Monday 8 September 2014

Belle and Sebastian "The Life Pursuit" (2006)

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Belle and Sebastian "The Life Pursuit" (2006)

Act Of The Apostle/Another Sunny Day/White Collar Boy/The Blues Are Still Blue/Dress Up In You/Sukie In The Graveyard/We Are The Sleepyheads/Song For Sunshine/Funny Little Frog/To Be Myself Completely/Act Of The Apostle II/For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea/Mornington Crescent

I have an interesting problem with this review, dear readers. You see, if you're a long-term Belle and Sebastian fan like me then 'The Life Pursuit' is all our worst nightmares coming true: the band that liked to say no to everyone who promised to turn them into stars has finally said 'yes' and so this is a watered down version of everything from the previous decade, with nothing here to match the brilliance of earlier years. And yet someone clearly liked this LP and attendant singles (The album charted at #8 and the single 'Funny Little Frog' charted at #13 in the UK, which if you've come to this record from the word-of-mouth early years when nothing charted or was expected to is the equivalent of Carlisle United coming 8th in the premier league, Marussia winning a grand prix or - desperate search on google for an American analogy later - the Arizona Cardinals winning the American Football NFL League). Given what a best-kept secret Belle and Sebastian are, were and will always be and how many copies this much publicised album sold this is the 'first' album for more fans than any other 'band' record and regarded rather fondly. To more modern fans this slightly impersonal, commercial synthesiser-flavoured sound is the default B and S sound and all those years with pianos and guitars and weedy voices were that were simply because the band couldn't afford any decent equipment yet, not because they decided to sound like everyone else. Of course 'The Life Pursuit' was well loved - it's a tremendously well recorded, well written and well performed album and to anyone who hadn't been lucky enough to experience Stuart Murdoch's songwriting genius at its best then it's still more inventive, more emotional, deeper and more intelligent album than almost anything else around in 2006 (as so often with the more modern records on this site, only Oasis can compare). Unfortunately, for old fans it has the effect of getting a freezing cold shower when you're expecting to languish in a nice warm bath. Admittedly cold showers are enjoyed by many and may well be better for you (many of the best AAA albums on our site are similar 'shocks to the system') but isn't really an experience you want to go back to in a hurry when you can just as easily listen to 'Tigermilk' all over again. As good an album as 'The Life Pursuit' is, as rewarding as it is on repeat playings when you've got used to the sudden switch in tone and style and feel, as tight and polished as the band performances are, it's not that good a Belle and Sebastian record in the sense that it doesn't offer much you can't get from elsewhere.

To be fair, that was probably the point. Belle and Sebastian never made that much money from the group (the B and S' website's question-and-answer section features a worrying aside about the band going in debt or considering taking out day-jobs to stay afloat) and with the loss of Isobel Campbell (to a solo career) and tiny record label Jeepster (to financial difficulties) this record and last were as good a time as any for re-invention. In the short-term the idea was successful too: by sounding vaguely like everything else around in 2006 with retro twinges rather than something that sounded vaguely like something from 1966 with contemporary twinges Belle and Sebastian got themselves a whole new audience who loved them. The band even started appearing on TV shows (losing their anonymity along the way), started doing the sort of things 'big' stars did (like performing the 'entire' second album 'If You're Feeling Sinister' which was most critics' favourite in concert) and went comparatively mainstream (well, they re-launched their website, which by B and S standards is the equivalent of appearing on the David Letterman show every week for a year). The band always had the potential to go mainstream and turn into a household name: Warner Brothers co-boss Seymour Stein knew that when he'd flown all the way from America to Glasgow to try to poach the band in the late 1990s. We said in our review of 'The Boy With The Arab Strap' album (which features a song based on that very incident) that the band were brave to say no and that no one else would have been tough enough to have turned down that big an offer with so much money attached to it. I'm still not sure whether the band turning about face some eight years later is a sacrilege of the highest proportion or an even braver thing to have done. In truth, it's probably both: no band can carry on the same way forever and B and S stayed as close and impersonal to their fans for as long as they possibly could (the jury is still out on whether any of this would have happened had Campbell stayed put during a frosty tour for soundtrack album 'Storytelling', the first album not to sound like traditional B and S), but hearing them turn their back even slightly on what they used to be is like an old friend you grew up with suddenly going to bed early and spending time with the kids rather than you: it's good for them, it makes perfect sense and you'd most likely do the same thing in their shoes, but it still hurts slightly that the band you thought were 'yours' and were never going to change is suddenly the property of much wider, impersonal world. We all have to grow up in our pursuit of life, but because Belle and Sebastian had the life we wanted to pursue (and secretly thought we could have) the end of that dream is somehow sadder than if the band had simply folded and called it a day.

In short this is the album we imagined 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' was going to be when we heard major producer Trevor Horn was getting involved (it is, in fact, a continuation of closing number 'Stay Loose' with its production trickery and cold-hearted feel than the earlier 11 songs). Now that we're a few years down the line it appears that 'Waitress' was the band's one last return to the paths they used to tread before they knew they couldn't do that anymore and even that album sounded like a fading memory of a distant past rather than a teenage-hood being lived in scary monochrome detail in front of our ears. Without the love story between Stuart 'Sebastian' Murdoch and Iso'Belle' Campbell which used to be the focal point of B and S, however couched that was in lyrics and disguised by characters, 'The Life Pursuit' is very much an attempt to go somewhere new without throwing away everything about the old B and S sound. Sadly, though, what comes over most about this record isn't the poetic lyrics or the emotional power of Murdoch's writing (with help from Stevie Jackson and Sarah Martin) but the oddball wackiness. Whereas all of us at least knew of (and many identified with) the school rebel thrown out of lessons for 'wanting to be remembered for your art' and you can just about still identify with the 'dear catastrophe waitress' filling in time until, the job they really want comes along, it's hard to get excited by the character who gets his washing mixed up in a launderette (who still goes to launderettes anyway?!), the office worker who has a lapse one day and finds himself chained to a sex-bomb all out rebel while on community service (fat chance - statistically most people doing community service seem to be politicians these days 'getting out' of a prison sentence) or the character who uses the put down 'you're a funny little frog' (the band weren't to know but the fact that the release of this album happened to co-incide with the mass lack of public taste that was 'Crazy Frog' didn't help matters one bit). The fact that it's this album that has a song named after someone else's piece of inventive whimsy that they might know ('Mornington Crescent', a made-up rule-less lawless variation on 'Monopoly' heard in Radio 4's 'anti-dote to panel games' 'I'm Sorry I haven't A Clue') rather than one of their own speaks volumes.

The band might have gotten away with it had they stuck with their normal sound, but fan and producer Tony Hoffer (best known for his work with Beck) has decided to give the band a very impersonal, professional feel which is kind of like what Trevor Horn did for the band on the last album but sadly without quite managing to keep any of the usual ramshackle charm. Interestingly Hoffer was enough of a band to approach them, so he clearly had a 'particular' sound for the band in mind and to be fair had Belle and Sebastian never made an earlier record it would have been fine: musically this is the tightest, best drilled the band had ever been - particularly the rhythm section of Richard Colburn and Bobby Kildea. The synthesisers which have been peeping behind the folk-rock of the first few albums  finally gets the chance to take centre stage and while oldy fans like me spend their time longing for guitar breaks and piano I have to say that B and S use synths better than most bands do: instead of replacing the band sound it acts as the cold, hard, unbreakable unfathomable 'system' that many of the album's characters bang their head against whilst making the occasional warm moments and 'victories' (such as the second 'Act Of The Apostles' when a transistor radio finally drowns out the world or when 'White Collar Boy' discovers how fun it is to break the law) sound all the warmer. Better yet the more polished harmonies really work across this album; ever since Isobel left the ratio of vocals between Stuart, Stevie and Sarah has been coming together nicely and the band never had or will have a blend this good: the sudden rush of vocals on 'Song For Sunshine' is pure Beach Boys whole the slight switch compared to usual (Stevie singing high and Stuart comparatively low) works nicely on 'The Blues Are Still Blue'. So why do I still find it so difficult to listen to this record?

Usually when musicians finally get it together after a nicely amateurish period (Wings' 'Band On The Run', the Grateful Dead's 'American Beauty', the Stones' 'Beggar Banquet') we're praising them to the hilt - and had this record been a one-off experiment no doubt we'd be praising that too. But unlike all the bands we follow on this site with the possible exception of the Dead, the whole point of B and S were the ragged edges; while every other band played loose and funky because they didn't yet know each other well enough to play tight and polished Belle and Sebastian have always been about the 'everyman'; they still spend most of their concerts inviting the audience up on stage a la The Plastic Ono Band, as if saying that 'we were like you once - and one day you could be us - but there's no real difference anyway, really'. Somehow by tightening up the sound that feeling of excitement that no one is quite in control of what is happening has been replaced by the feeling that 'the system' has won - that B and S now sound loosely the same as everyone else, albeit still funnier and more intelligent. It speaks volumes to me that two songs that stands out on first listening: 'Another Sunny Day', and 'Dress Up In You', two recordings that have no synths, a piano centre stage and even a pleasing trumpet solo from Mick Cooke (who sadly gets very little to do on this record). Not co-incidentally these two returns to the 'old' B and S sound deal with the 'old' B and S theme of the Murdoch-Campbell relationship - a bitter response to the increasingly catty lyrics Campbell has been passing Murdoch's way in her solo albums that, like 'You Make Me Forget My Dream's, are actually really nasty and tough-as-nails song dressed up to sound pretty and vulnerable.

My theory about why 'The Life Pursuit' ended up the way it did isn't simply because a new and commercially-minded producer got involved. Murdoch's songs in the past tended to centre on some sort of variation of himself and Campbell (i.e. nervy, reckless and gaffe-prone but sincere and lovable boys wondering why strong, rebellious, tough girls with a secretly needy streak spent their time with humble them) and so always sounded sincere and 'firsthand' when put into music. Murdoch doesn't play much of a role in 'Storytelling' (leaving Stevie and Sarah to take the lead) and manages to get through 'Waitress' by using up his last batch of 'Campbell' centred songs with a couple of songs that veer on parody of the 'old' sound (but with just enough heart to get away with it; for example see 'Lord Anthony' about a bullied messed up gay teen, which is just close enough to B and S territory to work and yet is also the sort of thing another band might conceivably might write; 'Lazy Line Painter Jane', on the other hand, about a girl wondering how to get an abortion and running amok Minnie the Minx style is a song no other band would have ever have dreamt up and/or observed so spot on). 'The Life Pursuit' is the most impersonal sounding Belle and Sebastian album because it features the most impersonal set of Murdoch songs for the band yet. Almost everyone on this album is a fictional 'character' (with the exception of 'Dress Up In You', which is the bitter song of betrayal 'I'm Waking Up To Us' part two) - by contrast every other B and S album (even the similar 'Write About Love' to come) has some sort of link to the heart rather than the head (thankfully Stuart is in love again by 2010 and has been able to place the Campbell years in context, which bodes well for the next B and S album; his future wife Marisa Privitera is the model on the right on the 'Life Pursuit' album sleeve). The cold impersonal synthesisers and rattling percussion used here seem almost like a smokescreen to draw our attention away from the lyrics (great as the vocals are across this album they're all mixed curiously low, but unlike similar effects on - say - 'Tigermilk' where this makes the listener metaphorically 'lean in' to hear what's going on the blaring synths make us lean away). As we've already said, a lot of fans who didn't know what came before like this - it is the 'default' sound for pretty much any band who started since around 1980 - and Murdoch's lyrics are still as clever as ever. It's just that there isn't that same level of emotional attachment as in the days of old and the backing somehow makes everything sound trivial and shallower as a result.
Intriguingly two of these songs were re-cut by the band in 2012 as part of the 'God Help The Girl' troupe (which is basically three female singers being backed by the band), suggesting that they really were written for 'characters' rather than B and S. Both 'Funny Little Frog' and 'Act Of The Apostle I' sound much more B and S style on that later record than they do when sung by the band and that project actually sounds more like what old fans might have been 'expecting' all round. Frog', particularly, sounds like Kasabian or Keane when done by the band and more like Norah Jones when done by 'God Help The Girl', complete with the strings conspicuously absent from the entire 'Life Pursuit' album. (To 'be themselves completely' B and S had to give their songs over to genuine teenage girls to sing Murdoch's words somehow seem to have more in common than with his increasingly middle-aged band. B and S are now at the 15 year age when other AAA bands had similar difficulties such as The Who spending entire concept albums in reply to their earlier taunt 'hope I die before I get old', The Rolling Stones raiding the vaults and their offspring's record collections to sound 'younger' on 'Some Girls' and The Kinks getting an all-girl troupe and acting out rock operas. In retrospect, hiring a younger bunch of singers and backing them might be about the best solution to the problem of aging any of our 30 AAA bands have yet come up with. The -regeneration' as a 'teenage band' is a particularly apt one for this of all bands. In case anyone missed the point in earlier reviews the fact that Murdoch became ill with me and confined to bed for seven years in his late teens probably had a lot to do with 'locking' him into this part in his life when his contemporaries were growing up, getting families and jobs and treating their teenage years as treasured memories; as a fellow sufferer I've certainly found that your past seems that much nearer when you have no future and not much of a present). It's almost as if the band have to 'act their age' in their present but can return to the past as often as they like with musicians the same age as most of their 'characters'.

While I'm still in this territory, the 'theme' of this album seems to be of a good thing gone bad. Assuming for the moment that these characters are still various everyman 'Belles' and 'Sebastians' its notable how many of them are jolted out of their comfortable lives by something unpredictable and devastating. Stationary-nicker 'White Collar Boy' (the most relentlessly 'modern' B and S song yet) is thrown into a world far from his understanding when he gets handcuffed to a female criminal who would 'kill you with a look', finding his pretty suit and neat hair getting ruffled up as they first escape and then bet up a policeman to get away. Interestingly, the narrator - usually sympathetic and understanding in these sorts of situations, eggs him on demanding 'she's a Venus in flares - why'd you want to split hairs?!' 'Another Sunny Day' is anything but - it's the day when the narrator knows, even if he doesn't act on it, that he is no longer in love - that he doesn't feel the same thing for his partner he used to when walking through old haunts, that 'a lie has crumbled apart'. The narrator of the two 'Acts Of The Apostles' is a teenager still at school, but one who has to grow up quickly, jarringly, telling us a stream of consciousness tale of mundane events happening in her life with the between-the-words writing that things are about to change, that her mother is dying and that most likely her days living where she is are numbered. Even by the end of the second part the narrator hasn't got used to the fact yet; so much so you half expect to hear a 'part 3' 'part 4' or 'part 5' hidden away at the end as a 'bonus track' in the same way the early B and S EPs tended to end with some unlisted extra. Even 'Sukie In The Graveyard' - the one character who sounds as if she comes from the same universe as earlier B and S songs about misunderstood rebels - grows up way too quickly for a B and S song, starting the song as a schoolgirl but ending up an adult in a lonely flat that somehow seems colder and damper than the graveyard backdrop of her wayward teenage years and having an affair with a married man which is never reciprocated. Looking at these lyrics back to back with those on 'Tigermilk' and 'Sinister' shows one major difference between 'then' and now'. The old days were more painful, with more confusion and more distractions but at least the characters were young enough to experience 'hope' as their primary feeling, with the narrator urging each of them to keep going because the next corner could hold the solution to all their problems. The 'new' days date from a time when the characters (or at least, perhaps, the writer) has already enjoyed everything he could dream of and more but finds that time in paradise has grown stale after spending so long searching for it and can no longer experience 'hope' the same way - because at best he'll simply end up back where he's already been once. The narrators in these songs almost sound like they're laughing at the poor pathetic characters who still long for life to be 'better' - the narrator has experienced 'better' already and would rather have the thrill of the 'pursuit', of the thought that life can be better just around the corner rather than recently in the past.

Overall, then, 'The Life Pursuit' doesn't come with a recommendation the same way that all other Belle and Sebastian albums come with our whole-hearted recommendation. The whole texture of this album seems 'off' somehow and the fact that so many of the songs seem cold-hearted and designed to keep the listener 'out' makes 'The Life Pursuit' the least cosy and least lovable of all of B and S' albums to date. However that's not to say it's a bad album, just an unusual one, as there are several touches of genius dropped casually across this record: the lyrics to 'Act Of The Apostle' are the closest yet to a short story rather than a song with Murdoch's typical observation for detail and straightforward depiction of a character going through a time in their life that's anything but straightforward; 'White Collar Boy' is a pretty good attempt at funk with a catchy chorus and an impressively 'tough' backing; 'The Blues Are Still Blue' is a laugh-out-loud funny (the first time, anyway) song that uses the metaphor of dirty laundry for all sorts of things; 'Dress Up In You' features a melody as rounded and gorgeous as any in Murdoch's long long list of rounded and gorgeous songs; 'Song For Sunshine' features a truly remarkable vocal work, with B and S using their harmonies to punctuate the backing instead of simply going along with it; 'Funny Little Frog' is a funny little song that no one else could possibly have made; 'To Be Myself Completely' is one of Stevie's loveliest songs and 'Mornington Crescent' a neat attempt at setting poetry to a laidback blues. All of these songs have something about them to recommend and of the others nothing here is truly bad. And yet none of these songs quite manages to get it together for a full song/recording: this consistency is the one thing that's been holding B and S back from the beginning (even the otherwise-perfect 'Tigermilk' contained the unremarkable 'Electric Renaissance') and yet now that they've cracked it the band seem to have lost all the 'excitement' from their records too. With the exception of 'Dress Up In You' there's a feeling that all the surprises have gone: that you know exactly where the next song is going to go because the last song kind of went there too. The fact that the two songs most fans of this album talk about are the two big singles which happen to be the two silliest novelty songs B and S ever made simply reinforces what a characterless album 'The Life Pursuit' is by B and S standards. Calling this the nadir of Belle and Sebastian's catalogue seems harsh: there's only eight records after all and even though the others are all better this isn't terrible by any means. Let's just call it an experiment that half-worked (bringing in lots of new fans, while making lots of older ones scratch their heads in confusion) and leave it at that. Or, to quote a line from 'White Collar Boy', 'Baby you're special - but you know you're not quite right'.

'Act Of The Apostle I' is probably my favourite track on the album s its the one that best mixes the B and S sounds of old and new. Stuart Murdoch has made no secret of the role Christianity plays in his life (he and Richard lived above a church and worked as its caretakers during the band's early years) but that theme rarely comes out in his songs. When the track listing for this album was first published fans assumed from the title that this would be Murdoch's first 'religious' song - but no, it's a typically Murdoch tale of a lost and confused girl trying to make sense of her life while  a religious studies teacher lectures in the background. Late for class and unable to take it in anyway, she falls asleep at her desk, dreaming of the Bible reading from 'The Act Of The Apostles' (the one where Simon, Peter and Paul discuss Jesus' resurrection after the fact) and imagining them as 'those crazy hippies' before singing 'Morning Has Broken' in the school choir in a croaky voice that 'slows everybody down'. The 'real' heart of the song beats in verse three where the choir master ('Usually a bastard') knows that 'her mother's sick' and 'lets her off': suddenly the backdrop of Bible stories of miracles and resurrections makes sense - her teacher couldn't have chosen a worse topic for her and instead of setting her free or soothing the un-named girl all the talk of religion and spirituality rings hollow because there are no miracles in her life - only in a story. The key line of this song is the bitter chorus 'Oh if I could make sense of it all!' and Murdoch and co cleverly replicate this feeling with the backing, which is unusually rhythm heavy for B and S and may well be drummer Richard Colburn's finest hour with the band, the clatter of heavy percussion see-sawing his way and that reflecting the schoolgirls' confused state of mind. The vocals are exquisite too: Murdoch excels at playing these sort of mixed up teenagers and his vocal is the best on the album, the sound of a trapped animal that doesn't know where to run. The harmonies behind him from Stevie and Sarah are also spot on, hinting at the religious fervour going on in the bible class but slightly removed and from a distance, as if it's something that happens to somebody else. The sheer change in sound and style is a shock to anyone whose come to this album in the correct order and takes some getting into, but the two 'Acts Of The Apostles' on this album are the two songs on this album worth making the effort for, the recordings where the slightly impersonal, hazy quality only adds to the sense of incomprehension and doom in the song's clever lyrics.

'Another Sunny Day' is a slightly more familiar sounding song with piano and guitar back centre-stage that, like many Murdoch songs of late, is a tale of love gone wrong (Isobel's split four years before is clearly still affecting him). Most 'Isobel' songs tend to be snapshots of nothing events in the pair's lives - this song is a memory of those random events, with the backdrop of each one changing between 'sunny' and 'rainy' with each verse (the hint being that this should have been a relationship built to last, able to weather all storms). Most of the lyrics are typically weird and about as unlikely for song lyrics as any in Murdoch's canon ('I heard the eskimos removed obstructions with tongues, dear') but again the truth of the song is 'hidden' away in the final verse. 'The lovin' is a mess, what happened to all the feeling? I thought it was for real - babies, rings and kneeling' sings a hurt Murdoch, shocked that his dreams haven't come true. We even get the most bitter lines yet about the pair's split: 'It was a lie - it crumbled apart', the narrator ending by finding himself haunted not only by 'ghosts of past' but 'present and future', imagining not only memories of what was but hopes of what might have been. That's a great premise for a song and in the context of ten decidedly non B and S sounding songs it's nice to hear, but somehow 'Another Sunny Day' never quite takes off. The melody isn't one of Murdoch's best and while Stevie's overdubbed collection of guitars is fun (there's even a boom-chicka Johnny Cash lilt to the solo) the backing sounds weedy and thin even by B and S' old standards. The vocals are also ducked ridiculously low so that you can't really make them out without the lyric sheet: perhaps that's the idea, with Murdoch reluctant to face facts that the lyric is true but equally unable not to write from the heart after so many years of being open and honest across at least the first four B and S albums. Still, another strong song overall, with the best songs on this album noticeably weighted towards the beginning and end.

'White Collar Boy' (a British term for 'professional office worker' even though most of them don't worry collars these days), however, is a step too far into the unknown. With a similar parping-frog synthesiser backing to 'Stay Loose' from the last album and a vocal best described as deranged, 'White Collar Boy' is a decidedly more 'grown up' song and character than most B and S creations. The un-named title character even has a job - which is a first for Murdoch's student-heavy creations - but isn't very good at it, getting sentenced to community service for the heinous crime of nicking stationary. Murdoch's imagination seems to get carried away next: as far as I know no one doing community service gets hand-cuffed and certainly not to pretty teenager tearaways and the result of the boy's downfall (sung to the descending motif 'You fell! You fell! You fell!' sung with what almost sounds like a cackle) seems more like something outrageous with 1950s twinges 10cc would write than the carefully observed songs of the B and S creator. Murdoch sticks in enough clever rhyming couplets ('You're banging rocks at the old city docks!' 'She belted the sarge and jumped on a barge'!) to show that he has a real knack for writing these kind of cartoon-strip songs and in some parallel universe is doing well as 10cc's fifth member. However there's not enough of the B and S traits to help us navigate all this: the synth heavy sound is unlike all but one song from B and S' past, Murdoch's strangulated vocal is truly unique and the quickstepping lyrics are far removed from the laidback poetry of normal. What's even more odd after studying the lyrics (relatively) properly is the fact that the white collar boy gets no resolution or understanding from his predicament - something that practically every other Murdoch character receives at the end, even if it's only in something the narrator says to us about their future. Instead Murdoch seems to be delighting in his character's ruffled social standing and appearance ('White collar boy you get dirt in your pants, you got egg in your hair, you got spit on your chin'). It's worth noting, too, that this is the first time a B and S male character experiences life with a tough, feisty heroine and comes off decidedly worse with no chance of understanding or forgiveness (again there might well be something of Isobel Campbell in this song, although if that's the case then it's odd that Murdoch's latest 'Sebastian' character is a white collar boy of some repute and falling hard, rather than another mixed up student with a troubled background). The result is a good idea that's taken a bit too far, with at least one too many unusual things here for fans to adjust to. Released as the third single from the album 'White Collar Boy' peaked at a lowly #45 - the band's lowest since 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' nine years earlier and perhaps a sign that even fans who loved this 'new' sound didn't quite know what to make of this song, which starts off  as a joke and ends on a surprisingly note, the not-much-of-a-criminal-really being dragged along to his doom with no articulated cry except the rather lame chorus 'you're a pain, a pain, a pain, a pain!' The hint is that the white collar boy deserves his fall, which flies in the face of everything Murdoch's big heart has offered to fans till now.

'The Blues Are Still Blue' is equally odd but somehow more palatable and reached a respectable #25 in the UK singles chart. The synths are relegated to the solo break this time but the backing is noticeably heavier and punchier than usual, with some criss-crossing guitars and Murdoch's double-tracked vocals again sounding like a tough guy rather than B and S' usually likeable nerd. The character in the song is the usual kind of B and S creation ('He dances in secret, he's a part-time lifting, just drifting') but this time around the narrator sound omniscient, removed from the scene and commenting on events with a chuckle rather than crying big tears over the dead ends and hopelessness of growing up. The part of the song that everyone remembers is the latest tragedy in the young lad's life: no matter how he sorts his washing down at the launderettes everything will swap colours except his blue-coloured clothes (which colour everything). For those who don't want to hear songs about laundry, you could also see this as a clever metaphor for the boy's conflicting emotions and the idea that no matter his emotions feeling 'blue' is the one that outweighs them all, although Murdoch doesn't exactly go out of his way to emphasis this over the course of the song. The backing is the most 1950s yet, charging along with a real Chuck Berry style drive (most B and S songs tend to sound mid-1960s rather than 1950s, so this is also a change) and another great fiery guitar solo from Jackson who also adds some clever harmony work along with Sarah. The catchiest song on the album by some margin, you can see why this song did so well as a single, but it undoubtedly worked better as a one-off cheery song heard on the radio rather than in the context of this album where it doesn't feel like it quite fits; a clever catchy delightfully silly novelty song, but a novelty song nonetheless in contrast to B and S' usual depth.

'Dress Up In You' is the most recognisably B and S song here and features one of those oh so gorgeous Murdoch melodies conspicuous by their absence on the rest of this album. Murdoch even plays the simple piano riff like the days of old and sings in his 'old' vulnerable voice. The musical highlight is the long awaited return of Mick Cooke on the trumpet, whose solo is one of his best - tender and sincere, filled with longing and heartbreak. To date its the last return to this style, possibly because its the ultimate 'goodbye' song to the 'first' B and S era and characters.  This latest song about the years with Isobel is deeply personal and cuts a layer deeper than anything else on this album: it even starts with the line 'I'm the singer in a band' just to make sure we know it's about 'him; rather than a character. However this is a surprisingly bitter set of lyrics even for the end of a relationship - while understandable, it's uncomfortable for fans who've lived through the 'good years' to hear one of the 20th century's greatest muses reduced to the put-down: 'You got lucky, you ain't' talking to me now, little miss Plucky'. Murdoch even turns on his old partner's acting conceits (as seen in many B and S videos) by saying 'you couldn't act your way out of a paper bag!' which seems a bit harsh (Campbell is a good actress) but then these songs shouldn't be taken literally - this is more a big bag of unprocessed hurt and lashing out than a carefully constructed song. Murdoch often writes about heartbreak but the lines in the middle of this song are some of his most moving yet: 'We had a deal there, we nearly signed it with our blood' he sings, wounded, before adding 'I thought that you would keep your word, I'm disappointed, aggravated'. Only the line 'I always loved you - you had a lot of style' comes anywhere close to recognising just how important both halves of the story were for each other - and even this seems a backward compliment (there was way more to Campbell than mere 'style' as listening to almost any earlier B and S song will tell you). Reduced to swearing to get his point across, he talks about how 'shocked; everyone is at his normally placid self using such language before adding 'they're hypocrites - so fuck them too!', a line that couldn't sound more wrong when heard against such a gorgeous melody line. Like many of Murdoch's finest songs it's a real lesson in contrasts, with one of his most beautiful melodies attached to his bitterest set of lyrics (see EP track 'You Make Me Forget My Dreams', a song of cold blooded murder accompanied by one of the loveliest melodies ever written). However this song is so bitter and nasty that even a melody that pretty can't dilute this song enough to taste: while I fully understand where this song was coming from (Campbell wasn't exactly shy in coming forward with her own opinions of Murdoch on the two 'Gentle Waves' albums released before this) this isn't some distant relationship we fans never involved with - it was played out before our eyes and ears, almost always with love, across a ten year period and it's so sad to hear it end this way. Returning to the old sound one last time in order to bid a less than fond farewell is a mighty clever idea on paper - but on record it somehow makes it worse, like two of your favourite people falling out and disappearing from your life forever, with the listener trapped in the middle wondering where on earth something so right could have gone so wrong. 

'Sukie In The Graveyard' is perhaps the album's weakest song. Pretty much all of Murdoch's characters have had emotional problems but describing a full-blown goth who likes hanging around spooky places seems like too obvious a step somehow. Like Lisa before her, the only thing Sukie likes about school is art and the fact that she can express all those feelings never understood by anyone else but the song turns ugly after her parents kick her out of her childhood home and she ends up 'in a bijou flat with the fraternity cat', reduced to modelling nude for art classes and leaning against the wall of the college canteen for warmth (modelling and art have appeared in so many Murdoch songs to date that you wonder if Campbell experienced these things for real). Like most of this album, though, this time there's no happy ending and indeed no 'hope': Sukie ends it as trapped as she ever was, described as a 'kid' but coping with very adult feelings of loneliness, despair and controlling boys for sex (again a rather less than innocent take on the sort of character who always used to be praised in previous Murdoch songs). Again the key line of the song is hidden at the end: 'The shadows played tricks on the girl in the dark' - with the narrator not necessarily on Sukie's side as per usual and almost dismissing her out of hand for trying too hard to cause trouble and want attention (compare with the likes of similar songs 'Expectations' and 'She's Losing It' and the differences are huge: Sukie has caused her own unhappiness, rather than having it created for her by misunderstanding mean-spirited others). Changing the progression in the song we all expect is a clever idea - and yet it doesn't really work. The synth and drum heavy backing isn't just a new backdrop but simply a noise, without any of the subtleties of old and Murdoch's latest deranged vocal  suits him even less than 'White Collar Boy'. A song with this many lines and clever rhymes needs to be heard properly, but instead everything is garbled, as if to get it out the way and dismiss 'Sukie' (and by relation all Murdoch's similarly lost teenage characters) out of hand. She deserved better and an earlier, happier Murdoch would have given that to her.

'We Are The Sleepyheads' is a slight improvement and if I've got my interpretation right (caveat: I might not) might well be the most revealing song on the album. We've already mentioned that Murdoch 'became' a songwriter after being trapped to bed for seven years, with the world passing by outside a room he could never leave. With this song he seems to be returning to the scene, his meeting with Campbell and his early experiences with Belle and Sebastian. 'Tired like the beggar with the cold in his bones' is a spot-on analogy of me/chronic fatigue syndrome, while the next line 'looking for the pleasure that was so far gone' is a pretty fitting analogy of the mental aspect of loneliness and alienation that comes with the illness. Without Campbell in his life and the whole point of Belle and Sebastian seemingly over unless they can re-invent themselves, Murdoch must have been naturally reminded of this other dark period in his life. As a result this is another bittersweet song, reflecting on happier times discussing the bible over 'tea and gin' and the solidarity of being 'in a town so long you may as well be dead'. However this nice idea for a song never quite takes off: there's a curious 'badapbadappabadappabadappabadun' scat vocal ' from Sarah that keeps cropping up throughout and disrupting the song, while the backing is one of the loopiest on the album: drummer Richard sounds as if he's suffering from ADHD and Stevie's guitar solo is caught somewhere between prog rock and punk - the sort of full, heavy sound David Gilmour gets on his guitar, but played in short stabbing blasts like the Sex Pistols. The result is a song that yet again seems to be forever mis-directing us, with all that 'ta-daah!' production getting in the way of what should by rights have been another typically sweet understated B and S song about observation and human relationships. A missed opportunity.

'Song For Sunshine' is one of the album highlights, though, another song where the production actually works for rather than against the song. Stevie and Stuart sing in tandem throughout - something I wish they would do more of, they have such a strong blend - with Sarah joining in for the choruses. While musically the song is still dominated by drums 'n' synths this fits for once, on a song where the verses are as despondent as anything Murdoch has ever written ('Honeyed sweet apples, they're rotting away!' is the opening line) but the choruses (with those harmonies accompanied by 'old style' B and S piano) really does sound like the sun coming out to wash all that impersonal cold world away. The weather is often a part of B and S songs, but usually as an extra detail that often sits at odds to the actual song content (perhaps because it's always raining in Glasgow whether happy or sad - only Carlisle can compete in terms of daily rainfall). This is, to date, the only time the weather is the whole point of a Murdoch song: that no matter how hopeless life seems the sun can shine out of nowhere (although the chorus adds another layer of meaning on top: 'Sunshine, we all see the same sky, looking, learning, asking the same why' - hinting that the figure  'Belle' has been replaced by any curious B and S fan and maybe even Stuart's future wife Marisa, who I'll try and resist from calling 'Belle II' because we're in danger of making something great sound like a bad Disney sequel). There's a terrific middle eight here - not something we've had on many songs on this album so far - one where 'The wheel of fortune spins, but the wheels on fire come crashing down on you', accompanied by a terrific counter melody that, despite the sad words, sounds like the verse melody sung in reverse, reaching up in hope for the sky rather than the ground. There might be less words here than on any of this album's other songs, but they say a lot and together with a catchy synthesiser part (which might well be Chris Geddes' greatest moment in the band) and some of the best harmony work of any B and S recording they make for the second (or is that third if the two Apostles are treated separately?) album highlight.

'Funny Little Frog' is the best known song on the album - Belle and Sebastian's only top 20 single to date, no less - and is certainly a more palatable mixture of the old and new B and S sounds than most tracks on this album. Murdoch sings 'straight' here without any of the tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic voices of some of this album (accompanied by another terrific Stevie Jackson harmony part) and is back to writing some great self-deprecating lines again ('You're my girl and you don't even know it, I am living out the life of a poet'). There's even a fan-pleasing reference back to the very B and S song that started it all along with the best lines yet about how B and S couldn't be further from your traditional rock stars ('My eyesight's fading, my ears are dim, I can't get insured for 'The State I Am In'). Best of all, the B and S love story seems to be back on the cards and is again a source of joy and confidence: 'Honey, loving you is the greatest thing - I get to be myself and I get to sing'. However the song slowly unravels again to the point where it becomes yet more Campbell-baiting: after the first verse's declaration of love the girl who is everything to the narrator is reduced to a 'funny little frog in the throat' that prevents him from singing and - in a shock revelation - in the last verse - doesn't exist in the 'real world' anyway ('You are the cover of my magazine', this revelation following lines about a 'one-sided conversation' and how 'I don't dare to think of you in a physical way'). Was this song started back in the 'old days' and finished post-split? (note the line about placing what we later find out is a magazine in front of a 'ghost that was there before you came'). Or is it a comment on how the only way Stuart can have her in his life is by staring at her picture on a magazine? (In this context the lines about getting older, going deaf and short-sighted while she peers back at him, younger glossier than she's ever looked, is inordinately sad, as if putting a wedge between them that can never be overcome). The result is a song that rather trips us up - the old B and S love story turned on his head to the point where it's a sad song about a narrator whose so heartbroken he's taken to inventing soul-mates to get through a bad time, the song ending on a sudden mournful shift to a minor key on the line 'Maybe I'll tell you about it someday...'. Still, I'd rather than a song that 'sounded' like the old B and S than some of the experiments on this album and if that means having a twist like this every song then so be it. Stuart Murdoch says on the B and S website's question and answers slot that he's 'gone off' this song - that's a shame because it's one of his best, certainly from this period and seems more like the direction B and S should have been going in than almost anything else here (instead next album 'Write About Love' is more like 'White Collar Boy', unfortunately). The fact that probably more people own a copy of this than any other B and S song (on both single and album) is a testament into how well this recording straddles the innocence and joy of the old band with the commercialism of the new. Funny Little Frog' is a funny little song but its well loved for a reason - it's catchy and heartfelt and yet still manages to be 'honest' about the 'love story' in the band even if that means a painful twist at the end. The only thing that doesn't quite work is the title phrase of a 'frog in the throat' which might have been better left as part of another song. Still, another album highlight.

'To Be Myself Completely' is the one song on the album not written by Stuart but by Stevie and is another of his charming 1960s pop concoctions. Like many a B and S lyric recently this is another difficult goodbye, with Stevie's narrator admitting that a full relationship should be based on honesty but that because of his character 'to be myself completely means I have to let you down'. There is a string part at long last and some more terrific harmony work (especially Stuart's counter-melody which winds itself round Jackson's, sometime singing with and sometime in competition with Jackson's own Beatley lead) which makes this song sound more like B and S than most things on the album. There's even a typically B and S postmodern dropping of the fourth wall, telling us that recently 'I toured the land, you could call it work if you count the band'. However like many of Jackson's songs there's something missing from this simple and straightforward song to make it 'great' rather than simply 'good' - at just one verse and one chorus (with a few repeats) this is more of a snack than a meal and - unusually for a song written by a guitarist - no space for an instrumental break or solo. Still, I wish all filler could be this pretty or be played this well.

'Act Of The Apostles II' sounds like it should be right at the end of the album, as a final 'goodbye' to B and S' usual characters. The song even starts with a cheeky quote from 'A Century Of Fakers' (a track on one of B and S' first EPs) before Murdoch picks up the tale of the confused teen with the dying parent whose bunked off school for a walk down a country lane she probably won't ever see again. Alas Murdoch decides to reinvent this song as a 'rat pack crooner' song which takes away a lot of the character and sympathy in the song. If only part II had been treated like part I because the lyrics are as strong as ever, clearly set after the first song with the troubled teen having set off on her own for the city. This time around she's been nominated for a prize she doesn't care about (she was only showing off her talent to get attention, not because she's interested), 'tunes out' her parents by turning up her headphones and longing to join a church choir like the one she used to know in her school days (she thinks she's found one but its only some workmen playing the radio). The song's best line: after going all that way to set off on her own and leave the world behind 'God was asleep, he was back in her village, in the fields' and not in the city she fled to to be alone after all. The only thing to link the two songs is the chorus ('Oh! If I could make sense of it all!') Like Act I, this track makes more sense if you see it as a separate play rather than as part of the album or the B and S story - as its use in the 'God Help The Girl' spin-off project makes clear, one that makes the link between religion and community even clearer and features the character truly growing up, reaching out to others for help and returning home rather than running away. It would have made a fine end to an album all about trying to grow up and do the decent thing, although it would have been better still if it had been treated in the same way rather than as a cod-crooning experience.

Instead there are two more tracks to go, including 'For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea'. This song sounds like an outtake from 'Catastrophe' - it has the same bright shiny pop chorus, mammoth production (with Sarah back on recorder at long last!) and not a lot else really. By Murdoch's standards this is a one-layered song, that gets dangerously close to Ray Davies' love songs for tea, explaining all the other things you could get for the same price that aren't anywhere near as good (although frankly the tea-shop is charging too much if their tea really does cost the same as a new 7" vinyl single or - alarmingly - a 'line of coke'. Of course, what it's really saying is that it's the conversation that takes place over the said tea that's invaluable and belatedly inspired the sympathetic Murdoch narrator of 'old' ('That was people that she knew, or thought that she did - go easy on the kid!') Murdoch's first novel/memoir/monologue/diary entry/whatever the hell it is was named 'Celestial Cafe' and like this song was a reflection of random thoughts and ideas shared with the reader as if meeting up for a simple drink like this one. In that context is this song - which dates from four years before that book's publication - about the listener and Murdoch trying to engage with them again after the loss of Campbell meant he lost their 'everywoman' figure? Bouncy, joyful, catchy but not all that important, 'For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea' is more catchy filler and while welcome seems like an odd addition to an album that was once considered a double, the band had so much material for it (most of which will end up as copious B sides on B and S' typically generous singles).

The album then ends with 'Mornington Crescent', a fictional song about a fictional romance taking place in perhaps the best known fictional town (it 'fits' that Murdoch is a fan of 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' what with his love of wordplay and sly humour and all, although I'm still waiting for a song featuring a list of entries to a ball held by one boy and his dog). By being so obviously 'unreal', Murdoch has finally freed himself of the need to be 'honest' in his work and conjures up a world that's at least as well drawn and chaotic as the 'real' world, passing 'Men in bowler hats, kids in their spatz, ladies with chauffeurs and dogs wearing hats'. Along the way there's a 'camp' camp parade, an affair with a 'Senagalese rich arbitrator' (!) and a final verse that suggests that the Belle and Sebastian story might be over for good ('I had a good time, but life became fruitless'). The effect here, is as if Murdoch has returned to the 'real world' after some big adventure that lasted the whole of the band's career and has no taken his place in society once more with the benefit of knowing who he 'is' - something he clearly didn't when he first started the band - although typically Murdoch is far too hard on himself with his description ('Next to the broker the nurse and the drunk I was a joker, the wannabe punk that got lucky'). We're clearly at the 'end of the road' as it were (give or take a reunion album) just as 'Mornington Crescent' is always shouted to finish off the game, the last destination on a fictional map shared between friends full of in-jokes and made up rules. It's a fitting way to end and even though this song might have benefitted from returning to the B and S sound one last time the band play well here on a slow blues that unfurls the way an umbrella does in bad weather or the steam from a cup of tea unfurls into the sky. While 'Mornington Crescent' is about as un-B and S like as you can get it's still a fitting end, the film school equivalent of the pan back from a story we've been following into the sky, revealing all sorts of other stories taking place until the camera gets further and further back into the sky revealing that this isn't just one story but all our stories and that there really is no end (as a band partly made up of film studies students it could be that B and S planned it as this, or am I simply getting carried away here?) A fitting end, then, even with an encore to come...

Overall, then, maybe I've been a bit too hard on an album that had an awful lot of things to work against: after an album of delaying the issue Murdoch had to approach the loss of Campbell and what that meant to the band story head-on and as a result the band sound had to change as well to keep the same 'honesty' the band always had while appealing to the 'new' paymasters and increasingly need for band funds (the band might have known this would be their last project for a while - four years as it turns out). What's odd is how often the band mess up their new sound: 'White Collar Boy' and 'Sukie In The Graveyard' especially seem like blaring 'nos', odd considering how well the band had done to combine their 'old' sound and 'new' sound across almost all of 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress'. However when this album gets it right it shows why Belle and Sebastian are one of the most loved acts of the 1990s and 2000s: 'Act Of The Apostle I' 'Song For Sunshine' 'Funny Little Frog' and in context 'Mornington Crescent' are all top notch songs and while four songs out of 13 is bad odds by Belle and Sebastian standards the rest isn't that bad - it's just slightly off and takes so much getting used to without necessarily being better than you wonder why they bothered, like a friend's new haircut or a new flavour of coca-cola. There's still just enough of our 'old' friend there to make the effort of adjusting worthwhile, however and even if this is the worst record by Belle and Sebastian it's still a pretty good worst record to have.

A Now Complete Link Of Belle and Sebastian Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:
‘Fold Your Hands, Child, You Walk Like A Peasant’ (2001)
'Storytelling' (2002)

'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (EP compilation 2003)

'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' (2004)
'The Life Pursuit' (2006)

'Write About Love' (2010)
'God Help The Girl' (Stuart Murdoch Film) (2014)
Girls In Peace Time Just Want To Dance (2015)

Belle and Sebastian: Existing TV Clips
Belle and Sebastian: 12 Unreleased Songs
Belle and Sebastian: Non-Album Songs
Belle and Sebastian: Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums
Essay: B and S Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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

1) Beach Boys - Advertising Horde by Alan Pattinson

Buy Our AAA Guide To The Beach Boys By Clicking Here!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus the following songs by Dennis Wilson and Brian Wilson: 

Dennis Wilson Non-Album Recordings 1977-78

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'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