Within focus,we select an artist or band and list all of their work that is still commercially available then 'Highlight' a small, recommended, selection as an introduction, in case you wish to investigate the band/artist later. This issue, Michael Heatley, editor of the acclaimed The History Of Rock, looks at those surfin' songs, The Beach Boys.
The Americans may have bought London Bridge but there are still some things they don't have – the Queen, Concorde and the Beatles, to name but three. Yet in musical terms at least, the Beach Boys have proved themselves the US answer to the Fab Four. Like them they emerged from a city by the sea and graduated from producing surf music (the Californian counterpart of British beat) to make their own highly stylised masterpieces in 'Pet sounds' and 'Smile'.
They didn't have Lennon and McCartney, to be sure – but they did have Brian Wilson, the tortured genius whose personal history is no less convoluted than the Beach Boys themselves.
Perhaps because they were based around Brian and his brothers, the Beach Boys outlasted the Beatles, sailing into the 1990s in typical style. Brian Wilson has long since gone solo and they've lost brothers Dennis, (the only true surfer, who ironically drowned in 1983) and Carl (a victim of lung cancer in February this year), leaving the band's future Wilsonless. But despite the uncertainty, music like this will live forever.
Though their most creative periods have coincided with his presence, Brian hasn't always been an integral part of the group. Indeed, the sibling rivalries, legal wrangles, and bad blood between members, could (and has) fill a book. But in terms of their creative contribution the Beach Boys have long since booked their place in rocks Hall of Fame.
Though they've never stopped producing and performing new music – indeed, 1988s 'Kokomo' would top the pile Stateside when released as a single – the classic recordings remain too numerous to present in a fortnight of shows. The recent chart success of yet another 'Greatest Hits' album plus the 17th August release of 'Endless Harmony' a new rarities collection, gives us the excuse to focus on America's very first supergroup. Yet who really needs an excuse when summer's here?
We've homed in on UK releases and release dates unless specifically stated and, unless there's a compelling reason set aside, the compilations that have caught the ears of new generations. Brian Wilson's solo releases have also been included.
Surfin' Safari (1962)
Half of this album's dozen tracks were written by Brian and Gary Usher, his first non Beach Boy collaborator, the others being covers of songs they thought would fit into the concept. The title track and '409', a song about a shiny Chevrolet dream machine, had been taken from the band's first demo tape and coupled for a hit, the revving sounds made by Usher's own auto. Soon the royalties would let him buy the car he'd always wanted.
Surfin' USA (1963)
The title track certainly propelled the Beach Boys into the nation's consciousness. 'Surfin' USA' pigeonholed the group as surf music merchants pure and simple. But successful ones: the single made Number 3, the album going one place better (Number 34 here) as it stayed superglued to turntables. At the same time, their friends Jan and Dean had the Number 1 single 'Surf City'... written by Brian! Ironically, 'Surfin' USA' is these days credited not to B.Wilson but to C.Berry, owing much to the Chuckster's 'Sweet Little 16'.
Surfer Girl (1963)
This LP was the first Brian, still only 21, had produced himself, and was named after another hit. David Marks, a friend of Carl Wilson, was keeping Al Jardine's place as he finished his education and makes his recording bow on 'Catch A Wave', but it was the ballad title track that Brian Wilson claims was the real start of his creative rise, “... my first big vocal arrangement... I can remember how excited I was.” 'In My Room' is also a fabulous track.
Little Deuce Coupe (1963)
This UK-released album, containing tracks from the US version of the 'Surfer Girl' album, was released just two months after its predecessor to cash in on the Beach Boys boom. Originally, the B-side of the 'surfer Girl' single, 'Little Deuce Coupe' made a worthy title track and confirmed Mike Love as the Beach Boys' lead voice. Its soaring harmonies represented a quantum songwriting leap from the 'Chuck Berry' meets the 'Four Freshmen' style of previous releases.
All Summer Long (1964)
Probably contender for the title of perfect summer album, this Brian production is crucial in that it includes the Beach Boys' first big British hit 'I Get Around'. In the US, it gave them their first number 1 single.
Beach Boys Concert (1964)
A bit of a cash-in that nevertheless showed the boys were no studio puppets, this live long player became their first US album chart-topper in the year 'I Get around' hit the top of the pile. We only got half the album – a double in the US – but when reissued on CD here in 1990 it included 'Live in London as recompense.
Shut Down Vol 2 (1964)
Bruce Johnston cites this as the album where the Beach Boys hit top gear with songs like 'Don't Worry Baby' and 'Fun Fun Fun'. Legendary producer Phil Spector remarked of the latter, “Brian wasn't interested in money....
he wanted to know how the song would do against the Beatles.” If you're going to pick one early album, this (now on a two-for-one remastered CD with the US-format 'Surfer Girl' and three bonus tracks, including a German version of 'In My Room', no less!) could be the one to go for.
Beach Boys Christmas Album (1964)
This Yuletide effort released simultaneously with the live set suggested the label was milking the Beach Boys for all they could, though artists like Elvis regularly endured such ploys with credibility substantially intact.
The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
The record-tour-record schedule imposed on Brian (11 albums by the end of 1965) was a punishing one, and he would bow out. Ironically, though he'd have three nervous breakdowns, his recovery period let him plot new routes for 'his' group to pursue. 'Please Let Me Wonder' would resurface in the late 1980s Beach Boys repertoire,
while 'In The Back Of My Mind' points the way to 'Pet Sounds' style vocal arrangements.
Summer Days (and Summer Nights) (1965)
Brian's replacement Bruce Johnston was in the ranks as 'Help Me Rhonda' (featured here) notched their second Stateside chart-topping single in late May. Another track, the majestic 'California Girls', was plucked from this LP to reach Number 3 in the States in August.
Pet Sounds (1966)
This was the album that saw the Beach Boys truly come of age.'Pet Sounds' had been preceded by a low-key Brian solo single called 'Caroline No' – and it was fitting this should reappear on the album, for in reality 'Pet Sounds' was his solo masterpiece. “The ideas were all his,” Bruce Johnston would later admit. But though a lot of people assume Brian overdubbed all the vocal parts, Johnston reveals this was not so. “We all sang harmonies, which anyone with ears will realise.”
People often call 'Pet Sounds' the Beach Boys' 'Sgt Pepper' – but its release in May pre-dated 'Revolver' let alone the Fab Four's military masterpiece. While Britain awarded it a number 2 placing, only 'The Sound Of Music' soundtrack and then the aforementioned 'Revolver' keeping it off the top spot. It wasn't truly appreciated at the time in the States, its theme being at odds with the hedonistic 'Beach Boys Party' style of old. But the passing of the years has seen it retain its lustre and surface in every critics poll among the Top Ten albums. Furthermore it contained a song 'God Only Knows', which Paul McCartney would dub 'the greatest love song ever written'. (It would reach Number 2 in Britain as a single, as would 'Sloop John B' taken from the same album.)
Beach Boys Party (1966)
As well as being the first album on which Bruce Johnston played bass, November's 'Beach Boys Party' was memorable for 'Barbara Ann' a vocal duet with Brian and Jan and Dean's Dean Torrence (paying back the 'Surf City' songwriting debt) that was at the time considered no more than a fun album track but was pulled off as a single to reach Number 2 at home and Number 3 in Britain. Unusually it wasn't a Beach Boys original bur a cover of a 1961 doowop hit by the Regents.
Smiley Smile (1967)
With the Beatles making music history with their worldwide live TV broadcast of 'All You Need Is Love', following up with a classic single in 'Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields' and 'Sgt Pepper' album, the pressure was on for Brian to top his own best achievement. The album to do it, he decided, was to be called 'Smile', and he called in lyricist Van Dyke Parks to help him. Mike Love described Parks' offerings as, “... alliterative prose... but as far as translating to mid-American commercial appeal I don't think so.”
In contrast, Bruce Johnston puts the project, “... on a par with what Hendrix and Cream were doing then in terms of stretching the boundaries.” He even sets himself at odds with thousands of fans, believing the album as released was, “much more brilliant than Smile could ever have been, because it's 80 per cent voices.” There's a psychedelic feel to the album that identifies it as a product of 1967, but the highlights – 'With Me Tonight' and 'Wonderful'- were both survivors from the original 'Smile' sessions. Bootlegs exist of the complete project, but
until 1993 when tracks surfaced on a box set it seemed unlikely it would officially see the light of day.
Wild Honey (1968)
'Wild Honey' was an album Bruce Johnston will remember with affection; after being an official Beach Boys for four albums, he finally got his picture on the sleeve! Session musicians were finally given the heave-ho, too, as the Beach Boys played everything themselves. It was also the first album the group would record in Brian's Bel Air house – hence the picture of one of its stained glass windows on the cover. Carl took an unprecedented share of the spotlight with three lead vocals, but the result inevitably seemed a trifle lightweight after the Brian inspired pair of albums that preceded it.
While the Beatles emerged with Eastern musical influences that enhanced their music, the Beach Boys went the whole hog with an album that even contained a song called 'Transcendental Meditation'. The mood was mellow, and Dennis stepped forward to contribute the underrated 'Be Still'. Yet Brian's mood was changeable and Bruce Johnston later admitted, “I really don't know where he was going with this album.”
The whole project clocked in at a meagre 24 minutes, while tracks like 'Diamond Head' and 'Anna Lee The Healer' baffled the record company and the album failed to yield a single.
A set of instrumentals for would be Beach Boys to warble over – no more, no less!
This, their 20th album in seven years, would obtain an unwanted notoriety with the inclusion of 'Never Learn Not to Love', a song co-written by Dennis and Charles Manson, a wannabe pop star and a man who would in 1971 be sentenced to death and imprisoned on Death Row for the murder of actress Sharon Tate. '20/20' was a very democratic affair with all members throwing in song ideas, but in 'Do It Again' and 'I Can Hear Music' the hit singles, were its undoubted highlights.
Live In London (1970)
With the Beach Boys now running their own Brother label through Warners, former outlet Capitol would squeeze the last dollar out of the legend with this concert set recorded during the December 1968 UK tour at Finsbury Park Astoria and The London Palladium. In 1990 it was paired with 'Beach Boys Concert' on one CD.
This was the album where Carl Wilson came forward to claim some of his big brother's spotlight; writing collaborations with manager Jack Rieley like 'Long Promised Road' showed a possible seam of future songs. It also included the first recorded vocal from Carnie Wilson, Brian's daughter, who would later rise to multi-platinum fame as one-third of soft rock trio Wilson Phillips.
Surf's Up (1971)
The Beach Boys spent the spring and summer returning to live performance with a vengeance, and this late-year album justly won the highest accolades since 'Pet Sounds'. Brian's 'Til I Die', Bruce's 'Disney Girls (1957)' and Al and Mike's 'Don't Go Near The Water' all making it a memorable experience.
Aside from Brian's song contribution, he took a back seat in an album that addressed fashionable ecological and (in 'Student Demonstration Time', a rewrite of 'Riot In Cell Block Number9') political themes. Rolling Stone magazine, hardly a loyal supporter of the band with an eye to the fashionable, acclaimed it as, “A remarkable comeback... that weds their choral harmonies to progressive pop and shows younger brother Carl stepping to the fore”.
Carl And The Passions (1972)
The reclaimed one of the names the Beach Boys had toyed with in the early days, and though patchy contained a classic in 'Marcella'. The year of 1972 had been a period of intense change. Bruce Johnston left the line-up on friendly terms, and he was replaced by South African Blondie Chaplin from the group Flame. At the same time bandmate and fellow countryman Ricky Fataar was recruited on drums, the replacement initially being made due to Dennis' motorcycle crash.
The desire to relocate to Europe lock stock and recording studio meant 'Holland', released in January, went down in rock history as one of the most expensive albums ever made. Brian had recorded a kids fairy tale called 'Mount Vernon And Fairway' which was given away as a bonus disc with initial copies to stimulate sales, but there was much to applaud on the main disc which included Mike Love's 'California Saga' as well as a classic ballad in the opening 'Sail On Sailor'. Both were released as singles.
In Concert (1973)
This live double album released for the Christmas market, would be the Beach Boys one and (at that point) only US Number 1 album. For the band to repeat that feat the archives would have to be raided – and so it was that October 1974 saw 'Endless Summer' hit the top spot after gaining sales through the holiday season. It was the first collection of 'oldies' to top the chart there.
15 Big Ones (1976)
Brian played his first Beach Boys date for seven years in Oakland, California, on June 2nd to celebrate his first production of a Beach Boys album for a decade: 'Brian's Back' buttons were everywhere to be seen. Fifteen, by the way, was both the age of the band and the number of tracks the album contained. The year had begun with a lighthearted cover of Chuck Berry's 'Rock And Roll Music' (included here) that had taken them back to the US Top 10 for the first time since 1966 and ended with a curiously titled television special The Beach Boys : It's OK. But was it?
The Beach Boys Love You (1977)
Little moved on the surface of things for the next two years as solo projects came to the fore from Dennis and Mike. This broke the silence but suffered through an apparent lack of promotion: Mike Love claimed just 50,000
copies were pressed up
MIU Album (1978)
A highly unspectacular way to sign off the Warners deal. It would take the following year's reappearance of Bruce Johnston to bang heads together and instil a new sense of purpose.
LA (Light Album) (1979)
The band's debut on the Caribou label included 'Lady Lynda', their first British Top 10 hit since 1970 and started paying back some of the reputed $8.5 million dollars their contract had cost.
Keeping The Summer Alive (1980)
This year would see the band make their highest-profile appearances in Britain for many years – two sold out Wembley Arena dates plus topping the open air Knebworth Festival. But this album, recorded at Western Recorders Studios where the early albums came together in an attempt to make Brian feel at ease, failed to excite. Three dozen tracks were recorded, but the fact that Bruce Johnston and not Brian Wilson took the production credit on release indicated a lack of real involvement.
The Beach Boys (1985)
After the trauma of Dennis' death in December 1983, it was hardly surprising that Beach Boy activity during 1984 was negligible. But when the next album was finally started, a surprising outside name was chosen as producer. British born Steve Levine had achieved overnight notoriety for being the studio brains behind the rise and rise of new romantic supergroup Culture Club.
The Beach Boys would play this year for Ronnie Reagan at a White house gala and when the even more prestigious Live Aid came around in July, the Beach Boys were one of the first names in for the Philadelphia stage. 'Getcha Back' and 'It's getting' Late', by reaching Numbers 26 and 82 respectively, reaped the reward for this high profile exposure.
Made In The USA (1986)
An oldies compilation, but a superior one with three more recent selections including 'Getcha Back' and two new cuts. One, 'Rock 'n' Roll To The Rescue' was penned by Mike Love and ex-Byrds producer Terry Melcher, but the reverential revival of 'California Dreamin'' not only bore comparison with the Mamas and the Papas original but enjoyed a typical 12-string guitar break from chief Byrd and fellow 1960s survivor Roger McGuinn.
Still Cruisin' (1989)
After the film theme 'Kokomo' (from Tom Cruise's Cocktail) took them back to the US Number 1 position for the first time in 22 years, the next step on the comeback trail was to launch an album that unashamedly cashed in on the 'Kokomo' film connection bt linking songs that had been in movies with some new material that included the title track, which found a place in the Mel Gibson / Danny Glover vehicle Lethal Weapon 2.
Brian Wilson (1988)
Amazingly, and discounting 'Pet Sounds', this was the main man's first solo album. On the other hand it was a joint effort, being partly co-produced and co-written with his controversial therapist Dr Eugene Landy. Another notable name was Andy Paley, better known as one half of the US teenybop act the Paley brothers. A Wilson devotee since puberty , he acted as a musical right hand man for an affectionate pastiche of the sound he'd help create. No new ground, then but a high feelgood factor,
The lead single 'Love And Mercy' helped the album limp to Number 54 in the US chart, but neither single nor album made waves in Britain. What did make 1988 a red letter year for die-hard UK fans, though, was the man's unexpected appearance at the annual convention organised by the Beach Boys Stomp fanzine before an ecstatic and previously unsuspecting 300 fans.
|Summer in Paradise (1992) U.S. Version
||U.K. / European Version
Mike Love resolved to restore the Beach Boys' status as a contemporary rather than a 'golden oldies' act. And though this new album harked back to the glory days, it was intended said Love to be, 'the definitive soundtrack of summer' – and came very near to hitting its target. With covers of heatwave classics like Sly Stone's 'Hot Fun In The Summertime' and the Shangri Las '(Remember) Walking In The Sand' that Love immodestly described as 'awesome', as well as a close relation to 'Kokomo' in the similarly tropical 'Island Fever', it covered most of the bases you'd expect from a Beach Boys album. They also modernised the very first Beach Boys release, 'Surfin', which was given a near rap style and, as befitted the era, was recorded straight on to a computer hard disc without ever making it on to recording tape.
Good Vibrations – Thirty Years of The Beach Boys [box set] (1993)
A massive 5 disc box set united the various sections of their catalogue for the first time and unearthed some previously unheard takes, radio station jingles and rehearsal demos. It kicked off with a winning hat-trick of 'Surfin USA', 'Little Surfer Girl' and 'Surfin' and coincided with a 23-track bonus disc of previously unreleased takes. As if all this wasn't enough, the set also presented 30 minutes of the 'Smile' sessions to allow fans to judge the merits of the missing masterpiece for themselves. In reality, of course, few didn't possess one or other of the bootlegs!
Brian Wilson; I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (1995)
If his solo debut had taken a warm look back over his musical career with new material, the second Brian Wilson album was even more of a 'living in the past' exercise. Produced by Don Was, who'd just resurrected the Rolling Stones commercial standing with 'Voodoo Lounge', it included retreads of old classics in its material and was effectively the soundtrack to a similarly named TV special.
Brian Wilson; Imagination (1998)
Third time out for Brian and billed as his first all new album in 10 years, it included lyrics from collaborators like JD Souther (an Eagles songsmith in his time0 and Jimmy Buffet. 'Keep An Eye On Summer' covered a 1963
Beach Boys song, as if to say that that despite the 'all-new' tag he reserved the right to revisit the past.
Endless Harmony (1998)
The current rarities set includes many well known title versions you've never heard before. 'Gog Only Knows' comes from a 1967 Hawaii concert intended for an abortive live album, while Darlin' was recorded 13 years later at Knebworth. Both include breathtaking performances from Carl. Most unusual track is probably 'soulful Old Man Sunshine', a song Brian wrote with Rick Henn of the Sunrays and is recorded in rough demo and fully recorded form.
NB: This article has been reproduced word for word and therefore warts and all. There are one or two horrific howlers here, for example Dennis didn't play drums around the time of the release of Carl And The Passions because he had an accident with a plate glass window, (or, according to Al Jardine a Soda Siphon water bottle that Dennis tried to catch after dropping it.) and not a motorbike accident. Also, in the all too brief write up on Sunflower, the song 'Long Promised Road' was, of course actually off the Surf's Up album. And finally, how the writer can devote nearly three time the space to the Summer In Paradise album, rather than such an outstanding album like Sunflower just baffles me. But then I have to remember this article was written and published back in 1998.