Dream Of It
Earlier Recordings Under Consideration For The Album: H.E.L.P. Is On The Way/Games Two Can Play/I Just Got My Pay (see '1970 Recordings' for reviews of these)
"A band in freefall but don't panic - H.E.L.P. is on the way"
The planned second Beach Boys album of 1977 - which also turned out to be the last album sessions to feature a fully focussed Brian Wilson until as late as 2012 - would have split fan opinion even more than 'Beach Boys Love You' on release. Like that album Brian is in childlike, playful mood throughout and his songs verge even more on the fringes of the socially acceptable ('Hey Little Tomboy' - easily the weakest song here and unforgivably the only one resurrected for the band's next album - sounds even more sexist and irritating here). However at his best he can still conjure up a truly heartbreaking song: 'Still I Dream Of It' (another track here to find an official release, on the '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' set, with an even more haunting demo appearing on 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times') is a candidate for the best Brian Wilson song of the second half of the 1970s.
The biggest difference between this and 'Love You', however, is the sound. Taking the criticism of the synthesiser-heavy predecessor to heart, Brian embark son his one and only 'big band' album, one where he, Carl and Dennis do their best to unleash their inner Sinatras. Alas the move rather backfires: the earlier, purer Brian would have out-sung the rat packers anyday but here, after that many cigarettes and drugs prematurely aging his vocal chords, he doesn't even sound as good as Sinatra did on his 58th comeback (what's worse Brian seems to know, actually giggling when his voice breaks during the torturous 'Purple Haze'). This does, however, have the effect of making the title the cleverest on a Beach Boys project since 'Smile': the songs are childlike, but the arrangements are all 'grown up' - the sort of things the band's fans' parents would have bought, with the combination of the silliness ('Shortenin' Bread' for instance) and cultured arrangements somehow very fitting in the pantheon of Brian Wilson sounds down the years. However the end effect is of another album that seems to be doing its best to throw the Beach Boys out with the bathwater; sacrificing everything that made the band great as well as everything that's holding them back. On the plus side, though, 'Adult Child' is a real 'band' recording rather just Brian: as planned Carl would have got three vocals, Dennis one, Mike one, Al one and Brian the rest, with Dr Landy's therapy the first time round still sounding as if it's doing him good.
The theme that runs throughout the album - especially in the three 'Sunflower' outtakes' revived for the project in the same way that 'Good Time' has been for 'Love You' - is health, even though the band were all far from healthy. Despite being as overweight as he'd ever been, Brian still had a fascination with health foods and exercise (see 'Vegetables' from 'Smile', inspired by Brian's friends opening up a health food store named 'The Radiant Radish', which sadly closed in 1971), although while his 1970 songs sound like a determined effort to get fit ('seems lately eating sugar and fat is getting obvious that's not where it's at'), the 1976 songs sound like a memory, an effort taking place in the mind not the body (fitness is such a Brian Wilson concern I'm amazed he didn't release a concept album about in the late 1980s when he really did shed the pounds and proved how serious he was). These songs make much more sense if you imagine them being composed while out jogging - a lot of them share the same quick-but-gentle rhythms. Even the 'new' songs though feature some notable lyrics about wanting a better, healthier lifestyle: 'Life Is For The Living' vows to give up soft drugs, ''Everybody Wants To Live' vows to give up smoking; 'Lines' seems like a drug song ('lines of cocaine?') but is actually a typically Brian song about nothing in particular, spotted while out on his morning jog (whether real or imaginary, though, is unknown). 'It's Trying To Say' is the one and only Beach Boys song ever to be about baseball - well, sort of, as knowing that a new season is about to start seems to be the extent of Brian's knowledge about the sport in the lyrics. Even the cover of 'On Broadway' is about vowing to make life better when you've hit rock bottom and clearly hit a chord. The shame, then, is that we know now that this was a false dawn for Brian: he didn't get healthier, he got worse and whatever the problems he has with Dr Landy both here and later in the 1980s, his body if not his mind was all the worse for it.
So why did the album get shelved? Well, Warner Brothers simply wasn't prepared to release a third album that they considered sub-standard, with Brian not so much 'back' as working through his demons on record company time. Unlike 'Love You' the rest of the band weren't in much better condition either: Dennis sounds far more wasted than he does on his solo album and even Carl and Al, unusually, sound past their best (that could be something to do with the quality of the bootleg, mind, but then again... )Yet again there's no obvious 'hit single' here - and yet again sales would no doubt have fallen, with critics again divided between 'ha ha' 'what the?' and 'yippee'. However you have to question why they decided to put the gormless 'MIU Album' out instead of this one: that record, surely, was far more damaging to the band's reputation than this record would have been and the fact that the abominable 'Hey Little Tomboy' was the only song thought worthy of immediate rescue shows how little critical nous really was on display.
My thoughts? 'Adult Child' is another mixed bag of a Beach Boys album, no better and no worse than the records around it, with nearly every track featuring the best and worst of Brian in this era. Intended opener 'Life Is For The Living' has a great opening couplet ('Don't sit around on your ass smoking grass, that stuff went out a long time ago!') and it's great to hear Carl and Brian trading verses like the old days. But the track tries too hard to swing and neither brother is at their best. The melody is typically rounded but Brian's lyrics ('you run and you swim, add some gym') make a mundane subject sound even more mundane. I've also never heard anyone this genuinely excited to be doing their exercises, which makes you wonder how early on the Dr Landy brainwashing started...
The original version of 'Hey Little Tomboy' is the same up to the first half: Mike sings lead and Brian chimes in with both a falsetto and a gruff bass part before Carl joins in with that sexist chorus 'gonna turn you into a girl!' The song's middle eight, though is very different: instead of just the 'hey little hey little tomboys' we get all sorts of unconvincing speech over the top (sample: 'fine little thing' 'you're looking ok' 'I'd check her out a couple of times' 'we'll try a little bit of lipstick, see what it looks like' 'let's shave your legs now for the first time!') that makes even 'Cassius Love v Sonny Wilson' sound like the height of natural. Normally my love for Brian would overcome everything, but really - I hoped Marilyn slapped him when he played this back to her. The worst of it is, like 'MIU', 'Tomboy' contains the single best melody of either project: typically Brian in the way it navigates some tricky chords with real aplomb and with plenty of room for some gorgeous block harmonies.
'Deep Purple' is the most 'big band' song on the album, featuring Brian doing his best to croon his way through a gentle lyric that re-creates the same feeling of peace and serenity as 'Aren't You Glad?' He's clearly been playing too many rat pack albums as the arrangement features every cliché of the genre ever made. Alas Brian's voice is long shot and even he seems to realise the futility of trying to keep going (would he have got someone else to sing it for the proper record? Then again, given some of the vocals that did come out on 'Beach Boys Love You' perhaps not).
'It's Over Now', as released per the '30 Years box set', is another Sinatra-esque crooner song, but one that cuts deeper than the last track. Carl sings lead but even though he's more together than Brian he's not comfortable with the style of the song and the track sounds very much as if it's running slow even though it isn't. The lyrics are all about loss and emptiness, the narrator realising his grief as he watches it 'fade away' with another reference to colour (this times blue and orange rather than purple) before finding his own consolation: that someone's been there before him ('I'll put a Frank Sinatra album on and cry my blues away...') Weirdly, Marilyn makes her second cameo on a Beach Boys album, this time singing as her brother-in-law Carl's romantic interest: the result is even weirder than on 'Let's Put Our Hearts Together'.
'Everybody Wants To Live' is a pick-yourself-up song with Carl on lead, vowing to give up a whole lot of things starting with cigarettes (with the memorable opening line that 'a cigarette butt when you drop it in the water goes 'psst', but the trick is you shouldn't laugh') while his more wayward brother sing loose harmonies together in the background. The most revealing song of the sessions sounds like a really stiff talking to from Brian to himself, that laughing his way through his problems labels him as a 'coward', afraid to tackle life's deeper subjects. The end result is one of the better songs on the album, with a better use of synths than most tracks from 'Love You' and the feeling that this is an AA meeting set to music (a bit like an AAA meeting but with people trying to give up booze, not Spice Girls albums!)
The first version of 'Shortenin' Bread' is a little funkier than the version on 'L A Light' although the two arrangements are similar enough to be identical. You wonder why the band bothered re-recording it actually: the take has already been nailed here and Carl sounds much more 'on it' too with some ad libs that suggest he's having fun, although stealing the show as per the finished version is Brian, now tackling the 'comedy bass part' Mike once used to handle.
'Lines' is the most Brian Wilson like song on the album, half resentful, half proud of his 'nine times round the block' starting at '7.30'. After the 'lines' round the block Brian then ahs the day off, goes to see a movie he doesn't like much ('there's a scene with these two oh so thrown together loves') which inspires a sudden rocking middle eight from Carl that comes out of nowhere. The result is a kind of up-dated 'Busy Doin' Nothin', a song that tells us little about Brian's world but has fun filling us in on his nothing days along the way. No other writer would get away with it and this isn't one of Brian's better 'nothing' songs, but it nearly works: to be fair a finished version might have got closer still.
The Al Jardine-led cover of 'On Broadway' is a real surprise. Everyone who is everyone has covered Mann and Weil's song of ruined stardom and hurt surprise at the nastiness of a world that promises so much love from the outside: The Beach Boys' version is only a smidgeon away from Neil Young's feedback drenched attack on his 'Freedom' album of 1989. Al does a good job of the vocal, sounding both fed up and resilient all at the same time, while Brian's intriguing backing track is quite unlike anything else in the Beach Boys oeuvre: a mixture of plodding saxophones, block chord pianos and strings holding a single note throughout the song. I'm still not quite sure if I like it or not but the effect is certainly striking.
'It's Trying To Say' is a happy, bouncy song for Dennis to sing, although the lyrics are pure Brian: this song never actually gets around to telling us what it's trying to say at all! Dennis promises to tell us, but gets easily distracted, what with the baseball season coming up ('a swing and the ball goes sailing out in the crowd, run the third, save the homes and the fans starts screaming loud, baseball's on!) What we end up with then is a chirpy song that offers us absolutely no reason to be chirpy - at least, that's what we're trying to say to you!
Finally, 'Still I Dream Of It' is a truly gorgeous song: Brian is back on the vocal, dreaming of food, 'The day's been hard and I'm so tired, I feel like eating now'. That's just a front though: what really 'haunts me so, like a dream linked to all the stars above' is how lonely he is: uprooted from his loved ones, 'like a tree that's just been planted' (is this the early days of the Landy therapy taking Brian from his house?) Brian even adds a rare line about his guilt over his recent behaviour: 'I made mistakes today, will I ever learn the lessons that all come my way?' The arrangement is as rat packy as a lot of the other songs on this album yet far more suitable too, the straining at their leash along with Brian's tear-stained vocal. Easily the album classic, thank goodness the band saw sense and released this song on their 1993 box set!
And so ends one of the weirder albums in The Beach Boys canon. Alas Brian took the rejection of it hard and doesn't really appear in any real capacity in this book again until a decade's time; the loss if both this book's and music in general, but against all the odds that story will have a happy ending yet...
"Ten Years Of Harmony"
(Brother Records, December 7th 1981)
Add Some Music To Your Day/Roller Skating Child/Disney Girls/It's A Beautiful Day/California Saga: California/Wontcha Come Out Tonight?/Marcella//Rock 'n' Roll Music/Goin' On/It's OK/Cool Cool Water/San Miguel/School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell)/Good Timin'/Sail On Sailor//Darlin' (Live Version)/Lady Lynda/Sea Cruise/The Trader/This Whole World/Don't Go Near The Water/Surf's Up//Come Go With Me/Deirdre/She's Got Rhythm/River Song (Dennis Wilson solo)/Long Promised Road/Feel Flows/Til' I Die
I have a mighty soft spot for this compilation, which took on the difficult task of trying to make sense out of the Beach Boys' fractured 1970s catalogue - it was my introduction to almost all the band's 1970s catalogue aside from a battered copy of 'L.A. Light'. At the time of this release in 1981 the band looked as if they were over - Brian had retreated back to bed, seemingly for good, Dennis was absent for longer and longer periods and the tug-of-war power struggles between Mike and Al on one hand and Carl on the other had resulted in three albums that had all failed to sell. As well as giving the band breathing room before having to make another album (which appeared in 1985), 'Ten Years Of Harmony' was intended to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary but in particular their time on the 'Brother Records' label and skilfully navigated a sea of contractual problems which allowed the band to release material published on both Warner Brothers and Caribou. As a result this set covers an awful lot of ground (nine studio albums and one live record, plus the single from Dennis' acclaimed 'Pacific Ocean Blues' album), but the sensible decision to make this a double album means that there's space for some of the 'real' album highlights rather than just the material deemed to be 'hits' (in as much as the band had any hits in this period - the Capitol catalogue is so rich with gems every single song on the '20 Golden Greats' compilation went top ten somewhere in the UK or USA, by comparison this album contains just one UK top ten hit 'Lady Lynda' and just one top ten US hit 'Rock and Roll Music').
Usually I hate compilations that cover a lot of ground hap-hazardly instead of in chronological order, but actually sequencing is one of this album's strengths. All of the four sides end on a song and performance so thrilling they simply beg you to turn the record over and start again: 'Marcella' 'Sail On Sailor' 'Surf's Up' ''Til I Die'. We've already debated in depth the merits of the critically acclaimed but poorest-seller 'Sunflower' versus the comparatively high sales of follow-up 'Surf's Up; thankfully the set leans towards the 'Sunflower' spectrum whilst keeping the 'Smile' era title track of the latter. The set is also generous towards the 'L.A.Light' and 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' albums and is skimpy on the '15 Big Ones' period - which is fair enough in my own personal appraisal of the band. All the band are well and evenly catered for too - even Bruce gets two songs on the album even though debate within the band about whether he'd rejoined in enough time to be 'allowed' into the band meant he wasn't included in the sequence of photos on the inner gatefold sleeve. Talking of packaging, 'Harmony' is pretty good there too, with full lyric sheets and a series of photographs, mainly from the 'Sunflower' era, most of them unseen: in the days before box sets and CD booklets, this was about all you could ask for. Shame about the boring cover, though, with the band's outstretched-arms-on-horse logo emblazoned on a white background (you wouldn't know from the cover what a colourful compilation this really is, with 'Surf's Up' alone coming in a whole cast of colours).
As a bonus for collectors there are oodles of rarities here too. 'It's A Beautiful Day' is a sunny Mike Love/Al Jardine song from the 'L.A. Light' sessions and included in the soundtrack of the film 'Americathon' (nope, I've not seen it either but I imagine its full of 'people everywhere having fun fun fun'). While not quite up to that album's other strong Jardine compositions, its far too good to be 'lost' on a dud movie. 'San Miguel', a Dennis Wilson song with Carl on lead, is actually the earliest recording here, dating from the first week of sessions for 'Sunflower' and abandoned when the original running order for that album was rejected. Like much of that album it has a kind of quiet understated brilliance to it, with the feeling that nobody is trying too hard but they're skilled enough to make it sound perfect anyway. 'Sea Cruise', meanwhile, is a Dennis Wilson choice of cover (first sung by Frankie Ford) from the '15 Big Ones' period that never made it to the final running order and this time is actually better than almost everything on that album (perhaps the band should have waited a year and made it '16 Big Ones'?!) Oo-wee baby, indeed. Best of all, the album sensibly includes 'River Song', the opener killer track from Dennis' album 'Pacific Ocean Blues' which did a great deal to highlight the album's brilliance during the many years that album was out of print. A guesting Carl makes the song sound like a Beach Boys track anyway. Real collectors will also be intrigued to learn that the album is the easiest way of finding four rare mixes on CD: the 'single' versions of 'California' 'Rock and Roll Music' 'Cool Cool Water' and 'School Day'. Interestingly the original LP included the 'proper' version of 'Come Go With Me' from 'MIU' in 1978, but whether by design or accident this was replaced on CD with a version from two years earlier, cut during sessions for '15 Big Ones'. That's doubly odd given that this was the song chosen to 'promote' the compilation despite then being three years old: given the fact that a disillusioned Beach Boys didn't want to promote it the single's American chart peak of #18 is super impressive (the best they'd done there in five years, discounting 'The Beach Boys Medley').
All in all this is the best compilations out there for anyone who wants to hear more than just The Beach Boys' hits. Unfortunately there's just two problems with 'Ten Years Of Harmony': the first is that this album has been long since deleted and although out on CD in the 1990s has since frustratingly been replaced by the far inferior compilation 'Greatest Hits Volume Three: Best Of The Brother Years' in 2000 (seriously, you took out 'The Trader' and 'Feel Flows' in favour of 'Peggy Sue' and 'Honkin' Down The Gosh Darn Highway'?!') Oh and by the time the band actually got around to releasing this album after months of negotiating the deadline had passed: this album covering the years 1970-1981 should by rights have been titled 'Eleven Years Of Harmony' but I guess the band didn't think that title was catchy enough. I leave it up to you, dear reader, to debate whether the band were right about the 'harmony' bit too, given the many band ructions taking place in this period...
Mike Love "Looking Back With Love"
(Boardwalk Records, October 8th 1981)
Looking Back With Love/On and On and On/Runnin' Around The World/Over and Over/Rockin' The Man In The Boat//Calendar Girl/Be My Baby/One Good Reason/Teach Me Tonight/Paradise Found
"Good vibrations, assasinations..." It was the best of albums it was the worst of albums...
Wrongly billed as the first Beach Boys solo album in the press and in a sticker on the front of the album (that was Dennis' 'Pacific Ocean Blues' if you've skipped that page, closely followed by Blondie and then Carl, with questioj marks over Bruce's trio - assuming for the moment that all these do 'count' then this is actually the 7th solo Beach Boy LP!), 'Looking Back With Love' was treated with a lot of derision when it came out. Poppier even than 'MIU' and 'Keepin' The Summer Alive', it was released when The Beach Boys were at an all-time low and looked as if they'd never make another album together again. You sense that a lot of critics simply took one look at the cover (Mike sitting in front of a beach scene) , read the song titles on the back and didn't even bother to play it. If that's true then it's a shame.
The biggest talking point for fans today is that back in the days before Brian Wilson made his own LPs he both produced and arranged Mike's version of one of his all time favourite songs: Phil Spector's 'Be My Baby'. It's a good version too - easily beating most of the disinterested 1950s covers on the '15 Big Ones' album - and oddly perhaps Brian still hasn't done the obvious and recorded any Spector covers by himself yet despite making full records of Gershwin and even Disney songs (nope, I didn't see that last one coming either). What's more it 'sounds' like a Brian Wilson production in a way that his recent alleged 'productions' on 'LA Light' and 'Summer Alive' really hadn't. That one cover alone makes 'Looking Back In Love' invaluable for fans, although it would be unfair to claim that this is the only reason for buying this album.
This is clearly not the greatest Beach Boys album ever made (this collection of sappy radio-friendly pop is actually the antithesis of 'Pacific Ocean Blues' and shows how far the band members had drifted apart by 1981 and isn't up to even Brian Wilson's growing collection of solo records). But then it doesn't pretend to be: this is a good time pop album with no thought to artistic integrity and deep fulfilment other than giving fans something to dance to and an aging fan-base the chance to imagine it was 1963 all over again. In its own small way, this album is far more enjoyable than 'MIU' because it's doing the same thing (turning the clock back to 1963) without having to give cameos to Carl and Dennis who clearly would rather be elsewhere and cope with an increasingly reluctant Brian Wilson.
What’s curious about this album, though, is that it isn’t as retro as either the title (one of many groan-inducing puns on Mike's name debated down the years - another is 'Mike Love Not War'!) or Mike’s habit of keeping the modern-day Beach Boys firmly rooted to their early 60s past implies – one song aside its actually an attempt to be ‘contemporary’, with cutting-edge (for the day) synths and disco songs that were still just about all the rage in the early 80s, even if some of the material dates from way further back than that. At its best this means that Mike becomes the only singer I've ever heard to successfully cover an Abba song and a nicely obscure one at that ('On and On and On', a song often said to have 'borrowed' its main riff from the Beach Boys' 'Do It Again'), one pop genius saluting another (well some of Abba is pop genius anyway, some of it is terrible - in truth their rock and pop's patchiest band). At its worst ('Calendar Girls') this record is a glaring mis-mash of styles, with songs that didn't sound too good the first time sounding ever more out of place in their new sterile settings. All that said - and I'll whisper this for fear of upsetting Beach Boys purists - I'd take this album over the similar 'MIU' any day: at least it has the good grace to try something different instead of coming up with the dumbest ever songs about teenage girls and having fun in the sun at the age of 40 (save for 'Calendar Girls' anyway). Talking of which, surprisingly Mike only co-writes one song for the album: 'Paradise Found', a not particularly distinguished original that would have fitted in fine on the 'Summer In Paradise' album. This means that, contrary to expectations, there are no overcooked car songs, no chatting up teenage girls and no transcendental meditation ballads! However at just 32 minutes this album seems over before it's begun - possibly another harkback to 1963 when all albums were this length! Still, not bad at all and another Beach Boys solo album long overdue a release on CD!
Hold Me/Bright Lights/What You Gonna Do About Me?/The Right Lane//Hurry Love/Heaven/The Grammy/Seems So Long Ago
"I don't want to sound like I'm full of self pity, that's not the way I want it to be"
Carl's first solo album was unusual in that he actually took the step of leaving The Beach Boys to make it: Dennis had always been on the fringes of being in the band anyway and Mike had kind of done his during downtime from the band, but Carl clearly thoughyt he had a shot at solo success (or maybe he'd just had one too many band arguments by 1981?) The result surprised many, not necessarily with its quality but with how different it was to the Carl we'd known and loved. 'Carl Wilson' is a feisty record. It is, mainly speaking, a rocky record. There are virtually no harmony vocals (instead Carl sings most tracks with his writing partner Myrna Smith, who was at the time married to Carl's manager Jerry Schilling). Freed of his responsibilities as the Beach Boys' peacemaker, Carl seems to be doing his best to collapse his image here: he's in an angry mood and doesn't care who knows it.
The album makes more sense when you realise what Carl was going through when he made it. Carl had married Annie Hinsch in 1968 (at the young age of 22), the sister of the band's keyboard player, but the pair had split in 1979. A devestated Carl had a lot of things on his mind and a lot of grief pouring through him (it wasn't as if his career was giving him a break from the rows at home). A lot of these lyrics are about denial, about 'I've-got-feelings-too and trying to come to terms with an unhappy period in the singer's life. Unfortunately none of them quite measure up to the heartbreak of, say, 'Angel Come Home' or 'Livin' With A Heartbreak' (from the two Beach Boys relesed just before this one). The result is an uncomfortable album, harder edged than anything else in Carl's canon, with Myrna's more aggreessive tones turning that wonderful Carl Wiulson voice into a bark at times. This isn't a bad album - well not as bad as some criticvs made it out to be at the time anyway - but it's not a pleasant album; it's more something Carl whouls have got out of his system and kept quiet.
'The highlight of the entire record is the acerbic 'The Right Lane', a fascinating angry diatribe about 'trying to help a brother' who doesn't want to know; the narrator used to be pulled into bad ways on his behalf but has seen the light and changed his ways. Even given that the song is couched in such terms that it could just about be about brotherly rather than family love, surely this song is about Dennis who in the first few months of 1983 was becoming more and more self-destructive. Typically for this album Carl starts the song mad, gradually comes to understand the other's point of view and ends it simply sad. The similarly angry opener 'Hold Me' is the album's other highlight and rather sets the tone for the record: on paper it should be a love song, a track asking for support, but it's played in the aggressive 'You Need A mess Of Help To Stand Alone' style that quickly turns into lyrics about 'understanding' and 'letting me go to let me grow'. Ultimately, though, this is a confused record that simply repeats itself, as if unable to cope with the idea that what seemed to be a life-long relationship is over: which is understandable and every so often the trigger that creates good art. Here, though, you sense Carl is getting more out of this album than we ever could.
The follow-up record 'Youngblood' from a couple of years later, is much better incidentally - like this album, but less so if that makes any sense. Sadly fans who weren't around at the time have never really had the chance to hear this album, wich sank without trace and is still awaiting it's first CD release as late as 2014 (the time of writing). While not a lost classic to rival 'Smile' or 'Pacific Ocean Blues'/ 'Bambu' this record surely deserves a release sometime soon.
(Capitol, June 1982)
I Can Hear Music/Here Today/Darlin'/Caroline, No/Aren't You Glad?/Good Vibrations//Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Friends/God Only Lnows/Vegetables/How She Boogalooed It/There's No Other (Like My Baby)//Heroes and Villains/All I Want To Do/Wild Honey/I'm Waiting For The Day/Cottonfields/Then I Kissed Her//Sloop John B/Be Here In The Morning/Bluebirds Over The Mountain/Keep An Eye On Summer/Do It Again/The Beach Boys Medley
Capitol's third Beach Boys double-album compilation has given up with the Beach Boys names and 'stolen' one from the Grateful Dead instead (the second half of the song known as 'Sugar Magnolia'). This time around the label has run out of pre 'Pet Sounds' songs to rummage through so they turn their attention to the lesser known years of 1966-69. As those of you who've read this book vaguely in order will already know, the late 1960s are a peak period for the band in every way except commercially. As a result there are some great moments within this set that all too often get overlooked by compilations such as 'Aren't You Glad?' 'Be Here In The Morning' and 'All I Want To Do' from 'Wild Honey' 'Friends' and '20/20' respectively. There's also more 'hits' than you might be expecting: 'Good Vibrations' - which most people were no doubting expecting to see on volume one - 'Darlin' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' 'Friends' 'Heroes and Villains' 'Then I Kissed Her' 'Sloop John B' and 'Do It Again'. Capitol also sneakily recycle a lot from the first volume courtesy of 'The Beach Boys Medley', a surprise top ten hit in 1981 that simply stuck half a dozen Beach Boys songs together with no regard for tempo, theme or bad editing. There are some true oddities here as well though: surely nobody in their right mind (and not that many people who weren't) would pick 'How She Boogalooed It' for a compilation (it sounded dated in 1967, never mind fifteen years later). And although 'There's No Other (Like MY Baby) is a far more sensible selection from 'Beach Boys Party' than 'Tell Me Why' on the album before - why bother adding a lone track from that lone 'unplugged' album anyway? It really doesn't fit. Still, the fact that Capitol can cobble together a third double album (that's 72 tracks in total) from a band, mess it up by not always adding the best material available to them and still have it coming out sounding as good as this shows what a great little band The Beach Boys were. The public didn't seem to think so though - unlike the last two, this set failed to chart and has yet to be released on CD.
Carl Wilson: "Youngblood"
(Caribou, 'February' 1983')
What More Can I Say?/She's Mine/Givin' You Up/One More Night Alone/Rockin' All Over The World/What You Do To Me//Youngblood/Of The Times/Too Early To Tell/If I Could Talk TO Love/Time
"I've been thinking about changing my life!"
More of the same from Carl, who still has plenty to get off his chest which can't be placed on a 'normal' Beach Boyc record. The mood is still downbeat but the songs are mainly uptempo still, with Carl writing and duetting with Myrna Smith - not always successfully. I'm not sure whether it's me slowly getting used to the style or the album's quality but I much prefer this second effort which still features flashes of the 'old' Carl amongst the chest-beating and aggro. The result is a still uneven record but one with quite a few moments worth rescuing this time around and one that takes a much more varied look at the same issues of trust, betrayal and anger. If this was an AA meeting, in fact, Carl went through anger on the last record and this time he's in denial: 'I can't believe that...' is a sentence that crops up a few times across this record, with Carl caught pretty neatly halfway between still being too hurt to speak and beginning to find some sort of reconciliation. 'Smile' it isn't, but some of these songs are moving and would have been welcome additions to Beach Boys albums of the period (had the band been in a state to make any). One other notable addition to this album: session pianist extraordinary Nicky Hopkins, whose played on numerous albums by The Kinks, The Beatyles, The Who and The Rolling Stones and now finally get to play on his only Beach Boys-related session.
Interestingly the two best songs on this record are ballads, unlike the harder edged debut album. The album highlight is clearly "Givin' You Up", a very painful song about seperation that boasts a lovely melody, a torch-waving stop-start chorus that manages to sound both proud and humbled (Carl's vulnerable voice meeting a noisy choir of voices head on) and some moving lyrics that seem caught between being sorry and being pleased at the recent past. This track makes the easy breezy 'Livin' With A Heartache' from 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' look like an empty Spice Girls song. The other highlight is ''One More Night Alone', the most Beach Boysy moment here, had nothing whatsoever to do with Carl: it was written by Beach Boy keyboadist Billy Hinsche and makes for interesting reading: a song about regretting falling out and fearing spending the night alone; once you learn that Billy's sister is Annie, Carl's ex-wife, the song makesa perfect sense and only someone as willing to forgive and forget as Carl would have allowed such a personal song to be on the record (the result is kind of like those last two Abba albums when the blokes write songs about their break-up that the girls sing).
Had the whole album been up to those two songs I'd be telling you all to buy buy buy! However the rest of the LP is nothing special: the poppy 'What You Do To Me' is spoilt by the next less than inpsired line ('...is like poetry'), 'Too Early To Tell' with Myrna on lead sounds like Starship (that's not a compliment, by the way), the possessive 'She's Mine' is the nastiest song Carl ever wrote and two generic cover songs ('Rockin' All Over The World' and 'Youngblood' itself) must rank as two of the lowest moments in this book. Compared to this 'Looking Back With Love' at least had dignity and ideas: you sense even Mike would draw the line at covering anything this obvious. Still, those two tracks alone mean that 'Youngblood' the album has more point and verve to it than any other album review I've ever seen has declared. Perhaps sensing that it was the better of the two albums, Caribou finally releaased it on CD in 2010. However the set didn't sell very well, which is probably why we're still waiting for the first album to be re-issued the same way.
"Beach Boys Rarities"
(Capitol, 'Sometime In 1983')
With A Little Help From My Friends*/The Letter*/I Was Made To Love Her (Alternate Version)/You're Welcome/The Lord's Prayer/Bluebirds Over The Mountain/Celebrate The News//Good Vibrations/Land Ahoy*/In My Room (German Language Version)/Cottonfields/All I Want To Do (Live)*/Auld Lang Syne (Japan CD Bonus Tracks: Medley: Good Vibrations-Help Me, Rhonda-I Get Around-Little Deuce Coupe/Medley: Surfer Girl-Girls On The Beach-The Ballad Of Ol' Betsy-We'll Run Away/Medley: Good Vibrations-Help Me, Rhonda-I Get Around-Shut Down)
* = recording released for the first time in any form
This fascinating little oddity is Capitol's latest money-spinner: locate the 12 rarest Beach Boys song in their back catalogue, stick them on a long-playing and voila - an instant must-have collector's item! However that thinking is flawed for a few reasons: one it annoyed the Beach Boys (then coming to the end of their contract with Caribou) so much it delayed any hope of getting the Beach Boys back on the label; it annoyed the heck out of collectors at the time who found out that half of the songs released on the album weren't actually that rare at all and it really annoys the heck out of modern day collectors who pay over the odds for this album because it includes a grand total of five songs that still can't be found anywhere else (except on bootleg). To be fair in 1983 it must have seemed like Christmas to have this album suddenly appear - it's just that the band have done things 'properly' since then and most of these songs have appeared on CDs as bonus tracks in the years since. You do get a simply brilliant cover though (a group of beach-goers discovering these master tapes 'buried' in the sand!) and five songs that are still if not impossible to find anywhere else legally.
To take these in order, the covers of both the fab four's 'With A Little Help' and The Box Tops' 'The Letter' date from the band's return to the live stage in 1967 and were cut during a much-bootlegged rehearsal in Hawaii in an attempt to add something new to the set listing. Neither song is exactly essential, although Brian is having great fun on the latter, turning in one of his best post-'Smile' vocals and re-arranging the song to the point where it really does sound like a Beatles track. 'With A Little Help', meanwhile, just sounds weird: the band have defended it by saying they were playing around with the tape, singing slow deliberately so that they could speed it up later and see what it sounds like. Alas Capitol didn't know that when they compiled this set so the result is...peculiar. The other rare songs are live versions of 'What'd I Say' from the band's Australian tour of 1964 with what sounds like Carl singing - almost a year before his first vocal on record - and a live version of Dennis' 'All I Really Want To Do' from the London Palldium in 1968 with Mike turning an even rawer vocal than on the '20/20' record. For some reason, though, the compilation cuts this version of the song down to just 90 seconds - it should run to 150 given the version that leaked out later on bootleg. The biggest surprise, though, is a rather tuneless a capella Four Freshman-like rendition of 'The Lord's Prayer' originally released as the B-side of 'Little Saint Nick' in 1963 but only available very briefly on the first 1990 CD of the 'Christmas' album before that version got deleted in favour of the 'Christmas compilations' later in the decade. In case you hadn't already noticed, all of these have been dealt with already in this book under their respective 'eras'.
Other 'rarities' include a different take of Stevie Wonder's 'I Was Made To Love Her' which isn't very different from the version on 'Wild Honey', B-side 'You're Welcome' (since available on the 'Smiley Smile' CD), flop single 'Bluebirds Over The Mountain', The B-side of 'Break Away' 'Celebrate The News' (available on the 20/20' CD re-issue), fun 'Surfin' Safari' outtake 'Land Ahoy' (available on that album's CD re-issue), the German-language version of 'In My Room' (available on the 'Surfer Girl' CD), the top 20 UK hit 'Cottonfields', a remix of 'Auld Lang Syne' from the Beach Boys Christmas record with Dennis' 'festive message' removed so you can hear the band's a capella rendition properly (now included on most of the Beach Boys 'Christmas compilations') and, err, worldwide number one hit 'Good Vibrations' (to be fair this is the single mix rather than the one on 'Smiley Smile' often used on compilations but the differences are minimal anyway). If only Capitol had done the job properly we could have all of those classy 'two-for-one' bonus tracks gathered together in one handy place, but never mind. 'The Beach Boys Rarities' didn't really sell and despite not containing all that many rarities has now became one of the rarest records associated with the band - which is somehow rather fitting.
"Made In The USA"
(Capitol, July 7th 1986)
Surfin' Safari/409/Surfin' USA/Be True To Your School/Surfer Girl/Dance Dance Dance/Fun Fun Fun//I Get Around/Help Me, Rhonda/Don't Worry Baby/California Girls/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/Barbara Ann//Good Vibrations/Heroes and Villains/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Sloop John B/God Only Knows/Caroline, No//Do It Again/Rock and Roll Music/Come Go With Me/Getcha Back/Rock and Roll To The Rescue!/California Dreamin'
With The Beach Boys now back on Capitol records, their first act was to remind the public about their past with yet another compilation of oldies but mouldies. Yawn, eyes glaze over, turn the page...but hold it! 'Made In The USA' is the first Beach Boys compilation to secure the rights to two eras, Capitol regaining the use of tracks from the '15 Big Ones' LP of 1976 through to 'The Beach Boys' album of 1985. On paper this means that they get to use the great songs from 'L A Light Album' and the I-don't-know-if-they're-words-of-genius-or-madness of 'Beach Boys Love You'. But no: we get the rather dull selection of 'Rock and Roll Music' 'Come Go With Me' and 'Getcha Back', which were all hits (of a sort) but only because the general public didn't know that better material was lurking on the band's later albums. The selection from the 1960s is pretty good though I have to say: my 'benchmarks' of a good Beach Boys compilation ('Don't Worry Baby' 'Dance Dance Dance' and 'When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)' are all there, with no obvious gaps.
The set then ends by looking to the future with two brand new recordings. To take these in order 'Rock and Roll To The Rescue' is a truly awful Mike Love co-write with Byrds producer Terry Melcher which seems to delight in giving a clearly unhappy Brian most of the limelight on a sappy, soppy song that helps bury rock and roll in a coffin, not come to it's rescue. The cover of the best Californian-themed-song-the-band-never-recorded 'California Dreamin' is much better - writer 'Papa' John Phillips is even on hand to see that the band up their game and producer Melcher manages to get hold of Roger McGuinn to provide the atmospheric Rickenbacker guitar-work over the top. Al Jardine shines too on a song that sounds like one of his: a hymn to the homeland with an ecological slant. The result is the single best Beach Boys recording of the 1980s (not their best decade by any means, but still): sincere, focussed and with the right mix of 'past' and 'present' in the production. Luckily you don't have to fork out for this set to hear it: a lot of the next batch of compilations will also end with this track and the band sensibly included it on their 'Made In California' box set in 2013. 'Rock and Roll To The Rescue, however, will only be re-issued once, as the B-side to the next single 'Still Cruisin', which deservedly sinks without trace. The first Beach Boys compilation to be released on CD, it's far from the worst but there have been better ones since.