Monday, 8 September 2014

Beach Boys: Non-Album Songs Part Two: 1970-2012

Dear all, here we are again with the second half of our hundred-song look at every single Beach Boys song never to appear on a studio album, drawing on A sides, B sides, EPs, CD bonus tracks, rarities collections, compilations, live recordings and box sets. We left the band at the end of their tenure at Capitol and begin it in 1970, the year they signed to Warner Brothers...

A) 'H.E.L.P Is On The Way' is a lovely Brian Wilson song  written in the 'Sunflower' era but oddly never apparently submitted to Warner Brothers, even though it seems very much what they were looking for: the charming self-deprecating side of Brian's nature best heard on 'Friends'. Mike takes the lead on a song that's actually highly personal and charts yet more of Brian's love-hate relationship with health foods. The narrator is shocked one day to find out he's grown fat: 'Stark naked in front of my mirror a podgy person somehow did appear' he sighs, before adding 'Oh what condition my condition was in!' Brian then sets his favourite foods off against the devastating results: 'Doughy lumps, stomach pumps, enemas too!' Thankfully there's still a song in there somewhere, not just a menu, with a rousing memorable chorus of 'help creates love which manifests peace!' The song may have started as an 'advert' for Brian's own 'Radiant Radish' shop (plugged in the closing few seconds); it sounds to me as well as if Brian was planning a second shop called 'HELP' (hence the name) but if that's true then it can't have got very far because I haven't uncovered any information to support that as yet! This song was revived for use on the 1977 album 'Adult Child' but was abandoned when that album collapsed and took another 16 years to see the light of day. I'm glad it did because, while no top tier classic, 'HELP' is a loveable, likeable zany song that's just about better than the average of the Beach Boys' material in the 1970s! Find it on: '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' (1993)

B) Dennis' '4th Of July' (sung by Carl on the only recording we have) is another 'Add Some Music To Your Day' that's superior to most released songs from other Beach Boys eras if not quite up to the finished album standard. Dennis was clearly in a political mood when he wrote this track, which concerns Richard Nixon's decision to censor the New York Times' opposition to Vietnam and the draft. In fact its about the closest any of the band get to writing a 'flag waver' protest song, despite the fact that the song comes from a very real source: Carl came within a court order of serving in Vietnam himself and this must have been on Dennis' mind when he wrote this (no army in the world would cope with Dennis in it - they'd be decimated within the week!) The lyrics are an early appearance in this book from manager Jack Rieley - while deeper and more poetic than most songs we've covered so far its still a far cry from some of the impenetrable lyrics that come later. Dennis' tune isn't quite as strong as some of his others, though, suggesting this song started as a poem before being set to music. I am quite fond of this song, though, which is certainly in the ballpark of where the Beach Boys could and should have gone in the 1970s: as 'America's band' it would have been fascinating to see them tackle 'America's mistakes' in that most turbulent of eras. Then again, perhaps I'm just fond of this song because it namechecks not only America's birthday but mine as well (we all know which one of us Dennis is singing about!) Find it on: '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' (1993)

C) Sticking with Dennis for the moment, the single 'The Sound Of Free' was intended to be the drummer's big moment in the spotlight: he'd left the Beach Boys briefly in order to make it (hence his absence from most of 'Surf's Up') and with the band now safely settled on Warner Brothers wanted this to be the launch of a solo career that won't take off for another seven years yet. Written and recorded with the help of Daryl Dragon (then an unknown keyboard player who'll later become famous as the 'male'; half of 'The Captain and Tennille') it's credited to 'Dennis Wilson and Rumbo' and like a lot of Dennis' solo work to come features an un-credited cameo from Carl. The lyrics are similar to both 'Slip On Through' and 'It's About Time' and may have been inspired by the Charles Manson killings: 'Children of light and darkness all around, born without light and shackled to the ground'. The mood is largely upbeat, though, with Dennis dreaming of a day when everyone is as 'free' as the day they were born, without responsibility (trust Dennis to be singing about doing away with responsibility!) The single was only released in Europe and never made the charts: it used to be one of the rarest Beach Boys-related releases until finally appearing on CD in 2012. Dennis was clearly on the money for the times: like a lot of 1970-period singles it features a full fat sound and big production along with lyrics that sound like an overhang from the Summer Of Love. However the song isn't quite as strong as some of Dennis' others from the period - sounding a little too concerned with nailing the market of the times - and I actually prefer the charming B-side more. Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012)

D) Talking of which, 'Fallin' In Love' (also known as 'Lady') was one of the highlights of the second Beach Boys box set - a typically Dennis mixture of the tough and romantic, featuring another lovely wide open string arrangement and a sturdy, urgent rhythm that brings out the best in Dennis' soulful voice. There aren't many lyrics and those that are seem on the repetitive side ('love oh love oh love I'm in love with my lady' runs the chorus), but like the best romantic songs (many of them written by Dennis) this track conjures up a sort of peaceful serenity and happiness made for two. It's a shame, actually, that this wasn't released as the A-side because, while less commercial, I can see this song picking up a lot of airplay. The song was still considered enough of a 'Beach Boys song' to be included as the last song on the second version of 'Add Some Music To Your Day'/ 'Sunflower', although surprisingly 'The Sound Of Free' wasn't. Brian's wife and sister-in-law, Marilyn and Diane, recorded their own very similar version of the track for their album 'American Spring', featuring a production by Brian. Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012)

E) 'Barbara' is another early example of the sheer drama and romanticism of Dennis' solo work comes in the form of this heartbreaking love song, written - in case you hadn't guessed - for second wife Barbara Charren, the only wife Dennis had children with (although there are rumours of enough illegitimate children to run a football team!) The original intention had been to make this song a demo for how the 'orchestrated' version of the song would have gone (which is exactly what happened with both 'Make It Good' and 'Cuddle Up' in 1972). However for whatever reason that never happened and all we have left is this gossamer light delicate song featuring Dennis and friend Darryl Dragon playing on two pianos on one of the loveliest melodies that Dennis ever wrote and featuring one of his all time greatest vocals (demo or not, Dennis always sang with conviction on whatever he did it seems). While simple, the lyrics are poignant and clearly heartfelt, neatly treading the line between love and saccharine: 'Every day is a special day for me, living with you, just being with you, for all my life, my love, I love to sing songs for you'. Imagine having Dennis write this song for you: so open, so sensitive, so romantic; no wonder so many girls went weak at the knees for the good looking drummer. Dennis wasn't just a looker, though; 'Barbara' is a song right up there with anything in The Beach Boys canon and its nothing short of a tragedy that this song was left unreleased for 27 years! Find it on: 'Endless Harmony' (1998)

F) '(Wouldn't It Be Nice To) Live Again?' may share a similar title to a 'Pet Sounds' song but this Dennis track couldn't be more different: it's a song torn from the depths of despair and self-pity. In fact its deeply unusual for the generally happy-go-lucky Dennis and points to the mood of both 'Pacific Ocean Blues' and 'Bambu', although the lyrics are actually more depressing than either work. Dennis remembers happier days, wishing he was 'high on a hill, making love again' but knows that good times are over and there's only loneliness ahead of him, stretching out endlessly. By the end of the song Dennis admits both that he's not too tough he can't cry and that he's waving goodbye not only to his soulmate but the 'happy place' in his imagination he doesn't believe he'll ever experience again. The slow sloping tune is lovely, the equal of any of his brother Brian's better known work and he's clearly been paying close attention to his brother's productions: the song builds neatly over time before flowing into a sort of bossa nova coda that's quite effective (and features some lovely harmonies from Carl). A remarkable work, this popular song was seen by many fans and critics as the highlight of the entire second Beach Boys box set and for good reason: nestling amongst tracks from 'Carl and The Passions' and 'Holland' it outshines most of the fourth disc and is superior even to Dennis' own 'Cuddle Up' from the former album. Why on earth wasn't this masterpiece released at the time? Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012)

G) 'Child Of Winter' was The Beach Boys' lone release of the 'missing' years between January 1973 and July 1976, a festive single that might have been a big hit had it not been released so close to Christmas (on December 23rd - Christmas Eve Eve!!! - 1974) That might have been because this song was recorded late for a Christmas release: in November (the 1964 'Beach Boys Christmas LP had been recorded in June!) Brian wrote this sweet if silly little song with Steve Kallinich, who was more usually Dennis' writing partner and responsible for some of the deeper, sadder songs in the Beach Boys canon; this song  couldn't be happier however and comes complete with sleigh bells (played by Brian's daughters Carnie and Wendy, then aged six and four and they play them well, despite a mistake around the 1:10 mark) and a quick snatch of 'Here Comes Santa Claus'. Mike does a good job singing the lead with Carl's help, while Brian cameos as the 'Grinch', although he's rather a happy Grinch, merely commenting on the surroundings: 'Mama's in the kitchen making cookies and bread, the children are hungry and waiting to be fed'; cookies I understand but who spends Christmas Eve eating bread? (did all the money go on the turkey?!) Brian's voice is notably similar to the 'pied piper' 'in the radio' on 'Mount Vernon and Fairway', but my ears still tell me that's Carl (ironically Brian sounds just like one of Mike's funny voices here!) This song marked the second time The Beach Boys attempt a flawed Christmas project; believe it or not there are another three inside this book! An early mix of the rather less festive 'Susie Cincinnati' (slightly tweaked for '15 Big Ones' in 1976) appeared on the B-side. Find 'Child Of Winter' on: 'Ultimate Christmas' (1998) and 'Christmas With The Beach Boys' (2004)

H) Brian's demo for 'California Feelin' (re-recorded by the band in 1979) is actually more entertaining than the finished song,. with Brian trying out all sorts of voices for a song he's clearly written with some rat pack type in mind (he even leaves the song to start whistling for no apparent reason in the middle!) whatever he says in the sleeve notes! Many fans love this song, which we first got to know thanks to a 2003 compilation where Brian calls it a 'favourite of mine'. All I can hear, though, is insincere lyrics about orange groves and a mythical California that's so overblown it sounds tongue-in-cheek and a million miles away from the grace and wistfulness of, say, 'California Girls'. At least the demo has a kind of rugged charm, however, which is more than either of the (gulp!) three re-recordings of it on this list! Find it on: 'Made In California' where, weirdly enough, it comes at the end of the set two discs after the band version of it recorded nine years later!

I) Dennis Wilson's standing used to seem infallible: he never got the chance to release that many songs in his lifetime anyway and the few that have come out since (the 'Bambu' sessions, the tracks on 'Endless Harmony' and 'Hawthorne, CA') suggested that even in his unreleased canon Dennis had never written a song. And then we heard 'Barnyard Blues', an unforgivably trite song from the 'Child Of Winter' sessions that's clearly inspired by 'Smile's 'Barnyard' song but is nowhere near as good, whilst being just as eccentric. An ode to country life that chimes in with both the 'Surf's Up' era Beach Boys and Dennis' own 'Pacific Ocean Blues' the song is let down by some kindergarten lyrics ('The men who live on the farm they live by their arm, the women who live on the farm they reflect his charm'), an uninspired melody and some painfully gruff singing, even for Dennis (who sounds drunk, to be honest). At least the band are as good as ever at providing animal noises through, with the same assortment of pigs, chickens and roosters heard on the original 'Barnyard'. Give this one a miss. Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012)

J) Thankfully Dennis' reputation is restored with perhaps the single highlight of the entire 'Made In California' box set. 'My Love Lives On', a mournful piano ballad taped by Dennis alone at the piano in 1974, is the song that more than any other so far points towards what Dennis can do and the depth of the emotions to pull on. Like much of his two solo projects still to come it says a lot despite saying very little, with a lyric that says that even though songs will end and time won't always stand still the love Dennis feels is strong enough to go on forever. Like the similar 'Forever', this hymn-like song is an offer of support from a humble narrator which sounds all the better for the added gruffness that starts creeping into Dennis' voice about now. Amazingly, while the other surviving Beach Boys weren't too keen, it was Mike Love who insisted that this rare tune (which hadn't even appeared on bootleg!) see the light of the day, for which he deserves our greatest thanks. 'My Love Lives On' may not be the best song Dennis ever wrote but it's clearly from the same emotional source as his other great songs and is far too good to have gone unheard for so long. Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012)

K) How very Beach Boys. There they are, against the clock, recording a series of funky oldies and knowing that - thanks to the concept of including one song for every year they've been together - they're rushed off their feet. What do they do? Well, in amongst throwaway lazy versions of songs like 'The Chapel Of Love' 'Blueberry Hill' and 'Tallahassee Lassie' they record a genuinely groovy and hard-driving version of Huey 'Piano' Smith's 1959 song 'Sea Cruise', best known for a version by Freddy Cannon (who seems to have inspired an awful lot of '15 Big Ones'). Dennis sings while Brian thumps away on a piano and at long long last one of the appalling retro rock covers from that album takes flight, with some nice saxophone work as a bonus. The result is one of the two truly substantial 'Big Ones' songs (alongside 'For Once In My Life') and what happens to it? 'Sea Cruise' runs aground and has to sit it out in the vaults for another five years. What's more the song is never revived again, leaving it untouched in the CD age. Oo-ee Baby! Find it on: 'Ten Years Of Harmony' (1981)

L) The torturous version of The Righteous Brothers' 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' from the '15 Big Ones' sessions shows - like so much of that album - how badly the Beach Boys' voices had fared during their 'missing' years of 1973-75. Brian sings to his synth backing (actually closer in feel to the 'Love You' era) and it's painful to hear, even if Brian's now darker, strained voice actually suits this song, which is usually covered in the most twee way possible despite being quite a dark and revealing song. Certainly Brian's version sounds better than any of the karaoke versions I keep hearing from the pub down the end of my road in the early hours (someone was even doing 'Sloop John B' the other day!) and I actually prefer this recording to most of the cover songs that made '15 Big Ones' with Brian on lead ('Chapel Of Love', for instance, which needs to sound innocent or the whole point of the song is lost). I'm convinced, too, that The Human League must have heard this version somehow for their synth-heavy and cold-as-ice delivery of the song on their debut album 'Reproduction' in 1978 which is spookily similar to this recording! All that said, Brian doesn't come out of this session too well, so perhaps the band should have kept this one back in the vaults? Find it on: 'Made In California'

M) Just when you think The Beach Boys have descended as low as they possibly can in 1976 along comes 'Brian Is Back'. Hopefully it has occurred to you by now, dear reader, that Brian is not back at all - he's never been further away from health than he was that year and the pressures of basically being forced to make an album against his will are making him worse. However he can't back out: there's a whole publicity campaign to go with the fact! (What's more its not even part of a publicity campaign for the band - ie something Brian would benefit from - but a Mike Love solo album titled 'First Love' that - thankfully on this evidence - has never been released). Luckily, the abysmal 'Brian Is Back' never made it out of the vaults at all until Brian really was 'back' - to some extent anyway - and ploughing on with his solo career. Imagine for a minute that your cousin - family! - had written this insipid song about you with so many sly digs that the public won't get. 'They say that Brian is back, though in my heart he's always been around' sings Mike, the person whose been actively pushing for Brian to become involved when he doesn't want to be and who - admittedly along with a whole host of other people - was responsible in making his cousin take to his bed in the first place. What's more Mike talks about the good old days he used to love so much, 'not forgetting ol' Pet Sounds'. In case you've forgotten, it was Mike's hatred of that material ('Don't mess with the formula!') that broke Brian's heart - while I'm with him on the actual standard of that album, the two-facedness in using it as a 'shared highpoint' is tremendously callous. Carl is roped in to sing second lead and ends with a nice sweep from 'You Still Believe In Me' but honestly - why didn't he say no? Carl must have known more than anyone the harm this song would cause his brother if it got out or were Brian's feelings simply not important any more when there was a record to promote? Things wouldn't be so bad if it was a song worth enjoying in its own right - but it isn't, it's slow, insipid, contains more sugar than 17 packets of Sugar Puffs and must have the dullest arrangement of any Beach Boys recording thus far. Normally when bands do things like this to each other it hurts - but seeing as this is family the wounds go even deeper. The real sign that Brian was back would have been if he'd refused point blank to have anything more to do with either his cousin or brother after hearing this pack of lies - but of course poor Brian had no choice. 'The Beach Boys Love You' is just around the corner - but if you needed any proof that they no longer loved each other then this wretched song is it. The nadir of the whole Beach Boys canon for several good reasons, the only positive thing to say about this song is that it wasn't released at the time but instead kept in the vaults for 22 years; the only real question is why this song wasn't locked up for longer. A horrible blot on the Beach Boys' discography. Find it on: 'Endless Harmony' (if you must!)


N) Next, a simple band-collaborative song about group unity which basically rips off 'Be True To Your School' for a new era couldn't have come at a worse time: 'Our Team' was recorded as part of the 'MIU' sessions and as you'll know if you've read that review the band were never more at loggerheads making it. Indeed, this song is one of only two songs Dennis sang on - and Carl and Brian are both notable by their absence (although their names are both on the credits!) Strangely, this is the only recording to make full use of the 'MIU University' background, roping in meditating students as extras and it seems strange that this song didn't make it out for those reasons alone. Lyrically you'll know what to expect from the period and title:  'We run out onto the court, we're playing our favourite sport, we don't care about the big guys, we're taking them down to our size...' Musically it's worse: a duh-duh-duh-dee-dee-dee-duh nursery rhyme melody and an odd chorus that instead of blooming into full blown flower decelerates back down the scales and an awkward 'we're for our team, yeah!' - had a football or baseball crowd been chanting something this unconfident and unsure of themselves this my money would have been on the team going home within the half-hour. The recording is full of the usual Al Jardine jollity but sounds forced: this is one of those parties you make an excuse to leave early from, not a 'team' you want to be a part of. Still, irritatingly simple as it is, mind-numbingly average as both melody and lyric are and appallingly as its performed by all concerned, it still beats a good 10/12 of the MIU songs and recordings! (At least everyone is pretending that they get along fine, instead of just ignoring the problem and hopping it will go away!) So why was this song left to rot for 15 years instead? Odd! Find it on: '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' (1993)

O) 'Why?' is another curio from the 'rarities' disc on 'Made In California'. A heavily piano-led backing track (with a touch of 'Sail On Sailor' in the relentless open block chords) for a song that was never finished, you wonder 'why' the band never returned to it. While far from Brian's best the track is clearly one of 'his' creations/productions and all it would have taken is a half-lyric from one of the rest of the band and they could have filled up a bit more of their quota of 'Brian Wilson compositions' submitted under the terms of their Warner Brothers contract. On its own, though, this is just another less than inspired piece of boogie-woogie that should have stayed in the archives, 'why?' being the operative word! Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012)

P) 'It's A Beautiful Day' is a nicely bouncy Mike Love-Al Jardine  pop song that manages to capture the feel of 'Do It Again' without sounding like pure re-hashing. The track was both Mike and Al's key contribution to the 'L A Light Album' sessions, although sadly it was only ever released at the time on the soundtrack of yet another nothing-film 'Americathon'. Inspired by the 1979 recession it's a 'comedy'(the term is used loosely) set 20 years in the future when America has finally run out of petrol and America is in such heavy debt it looks like The White House will have to be sold off to a bunch of millionaire American Indians - only a telethon can save them! (Best line in the film: 'We could sell Cleveland - but nobody's buying!') The Beach Boys also appear in the film as their 'older selves' in 1998 during one of the more entertaining scenes of the film, looking a lot less dishevelled than they did at that age in real life! Like a lot of the 'L A Light' recordings, the atmosphere is a lot more enthusiastic than usual, with Al's melody doing a good job oat capturing the 'feel' of the early Beach Boys sound (his most successful attempt after 'California' in fact), Mike's lyrics cheekily parody his old work ('people everywhere having fun fun fun!') and Carl turns in a fine counter vocal and a rare-for-the-period stinging guitar break. This is what the entire back-to-basics 'MIU Album' should have sounded like but sadly didn't, with The Beach Boys having fun returning to the spirit of the past. Find it on: 'The Americathon' film soundtrack (1979), 'Ten Years Of harmony' compilation (1981) and the box set 'Made In California' (2012)

Q) I'm secretly rather pleased that the highly rated 'band' version of 'California Feelin' didn't make the 'L A Light Album', though. Just like the 1970 demo but more so, this impersonal and rather anodyne Beach Boys performance features one bad vocal after another: Carl's on autopilot, Bruce sounds like he'd rather be elsewhere and even Brian is audibly struggling compared to the demo. Admittedly this sounds much more like a 'Beach Boys' song now that everyone has got involved, but the little magic that the demo had has long since gone and while this sounds like The Beach Boys it sounds like bad Beach Boys, not good Beach Boys. Still perhaps it's just my ears: many fans think this song is the highlight of the entire 50th anniversary box set; like 'Pet Sounds' it seems like a party everyone else enjoyed but I never got an invite to. Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012), with Brian's solo re-recording appearing on 'Beach Boys Classics Selected By Brian Wilson' (2002)


R) 'Chasin' The Sky' is a Randy Bishop song The Beach Boys recorded in 1984 for the soundtrack of the film 'Up The Creek' (a bunch of college kids decide to race some rafts and find its harder than they thought it would be...*yawn*). This song marked the first time the band had been back in the studio since an aborted session in 1983 when the band had basically turned up, knocked a few ideas around and gone home uninspired. However I have a sneaking feeling that Carl is the only band member on this track (even the harmonies don't sound as pristine as normal, apart from the multi-dubbed Carls) so it could be that he recorded this song solo (perhaps as part of his second solo album?) and the rest of the band agreed to let their name go out on it. Certainly the band have never paid much attention to this song: it has yet to get its first CD release (even though it would have slotted on the 1985 'Beach Boys' album nicely) and doesn't appear to have even been released as a single. Don't fret too much if you don't know it; it's an ok but not great song with an ok but not great lead from Carl with lyrics about hoping that better days might come along. Regrettably the chance to capture the youthful optimism of the early Beach Boys days is missed and this song has much more in common with Randy Bishop's work than The Beach Boys'. Find it on: the 'soundtrack' LP to the film 'Up The Creek' (1984)

S) Remember how, back in 1963, The Beach Boys took the fight to 'The Four Seasons' by proclaiming 'you better believe it!' during 'Finders Keepers'? The band's biggest American rivals from the East coast took a surprisingly long time to answer and when they did they invited the band to sing on it. 'East Meets West' has much more to do with Frankie Valli and co than it does with the Beach Boys, with a song written by that band's writing team of Bob Gaudio (the real talent in the band) and Bob Crewe. Brian, Mike, Carl and Al all took part (Bruce stayed at home) but because they sing 'with' Valli throughout its hard to hear who sings what and the band sound annoyingly like the comparatively straighter and squarer Four Seasons throughout. The lyrics declare that 'the best of both survive' when 'East meets West' and that however far round the world you travel you'll always reflect your 'home' - but sadly the recording doesn't bear that out, with the distinctive qualities of both bands being lost. Had the two bands joined forces earlier in their careers this could have been fantastic; Brian and Frankie competing for the falsetto parts. Alas this sounds like every other indistinctive 1980s recording full of artificial drums, grungy guitar chords and an irritating children's choir who've clearly not heard of either band. East meets West and the result is both bands sound lost. Find it on: Never re-released on CD, this song is only available on the original 45rpm vinyl with the Four Seasons song 'Rhapsody' on the B-side

T) The first of the two new songs from 'Made In The USA' to be released as a single, 'Rock and Roll To The Rescue' was greeted by many as a step in the right direction after a lacklustre album in 1985. This collaboration between Mike Love and producer Terry Melcher is surprisingly heavy and features the long awaited return of Brian Wilson (whose much more committed here than on 'The Beach Boys' LP) and some long delayed solidarity, with all of the surviving members taking turns on the vocal (though oddly composer Mike gets less lines than anybody; was he really that ashamed of it?!). However I've learnt to be wary of songs with 'rock and roll' in the title as they tend to be the easiest and emptiest songs to write (see The Byrds' 'Born To Rock and Roll' ) and this song is no exception. Rock and roll rescues the narrator(s) from what exactly? We never find out, with only Brian singing 'wop bop a loo bop' and Carl's nagging counter vocal ('Gonna get a ticket 'cause I really wanna go, there's a party going on down the rock and roll show') catching the ear. The rest of this song is simply more of the same empty stuff heard in 1985, just with a louder backbeat and more production techniques laid pointlessly on top. The single got good exposure but didn't fare too well sales-wise peaking at #68 in America (which is better than the last two singles but nowhere near as close as even 'Getcha Back').  A 12" extended mix of the song exists, with more bass playing and more Brian Wilson, but like many a 12" mix less is actually more and you're better off with the shorter single version. Find it on the 'Made In The USA' compilation (1986) and on the back of the 'Still Cruisin' single (1989)

U) 'California Dreamin' - the best known song by the Mamas and the Papas and the best-selling song to mention 'California' not written by one of the Beach Boys - this seems like such an obvious choice you almost wish the band hadn't done it. To be fair, though, the 1986 model of the band put a lot more effort into this recording than the 'other' track from the same sessions (the next on our list) or the album from the year before. Rather than pure melancholia, as per the original, the song bounces between Carl's sorrowful vocals and Al's upbeat lead, while Mike and Bruce's harmonies work really well. John Phillips, by now a firm friend of the band (which - shudder - will result in 'Kokomo' in a few entries' time) hangs around long enough to offer a few contributions and the Beach Boys' harmonies are noticeably 'Mamas and Papas' like rather than their usual 'restless block harmonies' method. The 'other' special guest is Byrd guitarist Roger McGuinn who adds some jangly Rickenbacker to proceedings, which is particularly inventive on the atmospheric fade (he's clearly making up for his part in one of the lamest Beach Boys songs ever 'Ding Dang' in 1977). The result is a small triumph, good enough to feature at the end of many a compilation for years to come, even thought it was quite a flop when released as a single and as the second song from the 'Made In The USA' compilation (peaking at #57 in the US, 31 places behind 'Getcha Back') Find it on: 'Made In The USA' (1986), 'Summer Dreams' (1992) and 'Made In California' (2012) among others

V) 'Lady Liberty' is a re-recording of 'Lady Lynda' included as a B-side on the 'Still Cruisin' single and re-written partly to ensure that Al Jardine no longer had to sing about his ex-wife Linda on stage (the two were going through a painful divorce by 1986) and partly to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Statue Of Liberty (gosh her arms must be tired after holding a torch for all that time!) The song had been played in concert for three years with this change ('Lady Lynda' was such a popular song in Europe the band would have been lynched if they hadn't done it in some form!) but its unknown why it was revived three years later in the studio (was it the only song ready?) Perhaps because its closer in time to the original anyway, this doesn't seem like quite the sacrilege of the other Beach Boys re-recordings on the list, but it still seems like a lost opportunity: what could have been a really great Beach Boysy song about freedom, equality, long promised roads and knowing there an answer gets reduced to a bunch of slogans ('The wretched the weak and homeless come home to the land of the free, let your lamplight shine from your ears, oh sweet liberty, when we keep this great nation free, hep us to see...from sea to shining sea!') It's hard to hear this song without saluting and I'm not even American. A rare example of America's most 'American' band actually referring to their homeland (rather than, say, just California) you come away thinking that this song should somehow be better than this, with what worked so well originally because it was a heartfelt love song turned into something bigger than the simple melody can stand.  In the end, 'Lady Liberty' is more 'statue' than 'liberty', too rooted to the spot to compete with the free-flowing original. Find it on: the back of the 'Still Cruisin' single (1989)

W) With their career back in familiar territory - i.e. freefall - The Beach Boys tried one last time to hook up with a 'big name' and record a song for the soundtrack of a film they hoped would be a big blockbuster. Given that the year is 1987 and Whoopi Goldberg is the hottest property since John Wayne last got off a horse, 'The Telephone' should have been it. However as one unkind reviewer put it when the film came out 'Whoopi dialled the wrong number' and the bonkers plot of a mentally subnormal woman making prank calls on a phone that it turns out - in a heavily accented denouement -  isn't even connected makes for poor viewing. The single 'Happy Endings' is similarly poor, an uninspired ballad co-written by Bruce and producer Terry Melcher that doesn't have anywhere to go except say 'gee wasn't it lovely back in the days when we were young'. Sadly, with The Beach Boys now without a record deal, they had to rope in Little Richard to sing lead and good as his typically OTT vocals are they don't sit well with the more laidback Beach Boys harmonies behind him. For all its faults, though, as least this 'sounds' like a Beach Boys song - which is more than you can say for two of the last three singles and most of the 'Still Cruisin' album to come. The happy ending we really wanted, though, was to hear the band soar, not coast along like this. Understandably, given that no one went to see the film, the song stiffed as a single and didn't even make the bottom of the charts. Find it on: Still yet to be re-issued on CD I'm afraid and currently available only as a 45 rpm vinyl single

X) By 1988 The Beach Boys thought they'd give their name a boost by teaming up with another big name: The Everly Brothers (practically the only family band who'd matched them in terms of in-fighting down the years!) Ostensibly The Beach Boys were just backing the duo on a cover of classic B-side 'Don't Worry Baby' which appeared on their self-titled 'comeback' album; however when the single came out as a single it was credited to both families. The re-recording doesn't do anyone either favours: The Everlys' reunion records are the worst of their career (personally I rate the late 60s/early 70s stuff that nobody seems to know best) and they sound flat and lost in amongst such a boombastic 1980s OTT approach. The Beach Boys are barely heard (Carl might be the only one here again) and the new arrangement (which adds lot of repeats of 'don't worry don't worry' and pauses before each chorus) and pointless new lyrics ('If you knew how much I loved you baby then love would conquer all for you') sounds like the desecration of an old friend. This song could have been so much more: again, like the get-together with Little Richard and The Four Seasons a collaboration like this in the 1960s or 70s could have been magic as all three acts have some sort of sympathetic similarities to The Beach Boys' legacy. This one might well be the worst of the three because it should have worked so much better: The Everlys were born to record that song (why did it take so long for them to do it?) and The Beach Boys should have sounded great backing them. If anyone ever wants to write an essay comparing the 1960s with the 1980s (well, you never know, it beats the endless essays I was always writing about the Medicics, Europe's most boring family and Romulus and Remus, civilisation's most boring founding members) then I suggest they start with the two versions of this song: one is sweet, hopeful, melodic, poignant, with so much left to the listeners' imagination; the other is obvious, empty, pointless and insincere. Compared to this even the later 'Stars and Stripes' re-recording isn't too bad.  Don't worry, 'Don't Worry Baby', it's over now, honest, we'll never ever have to hear this awful record again. Find it on: 'The Everly Brothers'. Obviously there's lots of albums out there titled 'The Everly Brothers' (but we mean the 'real' one released in 1988 not one of the cheap compilations doing the rounds) with the Everlys' 'Tequila' on the B-side without Beach Boy involvement


Y) Nah-nah-nah-nahhhh-nah! Ever wondered what a Beach Boys production of The Bash Street Kids from The Beano would sound like? (see our 'top ten' list for more links between the UK comic and the American band).Look no further! 'Problem Child' is another dud film from another dud movie (this time one that's shares the name!) and follows a seven year old causing mayhem and destruction wherever he goes (even, in the music video, when The Beach Boys are recording this song: it's as if Dennis has been re-incarnated as a seven-year-old and is back in the band!) 'Who wants responsibilities and to work until you're 93? Not me!' sings Carl, very reasonably in my view, although why this means the classroom teacher is next seen falling out of a window and into a dustbin rather passed me by. I'm not sure why the band (or at least producer Terry Melcher, whose written more songs for the band recently than Brian or Mike) had to stick in a yucky verse about the kid growing up into a 'king of hearts' wooing all the other girls either; come on guys when you're seven, that's gross (almost as gross as a bunch of 50 year olds singing this to you). Carl tries to cope with the song and Mike provides another great 'comedy bass' vocal but somehow this song never quite gels and  is more of a 'problem' to Beach Boys collectors than a mischievous seven-year-old can ever be. Oh well, at least the video was fun - for once - and the band came closer to the spirit of their old selves than they did on their other recent film songs 'Happy Endings' and 'Chasin' The Sky'. Apparently there was a sequel to this film and an animated series, without Beach Boys involvement sadly: I was hoping the band would get their own back, sneak round the kid's house, stick a surfing board in his paddling pool, turn his go-kart into a 'little deuce coupe' and fill his larder with vege-tables! (It can still happen, ring that child actor up - and who cares if he's 30?!) 'Problem Child' was another chart flop when released as a single, needless to say. Find it on: the original 45 rpm vinyl single or - if you're very very brave - the various artists 'Problem Child' soundtrack album!

Z) I have a real issue with tribute albums, dear readers - if you really have that much love and respect for a song by the original artists then keep it that way! Do not re-record the song unless you have the most amazing ideas for how to make it something very different! Elton John songs, however, are fair game (they all sound the same anyway!) - although that said somebody must like them because Elton and Bernie Taupin's 'Two Rooms' tribute set 'Two Rooms' gained a bigger cast of names than most: as well as The Beach Boys singing 'Crocodile Rock' you can hear The Who doing 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting'. The Beach Boys cover isn't one of the set's better moments - the definitive version of this song having already been done by The Muppets in 1978 - but acclaimed Beach Boys fan Elton must have thrilled when those harmonies wrapped themselves around a song he wrote! Al sang lead, Carl did the high 'na na na na' harmonies and The Beach Boys gave the song a 'Little Deuce Coupe'-style walking pace backbeat that almost made the song palatable. Elton, of course, has a wonderful sense of humour and knows that this last paragraph was written entirely in jest doesn't he? (What's that agent? Rude vile pig? Me? Tell him he got off lightly - look what I said about the Spice Girls...) Find it on: 'Two Rooms - The Songs Of Elton John and Bernie Taupin'


AA) Carl's last recording session for the band is a fond one for many fans, even though neither of the songs taped then made their way onto a release at the time: indeed this marks the first 'new' Beach Boys' recording in three years: a far cry from the days at the beginning of this book when they'd have made some 12 records in that space of time! At the time the band were more concerned with Brian than Carl and his return to the band after the 'Landy years' away from them and naturally the elder Wilson is the focus on both songs. 'You're Still A Mystery' is typical solo Brian fare: it sticks two separate sections together and moves from playful to sinister remarkably quickly. Thankfully although Brian takes the lead the rest of the band are used well, with Carl, Al and Mike all taking vocals in turn and making this sound like one of the more 'unified' Beach Boys projects of the 1990s. The lyrics find a surprisingly youthful and bashful persona wondering why he still can't work out his beloved after getting to know her well, but he alternates between being annoyed and pleased at the fact there are still layers to discover. Part of the melody from this song ended up part of 'This Isn't Love', the 'Flintstone's In Viva Rock Vegas' theme song that Brian finally finished in 2001, although evidence suggests he'd been writing it one-and-off since 1980 so it's this track that's actually the re-write. Find it on: 'Made In California' (2012)

BB) 'Soul Searchin' is the other song taped at the same session and it shares a similarly convoluted back story. Brian wrote the song but got his brother Carl to sing on it. Heard on it's own it's a special song anyway, with a strong 'Smile' style rumbling melody of lonely despair that suddenly bursts into full harmony-drenched blossom. However the knowledge that this was the last lead vocal that Carl taped for the band makes it even more special somehow, with lyrics about the pain of loneliness and the narrator going on a long walk out of someone's life unbearably poignant. The band never released this version at the time but Brian never forgot, re-working it for his 2004 solo album 'Gettin' In Over My Head', which reuses Carl's vocal except for the middle eight (which sounds horribly rushed in 1995), giving Brian the chance to say farewell to his younger sibling ('Oh why did I ever have to say goodbye?...') The effect is terribly moving in either version and as fine a way for Carl to bow out as any of his many terrific vocals on terrific songs down the years. Find The Beach Boys' version on 'Made In California' (2012) or Brian's solo version with Carl's 'guest' vocal on 'Gettin' In Over My Head' (2004)


CC) Back in 1968, when an enthusiastic and nostalgic Mike Love nagged his cousin into writing 'Do It Again' with him, it seemed prophetic: that was the year when rock stopped going forwards and went backwards, with pure rock and roll seeping back through psychedelic veins. In 2012 the song seemed even more prophetic, with every band still able to having 'done it again' at some point during the 1990s and or 200s. There could only have been one song for the 50th anniversary of The Beach Boys, which kick-started every gig they played on their birthday tour and found the surviving members back in the studio for a party. The song is as close as the band could get it to the original and sounds rather good, especially Dave Marks' affectionate Carl Wilson parody on the guitar, the added saxophone part and the chance to hear what 'modern' Brian sounds like singing against the rest of the 'modern' band without the Wondermints getting involved. The result is hopelessly indulgent, overwhelmingly nostalgic and more than a little moving. I hope the 50th anniversary of Alan's Album Archives is half as good as this (by then I'll probably have run out of decent bands and will be reviewing Spice Girls albums, so book your tickets now!) Find it on: the 'Special Edition' version of 'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

Plus the following songs by Dennis Wilson and Brian Wilson: 

Dennis Wilson Non-Album Recordings 1977-78


As well as the above there are four other Dennis Wilson recordings not officially classed as part of the 'Bambu' project (chances are all date from the 'Pacific Blue' sessions but it made more sense to list them here as they might also have been eligible for entry on that album, had it been finished). Thankfully these were all duly added to the 'Pacific Ocean Blues' CD re-issue in 2008 and are all key parts of the Dennis Wilson story.

A) 'Tug Of Love' was part of 'Pacific Ocean Blues' until the very last minute, when it was dropped in place of 'Farewell My Friend' (a song that came to Dennis very quickly and only just made it to the alum in time). The song would have fitted where 'Friend' does now - in between the title track and 'Rainbows'. Interestingly the song doesn't 'work' there (I've tried it!); this formless song is more like 'Bambu' than the rest of this record and rather fades away in between two of the three most aggressive and extrovert songs on the album. In fact, I'd go further: 'Tug Of Love' was deeply unlucky in being booted off the album (personally I'd have demoted 'Moonshine', which is the least brilliant of the 12 brilliant songs on the album) bur rather lucky in securing the coveted 'first of the bonus track' slot on the re-issue CD where it works really well as a kind of 'surprise encore'. Typically Dennis, it talks about emotions, of 'feeling full in a lonely world'. Untypically Dennis, this is a song not about him but about someone else (perhaps even the listener?), promising that however helpless we feel sometimes 'the world loves you, yes they do' and that all of us feel the 'tug of love' at different times, different rates and at different strengths. Note the interesting use of three word 'they'; this isn't some cosmological treaty about the impossibility of escaping your fate as you might expect but a song that deals with human nature writ large. Alas that interesting ideas is sketched in rather than fully thought out, with the title repeated some 16 times when the lyrics give out on verse three, but unlike some songs in this book that we've attacked for the same reason, somehow even that kind of 'works': this is a song about repetition, of being stubborn and not giving up because 'one' of those many tugs continually working their way around the world might one day be for you. A lovely song far too good to have been forgotten for so long, although in the end 'Farewell My Friend' still deserved to win the prize of becoming an album track on points.

B) Dennis' solo version of 'Only With You' - the highly moving ballad that features one of the loveliest and most romantic sets of lyrics by cousin Mike and first appeared, sung by Carl, on Beach Boys album 'Holland' in 1973 - is the difference between night and day. Carl's voice is at it's purest on the 'band' recording and you believe every word of his sweet intentions. Despite the fact that Carl was 25-26 when he recorded his part for it, the song 'sounds' like a teenage song in his hands; a vow of undying love from someone who means every word but doesn't yet know of all the dangers lying in wait that might have to be overcome. By contrast Dennis sounds old before his time (despite being all of 32 when he re-recorded it), his rasping voice the sound of a man whose been through hell and barely lived to tell the tale. The backing too shares this effect: the 'Carl' version twinkles, with a strategic use of a long held organ note to suggest constant adoration; Dennis' version is slower, built on a restless piano part that sounds like ever choppy seas. Both versions are deeply beautiful, but Dennis' is truly haunting, living every last difficult syllable of the journey and his vows seem more solemn and genuine because of it. The moment at the end when he harmonises with himself ('Baby make it with you! Come on baby ba-bee! Spend my life with you!') and keeps going on and on, as if he's never going to let go, is one of the most emotional experiences you can have short of experiencing these feelings for yourself. Somehow you know, too, that 'this' version of the song is doomed and that the vows come too late; you can hear the pain and heartbreak in every single note, especially the ones where Dennis sings flat. The result is another chilling recording that stays with you long after the CD has come to an end. Both versions are wonderful and amongst the best things The Beach Boys ever did, together or apart; but I'm a night person, not a day person, and these shadows reflect life in all its aspects better than the sun's rays ever can. A highly recommended recording.

C) 'Holy Man', taped early on in the 'Pacific Blues' sessions along with the three 'noisiest' songs ('River Song' 'Rainbows' and the title track) seems to have been forgotten by Dennis, who left it as an eerie backing track and never got around to placing his lead vocal on it. We owe its existence as a 'proper' song on the CD re-issue to both Taylor Hawkins (drummer with the Foo Fighters), who added a similarly gravelly but not quite as multi-layered vocal as Dennis would have done especially for the CD in the 21st century and engineer John Hanlon, who'd never met Dennis before that week of work and says he was haunted by this ghostly song all the intervening years, pushing for it to get finished (the 'new vocal' version appears at the end of 'Bambu' and the backing track at the end of 'Pacific Ocean Blues'). Thankfully co-writer Jakobsen still had his lyric sheet for the song which again is more like a 'Bambu' song: a religious convert is closer to God, not because he's in touch with his 'maker' per se (anyone can 'see' 'Him', even Dennis when he's hit the bottle too much) but because he thinks he's found true love and passes it on to others. What a shame this lyric got 'lost' because it's one of Jakobsen's finest:  'With the ego of the lamb, the holy man, come the swagger of the duet you know he can, turn the corner all alone - he'll meet you there'. Dennis music is similar other-worldly and ethereal (I'm not surprised Hanlon was 'haunted' by it - I have been too) but ultimately comes down on the side of 'love', with the knowledge that 'the one you love is everywhere and he will follow' - even, it seems, to places you don't want him to go. The recording on this one is special too, with the 'backing track' version offering us the chance to hear this song in a way we can't hear any of Dennis' other pieces: there's a classic guitar lick that plays throughout (which sounds like Ed Carter's work), more echoey piano (probably by Dennis) and some clever uses of synthesisers, especially the opening single note which slowly unfurls into a whole symphony bit by bit. Before this album came out Dennis seemed the least holy person imaginable but by golly there are some extra forces taking part in this track, which is another piece so original and so stunning that this song simply doesn't belong in the same book as 'Still Cruisin' and 'Summer In Paradise'. Other backing tracks still exist in the vaults without the vocal by the way, titled '10,000 Years' and 'New Orleans' as well as cover of The Beatles' 'Here Comes The Sun'.

D) Less still is known about 'Mexico', another wonderful and hauntingly beautiful song credited to Dennis alone. The song certainly sounds like an instrumental (the only one on either album), but it could of course be a backing track - we simply don't know. Dennis has clearly been paying close attention to his brothers because his elaborate production on this song (strings, trumpets, synthesisers, piano, the works) is equal to anything made by Brian or Carl, invoking the same sense of emotional weight as the former whilst being as clever and intelligently spaced as the latter. Interestingly the second session box for the song (though not the first) lists this as 'Mexico Soundtrack' - the only films called 'Mexico' I can track down came out in 1930 (an early Disney short starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - basically Mickey Mouse with bigger ears and a bigger personality) and 2001 (a Gore Vebinski film that's very Dennis, actually, a road movie that revolves around an antique gun, although given that Dennis had been dead 18 years when it came out its unlikely he had this project in mind!)  The brass riff sounds truly mournful, like some wound that's gone so deep even words can no longer express it, while the whole mood is not so much tranquil as tired-out, unable to put up any more fights. The title is a puzzle too: Dennis had no special connection with Mexico as far as I know and this may have been a working title rather than a 'finished' idea (Dennis often tinkered with his titles, as you can see by the photos of the session reels seen in the CD booklet, where 'Moonshine' is retitled 'Who Makes My Moonshine?', 'Tug Of Love' is still listed as 'Feel The Pull' and 'Thoughts Of You' is 'Thoughts Of A Girl'). Without the lyrics (if there were anyway) it's hard to know quite where 'Mexico' fits in Dennis' canon, but even unfinished and orphaned at the end of a run of 'bonus tracks' this piece is still very strong, very original and very very powerful. Alas those are all of Dennis' solo contributions for now and - one more song and a 'Bambu' re-recording both on 'L A Light Album' aside - that's all there is for the rest of this book, with Dennis either absent or wasting his talents on the next few Beach Boys albums by singing on inferior songs written by his brothers. 

Brian Wilson Non-Album Recordings c. 1988
"Move it all around...just like Jane Fonda!"
When Rhino bought the rights to Brian's 1988 solo debut on Sire in 2004 they re-issued it with a comprehensive (perhaps over-generous) selection of 15 bonus tracks (there were only eleven on the original album!) Most of these are rough but interesting working demos of the album songs (including many of the fragments of 'Rio Grande' before that song got put together) or period publicity from a sheepish sounding Brian. However there are four unreleased songs of varying quality which we deal with below. For the record the full track listing is as follows: the 'Brian Wilson' album followed by...

 Brian on 'Love and Mercy'/He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body To Move*/Being With The One You Love*/Let's Go To Heaven In My Car*/Too Much Sugar*/There's So Many (Demo)/Walkin' The Line (Demo)/Melt Away (Early Version)/Night Time (Backing Track)/Little Children (Demo)/Night Blooming Jasmine (Demo - part of 'Rio Grande')/Rio Grande (Early Version)/Brian on 'Rio Grande'/Brian on 'The Source'/Brian's Christmas Fanclub Message

A) 'He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body To Move' sounds like me after a chronic fatigue attack but was most likely written by Brian as therapy during his jogging sessions and the idea that keeping your body moving is good for you. The song is lively enough to get the message across and features the familiar synthesiser-heavy backing with a rattle of drums not unlike the famous sequence from 'Chariots Of Fire' behind a catchy song that never quite goes anywhere; it's the sound of someone jogging round a neighbourhood really well rather than going somewhere new. There are some entertainingly daft lyrics here in true 'Friends'/'Love You' style ('Seven times seven and ten times ten, you gotta pick it up and start all over again') and the return of the 'bass harmonicas' from 'Pet Sounds' that Brian loves so much. However the end result is curiously charmless for a Brian 'not doin' much really, honest' type song. This track was first released as the B-side of the  'Love and Mercy' single before being revived for the CD.

B) 'Being With The One You Love' is a similarly frustrating song, first released as the B-side to second single 'Love and Mercy'. It's not that bad, it's just not that good either and was - probably rightly - rejected from a film titled 'Doin' Time On Planet Earth' (in which an eccentric teenager - yep, another one - thinks he's an alien prince exiled to a distant planet inhabited by humans; the twist is he's right and if you didn't see that coming by the end of the opening credits then you're either under five years old or haven't watched enough films).

C) 'Let's Go To Heaven In My Car' is a fun song: Brian hasn't written a song about cars since honkin' down the gosh-darn highway in 1977 and his co-writer on this song is none other than Gary Usher, who ;last seen in this book somewhere around 1964. Brian's lovely, witty song uses the metaphor of a 'car' for how he's feeling: a little run down a bit groggy (10cc's Godley and Creme did a similar thing in their very BeachBoysy a capella 'My Body The Car' in the early 1980s). Without love, though, he's basically parked - which turns the song into a chat-up line where Brian and his beloved live out their days and end up riding to heaven together 'with one ear on the radio', naturally. Apart from 'Walkin' The Line' this is the only officially (or even, as yet, unofficially) released from an album Brian and Gary were working on together that has never secured a bona fide release.

D) 'Too Much Sugar' is the one bona fide outtake from the 'Brian Wilson' album and that's probably fair enough: while not awful it's not that inspired and clearly written as part of Brian's 'therapy' rather than as a song from the album. We're back in 'H.E.L.P.' mode again here, with Brian talking about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise ('Too much sugar, too much cake, you'll end up with a belly ache'). The result is yet another song in my collection that's designed to make me feel guilty (although at least, unlike Lulu, Brian Wilson has yet to make a fitness video!) 

That's all for now, join us next week when we'll have finally moved away from The Beach Boys...and onto the first in a series of articles about Belle and Sebastian. See you then!















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