Summer Days by The Beach Boys

January 31, 2009

I have always thought that the Beach Boys albums, Today and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!), should have been released in reverse order. Beach Boys Today! is a much more mature album and sets the foundation for Pet Sounds while Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) is in many ways a follow up to All Summer Long. Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) is Brain Wilson’s swan song to his early Beach Boy roots. While he continued to experiment and develop the Beach Boy sound the songs are simpler for the most part and the themes of love, having fun, and girls are elementary.

The foundations of Summer Days are two of the best loved Beach Boys hit singles. “California Girls,” with its almost classical introduction before it hits its stride as a mid-tempo pure pop song is two and a half minutes of pure joy. Mike Love’s lead vocal is not as nasal as usual and perfectly leads the listener along on this ode to girls everywhere. “California Girls” remains one of the quintessential Beach Boys songs.

“Help Me Rhonda” with a lead vocal by Al Jardine, is a simpler song but would give the Beach Boys the second number one single of their career. This song made its first appearance on Beach Boys Today! as “Help Me Ronda”. The transformation is remarkable as the sound is crisper and the songs vocals are now completely layered. It provides a good example of how a song could evolve when Brian Wilson concentrated on it.

“The Girl From New York City,” “Amusement Parks USA” and “Salt Lake City” are all similar up-tempo rockers with typical layered harmonies. While there is nothing extraordinary about any of them, they do provide a pleasant base upon which the album is built. “The Girl from New York City” is an answer song to the Ad-Libs hit “The Boy From New York City.” “Amusement Parks USA” takes an all American summer past time and turns it into a rousing tribute. “Salt Lake City” is just as the title implies. It is a song about a city.

Other songs of note include “Girl Don’t Tell Me” with the first lead vocal by Carl Wilson which is remarkable given the number of songs that the Beach Boys had produced up to this point. “Then I Kissed Her” is a stripped down tribute to Phil Specter and his wall of sound that exerted such influence upon Brian Wilson. “I’m Bugged At My Old Man” may seem like a goofy throw-away song but given the relationship between Brian Wilson and his father there is some bite in this satire.

“Summer Means New Love” is an unusual instrumental for the group. It is far from their surf roots. It has a symphonic feel that plays on a simple theme yet is layered with varied instrumental sounds. It is a delicate and beautiful creation.

Summer Days concludes with the beautiful a Capella song “And Your Dream Comes True.” The Beach Boys voices always sounded so pure when they were presented without instrumental backing. This wistful ballad is a fitting conclusion to the simple and in many ways spectacular early Beach Boys career.

Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) is not the masterful album of Beach Boys Today, Pet Sounds, or even All Summer Long. What it remains is a pleasurable listening experience. Sometimes that is more than enough.

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Today by The Beach Boys

January 31, 2009

Brian Wilson announced at the end of 1964 that he would no longer be a touring member of the Beach Boys. He would remain home and devote all his time and energy to the recording process and the production of their albums.

This decision by Brian Wilson would result in the creation of some of the best and enduring pop music of the 1960s and of all time. This decision would also cause the first split in the group. The fact that Brian Wilson was not performing with the rest of the group meant that his position as the leader on stage would be assumed by Mike Love. Many of songs Wilson sang would be eliminated from the stage act and replaced by songs sung by Mike Love.

Mike Love would assume the position as front man for the Beach Boys on stage, a position that he would not easily give up. Glen Campbell would be a concert replacement for a short time. Finally, long-time California surf musician and former member of the Rip Chords, Bruce Johnston, would be a permanent replacement both live and in concert. Over time, some of the Brain Wilson’s vocals would be re-arranged for other members of the group but the power, at least on the road, had shifted.

In the studio, however, Brian Wilson was king. He would take the lessons learned from the past two years and eight albums and turn his coalescing musical vision toward the future. He would lay down instrumental tracks with studio musicians and then have the other member of the group add the vocals and their own instrumental contributions. He would finish the process by combining all the recorded parts into the whole that he had envisioned beforehand.The first Beach Boys album to be completed under this new system was The Beach Boys Today! History would prove that the road to Pet Sounds was paved by this release.  

Today! is divided into a fast rocking first side and a slow ballad second side. This was more clearly apparent on the original vinyl LP release when you actually had two different sides.

Side one is an uplifting listening experience. Three hit singles and a future classic in progress form the foundation for the first half of The Beach Boys Today! Dennis Wilson sings lead on the old Bobby Freeman hit “Do You Wanna Dance.” His voice is surrounded by layer upon layer of vocal harmonies. It was a culmination of the layered vocal technique that Brian Wilson had perfected. “Dance Dance Dance” is a successful song of celebration that actually makes you want to get up out of your chair and dance along.

“When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” is a personal song about aging hidden within an upbeat tempo and harmonies. The aging process would not be as positive for Brian Wilson as envisioned here. “Help Me Ronda” (no “H” yet) is not the single version of a few months later. It would show how a song could evolve under Brain Wilson’s care.  

Side two is comprised of five ballads and the increasingly annoying “in the studio” track. It is this suite of songs that sets the tone and texture for Pet Sounds. The songs flow from “Please Let Me Wonder” to “She Knows Me Too Well” to “In The Back Of My Mind.” The increasingly complicated vocal textures and sophisticated instrumental combinations show Brian Wilson embarking on a musical journey that few artists could ever envision.The Beach Boys Today! is a mature, creative album yet remains engaging at the same time. This album has held up well over the years and is required listening for any Beach Boys fan.


Beach Boys Concert by The Beach Boys

January 31, 2009

“Now from Hawthorne, California, with a gala concert and a recording session the fabulous Beach Boys.” Those words launched the Beach Boys into there first live concert recording which would result in a Number One album.

I have always thought it a bit odd that Beach Boys Concert would not only be the Beach Boys first Number One album but would be their only Number One album issued in the 1960s. Not one of their critically acclaimed and marvelously constructed studio album releases would attain that level. Brian Wilson, would of course, tinker with the album. He would speed a song up here and add or subtract some crowd noise there and re-work some vocals in the studio but when all was said and done Beach Boys Concert would present a fairly good representation of a Beach Boys live performance in the mid 1960s. 

Listening to the Beach Boys Concert album today I find that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. I found myself criticizing many of the individual songs but when I listened to the album from beginning to end it was still enjoyable.

This concert recording contains a lot of cover songs. Later notes concerning this concert show that not all the songs from that evening were included. Some of the hits were left out so as not to have an album of all repeat songs.

“Fun Fun Fun” is always a good way to start a Beach Boys concert. Carl Wilson’s opening guitar solo is infectious and the upbeat tempo gets the crown rocking and involved. The hits “I Get Around” and “Little Deuce Coupe” are competent but not outstanding. They show an ongoing problem for the Beach Boys live as there are only five voices available which is different from the studio versions of layer upon layer of overdubbed harmonies. “In My Room” features an excellent lead vocal by Brian with effective harmonies in support. I have always found it amusing that when the Beach Boys hit the first few notes of this song you can here several audience members yell “Surfer Girl” which has a similar beginning.

The best of the cover song is “Graduation Day.” This song has always been recorded with harmonies and the Beach Boys do a superior job of uniting their five voices into one. Dennis Wilson does a credible job singing lead on the Dion song, “The Wanderer.” Every time Dennis Wilson would say anything or probably breathe the girls in the audience would squeal. The Rivingtons “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” is carried off more for of the energy that Mike Love brings to the performance than anything else.

The real misses begin with “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena.” Brian Wilson co-authored this song and it became a top five hit for Jan & Dean. Jan Berry may not have been a Brian Wilson in the studio but he was proficient at taking his and Dean Torrance’s voices and creating his own wall of sound. The Beach Boys version pales next to the Jan & Dean single as the sound is not full and they veer from the original song structure in a way that is uncomfortable. The comedy songs, “Long Tall Texan” and “Monster Mash” are just a little too cute and two of them are at least one to many for a 13-song concert. “Johnny B. Goode” is the final song on the album and is just about drowned out by the crowd noise as it seems that the group just wanted to get off the stage.

Beach Boys Concert ultimately remains an excellent look at the Beach Boys in concert circa 1964. It holds up surprisingly well as a recording that is approaching its 45th birthday. So sit back, put on your ear phones and be transported back to a simpler and enjoyable time. 

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Christmas Album by The Beach Boys

January 31, 2009

The Beach Boys Christmas Album remains a tremendously popular album since its release in late 1964. It is also a short album, even by 1960’s standards, clocking in at just over 27 minutes. I have to admit that while the album does have some highlights it is one of my least favorite pre-Pet Sounds releases. I think of it as a pleasant pop album more than inspirational Christmas music. But hey, that’s just me and sales show that the album was a big seller. 

I feel that the better songs were contained on side two of the original LP release. I purchased this LP when it was issued (what can I say? I’m old) and remember that I rarely played the first side.  The traditional “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” leads off with a Brian Wilson-Mike Love duet with overdubbed harmonies in support. The song is slowed down from the norm which gives it a different feel. The Beach Boys created one of the better versions of this old Christmas hymn which has probably been recorded a thousand or so times. 

Brian Wilson provides two great lead vocals on “Blue Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” His clear high register voice has rarely sounded better and the other members provide subtle support. Brian Wilson’s interpretation of these two modern classic Christmas ballads remains poignant forty-four years later. The Beach Boys Christmas Album ends with a traditional New Years Eve Song. “Auld Lang Syne” is a perfect vehicle for the Beach Boys to show how well their voices fit together. Time had not yet eroded any of the members’ vocal power and we are left with the Beach Boys at the top of their singing prowess.  

Side one of the original LP begins with the two Beach Boys Christmas singles. “Little Saint Nick” was released in 1963 and added to this LP. Brian Wilson and Mike Love co-authored this simple yet eternally popular Christmas ditty. It remains a radio staple every December. “The Man With All The Toys” features a lead vocal duet between Brian and Mike. This is another simple song but does have an odd staccato refrain. Of interest is the song “Christmas Day” which features the first Al Jardine lead vocal of his Beach Boys career. Later album notes show that Brian Wilson was less invested in this LP than the regular studio releases. He even brought in an outside arranger to work on some of the instrumental arrangements while he concentrated on the vocals. This division of duties shows as the vocals are, for the most part, of the usual Beach Boys caliber. The instrumental backing however, is inferior and more stripped down. It may be that Brian Wilson was just tired, as this was the Beach Boys fourth album release of 1964 and their eighth in 24 months. 

Dispite my personal feelings, The Beach Boys Christmas album remains one of the groups more popular pre-Pet Sounds releases which is a testament to the pure voices that the members of the group possessed.        


All Summer Long by The Beach Boys

January 30, 2009

I have listened to a lot of Beach Boys music during the last forty years and have their entire catalogue in my music collection. By far, All Summer Long, is the Beach Boys album I have played the most times. Are there better Beach Boys albums? Maybe. Are there more critically acclaimed albums by the Beach Boys? Definitely. Are there more listenable albums by the Beach Boys? No. All Summer Long remains the Beach Boys perfect ode to summer.

All Summer Long, even forty plus years after its first release, remains a place where summer stretches on forever and the sun is always shining.

The classic Beach Boys song “I Get Around” is the first track. It is an assault on the senses and would finally give the Beach Boys a number one hit song. This was all the more impressive as it came at the beginning of the British musical invasion and the pop charts were being dominated by The Beatles and other English artists. The Beach Boys proved that there was at least one American group that could challenge them both musically and commercially.

“I Get Around,” combining the fused vocal leads of Brian Wilson and Mike Love, builds upon itself until it settles into the melody. The soaring vocal harmonies set to an up-tempo rocking beat were a counterpoint to what was being issued in England.  It is a very sophisticated song and shows Brian Wilson improving technological prowess in the studio.

If there was ever a hit single that was not issued it is the album’s title song “All Summer Long.”  Mike Love’s overdubbed vocals recorded over basic harmonies with a falsetto mixed in make summer eternal. George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, had the good sense to use “All Summer Long” as the closing song on his Oscar nominated movie American Graffiti.

“Hushabye” is a cover of the Mystics do-wop hit song. An excellent choice for the Beach Boys as the group shows how well the five voices fit together.

“Little Honda” contains very simplistic lyrics for a Beach Boys song. This well known song was never issued as a single but rather was issued as a long playing EP. Former Brian Wilson collaborator Gary Usher took this song, layered in some extra vocals and created a hit single for his studio band the Hondells.

There is a three song trilogy in the middle of the album that is often ignored. “Wendy” combines odd chord changes that are carried by an organ sound with traditional Beach Boy harmonies straining against the mix. “Do You Remember” is a Beach Boy tribute to some of the artists who influenced their career. Set to an upbeat tempo, the song leaves the listener feeling satisfied that these artists have been given respect. “Girls On The Beach” is a classic Beach Boys surf ballad where the vocals are shared by all members of the group.

“Our Favorite Recording Sessions” is the typical throwaway track of the Beach Boys in the studio. Here Brian Wilson clears his throat and sings scales at the end of the track. His final note is the first note of the album’s final song “Don’t Back Down.” Brilliance is sometimes so simple.

All Summer Long  bridges the gap between the first Beach Boy era and the more sophistical middle period which would eventually lead to Pet Sounds.

All Summer Long’s  legacy is that of a quintessential Beach Boy album. It remains as a wonderful stop in the Beach Boys musical journey. 


Shut Down Vol. 2 by The Beach Boys

January 30, 2009

Capital records decided to exploit the car scene and release an album of exclusively car songs by various artists. They named the album Shut Down and used the Beach Boys title song plus “409” as a foundation. Shut Down sold well and made it to number 7 on the national pop charts. The problem was that the Beach Boys were not asked or even informed beforehand that their songs would be included. The Beach Boys went into the studio and quickly put together their own Shut Down album and called it Volume 2. Shut Down Volume 2 sold less than previous Beach Boys albums and did not crack the top 10 on the charts. It may have been that the Beach Boys had reached a saturation point for their product as it was their fifth full album release in the span of 18 months.  

The album cover immediately shows one difference in the group. Al Jardine is pictured and David Marks is gone. Marks was the youngest member of the group and had always clashed with Brian Wilson’s father who served as manager. Marks finally had enough and left the group. A number of years later, when bass player Bruce Johnston left the group for a couple of years, the Beach Boys asked Marks to return as their bass player but he declined. He did return as turning member of the group from 1997-1999. Today he is the forgotten Beach Boy but his contributions cannot be denied as he was an integral member of the recording and touring group during their early period. Al Jardine’s return gave the group a fifth strong voice and he would quickly become a part of the successful Beach Boys dynamic.Shut Down Volume 2 is a spotty release in places but when the Beach Boys are good they are very good.  

The Classic song “Fun Fun Fun” makes its debut. The great Carl Wilson guitar intro and Mike Love’s eternal joyful lyrics would propel this song to the number 5 on the charts. The Beach Boy harmonies are in place and include a wonderful Brian Wilson falsetto soaring above the mix. “Fun Fun Fun” would remain a concert staple for over forty years and remains indelibly linked to the Beach Boys of the mid 1960’s.

Shut Down Volume 2 also includes two classic Brain Wilson ballads. “Don’t Worry Baby” and “The Warmth Of The Sun,” featuring lead vocals by Brain, would both become best known as flip sides of future Beach Boys singles. Both songs deserved better as they are two of the best ballads that the Beach Boys would produce. “Don’t Worry Baby” would be a song of hope. Full overdubbing of the vocal harmonies make this a musical feast for the ears. The “Warmth Of The Sun” is about loss and acceptance. Brian Wilson continued to tinker with the groups vocals and here he is gets it right.

The Beach Boys would cover a number of songs by other artists during their career but Frankie Lyman’s “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” is one of the best. The infectious fun lyrics and beat are perfect for the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson builds a Phil Spector type wall of sound until it overshadows the original.

Shut Down Volume 2 does have its misses. Thousands of groups have covered “Louie Louie” and The Beach Boys version is just terrible. “Cassius Love Vs. Sonny Wilson” is a track of studio recording hi-jinks that would appear on several Beach Boys albums. Here Mike Love and Brain Wilson trade barbs. In retrospect, this would not be funny in light of their relationship as the years passed. “Denny’s Drums” does not do Dennis Wilson any favors. “This Car Of Mine” is a simple song but is partially saved by an excellent Dennis Wilson vocal. Shut Down Volume 2 is an average Beach Boys album at best. I can’t help but think that had Brian Wilson taken some time and combined the best of this album and the Little Deuce Coupe album he would have produced a true classic. The Beach Boys would make a quick recovery, however, as one of the best albums of their career was on the horizon.


Little Deuce Coupe by The Beach Boys

January 30, 2009

The Beach Boys had become full-fledged rock stars by late 1963. The Capital label’s quest for new product was insatiable and Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were under constant pressure to provide that product. 

Little Deuce Coupe was the fourth Beach Boys album released within a year’s time and arrived about a month after Surfer Girl. While this deluge of mostly excellent material would sell in the millions, this constant pressure would wear on Brian Wilson over the next five years, with ultimately catastrophic results.

The Capital Label had released a compilation album of car songs, featuring a couple of tunes by the Beach Boys, and it sold well. The Beach Boys decided to jump on the car song bandwagon. Little Deuce Coupe is, in a way, the group’s first theme album, as all the songs, except “Be True To Your School,” are stories about cars.

The Beach Boys would recycle four of their songs for Little Deuce Coupe. The title song, plus “409,” “Our Car Club,” and “Shut Down,” would all reappear. While all were strong songs, they had been heard before and recently.

With four songs in place, the Beach Boys still needed eight more to create a full album. Production notes show all eight were recorded the same day. While Brian Wilson would tinker with them for a week or so, it was still an amazing achievement. This creative burst would produce a number of creative and memorable, if mostly, non-hit songs.

“Ballad Of Ole Betsy” is an ode to an aging car. I still remember my first car and trading it in for a newer one. The unique aspect of this song is the first use of a capella, which presents the young Beach Boys in all their vocal and harmonic strength.

“Be True To Your School” was an early version on the song. It would emerge as a classic Beach Boys single later on. One can’t help but wonder if Brian Wilson just did not have enough time to finish the song. Looking at the ultimately finished product, it does give an excellent look at how Brian Wilson could refine a basic song when given enough time.

“Spirit Of America” was a biographical song about Craig Breedlove who was trying to set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. His car was called The Spirit Of America. This song would later be the title song of a multi-platinum-selling Beach Boys greatest hits album.

“No Go Showboat,” while simple on lyrics, has interesting chord changes plus a Brian Wilson and Mike Love duet. The song is about a car that cannot go fast, which is the antithesis of the Beach Boy automobile philosophy.

Brian Wilson always mentions the Four Freshmen as one of his musical inspirations. Here he takes their song, “There Hearts Were Full Of Spring,” and substitutes his lyrics, creating “A Young Man Is Gone,” a tribute to James Dean who died in a car crash. Again, the use of a capella accents just how pure the early voices of the group were and how well they fit together.

“Cherry Cherry Coupe” has always been my favorite song on Little Deuce Coupe. There were no dramatic highs; just a smooth vocal by Mike Love with subtle backing vocals. It flows along and is relaxing in its own way. “Custom Machine” ends the album as it began, with a song about a dream car.

Little Deuce Coupe was a quickly thrown together affair, and it shows in some ways. There is very little musical and technical advancement from Surfer Girl. Having said that, Brian Wilson proved that even when hurried, he could still produce an album superior to most of what was being released in 1963. Time was passing, and Brian Wilson was still learning.

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