Summer means fun. Or is it new love?
Could be both. All I know is the season is synonymous with the group from Hawthorne, California, which only featured one surfer, but epitomized the west coast beach culture that not only permeated our country, but made us all want to gravitate to California and become a part of. I heard their music and believed there was someplace better, where there were two girls for every boy, and even though that may not be true, the Golden State is the land of possibilities. It’s where you go when you want to get out of your rut, leave your past behind and reinvent yourself.
If Brian Wilson had died, his band would get as much respect as the Beatles. But when he finally spirals from this mortal coil, having outlived his two brothers and so many others, a veritable Keith Richards, the accolades will come pouring in. Sometimes the best is hiding in plain sight. Like the music of the Beach Boys.
You’ve got to start somewhere.
This is a curio with historical value at best. If nothing followed it it would be forgotten. But within its production we can hear the building blocks to the band’s success. Everybody has to start somewhere, we never know who will burn out and who will grow. It usually comes down to passion, which Brian Wilson had in spades. He gathered his family, relatives and friends to achieve his dream, he could not do it alone, and he had no idea where he was going, his initial goals were small, world domination always come later.
Let’s go surfin’ now
Everybody’s learnin’ how
Come on a safari with me
No, everybody was clueless, they weren’t learning whatsoever, it was a SoCal pastime, yet this track was so infectious it dragged the whole country along, as well as informing them of locales like Rincon and Malibu… That’s how we learned our geography, via music. Pico and Sepulveda anybody? El Monte Legion Stadium? Music was made in Hollywood and what was obvious and de rigueur to locals was exotic to outsiders who soon wanted to be insiders.
Also on the initial LP, “Surfin’ Safari.” I gave up on singles early, they were a bad value proposition, I bought “Surfin’ Safari” after “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” but I want to say in this pre-“Sgt. Pepper” era that “Surfin’ Safari” was completely listenable, especially this, the progenitor of car music, which took over when surf music started to fade. As for “409”… You do know that’s cubic inches, right? Which Teslas don’t have, car culture dominated the twentieth century, it’s evaporating in the twenty first.
If everybody had an ocean…
This reworking of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” was the victory lap, the knockout punch no one expected, a positive number that just made you feel good to be alive. It’s the lyrics, the changes and the guitar. Sounds dated, I know, but if you were there, and I was, it brings you right back.
An album track unknown by most that portended the sensitive Brian Wilson numbers to follow. This sets your mind free as the salt gets stuck in your hair… Some tracks just have that je nais se quois, they take you away, make you feel good, even though you may not be able to explain why.
Ditto on this number, also sung by Brian Wilson. For a guy from a place where it never rained, he did melancholy better than almost anyone else.
Tach it up
Tach it up
Buddy gonna shut you down
As in TACHOMETER! Something your car only had if it was a foreign number or it had high performance. This story song pushed the “409” paradigm further down the road, it even had a magic bridge, along with that surfin’ pickin’.
MISIRLOU/LET’S GO TRIPPIN’
Two covers, two surf classics, the band had limited material and needed to fill out the “Surfin’ U.S.A.” LP, and it sounds just like that, these numbers are filler. But it’s hard to fulfill the corporate obligations, you’ve got to hit that release date, you’ve got to make that money.
The title track from the third album, it did not break the top ten and was very much a throwback to the work of the male vocal groups which dominated in the previous years, still… It’s got that prom gravitas, except for when they sing about the woodie, then you’ve just got to laugh.
CATCH A WAVE
The second song on the “Surfer Girl” LP it’s my favorite on the record, maybe because I heard Jan & Dean’s reworking of it called “Sidewalk Surfin’” first. Listen for the harp, luxuriate in the organ, groove to the classic surf pickin’, but marvel at the vocals. Some music just makes you feel good, this is one of those numbers.
It was barely a state, there were few flights, no one went there, we found out about it from the Beach Boys and then the rep was cemented by a TV show, “Hawaii Five-O.”
IN MY ROOM
Not the hit you think it was, it went to number one in Boston and Seattle, number two in San Francisco and Top Ten in a few other markets, but this is a song whose rep has only grown as time has gone by.
It’s magic without the words, but it’s the words that make it a classic. It’d be like Kanye questioning himself, vulnerability is a quality that’s been excised from not only modern music, but modern society. Oh, you can screw up and apologize, utter mea culpas, but admitting you don’t have all the answers, revealing all your warts as anything but a publicity ploy, it just isn’t done.
LITTLE DEUCE COUPE
This LP was a holding event. Four numbers had already appeared on albums before. This was the band’s third compendium of ’63, no wonder the cupboards were empty.
The title cut was infectious because of its jauntiness, its upbeat spirit, the boasting about something so irrelevant, then again, in the sixties, especially in SoCal, your wheels were everything.
BE TRUE TO YOUR SCHOOL
Marrying the drama of the east coast overproduced singles with the sunniness of SoCal with a tribute to high school layered on top… HUH? This was before the Beatles, before Kennedy was shot, if there were cracks in the firmament we didn’t acknowledge them, you may have hated school but publicly everybody was Eddie Haskell, they got along.
FUN, FUN, FUN
Two minutes of pure pop whose magic cannot be escaped. My father drove a T-Bird and my sister used the library as cover… This came out in February ’64, when the Beatles were burgeoning but before we realized that the slate would be wiped clean of all American acts except the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons and that a rivalry had begun.
DON’T WORRY BABY
The b-side of “I Get Around,” this, like “In My Room,” is a number whose cachet has only grown over time. Despite Mike Love singing so many upbeat classics, it’s these more introspective songs sung by Brian Wilson that seem to penetrate and stick.
THE WARMTH OF THE SUN
Another Wilson-sung number that was an album track way back when, but is a classic today.
Times were changing and no one at Capitol seemed to get the message. Despite releasing the Beatles’ LPs, after passing on the work that came out on VeeJay, Capitol almost missed the entire sixties, while its crosstown neighbor Warner Brothers was surfing the zeitgeist the Tower was nearly moribund, it ultimately had the Band and little else, it coasted on its catalog, the acts already signed. “Shut Down Volume 2” was tone deaf, and if not a sales disaster, it was certainly a disappointment. The British had invaded and the second side of this record had covers of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and “Louie Louie” and this, the “Toad” of its day, ha!
ALL SUMMER LONG
The album came out in ’64, but I didn’t get it until 1970, when Ellen gifted it and “Surfer Girl” to me for my birthday, artifacts from an older sister, not in shrinkwrap, but well-played, this music was fading in the rearview mirror but it meant everything to me.
The title track was never a single and was not famous in its day, but it seared itself into the public consciousness in the seventies, during the Beach Boys renaissance, when George Lucas featured the song in the soundtrack of his paean to car culture, “American Graffiti.”
GIRLS ON THE BEACH
Featured in the 1965 movie of the same name, if I remember correctly Brian and the boys were sitting around the campfire singing it. I saw the flick at the Steel Pier, that’s right, in Atlantic City, years before gambling, when the trick was to get up early and ride your bicycle on the boardwalk. Sure, we saw the diving horse and went on the diving bell and later in the evening we saw Peter & Gordon on stage, but there were two movie theatres on the pier and we also ducked in to see this. The Beach Boys also performed “Lonely Sea” and “Little Honda” in the flick.
DON’T BACK DOWN
My college roommate played this the night before getting into his Saab for the long drive from Middlebury to the beach in Maine, to hit the waves. The Beach Boys were truly the soundtrack of surf culture.
I GET AROUND
A monster hit that grabbed you immediately, a ride better than most theme park attractions, talk about a hit single…
My younger sister’s name! How amazing is it to have a song in your own name!
LITTLE SAINT NICK
A bigger hit today than it was back then. It has stood the test of time, whereas even Phil Spector’s vaunted Christmas album has faded away and not radiated.
DO YOU WANNA DANCE
On one hand a cheesy choice, couldn’t you write another hit? But Dennis’s vocal puts this over the top, it may not be equal to the Bobby Freeman original, but it stands on its own feet.
GOOD TO MY BABY
An antecedent to “Pet Sounds.” So many changes, so many hooks, it might not have been a hit but I know it by heart because it came right after “Do You Wanna Dance” on the album “The Beach Boys Today!”
WHEN I GROW UP (TO BE A MAN)
It’s the counting that puts it over the top.
I was too young to get it, I knew what they were singing about, but now I understand it. And I’m not yet sure if I’m a man, even if I am chronologically. Baby boomers never quite grew up, we’re all still teenagers in our minds.
DANCE, DANCE, DANCE
I wasn’t a big dancer, I still am not, unless the music inspires me, but I understood the freedom of being let out of school. Pure magic.
It was the summer of ’65, “Rubber Soul” was still months away, albums were an afterthought, most people bought singles, but upon buying “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” I was stunned to find all the tracks were infectious and could stand alone, even “I’m Bugged At My Old Man.”
HELP ME, RHONDA
The hit version, funny what a remake can do, it’s the same song as the one on “Today!” but it’s so much better, so much more. And at age 12 I couldn’t understand someone helping me get over a love, but I understand the concept today.
SALT LAKE CITY
At this point I hadn’t been there, I only knew where it was on the map. But now every time I land in SLC this song goes through my brain, that’s the power of music.
AMUSEMENT PARKS U.S.A.
Better than any theme park I’ve ever been too.
GIRL DON’T TELL ME
Sung by the band’s secret weapon, Carl Wilson, who kept the act together in the seventies but really came into his own with this. He’s got the most mellifluous voice in the band, I became a fan, I bought both of his solo albums, I went to see him at the Roxy…
We used to write letters back then, all my romances were in the summer, I RESONATED!
From the “Party!” album, a holding maneuver, but you’ve got to give the band credit for staying on the chart, albeit with a cover of a classic track.
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE
Truly didn’t permeate the culture until ’75, when it was featured in the Warren Beatty movie “Shampoo,” what a great sync, it epitomized the Southern California ethos.
SLOOP JOHN B
The big hit on “Pet Sounds.”
GOD ONLY KNOWS
I spent August of ’66 at Boy Scout camp, the leader had a thing for this song, every time it came on the radio we’d run to his lean-to to listen.
Not a big hit single, but probably the most famous song on “Pet Sounds” today. It’s timeless.
It’s so Brian Wilson. So wistful, so meaningful. But it wasn’t made for these times. The album cut era was just beginning, hits meant everything, as they do today.
Just another Beach Boys hit back then, an iconic classic today.
Not that we didn’t know it was special, it’s just that we were too busy singing along. The story was the theremin, that got all the press, but I was most happy the band was back, ruling the chart once again. Sometimes you don’t know what’s classic during its heyday. “Blurred Lines” has already faded whereas “Good Vibrations” is FOREVER!
And it truly is. The iteration on “Smiley Smile” is good, but the version from the “Smile Sessions,” released in 2011, will blow your mind. It’s so sweet, you want to eat it!
HEROES AND VILLAINS
Meant little back then, means everything today, it’s one of Brian’s signature songs since his comeback, but “Smiley Smile” was a stiff and the band was fading out and most people didn’t know it back then.
The greats surprise us, confound our expectations, are willing to take risks. Anybody can repeat themselves, imitate what is already successful, but to create pure magic in left field? Brian and the boys did here.
It was a HIT!
Records moved faster, but the radio had moved on, you never heard the Beach Boys’ old tracks, they were a relic of the past, most people never thought of them, and now they were back! With this Carl vocal!
Not as successful as “Darlin’,” this is far superior. Once again sung by Carl, his emotive vocal penetrates and the energy is palpable, it’s timeless, listen, it sounds dated not at all.
I WAS MADE TO LOVE HER
My favorite track on the “Wild Honey” album. Sure, the Stevie Wonder original is indelible, but Carl is singing like his relationship depends upon it.
DO IT AGAIN
I gave up. It was becoming creepy. It was just too weird to see my favorites fade out. The Beatles were testing limits, but the Beach Boys were stultified. Little did we know that Brian had exited, mentally and oftentimes physically, the band was running on fumes, which is an explanation as to why I didn’t buy “Friends,” the 1968 album with no hits that insiders now say is so great, but I did buy “20/20” since it contained this, which was a big hit.
I CAN HEAR MUSIC
My favorite version of this track, far superior to the Ronettes’ original, because of Carl’s impassioned vocal and the updated production.
The best song on “20/20,” this is a “Smile” leftover, they were literally scraping the barrel. Once again, I prefer the original, the iteration from the “Smile Sessions.”
IT’S ABOUT TIME
The band disappeared, they were gone for a year and a half, they missed Woodstock, Led Zeppelin had made inroads and then…
The Beach Boys switched labels, went to Warner Brothers with their own imprint, Brother Records, and put out “Sunflower,” which benefited from tons of press, but sank like a stone…
However, this is the best album of the post-sixties period. It’s incredible, play it twice and you won’t be able to stop playing it.
“It’s About Time” is the best song on “Sunflower,” almost a pocket symphony itself, written by Dennis Wilson and Al Jardine along with Bob Burchman but sung by Carl with Mike on the bridge. Every time I hear “It’s About Time” it puts me in a good mood, that’s the power of music
THIS WHOLE WORLD
Written by Brian, but sung by Carl, it’s a dreamy ride through your best life, how can one track have so many changes, so many goodies?
SLIP ON THROUGH
Written and sung by Dennis, “Sunflower” is where the middle brother made his bones, established his bona fides. It’s as good as Brian’s work but it’s not by him! Who knew the band had so many threats?
ADD SOME MUSIC TO YOUR DAY
The emphasis single, the one that was supposed to be a hit, kinda like the Doobie Brothers’ “Another Park, Another Sunday,” from “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.” Both faltered in the marketplace but come across as pure genius when you hear them now.
Ironically, the longest lasting track on “Sunflower.” Sung and written by Dennis (with co-writer Gregg Jakobson) this is the one John Stamos sang on “Full House,” it’s the one played at weddings, but it was less than a footnote back in ’71.
The press was taking hold, this album was not as good as “Sunflower,” but it was much more successful. Media focused on this song, the title track, retrieved from the past, made famous in the sixties when Brian played it on a Leonard Bernstein TV special… Imagine that, a classical artist with his own TV presence.
Bruce Johnston’s number, it gained traction in covers years later, most famously by Art Garfunkel, but even Doris Day did a version.
The hidden gem on “Surf’s Up,” this is Carl’s work (cowritten with Jack Rieley). It just feels so RIGHT!
‘TIL I DIE
Quite possibly the most beautiful record ever made, at least by Brian Wilson.
I got it immediately, I didn’t think anybody heard it, but I was stunned when Don Was featured it in his “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” documentary, now it’s an acknowledged masterpiece.
By the time of 1972’s “Carl & The Passions – ‘So Tough’” record, Brian was checked out, and it’s evident, the album is barely playable, except for this, the opening cut.
In an alternative universe, this is a number one record, as good as anything Brian ever did, it was completely ignored, but if you heard it you couldn’t stop dropping the needle and listening to it again.
SAIL ON, SAILOR
A complete return to form, a Brian number tacked on to the album “Holland” in search of a hit, which it was not. But Blondie Chaplin added energy, this too was a hit in an alternative universe, but unlike “Marcella” it sustains, people know it.
You think it’s pedestrian until you hit the changes. Then your head turns, amazing how pure sound can make you feel so good.
Another winner on “Holland.” Once again, Carl shines, hang in there until you hear his vocal get so soulful you can see into his identity.
The band was giant on the road and meant little in recordings and the “15 Big Ones” album was so disappointing it’s astounding. But this track hearkens back to the days of yore.
This is the other winner on “15 Big Ones,” sounds like Brian, but it’s Al.
“Love You” is a disaster. Brian was back, but he wasn’t. This was the famous cut and it’s a one listen song. The LP was unfinished and sans hits and it resembled nothing so much as peering into the brain of someone mentally ill, which it was.
COME GO WITH ME
And now no one cared, the band had extinguished their good will, and although “M.I.U. Album” is listenable, what can you say when the best cut is a cover, this?
From “L.A. (Light Album)” when the Beach Boys went disco and put their career in a coffin. There was another studio album, but it was meaningless, I purchased “Keepin’ The Summer Alive” but no one else did and it was a one listen project at most. But this cut, it’s classic!
Imperfect, but it benefits from Carl’s heartfelt vocal.
ANGEL COME HOME
Written by Carl with Geoffrey Cushing-Murray, this is the best cut on “L.A. (Light Album),” it’s put over the top by Dennis’s ragged vocal, saturated in emotion.
I’m waitin’ till my angel comes home
How many late nights did I stare into the darkness and sing this song to myself. Even if I did the leaving…they were here and now they’re gone, can’t they come back?
Angel, come home
But they couldn’t. Dennis died. And then Carl too. Brian was in the public eye but could never live up to expectations.
But now our angel has finally come home. Brian has stabilized, he’s creating once again, and performing regularly. And for those who were there back then, it’s truly heaven.