Monday 21 December 2015

The Beach Boys "Shut Down Volume Two" (1964)


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The Beach Boys "Shut Down Volume Two" (1964)

Fun Fun Fun/Don't Worry Baby/In The Parkin' Lot/'Cassius' Love V 'Sonny' Wilson/The Warmth Of The Sun/This Car Of Mine//Why Do Fools Fall In Love?/Pom Pom Play Girl/Keep An Eye On Summer/Shut Down Volume II/Louie Louie/Denny's Drums

"You really think you're some kind of an opera star don't ya?" "Well at least my nose doesn't sound like it's on the critical list!"

'Wow' you think to yourself as the first three tracks play - The Beach Boys have done it again,  with an album of such warmth, beauty and finesse you start to think that every single copy of this album ever printed accidentally came with the wrong date of '1964' stamped on it - surely this is the work of an older, wiser, more reflective band who've lived at least ten years longer? Why is Shut Down Two not hailed as the turning point to brilliance, the 'Pet Sounds' stepping stone away from striped shirts and away to freedom? And then you get a reminder that, no really, this is 1964 and the band are round about twenty, going on eight, after all. For the next 'song' in line to play is 'Cassius Love V Sonny Wilson', the single most badly staged comedy routine in rock and it's followed up a depressingly short time later by a wretched run of basic cover songs, a surfing instrumental (thankfully the band's last surfing instrumental) played on a grand total of two notes and a drum solo played by a musician who himself declared he was a better 'clubber than a drummer'. 'Bah' you think to yourself as the album ends - surely this is the work of a much younger, sillier, more frivolous band who have surely not lived through the 'Surfin'-Surfin Safari' progression yet, never mind the 'Surfin' USA-Surfer Girl-In My Room' years yet. Why is 'Shut Down Volume Two' not hailed as one of the worst albums ever released by a professional band, the turning point to stupidity and silliness many years before 'Smiley Smile' got there. And then, eventually, you play the record again and get struck again by how glorious the songs were you missed the first time round because you were still in shock: songs like 'Warmth Of The Sun' and 'Keep An Eye On Summer' that are sublimely gorgeous as only this period Beach Boys can be. And so the cycle goes round and round again (Faster little cycle! Whoops sorry wrong album...) until you don't know what to think.

The real factor at work on this album is, once again, time. The band's fifth album was released only five months after their fourth and a mere seventeen after their first.  They even look slightly dazed on the back cover, as if they're not quite where they are anymore or why someone's taking their picture, especially Brian's 'what the?' look at the camera (for the record they seem to be in the parking lot, which again isn't the sort of cover that reeks months of careful planning and brilliance). Most bands, after all, haven't even completed the signing and demo stage by then. The Beach Boys are trapped between their desire to do better, to run nose-to-nose with those pesky Beatles from overseas (carefully choosing a gap mid-way between 'With The Beatles' and 'A Hard Day's Night') and the sad truth that they can't work that fast. Reluctantly the band have had to concede ground this time by proving what they can do (throwing everything they've got at attendant A and B sides 'Fun Fun Fun' and 'Don't Worry Baby' and a couple of others), while speedily writing and recording everything else. Only The Beach Boys, desperate to bring something a little different to each album, don't want to repeat themselves - which is why instead of the usual run of instrumentals and cover songs we get that drum solo and that unfunny comedy moment.

However 'Cassius Love V Sonny Wilson', referring to the heavyweight boxing battle of the year between Sonny Liston and the soon-to-be Muhammad Ali, might actually be the most 'real' song here, forced as it is. Mike and Brian, for no apparent reason, start ganging up on each other while the others gamely laugh along as if it's all hilarious, introduced by Al who as the newest Beach Boy carefully keeps out of things. Mike, you see, fluffs not only his lines by accident but also, as scripted, the opening lines of 'Little Deuce Coupe' (Brian: 'Listen Mike, when you open a voice like yours it's always a big put down!' before singing through his nose). Mike replies with a recording of 'Farmer's Daughter' from the last LP and comments that Brian 'sounds like Mickey Mouse with a sore throat', upstaging Brian's falsetto with one of his own. Carl, always one to keep the peace even in faked tantrums, reminds Love that the fans love Brian's pretty ballads, while Dennis weirdly enough sticks up for Mike on the fast songs. The pair seem to call a truce and go back to recording 'Fun Fun Fun' but Mike won't let it go with an exaggerated honk that he (and probably only he) thinks sounds like Brian's but is actually more like his 'Little Old Lady From Pasadena' voice. For a moment there the elder Wilson sounds genuinely put out ('What are you doing Mike?!') and replies 'Some tough job you've got!', the strained two years of being the band's lead writer and arranger suddenly showing through as Brian's no longer acting now but living out a fantasy of what he's probably always wanted to say (but been too nice and slightly scared to actually say). Mike, the one doing the most eager laughing, suddenly sounds like he's no longer joking too as he fires back 'You think you're some kind of an opera star don'tcha?', no doubt what he was longing to say to the only Beach Boy anyone ever bothered to speak to and who got all the credit (which was unusual itself back in 1964 when, in a leftover of the 1950s, most people assumed the lead singer just was the band and the rest didn't matter, which is why The Shadows, shockingly, were never quite as famous as Cliff). Unlike the other similar 'comedy' spots though - 'Our Recording Sessions' (a simple, more genuine set of outtakes although one or two still sound too good to be 'genuine') or 'Session With The Big Daddy' (a jovial interview with everyone acting up for the record) - 'Cassius Love' sounds, however briefly 'real', the tensions of being stuck for so long together with your friends, brothers, cousins and with your dad/uncle/Mr Murray Sir standing over you and watching your every move revealing what the public didn't know back then: The Beach Boys was an explosion waiting to happen. Officially the band remain the best of pals until things starts going wrong circa 'Pet Sounds' (certainly the Wilson brothers cope better than, say, the Davies or the Gallagher brothers in other AAA bands), but the fact that a band sitting around needing material in a hurry even think 'hey - how about we stage a mock battle where we hurl insults at each other - it'll be fun!' says everything you need to know about how the band are beginning to split a little at the seams. As indeed any band working that hard in such close proximity would (most creative partnerships have gone at least a little nuts after seventeen months without a pause - worse yet if you're working with family members who've known you since you were in nappies and know just how to wind you up).

Which is a shame because, even more than the first four albums, The Beach Boys are a band. This is, I think I'm right in saying, the first time that there are no 'solo' performances, no Mike or Brian showcases but instead lots of block vocal harmonies - with the obvious exception of 'Denny's Drums', though even that is significant in being the first proper starring role Dennis has had as a Beach Boy (how typical though that it's one drums, which Dennis always admitted he couldn't play rather than vocals - as the CD re-issue sleeves put it 'this must be the only drum solo ever recorded by a predominantly vocal group!') The signature Beach Boys sound, that appealing mass of voices all going their own ways in supportive harmony, has been modified and added to down the years but by now it's in full bloom, sounding superb wherever it's being used. 'Fun Fun Fun' has the five Beach Boys turning a couple of juveniles being delinquent into a massed rallying call to arms; 'Don't Worry Baby' has the five voices cooing in sympathy; 'Warmth Of The Sun' brings out even more of the Beach Boys' pretty melancholy, wrapping a coat of golden warmth around Brian's fragile lead; 'Pom Pom Playgirl' uses the voices for cheerleading practice; 'Keep An Eye On Summer' is an earlier song, a Four Freshman style retro tale of innocent smooching; 'Louie Louie', meanwhile, makes the five Beach Boys sound like a finger-clicking gang on a garage classic everyone assumed was 'dirty' (without proof for the most part - typically The Beach Boys insist on tidying the song up so you can hear all the words, which is actually missing the point). By now Brian has been doing this arranging lark to know just where to use each Beach Boy to make the most expressive point, with everyone but new-comer Al getting spotlights thrown on them at various times (in an era sensitive to people's favourites, Capitol are probably still trying to hide the fact that David Marks isn't here). Compared to earlier albums, though, it sounds like The Beach Boys, not Brian Wilson casting his brothers and especially his cousin where they'll go best with the occasional journey back to the mothership of full harmony heaven. This, surely, can only be a move forward.

One other move forward though, oddly enough, takes away from The Beach Boys as a 'group'. Ever the perfectionist, Brian has been growing more and more horrified that his group of ad hoc relatives can't play the pieces that are in his head and so starts working more and more with session musicians across this record. Though no one seems to be quite sure when the switchover happened between the band playing all their own notes (as they surely do on 'Surfin' Safari') and barely playing a note (as they do on 'Pet Sounds'), this album sounds like 'the one' to me, the moment when the band either suddenly develop their skills by at least a decade or got a bit of help. There are exceptions of course: my guess is that 'Our Car Club' from the earlier 'Surfer Girl' album is simply too hard for the band to play, while some of this album too sounds a little too 'homespun' for the 'Wrecking Crew veterans who played on everything that swung back in the mid-1960s ('Fun Fun Fun' 'Shut Down' and possibly 'Don't Worry Baby' still sound like the Beach Boys themselves, while 'Denny's Drums' even draws attention to the fact, as if Brian's feeling a little guilty). But my guess - and I stress it is a guess - is that many of the other tracks (the disciplined patter of 'Warmth Of The Sun', the spirited Phil Spector-ish production of 'Why Do Fool's Fall In Love?' that's a shade tougher than anything Dennis has ever had to play before and maybe some others too feature Brian finding out one of his greatest time-and-cost-cutting measures: bringing in the professional musicians to actually play the songs, so he and his band can go back to singing as professionally as they can (A clue? Brian comments in his sleevenotes for the CD re-issue that it sounded like Spector because they recorded it in the same studio he used - did the band use his musicians too? Typically, though, the sleeve notes contradict this and claim the song was recorded along with the others at Western Studios, Hollywood, as per usual. Both Brian's memory and the sleevenotes have been at fault elsewhere in the re-issue series so who do we believe?!) The band will be doing this more and more as time goes on (using sessions musicians that is, not contradicting their own sleevenotes, although actually they do that too!) Not that I'm 'shutting down' any idea the band couldn't have played this album themselves - actually more of this record was performed live in concert than any other record of the 1960s barring 'Pet Sounds' (and then never at the time) and we know the band were playing then. But desperate times call for desperate measures: 'Shut Down' was recorded in a rush even by Beach Boy standards, Capitol still convinced that the band were about to be replaced by some other fad that never quite came.

Once again, I curse the fact that The Beach Boys ended up on Capitol rather than one of the other big record labels of the day. Not because the records were poorly recorded and/or mixed as so often happened on Decca, or with the bad blood that seems to have existed at Pye, but because Capitol made the band work so hard for so long without missing a single opportunity to exploit the band which, in the brave new world of The Beatles over at EMI, looks cheap and desperate. Take this album's title: in case you were wondering there never was a Beach Boys album named 'Shut Down Volume One'. That was, instead, a Capitol compilation of car songs that used the Beach Boys' song of that name for its title track and was marketed, to all intents and purposes as if it was a Beach Boys album. It even looks like a Beach Boys album, using the same graphics and near-as-identical car pictures as the 'Little Deuce Coupe' album and contains many of the same Beach Boys 'outside' writers such as Roger Christian and Gary Usher (who even team up on the most Beach Boys soundalike songs 'Wide Tracks' and 'Four On The Floor', a title Mike actually came up with as revealed on the recent copyright-extending 1964 sessions set 'Keep An Eye On Summer'. had Capitol used these extra sales to give The Beach Boys a rest they might have appreciated it - but no, not only were The Beach Boys made to work as hard as ever they were actually competing with their non-existent selves for chart sales. This record's title, 'Shut Down Volume II', sounds to me like an attempt to play Capitol at their own game, cashing in on the publicity of a various artists set that was made to cash in on The Beach Boys, with a title track made as quickly and scruffily as possible, with Mike's two note sax solo (the only notes he knew how to play) over the simplest honky-tonk riff since the first album. Brian even gives Carl his first solo credit as a Beach Boy as if to distance himself from the song (and perhaps rewarded his most loyal supporter with some extra royalties pocket money?), even though it's clearly based on his own riff from the earlier 'Shut Down' song.

Interestingly, only three of the actual 'songs' refer to cars - by far the favourite Beach Boys formula of the past few months. Admittedly the band must have been as sick of them as writing surfing songs after a whole album's worth of the stuff for 'Little Deuce Coupe' (give or take a few repeats) and it's perfectly in keeping with Beach Boys albums past to move on from an old fad. Notably Brian gives the most car-heavy song 'This Car Of Mine' to brother Dennis to sing (using it as one of the biggest experiments on the album), while the other two songs that mention cars are either so subtle you miss it (it took years before I realised 'Don't Worry About' was about a racer afraid of failure rather than a more general song of girlfriend-boyfriend comfort) or pretend to offer a lot more in the title than they give in the lyric ('In The Parkin' Lot' is the venue for a dating song, which could really take place anywhere). Before now The Beach Boys have only ever really dropped fads when they've found a new one to smother, but that doesn't happen here: for once there's no real link between the songs other than the general one of being a Californian teenager. 'Shut Down' isn't even an album consistent in style, with songs like 'Fun Fun Fun' as adventurously contemporary as any song released in the first quarter as 1964 ('Can't Buy Me Love' eat your heart out!) and 'Warmth Of The Sun' clearly emotionally at one with the mood of the nation after JFK's assassination four months earlier up against throwbacks to the 1950s like Frankie Lymon and the Teenager's so 1950s song 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love?' (by now the band members who were still alive were hitting thirty, which believe it or not was old back then...) or the Four Freshman style 'Keep An Eye On Summer'.

'Shut Down Volume Two' then is a cash-in made in a hurry - but a cash-in that still has time for some of the most devastatingly gorgeous moments in the entire Beach Boys canon. It's an album full of beautiful Beach Boys block harmonies where they sound more united than ever - along with two cheap bordering on insulting instrumentals and a comedy track that spreads disunity. It's a record that contains two or three of the must have moments of the 1960s - and some songs so bad they don't even appear on the interminable compilation series Capitol kept re-releasing in the 1970s and 1980s. It's a walking (sorry, racing) contradiction that reflects both the best and the worst that The Beach Boys had to offer in the busy period that was 1964 - a year that will see the release of four new Beach Boys albums. Already there's the feeling that it can't go on like this and that something has to give, but right up until the end of 1966 it will be a straight fight between the pressures of time and deadlines and the glorious vision that Brian has in his head for how wonderful these albums could be. Forget Cassius Love v Sonny Wilson, that's the real knockabout Beach Boys fight and the score for 'Shut Down Volume Two' is a draw.

'Fun Fun Fun' is a terrific stepping stone of a Beach Boys single that features many of the old trademarks (an opening Chuck Berry riff, actually played by Glen Campbell in Carl's style according to the session notes, a Hammond organ solo and those famous block harmonies), along with a lot that also seems delightfully 'new'. Recorded on New Year's Day 1964, this song already sounds like a track that could never have been released in 1963, more rock than pop with a fierce beat that the Beach Boys rarely bettered. The lyrics too are a step away from the cosy Beach Boys image of the previous year with  lyrics that border on 'naughty' (well by Beach Boys standards at least). A boy 'borrows' the family car to take his girl out on a date and gets grounded, but the twist at the end is that the kissing couple seem to have planned it all along - they no longer need the car to have fun fun fun because they've got a lot of things to do now!' Apparently the story was based on one occasion when scamp Dennis Wilson stole Murray's car to visit a girlfriend, which suddenly makes sense of the cheeky lyrics! (Though ironically Dennis is conspicuous by his absence from the vocals - unusual on a single, though increasingly common for album tracks in this period. Was he out re-enacting these lyrics for real again?) So much for the Beach Boys squeaky clean image - the couple don't even get into trouble for skipping a day at the library! Of all the songs in the Beach Boys singles discography it's this one and near-sequel 'I Get Around ' that best show off the Brian 'n' Mike relationship at its peak: Mike picks up on his cousin's Chuck Berry style riff with some Berry style lyrics to appeal to a new era of teenagers full of car slang and fast flowing rhymes  ('She walks just like a Roman chariot race now!'), more down with the audience than Brian could ever be. But Brian isn't content to just give the public what they want so in sweeps that complex mass of harmonies that take the song in quite a different place; this is a generation gap story not just about the teenagers and their car-owning parents but the 1960s era versus the 1950s where the car is no longer enough. A fun performance, with a double-tracked Love on top form buoyed up a Beach Boys chorus that mimic the nagging parents and ends with a delightfully wild and free Brian Wilson falsetto, really gets the most out of the song too. Many fans have assumed that the song was written in direct response to the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan show upping the ante in rock music - but actually it was recorded a full six weeks earlier. Brian himself seems to think this in the CD sleevenotes too though so you wonder if this song was written in a hurry not because of the TV show but the single, which was released Stateside on Boxing Day 1963 (which seems an odd day - how many records were even open then back in 1963?!) Certainly the Beach Boys have upped their game since their last single 'Be True To Your School', with 'Fun Fun Fun' deservedly putting the band back in the American top five for the first time since 'Surfin' USA' despite the advanced competition. Not quite the very best Beach Boys single of the 1960s perhaps, with as much of a debt to Chuck Berry as the first few surfing songs, but a delight nonetheless.

The single's B-side 'Don't Worry Baby' has an even higher rating with fans. A velvety golden Brian Wilson ballad, it's one of the best examples of his clever clever ears, taking his co-writer Roger Christian's song of support and re-arranging them for his vulnerable lead nestled against a bed of gorgeous warm band vocals. As usual, though Brian brought in someone else to write the lyrics, they were almost certainly suggested by a conversation he had with his lyricist out loud. An early love song for Brian's soon-to-be-wife Marilyn, it's about the comfort and sympathy the singer had been looking for his whole rather difficult life. Suddenly, after a lifetime of pretending to act tough for his strict dad and against his tougher younger brother Dennis and at school Brian's found someone he can be vulnerable with and who instead of laughing or using at an excuse to put him down sympathises and eases his worries away. Many fans pick up on how 'real' this song sounds, especially in the context of the early 1964 Beach Boys who haven't yet discovered their 'confessional' mode, which starts as early as the opening line: 'Well it's been building up inside of me for oh I don't know how long...' The lines about worrying that things are about to go wrong also sounds like someone under pressure to keep coming up with the goods who feels too fragile to live up to expectations, which is an early sign for the sense of paranoia and struggle that will inform Brian's works from here-on in (this song isn't too far removed from 'Don't Back Down' for instance). So 'real' does the opening verse sound that it's rather a shame when this most promising Beach Boy song to date turns into yet another car song, with Brian suddenly a racer worried about coming first and wishing he'd 'kept my mouth shut when I bragged about my car'. Well, of course it does - this is a lyric by Roger Christian, the walking car encyclopaedia, but even after this plot shift this song still feels deeper than most of the pair's songs together. Brian, playing the narrator, regrets ever getting involved with a pressurised business even though he's done really well - the problem is everyone he's ever cared about is relying on him to keep coming up with the goods and just assume he'll come up with the goods because he always does - it's not that much of a leap to guess he's really singing about the Beach Boys here. Of course, with the usual Beach Boys twist, it's moments like this when Brian raises his doubts and insecurities - something that none of his rivals are doing, or at least not yet - that The Beach Boys are suddenly peerless, so far above their competition that of course they're going to be winners. As for the music, which for once takes perhaps a lesser role than the lyric, Brian finds comfort by retreating to Phil Spector (this song was, so it was rumoured, offered to the Ronettes before being rejected by Spector himself - his loss, I'm sure you'll agree). The opening boom-chikka boom-chikka (surely played by a session man rather than Dennis?) beat recalls Brian's favourite Spector song 'Be My Baby', while you could with an ear-squint just about believe that the title and chorus came from that song too. Typically, though, where Spector conjures up mere romance Brian is more about love. This is no star-struck pair of lovers but two soulmates, one of whom offers the narrator everything he's always wanted. As for the performance, only a slightly lacklustre guitar solo (poked at rather than played) mars some of the greatest and warmest singing of The Beach Boys' career, with Mike again right on the money on the sort of song you wouldn't have expected him to particularly like.

Though lesser regarded by most fans, 'In The Parkin' Lot' keeps up this album's strong opening, a superior re-write of 'Be True To Your School' with more plausible cheerleading cheers and a stunning a capella opening that's amongst the complex the band have attempted so far. Though the song soon settles down into yet another Chuck Berry plod (this one a lot less gripping than 'Fun Fun Fun' it has to be said), the lyrics are again delightfully cheeky and  again by early 1964 standards - deeply subversive. This song doesn't have the narrator asking to hold his girl's hand - he's clearly after something more as the teenagers sneak out of their houses early in the morning. The couple snuggle up together and maybe do something more if Mike's lines about 'making out in the car' and how 'it's not my metal flake paint the guys are digging when they pass by now' are anything to go by. The real gem in the lyric though is the lovers waiting for as long as they possibly can before they split for class - lesser writers would add a countdown but Mike just throws in a set of lyrics about the news coming on, which of course happens on the hour. You have to worry for the couple though - if they've been up since sunrise and for hours before what's presumably a 9 o'clock class, are they getting enough sleep? This short burst of adrenalin somehow sounds even more daring when bookended by Brian's rather churchy a capella statement. A much under-rated track that's far more than mere filler as so many fans always think.

However the infamous 'Cassius Love V Sonny Wilson' clearly is. Bizarrely the longest 'song' on the album is painfully drawn out and even more painfully acted, the band sticking in some curious detail as if to make this garbage seem more 'real' (Al informs us that the band are 'rehearsing for a show' - patently not true if the tapes are rolling). The most genuine funny bit comes at the start as Mike fluffs his lines, gets quite genuinely picked on and gamely keeps going ('What are you trying to tell us Mike?' Brian deadpans brilliantly), shortly followed by Carl's 'now come on girls' insult, which strangely goes un-noticed. For it's time the use of old recycled footage must have been pretty daring, with snatches of 'Little Deuce Coupe' 'Surfin' Safari' 'Farmer's Daughter' 'In My Room' 'Surfer Girl' 'Shut Down' and 'Fun Fun Fun' heard from albums past (unusual choices all of them, only 'Daughter' featuring a 'solo' performance). The insults, though, sound corny and most unlike anything the Beach Boys would have said for real - actually the session tapes reveal that it would be Brian being more direct and in 'control' of the band (though a lot less rude), while Mike just generally messed around and giggled at his own jokes (though he was reportedly a bit more brutal to his cousin outside the studio). What's interesting is how some of the band's characters are spot on: Carl is the peacemaker and you sense his audible raised eyebrows and 'let's get on with it' tone aren't entirely acting, while Al half-heartedly backs him up, though wary that as the junior member no one listens to him anyway. Mike and Brian act out the feud as if they're the only two who have a 'problem' which patently wasn't true, even this early on - Dennis, the biggest natural troublemaker under the sun, actually starts sticking up for Mike at one point which seems deeply unlikely. Brian gamely tries to join in the insults and does about the best acting job of the lot, but you can tell that this is Mike's idea and he seems to be enjoying his insults a little bit too much. The problem is not just with the concept (which would be an odd idea on any album), but with the timing, this being too early on in the band's lifetime for these feuds to be 'real' and revealing, but equally too far in to the story for you to dismiss this as just a joke (note that this is billed as a 'feud', not a one-off argument, suggesting simmering tension). What were the band trying to do really? And was this really more deserving of release than all those great Beach Boys recordings still left in the vaults in this period? ('Cindy Oh Cindy' 'Land Ahoy' 'The Baker Man' 'Punchline' and 'I Do').

The placing of that 'song' is a particular shame because it overshadows on the loveliest Brian Wilson ballads of the 1960s. 'The Warmth Of The Sun' was, as every Beach Boys book will tell you, written the night JFK was assassinated back in November 1963 (and as such would have been Brian's first non-car song for ever such a long time). JFK's presidency had co-incided pretty neatly with The Beach Boys' rise to ascendency in 1960 and - again rather like the band - had spent a couple of years dilly-dallying before finally blossoming as a force for change and youthful optimism across 1963 (almost certainly the reason why he was shot). Though Kennedy was a Massachussetts local and had a back injury from the war that made even standing difficult, he even looked like a surfing Californian not unlike Dennis Wilson. Many of Brian's songs of late have been about worry and of fearing that something is about to go wrong for the world - and JFK's death, after a presidency that at least promised much (though practically delivering relatively little) is about as big a line in the sand as can be imagined. JFK's death and the three month period of grief that followed hurt the Beach Boys badly ('Shut Down Volume Two' sold far less than the albums before it as teenagers didn't want to hear about surfing and cars) and led almost certainly to the speed of The Beatles' arrival - the craze that promised the 'new' youth momentum that would get the job done; The Beach Boys, by contrast, were forever linked to this 'Kennedy' era in many fans' minds. However Brian's loss here is much more personal than that, his feelings of loss wrapped up in the fact that his on-off girlfriend Judy had finally decided that being a rockstar's future wife was not for him, dumping Brian earlier in the day (he was, after all, already 'good friends' with Marilyn by then, originally via her sister Diane). Brian's heart is breaking, the usual Californian sunshine not enough to make him feel better, while Brian bravely admits to 'crying' after being dumped (it's hard to imagine any other period singer - especially cousin Mike - being so open in song, though Mike takes the co-credit on this song too). But even though this is one of the earliest examples of Brian's pure melancholy it's not without quiet joy: Brian is comforted that at least he now knows what love is and can still feel the warmth of the sun from being touched by his love, something he coos 'won't ever die'. Though he knows he's only imagining his lover's arms and knows they're 'not real', it gives him comfort to know that they were once and that he's only just realising how much she meant to him. Another overwhelmingly real song, on an album that so often sounds so false, 'Warmth Of The Sun' is another winner, taking the melody of 'In My Room' but turning it inside out with a song about how the narrator now has strength to be alone now that he knows what it's life to be loved (rather than taking time out so he can go back to being his loving self). The Beach Boys block harmonies are again gorgeous, a sunrise fading just over the sky as a reminder of what was, though it's Brian's pure lead, tinged with a heavy heart that life not be so pure for much longer, that steals the show - a masterful performance. Overall, one of the very best Beach Boys songs hardly anyone knows - something that deserves to change right now! (Bring it back to the stage set guys!)

This album's topsy turvy first side ends on the 'Little Deuce Coupe' soundalike 'This Car of Mine', which is something of an anti-climax. Handed over to Dennis to sing, rather painfully as it happens, you can tell that no one in the band really cares about this curious song which sounds as if it was recorded mid-way through being written. Another Chuck Berry style plod hops along in the middle, while the song ends on a curious 'diddley ho!' chorus that sounds more like a Disney song. As for the lyrics, you'd assume from the car references that this was another Roger Christian co-write, but actually it's another Brian 'n' Mike song (Roger had by now been warned off by Murray, jealous of the extra revenue he was getting and his strong friendship with his son - this track sounds as if Mike, who rather resented cars after working for years as a petrol-pump attendant, is trying to write in the same style without a clue how this sort of a song is put together). If you weren't listening properly this could be a love song, full of memories about a first 'date' and never wanting to part, but the rather obvious not-much-of-a-twist-at-all is that mechanic Dennis is singing about his motor. Making the band's biggest playboy into a car nerd is an unusual move to say the least and even in double tracking Dennis doesn't sound at all comfortable. An odd and oddly unlikeable song.

Meanwhile, over on side two, The Beach Boys are covering a 1957 hit single 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love? that despite being a mere seven years old would have seemed 'old school' at the time. Frankie Lymon's sad story hadn't yet played out (he'll die of a drug overdose as early as 1968), but The Beach Boys' performance seems oddly like a eulogy than the optimism and youthful exuberance of the original. It doesn't help that Brian's decided to make this track his grand 'experiment' on the album, adding an oddly growling horn section that will point the way towards 'Pet Sounds' but sounds deeply out of place here. Brian himself is also, unusually, a pale shadow of Lymon's  catchy lead and together with the claustrophobic Spector-style production sounds as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Oddly mixed, the other Beach Boys are hard to hear, which is a shame because Mike's bass comedy parts in particular are great fun when heard solo. I'm also willing to bet my ever-growing pile of 'Smile' CDs that this is not The Beach Boys playing but session musicians, with a relentless drum part that would have been right out of Dennis' league at the time. In fact it sounds like there are two, with a repetitive tambourine-style part being smashed over-head by a heavy-handed bass drum part that acts like it's trying to catch a butterfly that keeps merrily dancing on its head. Despite the extra noise, though, this is one of The Beach Boys' most lifeless and pointless cover songs. Oddly it gets the 'big type' on the album sleeve alongside 'Fun Fun Fun', suggesting that there may have been plans to release this as a second single from the album at one stage (the normal practice in this era would have been to write the period B-side in big type instead).

I can't say I'd properly noticed it before, but 'Shut Down Volume Two' is definitely the most lecherous Beach Boys album. 'Pom Pom Playgirl' is, until 'Hey Little Tomboy' in 1978 at least, the single most sexist Beach Boys song. To be fair to them, nobody would have batted an eye-lid in 1963 at a bunch of twenty-somethings in striped shirts singing 'shake those pom poms all around!' (and to be even fairer, Brian 'n' Mike hands this song over to their youngest member Carl, still only eighteen, so it's slightly more palatable). The song starts off like one of those innocent Beach Boys songs about school life - the head cheerleader is dating the fullback, thinking more about him than her 'job' (if you can call dancing and waving a job. Yes ok, I'm just jealous at being able to move that fast...') But what is that opening line? 'You see her in a short skirt down by the grass'? And what is Mike's innuendo-driven line later in answer to the line 'She might even run for office this Spring'? ('And that really ought to make her telephone ring!') Meanwhile the usual Beach Boy 'oohs and aahs' are enunciating 'ra ra pom pom playgirl' as if they're not 'Boys' anymore. If the Carry On films had ever decided to make a surfing film (well, they did everything else - and who wouldn't want to see Kenneth Williams try?) then this would have been the film's theme song. Carl's giggled 'Wow!' over the fade rather says it all - can the band really get away with this sort of thing? Poor Carl copes well with a song that's way out of his comfort zone (and might perhaps be better sung by Mike or Dennis), adding in a frenetic Chuck Berry style guitar solo for good measure. He comes off rather better than the others, actually, as at least he sounds as if he's taking the mickey out of the whole thing. Another most odd Beach Boys song.

Before you think you've accidentally put on a Rolling Stones song comes 'Keep An Eye On Summer', a track that's so Beach Boys no other band would have dared try it. In fact, it's vintage leftover Beach Boys, the co-credit to Brian and his old neighbour Bob Norberg suggesting that this is an earlier song from a year or so earlier left over. Goodness knows why: though the song sounds out of place here, with its ukulele style guitar and Four Freshman-style harmonies, it's a perfectly respectable song that would have gone nicely on any of the band's 1963 records. The lyric is deeper than expected when you analyse it though, with Brian worried that his girl won't love him anymore when summer arrives, now that they've gone their separate ways to different campuses. He still  writes love letters from the heart but apparently hadn't had a reply yet, imagining her 'dating' and himself 'waiting' through a difficult summer in such contrast to last year's. The timing is all over the place though (a sign perhaps of hasty re-writing?) as the last verse imagines that 'soon we'll be graduating'. More golden Beach Boys block harmonies make up for a slightly shrill Brian lead and a chorus that seems a little unfinished ('Keep an eye on summer - this year' is missing at least a 'dum diddly dum dum dah' to scan).

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2... What exotic drama could Mike Love possibly be counting down to with such joy? Surely it's going to be something stupendous and out of this world? Nah, it's just 'Shut Down Volume Two', a less interesting instrumental version of 'Fun Fun Fun' twinned with a preview of 'I Get Around' played for fun rather than with meaning. Carl gets the full credit by virtue of his fun double-tracked guitar riffs, though really Chuck Berry again deserves more credit for inspiring them, while Brian's honky tonk piano and Dennis' struggling drums is a last hark back to the early surfing days. I hate to say it but Mike's two-notes on the sax might well be the most memorable feature here, as at least it's something the band haven't tried before whereas everything else sounds like a re-hash. Still, as a sort of farewell to the band's old playing-at-the-same-time approach it's worth hearing as a record of things I suppose (though the very final goodbye 'Carl's Big Chance' from 'All Summer Long' is arguably superior). No patch on the playful 'Shut Down' either, while this song seems to have nothing to do with that earlier track at all despite the name. Not one of the band's more inspired moments of filler then, but at least it saved us from 'George Foreman Wilson v Frank Bruno Jardine', I suppose, for which we should be thankful.

No band ever has gone wrong with The Kingsmen's sly 'Louie Louie', a song hailed as the most subversive of the whole of the 1950s and therefore perfect casting for this oddly cheeky Beach Boys album. The band still come close though, with another self-played backing track that doesn't swing so much as shiver, a good afternoon's rehearsal away from being nailed. Strangely for the one album where you can't always hear what the Beach Boys, usually so careful about their diction, are singing, you can hear every word. This is, of course, a travesty - the original's power came from the fact that they could have been singing anything and the way the Kingsmen sang it convinced everyone to ban it because of sex of drugs or both. A quick check of the 'official' lyrics reveals that it's just an early precursor of 'Sloop John B' with a sailor pining for his missing love and it's actually far less suggestive than, say, 'Fun Fun Fun', deriving most of its sultryness for a Jamaican style patois that The Beach Boys promptly ignore and Americanise. Love is having an off day on the double tracking, but Carl is even worse, seemingly changing accents between the two takes although goodness only knows what either of them are supposed to be. His stinging guitar break is great through and the highlight of the song, 'saying' with crystal clarity what the rest of the song just hints at. Not one of the band's better ideas I fear.

The second side of 'Shut Down Volume Two' has been a slog, but surely it will end on a high, right? Wrong. In comes 'Denny's Drums' which must be the worst ending to an album that isn't by The Spice Girls. After all, it's not as if Dennis was, at the time, anything except a learning drummer - the beat on this song is all over the place and you have to wonder if it's inclusion here is sabotage (Brian actually interrupts a better take of this song on the 'sessions' set before accepting his worn out brother's second stab). Strangely, a rumour went around that this wasn't by Dennis anyway but was actually 'Hal Blaine's Drums' - the session-man who Brian tended to use the most. Blaine, though, was probably laughing his socks off at hearing Dennis trying so hard to perfect what he could play without thinking. Before anyone asks, I love Dennis and his can do attitude - who else, except perhaps Micky Dolenz, would throw themselves so hard into an instrument they'd never expressed an interest in playing before? Heard live, where his playing is limited to the main beats, Dennis' is the perfect drummer for the band too - loose and funky. Dennis' real gifts, though, were more in the use of melody and harmonics and he'll come up with some devastatingly gorgeous songs in the Beach Boys canon in a few years. Rhythm, though, is not his forte and back in 1964 he's barely had time to learn the basics never mind show off (he should have played a piano solo instead - 'Denny' was great on there). A most lacklustre conclusion to a rather scatterbrained album.

Good lord, how to sum up 'Shut Down Volume Two'?! Alternately heaven and hell, paradise and torture, sublime and ridiculous, it's evidence of why bands should be left alone to make music properly instead of being pushed into releasing half-finished albums with the acceptance that the fan base will buy any old rot and still come back for more. Like many a Beach Boys album, it's real purpose is demonstrated by the album cover, where the band look not so much like the cool trendy new things around town able to fulfil their dreams by buying their own motors, but a bunch of similarly dressed dodgy car salesman, trying to sell songs that never came close to passing their MOT as roadworthy. And yet, there's nothing on this album a few more miles on the clock and a bit less pressure couldn't have fixed. At least The Beach Boys are being inventive about the filler they're giving us instead of leaning so heavily on their one surfing jam lick, which will be a relief to anyone whose sat through 'Surfin' USA'. At least they're giving us cover songs with an extra twist, even if those extra twists actually work against both 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love?' (which now sounds middle-aged) and 'Louie Louie' (which now sounds downright posh). At least they're trying to do something different - though it's returning to the old templates and polishing them up where this album works the best. Any album would be proud to sport 'Fun Fun Fun' 'Don't Worry Baby' 'In The Parkin' Lot' and 'The Warmth Of The Sun' amongst the line-up. Just as any album would be ashamed to include 'Shut Down II' or 'Cassius Love', the true knockout blow in the Beach Boys' 60s canon. It's a car that looks gorgeous and can do 0-60 in no time, but isn't actually that comfortable to sit in, has a lousy stereo and whose car alarm keeps waking you up every night. It's an album that has so much important stuff you have to own it - though you don't often feel like playing it, at least not all the way through. It's a record where The Beach Boys simultaneously shut down all the competition and leave you wishing they'd shut up. It's a load of cul-de-sacs leading off a motorway. It's a 1960s filler album made in a hurry by a band talented enough to know they can do better than this. It is 'Shut Down Volume II', an album quite unlike any other you will ever hear, for better and for worse. 

Other Beach Boys related articles from this site you might be interested in:

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

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

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

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

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

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

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

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

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

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

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

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

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

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

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

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