Monday, 4 July 2016

"The Beach Boys Love You" (1977)

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The Beach Boys "Love You" (1977)

Let Us Go On This Way/Roller Skating Child/Mona/Johnny Carson/Good Time/Honkin' Down The Highway/Ding Dang//Solar System/The Night Was So Young/I'll Bet He's Nice/Let's Put Our Hearts Together/I Wanna Pick You Up/Airplane/Love Is A Woman

For the third review in a row (see the new Monkees and Paul Simon albums last week) the world has gone made for an AAA album I only consider so-so. As it happens, though, this week it's not a new album but an old one: yep, it's the 50th anniversary of 'Pet Sounds', an album the record business insists on telling me is 'everyone's favourite Beach Boys' album' even though the  four or five really big Beach Boys fans I know don't consider it much of an album at all. Rather than grumpily sitting there saying 'huh, I don't think so!' to the world for a third week in a row, though, we've leapt forwards in time another decade to an album that's rather more like 'Pet Sounds' than people give it credit for. Unlike the nine albums made in the interim 'Beach Boys Love You' is very much a Brian Wilson solo record, with other Beach Boys making cameo appearances on middle eights or guest slots. It's an album that's very much written from the heart with the emotions on high. It's a deeply romantic record that features Brian trying to come to terms with what the future might hold for him and his marriage (the album's last track is the only time you can hear wife Marilyn on a Beach Boys recording in fact). It's also an album featuring some incredible contradictions between how the songs were written and how they sound thanks to the differences between what's going on in Brian's head and in his body and voice, with the other Beach Boys not far behind. Imagine Tim Burton making a My Little Pony or a Care Bears film - every word is pure, childlike and cute, but the execution is dark, brooding and horrific. The Beach Boys may love you, but they also hate you at the same time and they didn't do that on 'Pet Sounds'.

The previous album '15 Big Ones' had been touted as a big Brian 'comeback', though in truth it was a warm-up session of oldies that taught the band how to sing again and new originals where Brian was clearly learning how to write once more. This is the era when the cult status of 'Pet Sounds' was really beginning to breakthrough into American culture (though the album had always done well in Europe) and everyone was eager for Brian to write another one. So Brian did: 'Love You' is a scattershot collection of fading memories of love and lust, fears of the future, random folk heroes (chatshow host Johnny Carson replacing the captain of the Sloop John B), instrumentals that don't fit and quirky songs that defy description but are clearly about looking for answers ('I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' meets 'Solar System', both of them the best on their respective albums though they couldn't be more different). Yes, ok, so 'Honkin' Down The Gosh Darn Highway' isn't exactly as multi-faceted as 'God Only Knows' and 'Caroline, No' is a far more successful why-do-things-have-to-change? rant than 'I'll Bet He's Nice'. But 'Beach Boys Love You' is, by and large, as emotional as Pet Sounds without the cloying sentimentality, the sugary strings or the feeling that the guys in the studio would rather be anywhere else than here right now. Brian never did make a true sequel to 'Pet Sounds' (Smile's a whole other kettle of surfboarding fish), but 'Love You' features a similar collection of raw quivering emotion masquerading as confidence. Moreover, both albums were made with Brian given (more or less) complete control and for a while both records were planned more as solo albums than Beach Boys albums.

However the big difference between the two albums - and the reason most fans dismiss this rather eccentric record - is that while both records are about Brian's world in 1966 and 1977 respectively, those worlds couldn't have been more different. The twenty-four-year-old Brian was already being hailed as a musical genius, with a crew of session musicians eager to work with him and the whole world was there for The Beach Boys' taking, with a mixture of fear and excitement. By contrast the thirty-five-year-old Brian's world consists almost solely of his bedroom walls, the TV always on at the end of the bed and his darkest innermost thoughts. Johnny Carson, this album's unlikely 'hero', is a case in point - he's everything the isolated, alienated Brian wants to be: sociable, popular and with a quip for every occasion (much like the 1966 model Brian, in fact). Though older in physical terms, Brian is also far less of an adult than he used to be, with years of decent money and his nervous breakdown giving him the means to hide from the world. Brian's been struggling to come to terms with what people want him to be since childhood and has been absent from public life for over a decade by this stage (bar a slight return across 1968). Asked to share his inner world with the public again, Brian shares the world of a child, with songs about childhood passions like astronomy, cars, roller skates, airplanes and whatever the heck 'Ding Dang' (one of the strangest Beach Boys songs) is really all about. For the most part this is charming: 'Solar System' especially is delightful, a young Brian leaning out his window trying to name the planets and dreaming big of the future and what speck of life out there his future bride might grow up on (it's 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?', but less irritating and more, umm, universal). The 'Sunflower' outtake from 1970 'Good Time' may well be the best teenage song The Beach Boys ever wrote, carefree and sweet (whereas when the band really were teenagers they were more often than not trying to sound much older and wiser). Mona's namecheck for Brian's beloved Phil Spector is an ear-warming moment that's perfectly cast as the 'killer' moment at the end of a song when a love interest can live or die.

At other times though it all feels a tad uncomfortable: 'Roller Skating Child' was Brian's imagination running overtime as he stared out his bedroom window at his daughters' roller skating friends and wondered what it might be like for him to be part of the crowd, the scene turning into an adolescent for of hormones and romance in true Beach Boys tradition. 'I Wanna Pick You Up' has Brian alternating between treating a real baby and his 'baby' lover in the same way, with a guesting Uncle Dennis adding extra un-savouryness with his creepy vocal. 'Love Is A Woman' reveals that Brian has learnt nothing much about love or responsibility, the moral being that all you have to do to make your partner loyal is pay them the odd compliment about how good they smell. These three songs - and a few bits here and there on similar lines - are I think the reason 'Love You' gets a poor reputation; the problem though is more that it's chief creator is very very ill and being forced to work very very hard (is this the worst period for Brian, forced back into work long before he's ready with no way out and without his brothers and bandmates to cover for him as much? There are so many tough periods it's hard to tell...); if you accept that Brian's vision is understandably flawed and that he doesn't mean this album to sound quite so 'wrong' as it sometimes comes out then you can appreciate it better.

Not that a couple of questionable lyrics are the only thing working against this album: 'Beach Boys Love You' is an uncomfortable and rather unique mix of prog rock and punk. Unwilling to work with either hardened session musician veterans or his own band for long hours, Brian is thrilled to discover the invention of the synthesiser in the years since he was away. Brian's been chasing unusual other-worldly sounds since 'Good Vibrations' so it should come as no real surprise, but what is quite shocking is how much Brian uses these synthesisers. Other than 'Good Time' (a revived song very out of place here) the synth purrs through everything and though other instruments appear here and there it's very much the dominant force. Brian being Brian, he's also using the instrument in a way that's quite different to the way anyone else was using it: usually the synths are here for colour, but in Brian's inner musical mind the synth has become the canvas on which the paints are displayed and frame everything, even if the sound is basically a handful of gruff chords and stabbing bleeps. The synth sounds weirdly aggressive here, turning even the prettier songs into angry bursts of noise and passion - which is where the 'punk' bit comes in. Where 'Pet Sounds' was, quite often, overly lush and ridiculously sentimental 'Love You' is harsh and as raw as The Beach Boys ever got, their massive sound reduced effectively to synthesisers, simple drumming (Dennis for the most part) and occasional overdubs and sporadic harmonies. This isn't a warm loving 1960s world anymore where everyone is open and free; it's a cold one full of barriers that have to be broken and where every chord change comes with a risk that the narrator could be wiped off his feet with a cruel angry noise any second. In many ways this is an album ironically named: originally titled 'Brian Loves You' before the record company got involved, it might as well have come with the subtitle: '...But he doesn't think you love him'. Together with the childish open-ness of some of the lyrics, it makes for quite a unique experience, the sound of a child who wants to love the world and can't understand why the world doesn't love him back.

Love, of course, comes in many forms. Like 'Pet Sounds' too this is a romantic album - but far more troubled than many people notice, where love is fickle and fluid and about to disappear the whole time. That made some kind of sense on 'Pet Sounds' - Brian and Marilyn had been married all of 18 months and the couple were already growing apart to some extent, mainly thanks to Brian's hanger-on friends and his new interest in drugs (Marilyn, remember, was still a teenager herself at the time and had never stayed away from the family home much before marrying Brian). By 1977 the couple have been married thirteen years, which is longer than most rockstar marriages (certainly longer than most Beach Boys marriages), but if anything Brian feels even less stable and happy. The late nights of insomnia of this 'bed' period lead to all sorts of worried as the elder Wilson puts his wife through the 'wringer' even more than on 'Caroline, No' though the pair were, at the time, pretty happily married: Brian worries about falling out of love with her, pleads with God to keep her in his life, fears letting her down, shares with us his memories of their meeting when he was so different, his jealousy allowing him to imagine her with someone new and wondering what he'll say to her and him and ultimately some kind of understanding that he's 'just gotta treat her nice'.  Elsewhere Brian loves airplanes, planets, cars, even chat shows with the same zest and zeal as if they're on the same importance, like a child who loves his toys as much as his parents and not quite understanding the distinction.

One other thing that puts many people off this album is less easy to explain. Even compared to '15 Big Ones' The Beach Boys sound mighty rough on this album. A combination of being away from recording studios for so long, the slightly rushed sessions, the blaring synthesisers giving the band less to sing against and (most especially) years of significant drug, cigarettes and booze taking (Brian and Dennis especially, but the others too to some degree) mean that the band who could once soar, glide and shimmer now croak, honk and rasp. Dennis sounds simply terrible, like a parody of his old self with all the subtleties and romantic overtones replaced by a raw desperation that doesn't quite fit on Brian's childish tracks (though it will come in handy for Dennis' own glorious solo LP 'Pacific Ocean Blue' out this same year where he sounds considerably more together). Mike and Al sound like they need a long rest. Even smooky smooth Carl sounds oddly feathery and ruffled across this album, singing more with gusto than accuracy. Worst of all, though, is Brian's voice whose suffered so much during the past ten years that his sweet high falsetto is now carries so much emotional baggage he sounds like he's now several octaves lower. He certainly doesn't as gorgeously innocent and pure anymore, even though his songs are coming from an even more childlike place. Fans of vocal harmony should all own several Beach Boys records in their collection, but if harmonies is all you're after then feel free to skip this album.

That's a shame because this album could certainly be a bit easier on the ear. Some of the songs too are deeply sub-standard, enough to make you wish that the other Beach Boys had been allowed more input into this record a la 'Sunflower' (the better half of this album with half an album by the others would have made for a truly sublime record; this one is ultimately rather patchy). While some Beach Boys songs are occasionally bland and a couple as misguided as the worst excesses on this record, no other BB record has an irritant level quite as high as this one. 'Honkin' Down The Highway' 'Ding Dang' most of 'Airplane' and a majority of 'Love Is A Woman' will haunt your worst nightmares for a long time to come. Only the next album 'MIU' comes close from the days when Brian was still in the band. That's small fry though compared to what does work: 'Let Us Go On This Way' opens with a guttural roar from Carl and is as blunt and desperate as The Beach Boys ever got, almost chillingly real. 'Roller Skating Child' may have its ages mixed up, but it rocks better than anything The Beach Boys had done since 'Marcella' five years before. 'Good Time' is as cute as a button, a carefree song about enjoying a new love and not worrying about the future, with some typical Brian humour - even compared to the rest of 'Sunflower' (the best Beach Boys album?) this outtake should have made the album. 'Solar System' is the greatest way of learning the names of the planets ever and brings not just 'wisdom' but love too. And even if you can't bear the sound of the 'new' look Beach Boys, 'The Night Was So Young' is as tight, adult and gorgeous as anything from the band's past. Even the much-maligned 'Johnny Carson' is quite fun when heard without prejudice, if downright bonkers. That lot may not be enough for you to love 'Beach Boys Love You' but if you're a Beach Boys fan already then you should at least like a bit of it, which is a step up from '15 Big Ones' for starters.

If you can unlock these 'keys' then 'Love You' makes a lot more sense, which might explain why so many true Beach Boys fans rate it so highly, while casual music fans come away believing that this record is meant as a joke. It really isn't: though Brian wasn't above the odd self-deprecating giggle ('A Day In The Life Of A Tree' from Surf's Up' is widely considered as an example of him seeing how much he can get away with without someone questioning it), he means pretty much every single word on this album. To the untrained ear who cares nothing for Brian's world, his courageousness in overthrowing his demons and the excitement of getting such a full-on peek into his world, this album is a drunken shambles where a band who can no longer sing pretend to be children for fourteen deeply odd sounding songs. If you love Brian though and accept his uniqueness and eccentricity as a writer then the chance to hear our hero about as undiluted as he ever was, with no attempt to plaster colour over the bare walls or pretend that this is a brighter happier world than it really is, then 'Beach Boys Love You' is a treat. Above all else, it feels 'real' in a way that 'Pet Sounds' never quite did, rawer and more authentic without the need to 'connect' with or make sense to anyone outside Brian's bedroom. In turns mad, sad, bad and glad, this is a record that has a sound all of it's own. Brian certainly put his heart into it, in a way that he hadn't put his heart into any project since 'Friends' back in 1968 and those terms alone this album is a big success. Yes musically it's often disappointingly simple, lyrically it borders genius and nursery rhyme and performance wise it's probably the most atrocious album The Beach Boys ever made. But there's a charm and a wonder about 'Love You' that makes all its flaws pale into insignificance. By the end of the record you're pleading with the record company to please let them go on this way - but sadly no, the next album (the even more young/old schizophrenic album 'Adult Child') will be rejected for release, Reprise will run out of patience with the band and the band with Brian and one of the greatest and most inventive writers of the 20th century will return, unloved, to bed for the rest of the decade and much of the next one, ready to make just occasional cameos on every single future Beach Boys band album until as late as 2012. That, dear readers, isn't love at all and is a poor reply to the superhuman effort it took for someone so poorly and scared to make this album. It's a wonder Brian ever came back to us at all.

Any thought that this might be one of The Beach Boys' prettier albums is dispelled as early as the first few bars of opening track 'Let Us Go On This Way'. Brian plays a naggingly aggressive keyboard part, the drums crash with wild abandon and the first word heard on this album is Carl Wilson screaming 'hey!' The song doesn't let up from there either, with a lyric that confirms that all the fears of 'Pet Sounds' is true and love is hard work. 'To get you baby I went through the wringer - ain't gonna let you slip through my fingers!' is the opening couplet before the narrator reveals how depressed he is when his love is not around, even if her presence doesn't necessarily make him happy. Like 'God Only Knows' (another song given to Carl) this song figures that love must be heaven sent, but this time the mood is very different: 'God, please, let us go on!' intone multiple Brians and other Beach Boys behind his younger brother. Throughout the song love isn't something light and hopeful but something dark and claustrophobic, suffocating the narrator as those wide open drum sounds makes him sound as if he's hitting his head into a brick wall repeatedly. So far so funky, but like many of the lyrics on this album there's something a little...odd going on. Brian's most adult (i.e. imperfect) love song yet is given a lyric about sitting in class and having a teenage crush, which just feels so wrong in the context of this song - not just because The Beach Boys are audibly older than they were the last time they tried this sort of thing circa 1964 but because this isn't a song about frothy teenage love or crushes at all. The change in lyric may well have been a last minute substitution: Mike Love, the Beach Boy always most loyal to the band's formula, convinced his cousin to write this song near the end of the session when he realised they needed a strong opener. Love probably encouraged Wilson to go younger and more 'Beach Boysy' too, as well as adding the song's most underwhelming moment, the middle eight ('Now we can fly, high in the sky, we'll live forever and never die!') Still, even if this is two songs in one, the stronger tougher half of this combination is powerful indeed and harks back to the longstanding tradition of terrific album openers (something rather passed over by the limp cover of 'Rock and Roll Music' on '15 Big Ones').

'Roller Skating Child' would have made a fine opener anyway though. Styled like the last track with a vaguely threatening backing track and an impressive sense of urgency, the mood is however much lighter. Mike Love has clearly been wondering what The Beach Boys might have sounded like had they been children of the 1970s rather than the 1960s and so decides to jump on the era's current bandwagon: rollerskating. Most fans switch off right then and there, especially given the slightly unsavoury fact that the song's first inspiration was daddy Brian wanting to join in with his daughters' parties (Carnie was nine when this album was made, while Wendy was eight). but the toughness of the backing actually makes this one work by making the passion and fire sound like true commitment and love rather than merely a date on skates. The lyrics are pretty fun too if you take them in a tongue-in-cheek way, seemingly parodying the Beach Boys' younger sillier selves: 'Well oh my oh gosh oh gee, she really sets chills inside of me' is a cute chorus line, while 'I go and get my skates on and catch up with her - we do it holding hands, it's co cold I go brrr!' is either the single greatest or single worst line in Beach Boys history. The use of synth is also impressive considering how new Brian was to all this, the elder Wilson swiping at the instrument for colour while adding a bass-synth warning note of doom underneath everything which works well against Carl's melodic guitar. Better yet, (nearly) everyone (no Dennis!) gets a chance to shine on this one: Carl's as cool yet passionate as ever, Mike grooves on a song so suited to his strengths, Al provides the sweet romantic tone and Brian's gruff vocal adds the slightly scary tag. Yes, ok, so it's a song about rollerskating so it's hardly 'Surf's Up' (and one of the few album tracks here without a 'Pet Sounds' equivalent), but at 2:18 this song doesn't last long enough to fool you with how frivolous it all is. Rather good fun.

'Mona' makes it three uptempo songs in a row, although it's easily the most Beach Boysy out of the opening trilogy. Sweetly retro, this song of innocent dating is a less irritating 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' or 'Disney Girls' sped up. Even the name 'Mona' is curiously 50s, used in a song by Bo Diddley and covered by the Rolling Stones a decade later (how come you never see any grown-up Monas these days?!) Dennis sounds great as he uses all his charm to try and get Mona to go out with him, serenading her with what every well-brought up teenager in the 1950s wanted: an eight o clock dinner, a nine o'clock movie (won't it be groovy?), her boyfriend's loving arms around her neck, a glass of wine...The pay-off line though, and the one that the songs built up to, is the last verse which is the make or break moment: 'Let me play Da Doo Ron Ron' gushes Dennis on Brian's behalf, 'How about 'Be My Baby?' I know you're gonna love Phil Spector!' You sense that even after two minutes of Dennis' best coo-ing if the girl says she hates him then she'll be out the door...The twist of course is that this song continues '15 Big Ones' attempt at re-creating the Spector style on modern instruments. There exists in the vaults (unheard until the 'Made In California' box set) an outtake from between these two albums of Brian working out how to re-arrange The Righteous Brothers' 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' for a cold and dispassionate synth. Brian never quite got that cover right, but you can hear the influence in this song which tries hard to re-create the same sense of scale and drama out of elements that are actually quite small and draping them with lots of echo and brass. The difference is, though, this isn't some burning epic romance played out on raw guitars bass and drums but on a heartless artificial synthesiser. Like the rest of the album this gives 'Mona' a slightly creepy vibe, even though on the surface the song itself couldn't be sweeter and sounds much like the 'childish' Brian longing to go back to a time when love meant movies and dating, not babies and responsibility. Not quite as original as the first two songs perhaps (the song needs an extra little something too with no real chorus or variation), but a much under-rated number nonetheless.

'Johnny Carson', though, is a perfect example of a Brian Wilson song that no one else would ever come up with. Many people have wondered why Brian felt the need to write about a second-tier (in 1977 anyway - he got bigger later though the song probably hurt his career rather than helped it!) chat show host: that The Beach Boys were trying to wangle some free appearances (which never happened - The Beach Boys did no TV for this album after doing quite a lot for '15 Big Ones'); that Brian was told to write something in a hurry while he had the TV on (possible); that Brian felt a sense of fellowship with the chat show host (unlikely - the only line that rings true is 'The network makes him break his back!'.  Actually the extrovert and pushy Carson with a quip for every occasion couldn't have been less like the 1977 model Brian, which leads me to my diagnosis: Johnny Carson was Brian's idea of a man who had it together and he wanted to be like. To put that in context, 1977 is the era of Brian's first meetings with his 'therapist/friend/blackmailer' Dr Eugene Landy. We haven't mentioned Landy much in this review so far because a) that's all the other 'Love You' reviews out there seem to talk about and b) his influence was pretty minimal this first time around - Marilyn sacked him after a few months when he started charging too much (he'll be back in the 1980s though in a big way). 'Johnny Carson' sounds like a typical Landy therapy practice: if you feel as if you haven't got your life together then pretend that you have and learn from people who have. Suddenly in Brian's brain Johnny Carson is perfect and free of all the troubles Wilson feels he has: he has a 'manly tone' (Brian was always a little embarrassed by his pure falsetto, though goodness knows anyone else would be proud to sing like that), he's oh so funny (Brian's autobiography, admittedly since disowned thanks to Landy's re-writing, includes several examples of him cracking jokes he thought were hilarious only to be told 'don't say that Brian, it's inappropriate'), he makes boring people look more interesting, he's a 'natural guy' and he's a 'real live wire' with the stamina to 'keep it up' that could 'make you cry' (Brian exhausted quickly, hence the bed). Brian, so shy, so awkward, so desperate to hide away from people in case they make him uncomfortable or upset him or confuse him, wants to be a chat show host who can deal with anything the network or the guests throw at him. Of course what the 1977 Brian doesn't know is that Carson struggled no end to get on television, starting off with a graveyard shift show that was quickly pulled. Reading a few interviews down the years he arguably only had his stuff together compared to Brian, not to most people and was far more nervous than he ever let on (a point people pick up on when they think Brian found a like-minded soul in Carson, which is kind of true for the 1966 Brian who was equally with-it in the studio but perhaps not the full story?; surely Brian would have gone with cheerful and friendly but rather bashful chat show host Dick Cavett if that was the case?) No, my take is that Brian genuinely admired Johnny Carson and considered him as 'outtasite' as he does in the song. It's the other Beach Boys who added the song's slightly tongue-in-cheek feel, with Mike especially having a whale of a time on the lead vocal. Quite unlike any other song ever written by anybody, this could easily have been awful but again the tension and aggression in the backing make it clear that this song is from the heart, not the funny-bone.

'Good Time' has almost nothing in common with the rest of this album. Brian recorded it in late 1969 as one of many rejected contributions to the band's first Warner Brothers album 'Sunflower'. It's rather a shock hearing The Beach Boys reverting back to their good humoured carefree sound, as performed on proper instruments and with Brian sounding a full seventy years younger than his 1977 model, not a mere seven. The song has never quite sounded as if it belongs here at this point in the album - but hear it out of context with the rest of the album (say, tacked onto the end of 'Sunflower') and it's one of the most charming things The Beach Boys ever did. Brian's narrator has several suitors and can't choose between them, but who cares - he doesn't want a commitment that will last forever, just a 'good time' for him and whichever girl he's with. Brian's childish glee comes to the fore as he offers us a nursery rhyme-like vocal full of slightly misogynistic lines: Betty is good looking and likes her cooking, while Penny is kind of skinny ('so she needs her falsies on', whatever Brian means by that - I don't want to know...) and can't cook but can dance the 'dirty boogie' like no other. Brian may have been reminded of his song by another early Landy 'therapy' rhyming session, matching people's names with simple words ('My friend Bob, he got a job!' is a much quoted phrase from this era): it's revival from the vaults may have been to 'prove' to Landy that Brian had been down this road before. The 1977 Brian's sole overdub to this recoding (a slightly proprietorial 'hey!' right at the end of the song) sounds like either a message to Landy or a shocked 'that wasn't bad!' from a man who once sounded every bit as confident and charismatic as Johnny Carson if not a little more. While, again, hardly in the major league of Beach Boys philosophical songs of depth and nuance, this cute little track more than deserves release on something and would have made the final line-up of every classic Beach Boys album up to the high-point of 'Sunflower' without question. Cute and clever, with an impressive backing track that combines simplicity (one chord most of the way through) and complexity (how the heck did Brian come up with that complex brass arrangement?!) and some sumptuous Beach Boys harmonies from the period when they were arguably at their peak, this is a good time indeed.

Which is probably just was well because 'Honkin' Down The Highway' is the first album track that doesn't really come off. Wanting to return to the innocence of the band's earlier records, Brian writes a 'car' song far blander than any of the filler material he came up with on 'Little Deuce Coupe'. While the melody is groovy enough and Al's happy-go-lucky narrator is well suited to the song's cheeky grin, the lyrics are poor even by this album's standards and tell us precious little except that the narrator wants to get home in a hurry and there are some cars in his way. What's more the melody and idea also sound a little bit like a 'steal' from The Beatles' 'When I Get Home', a song from 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964 9and an album we know The Beach Boys knew well - they performed two other songs from that record on 'Beach Boys Party!') The narrator's also a little pleased with himself compared to most other Beach Boy narrators of this period, telling us he's 'got a way with girls' which sounds like more Brian Wilson acting to me, while the 'Honk! Honk! Honkin' down the highway' chorus may well be the most tuneless moment in the Beach Boys' canon (released, anyway), with Brian and Dennis sounding downright ill. This is no 'Little Deuce Coupe' or 'Shut Down' or even a '409', just a song that rhymes 'money' with 'funny' and 'tight' and 'light' and thinks it can get away with it. Even a rocking backing track with more synth grit can't rescue this one, which is one of the biggest car-crashes on the album.

The biggest, however, is 'Ding Dang', 58 pointless seconds of your life you will never get back again. The song is so short I've just played it eleven times straight to write something for this paragraph and I'm definitely on the verge of a breakdown; after all it's not as if that minute is the most inventive thing The Beach Boys ever did anyway and features one couplet sung four times. What is it doing here? Well, it all relates to early days in the Landy therapy when Brian realised he couldn't take anymore and ran (some sources say screaming, others by stealth) out of the front door and down the road. Landy figured Brian didn't know anybody down the road and would be back in minutes but he was wrong; newly moved to the Californian neighbourhood was Byrd Jim/Roger McGuinn. Roger had long wanted to meet Brian but knew that the Beach Boy wasn't up to receiving visitors so kindly kept his distance. When he saw a shoeless Brian hobbling down the road, though, he went to help - after telling his new friend he was a fellow musician and he could stay at his house, Brian promptly asked for the drugs and sugar he wasn't 'allowed' at home and had probably the best evening of the entire second half of the 1970s while Landy fruitlessly searched for his patient to bring him home. Naturally the pair got to talking about music and Roger invited Brian to use his piano and play his favourite song. This being Brian in 1977, his favourite tune was 'Shortenin' Bread', which he would play for hours (The Beach Boys cut their own version of the traditional tune on 1979's 'LA Light Album'). However, Brian - his mind temporarily freed from his daily routine torture and enjoying a rare sugar/drug rush - got the inspiration for this song's daft words: 'I love my girl, I love her so madly, though I treat her so fine, she treats me so badly'. Roger felt the groove and joined in with the odd 'ding' and 'dang' here and there (Carl's wild counterpart to Brian's melody is almost certainly Roger's contribution - many of the late period Byrd tracks have the same jaunty country feel with wide open spaces between the notes). After an hour of this he got bored and as it was late told Brian he was going to bed and he was welcome to sleep wherever; legend has it for the rest of the night Brian was still singing the same verse over and over until the drugs and sugar finally wore off and he slumped back to a panicked Landy. Amazingly he still remembered this track the next morning despite the state he was in! To be honest the story behind 'Ding Dang' is way more interesting than actually listening to it, with both Mike's subdued vocal and Carl's slightly crazed backing suggesting that the rest of the band didn't like it much either. Brian still cites it as a favourite, though.

'Pet Sounds' spends its track-listing searching for a perfect romantic union in this world and fears that it can never be. 'Solar System', at the start of 'Beach Boys Love You' side two, has kind of realised perfection cannot be found - so Brian does the natural Beach Boys thing and spreads his search to the universe instead. 'Solar System' is one of the album highlights, a charming song that mixes Brian's good-natured childish humour with a lyric that finds new wonder and awe with information that, actually, most of us learnt long ago. It would take a heart of stone to begrudge Brian his chance to pass on his childhood hobby, though, and while you won't learn much astronomically here ('Saturn has rings all around it'), this is a good example of how profound Brian can be when he's keeping things simple ('Sunrise in the morn, it shined when you were born'). Through Brian's eyes the universe really doesn't look different, full of angels playing and a sense that however chaotic our lives seem down on Earth that there really is a plan, of sorts, for us up there in the cosmos if only we hang on long enough for it to work. This album's one true song of comfort, Brian puts his faith in the 'solar system' and wonders if there's life on Mars and whether he'll meet his wife there one day. The song's quirky melody is a good fit for the words, suggesting more time spent on matching the two than some of the other songs on this album, eager yet reflective. Brian's lead vocal is the best on the album (excepting outtake 'Good Time'), Brian enthusiasm enough to overcome the gruffness and lack of elasticity in his voice, while behind the massed choir of overdubbed Brians is truly out of this world. A true lost classic, quite unlike anything else in the Beach Boys catalogue.

Straight away we get the album's other biggest highlight 'The Night Was So Young'. This album's 'I'm Waiting For The Day' but, once again, better, this delightful yearning romantic song both praises and admits to being puzzled by a loved one. Like so many of Brian's heartfelt songs it's less about love than about companionship: he's tired of being alone in the house all day and is looking out on a perfect romantic night and wondering why he's spending it alone. Eventually the skies darken and the night grows old so Brian goes back to bed, his romantic longing unfulfilled, mad at his partner for not being as love with him as he is with her. The second half of the song then gets silly - at three o'clock Brian's narrator is drinking milk from the carton by the sink (which rhymes with 'think', inevitably) but does feature a lovely nod of the head to one of Brian's first love songs for Marilyn ('Kiss Me Baby' from 'Beach Boys Today'), wondering if she's as sad after their tiff as he is and suffering from the same heavy-hearted insomnia. Like many of Brian's best songs, though, what isn't said in the simple lyrics is told in the multi-dimensional music which is a return to the pocket symphonies of old, built on peaks and troughs and long hanging keyboard notes that are just longing to turn the corner and find their 'home' on a resolving chord. Despite being again played mainly on synthesisers, this song also has a real warmth and beauty that's nicely handled by Carl effectively duetting with himself on two very different voices (the 'crooner' vocal that will be heard more on 'Adult Child' and his rockier 'Darlin' style voice), while the mass Wilson choir (Brian, Carl and Dennis) is truly gorgeous. Though this is just a short 2:19 song with lots of repetition, it says just enough to hit you in the heartstrings and tell you everything you need to know about its creators big heart.

The Wilsons again take the lead for 'I'll Bet He's Nice', this album's angry 'I Know There's An Answer', with Dennis the optimist to Brian's pessimist and Carl wrapping things up in the middle eight. By now Brian's curiosity and jealousy have been piqued: just where is Marilyn all this time? (The answer, more than often than not, is that she's liaising with the other Beach Boys over Dr Landy's actions). Brian tries, for the first time in a while, to be grown up about things. He's assumed she has another lover and wishes his loved one a happy life with a man who can offer her things he never could and who is 'twice' as kind as he is. But his emotions are too raw and too powerful for him to simply leave the song at that so what most comes over most from this song is the hurt, with Dennis saying what Brian's 'mind' wants to say to be kind and Brian himself saying how broken his heart is. Though keen for an answer, Brian also admits he really doesn't want to hear if his suspicions are true and that he's still very very much in love with his wife. Melodically this song tries hard to be a typical Beach Boys pop song, but in one of the best uses of the synthesiser on the record this sweet little tune sounds prematurely aged and sad, uncomfortable and awkward even while it tries hard to be brave and supportive. Dennis, especially, seems to have been inspired by this song's clever mix of dynamics as his 'Pacific Ocean Blues' album from later in the year features many of the same tricks of trying to offer us hidden meanings and promising to look out for an ex. Perhaps too simple to be up to the best of the album, but this is another strong and overlooked song.

'Let's Put Our Hearts Together' tries the same trick in reverse, near enough. Brian pledges his love to his wife directly, with Marilyn making her one and only appearance on a Beach Boy album (though Brian sang her with her and sisters Diane and Barbara on the rare 'American Spring' album). Sadly this isn't the sort of duet where they sing together (their voices go together pretty well on 'American Spring') but one where husband and wife 'sing-talk' to each other a la Elton John and Kiki Dee. The sentiments are, like much of this album, sweet but rather forced and in context with the denser backing scarier than they're probably meant to be. What's more, this isn't the heartfelt tete a tete we've been waiting for since 'Pet Sounds' but the least autobiographical track on the album: 'I know you've had so much experience that you don't need another person in your life' coos Marilyn to a deeply inexperienced Brian. 'This may sound funny, but you're the kind of woman who would make a very sweet wife' replies Brian to his, erm, wife. More moving are the lines where Brian again sings about hurt when he's ignored or when he's urging his lover to let go of the hurt in her past 'and if they've never understood you', the implication being that Brian oh so does. By the end the song comes to the conclusion that, damaged and naive as both halves of the couple are, together they can 'cook up' anything between them, which is perhaps the single most 'Pet Sounds' moment on the album. This time Brian sings as if he means it, though and while Marilyn's not at her best it feels 'real' enough despite all the acting. However it's still slightly force and uncomfortable somehow with REM guitarist Peter Buck's otherwise glowing sleevenotes admitting 'It's so personal that it's hard to listen to'.

Talking of hard to listen to, 'I Wanna Pick You Up' scores big in two departments. First up, Dennis' rasp which even recently was a thing of beauty is now uncomfortably out-of-tune. Secondly, these lyrics take innocence to whole new levels even past 'Roller Skating Child' and maybe even 'Hey Little Tomboy'. Creepy Uncle Dennis is singing - we hope - to a newborn baby (though it's worth pointing out that none of the Beach Boys family had had any children for a while - is this an old song?) though more than one commentator has wondered if Dennis is getting kinky with a lover. No, we're going with the baby theory given that this is, like the rest of the album, primarily a Brian song with lines about washing a girl's face, change her clothes, shampoo her hair, 'wrestle' and, in tones that sound like a Godfather movie, 'then I'm gonna make you sing'. By the last verse baby girl is going to sleep, but not before Brian finds himself giving in to the urge to spank her bottom. It's that kind of a song on that kind of an album, easily misunderstood and downright peculiar while the slow tempo and melodic wobble don't help the creepyness factor at all. There are, however a few things going for this downright odd song. The first is that, despite tradition, Dennis and Brian both sing straight and the love in their voices can't be doubted, whoever it's intended for. As the last real time we'll get to hear Brian and Dennis together except in full Beach Boys choruses (Dennis wasn't around for much of 'Adult Child' or 'MIU' and Brian went to sleep for most albums thereafter up to Dennis' untimely death in 1983), it's a sweet way to say goodbye, with the eldest Wilsons both being true to their natural selves whilst being supportive of the other. The other great thing about this song is the slightly wobbly full band tag when baby finally gets to sleep and coaxes an outpouring of love and passion in the form of a lullaby that suggests that, yes, this song is a heartfelt song for a baby after all. I still wouldn't sing this song to your offspring in front of social services though, they might get the wrong idea.

You can say many things against 'Love You' but the only song that's bland rather than controversial or odd is 'Airplane'. Mainly a Mike Love song, it's a poor re-write of the then-still unreleased (deep breath) 'Loop De Loop Flip Flop Flyin' In An Aeroplane' from 1969 which lacks both the fun and the point of the earlier song. Mike is up in the sky, fifteen minutes away from landing, watching the people who look like dots. Plausibly Brian's co-write means he added the touch of autobiography in the lyric as the narrator rather nervously prepares to land and meet the loved ones waiting for him on the runway (with shades of his own nervous breakdown in December 1964). However if that's what The Beach Boys were aiming for, they let the moment run through their fingers: suddenly this songs reverts to being a typical 1960s Beach Boys song of being kissed by cute girls twinned with a typical 1970s Beach Boys verse about mysticism and passengers 'needing God' as their 'guide'. Things get worse with the irritating boogie woogie tag where Brian admits he 'can't wait' to see his girl's 'face' while Carl grooves alongside sounding like he's having a bit too much fun during the session. Though barely thirty seconds long, I'm not the first reviewer to point out how much this part of the song undoes even the slight good of the two minutes that came before, reducing a spiritual moment into yet another Beach Boys spin-off of the 'Boogie Woodie' instrumental from their second album. Far from giving this album wings, 'Airplane' is - with the exception of 'Ding Dang' and 'Honkin' Down The Highway' - the place where it crash-lands the most.

'Love Is A Woman' ends the album on a confusing note too. Judging by the lyrics Brian isn't quite sure what he means by that phrase: this is really a song about how we should all be kind to the girls in our lives, followed by a lot of patronising advice that probably won't please about 90% of The Beach Boys' fanbase. Brian sounds hoarse even by his standards while Mike's wooing really isn't working, though both come out of the song with more dignity than poor Al who gets lumbered with a truly terrible nursery rhyme middle eight ('1,2,3, she's fallen in love with me! 4,5, 6, She fell for all my tricks!') The trouble is, this typically childish passage belongs to a quite different song to the adult and grown-up one Brian thinks he's writing in his head. After all, the main sentiment about being kind and remembering to pay compliments instead of taking your loved one for granted is far more mature than any lyric Brian's written in a while, far more understanding of what it takes to please another person than his usual childishly (if understandably, given his illness) self-centred thoughts. The trouble is, randomly telling your loved one 'gee, you smell good - you don't normally!' and the rather vague advice to 'make her feel like a woman' is more likely to get you a slap than the undying love Brian's after here. Put it down to yet another example of this album having it's heart in the right place but clumsily getting things a bit wrong in execution. This is also a song that hasn't dated terribly well, with its right-on feminist intent that makes it more troubling to modern ears than 'California Girls' or 'Surfer Girl'. The slow tempo and heavy-handed synth also, yet again, make this song sound far creepier than it should.

Overall, then, it's hard to tell if The Beach Boys really do love us or hate us, as this is one of those albums that's often telling us two entirely different things at the same time. As we've seen, casual music fans assume this record is either a bad joke or evidence that The Beach Boys never were much good. Neither is true: Brian's trying his best and is trying to write as well as he can having a) barely tried to write anything at all in the past five years ('Holland' and '15 Big Ones' tend to feature old Brian songs re-worked by other writers) and b) having barely heard any music made by anyone else in a similar time. Brian doesn't know the world has moved on to 1977 standards and values - heck, he's barely made it out of bed in the last decade and retreated to an even earlier childhood of the 1950s when things were more black-and-white and people took less offense. Told to go back to crafting songs from the heart and about the way he sees the world, the band and record label alike were eager for that second 'Pet Sounds', but Brian is a different person to the man he was in 1966 and while this album features several similar emotional ingredients the two come out sounding very different. That's not necessarily a bad thing though: 'Love You' has a lot more heart and a lot less cloying string arrangements than its predecessor and even if the bare-bones songs aren't as good overall (albeit nothing here is quite as bland as the two instrumentals or as poor as 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?') 'Love You' feels more natural and poignant, to these ears at least. One thing most certainly isn't natural though: the Carl-written 'tribute' to Brian on the album's original inner sleeve is even more patronising than 'Love Is A Woman' and 'I Wanna Pick You Up' combined and isn't fooling anyone ('We wish to express and acknowledge your willingness to create and support totally the completion of these songs', which is undersigned by the same band who told Brian to write better and more natural songs *or else* and pushed him into making this album long before he was ready in the hope his name would sell more copies). Brian needed an assistant, here now more than ever. Instead he got The Beach Boys at their worst, full of infighting and booze. Perhaps the most 'lifelike' part of the whole enterprise is the accompanying picture which shows a rather shocked and scared and hyper Brian being kissed awkwardly by Marilyn at The Beach Boys' 'Sweet 16' party/concert in 1976 (Brian's big return to the stage - which he hated) and wishing he was anywhere but there. The pictures used on the other side of the booklet suggest it was a look Brian had on his face rather a lot in this period. It's still not as strange as the main album packaging though, which features the most hip digital trendy with-it cover of the entire Beach Boys run (a set of computer-generated lettering) and couldn't be less like the retro album inside. The design was by none other than Dean Torrence, Brian's old sparring partner from Jan and Dean who was trying to make a new living for himself a decade after the #1 Brian-written hit 'Sidewalk Surfin' and a guest appearance on 'Barbara Ann'. A very different period for both sides of the rivalry. Forget the packaging though and this album's reputation as a slightly silly, scatterbrained album: 'Love You' is, fittingly, all heart and was the very best Brian could do in the circumstances, better really (and certainly more consistent) than anyone had a right to expect. 'Love' is perhaps too strong a word, but I for one like 'Beach Boys Love You' a lot - and if you can look over a few clumsy mistakes you should too.

The current crop of Beach Boys articles at this site now looks like this:

'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

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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