Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Beach Boys album by album




Considered one of the most important bands of the Sixties, I love the early Sixties sound of The Beach Boys - it seems such a part of that period. Great  pop group; huge sunny optimism with a punchy Chuck Berry beat married to soaring and happy doo wop vocal harmonies and then a Phil Spector inspired production which led to classics like "Good Vibration".  I will often have some Beach Boys song on a tape or CD I am making up, and there are loads of compilations on sale. Indeed, the compilations have been around for as long as I've known about the Beach Boys, and that seems largely to be what they are: a singles band. BUT. One of their albums has been consistently acclaimed the best album ever made: Pet Sounds. And the unreleased follow up Smile, has assumed legendary status. In the Seventies I was attracted to the albums Beach Boys In Concert, Holland, and Surfs Up. Though, apart from the live album, I never really got off on them, and they gradually faded from view.

So I am unclear on them as an album band. And I am also unclear on their progression as a band and as a significant part of the sound of the Sixties. I am also aware that they are often very highly regarded, and placed as equal to Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Which is, lets face it, quite a claim for a band who only made one respected album, and whose most remembered output is simply well crafted pop songs.

So I will work my way through the albums, and read the reviews and comments to see what it is that makes them so extra special.



Copied from Wikipedia:

The Pet Sounds album and "Good Vibrations" single, both released in 1966, featured an intricate and multi-layered sound that represented a departure from the simple surf rock of the Beach Boys' early years. Soon after the dissolution of Smile, Brian gradually ceded control to the rest of the band, reducing his input because of mental health and substance abuse issues. Though the more democratic incarnation of the Beach Boys recorded a string of albums in various musical styles that garnered international critical success, the group struggled to reclaim their commercial momentum in America. Since the 1980s, much-publicized legal wrangling over royalties, songwriting credits and use of the band's name transpired.
The Beach Boys are an American rock band formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. Emerging at the vanguard of the "California Sound", the band's early music gained international popularity for distinct vocal harmonies and lyrics that evoked a southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance. Influenced by jazz-based vocal groups, 1950s rock and roll, and doo-wop, Brian led the band to experiment with several genres ranging from pop ballads to psychedelic and baroque, while devising novel approaches to music production and arranging. While initially managed by the Wilsons' father Murry, Brian's creative ambitions and sophisticated songwriting abilities dominated the group's musical direction.
Dennis drowned in 1983 and Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. After Carl's death, many live configurations of the band fronted by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston continued to tour into the 2000s while other members pursued solo projects. For the band's 50th anniversary, the surviving co-founders briefly reunited for a new studio album and world tour.
The Beach Boys are regarded as the most iconic American band and one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and widely influential bands of all time, while AllMusic stated that their "unerring ability... made them America's first, best rock band." The group had over eighty songs chart worldwide, thirty-six of them US Top 40 hits (the most by an American rock band), four reaching number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Beach Boys have sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the world's best-selling bands of all time and are listed at number 12 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".  They have received one Grammy Award for The Smile Sessions (2011). The core quintet of the three Wilsons, Love and Jardine were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Surfin' Safari  (1962)

This is an album of watered down Chuck Berry type songs combined with vocal group harmonies (doo-wop), and the twangy guitar sound popular in this period, which became associated with surfing and surf music. Because the Beach Boys sang, their surf songs are apparently termed "vocal surf", which is either the same as or closely related to the California Sound.  The doo-wop vocal style  is nicely presented on this album, while the rock instrumentals (surf related or not - there isn't a difference in sound that I can tell) are captured on this album,  While Chuck Berry's own 1961 album (his fifth album), is New Juke Box Hits, a weak album for Berry, though still sharper than the Beach Boys album.  Surfin' Safari  contains the Beach Boys' first recording, the single "Surfin'", released in November 1961.

The songs are not very good, the playing is mediocre, the production is acceptable for the time, and the vocal harmonies are fairly typical of the period. Essentially this is not a good album aesthetically, but assumes some kind of importance because it is the debut album of the Beach Boys, and what that implies about the potential creation of a new sound in which doo wop is blended with the rock sound and structure of Berry (the twangy guitar sound wouldn't last long, so is not important, and putting vocals to twangy guitars had already been done by Cliff Richard and the Shadows since the Fifties - their 1961 albums are combined here).  The combination of vocal harmonies with a rock sound had also been done earlier, most interestingly by Jan and Dean, who would develop alongside the Beach Boys, both covering the same themes and sometimes the same songs. Here's Jan and Dean's 1962 album Golden Hits, which contains their 1962 cover of "Barbara Ann", which would be covered by the Beach Boys three years later in 1965.  The original version was by the Regents in 1961.

So, the album in itself isn't aesthetically interesting, and historically the Beach Boys were simply part of an ongoing development in music, and weren't actually doing anything new or different at this stage. Their strengths, though, were they had great vocal harmonies (not yet fully developed) and they could write, arrange, and produce their own songs and music. They were creative and also in control of their destiny. Let's see how they develop....

Score: 3

Surfin' USA  (March 1963)

Brian Wilson feels that with this album he was more fully understanding production techniques, and he was able to start getting good vocal harmonies from the group; though, with the exception of "Lonely Sea" and "Surfin' USA", I'm not quite hearing anything more significant from what other doo wop groups were doing at the time. On the whole the album is much the same as the first one. The band largely copying what was popular at the time; and taking something of a step backward with five poorly played twangy guitar instrumentals. "Farmers Daughter" is very much in the style of the Four Seasons who had released their first album, Sherry and 11 Other Hits, the previous year.

"Lonely Sea", a plaintive song sung by Brian, is promising, and is perhaps the first hint towards mature music - not unlike "In My Room". The best song here by a long way is "Surfin' USA", which is not just the band's first great song, but one of their best songs. This is what most of us think of when we think of the Beach Boys - a fast rocky Chuck Berry beat, upbeat lyrics about having a great time, and attractive interwoven vocal harmonies. Not groundbreaking, but very attractive.

So, not a great album yet, and in some respects a little step back, but the title track is attractive, and there's a hint that Brian Wilson is capable of creating songs with more significance than feel good doo wop.

Score: 3

Surfer Girl  (Sept 1963)

The title track, "Surfer Girl", is a typical late Fifties / early Sixties doo wop ballad - though nicely done. The rest of the album continues the doo wop / rock and roll feel of their previous two albums, though Love and Wilson are getting into their stride now, and are producing some attractive and polished songs. However, this is still doo wop, and mirrors the Four Seasons. I like "Little Deuce Coup", a bluesy Berry-type song, the tender ballad "In My Room", and "Catch A Wave", one of their better surfing songs; but the rest of the album feels a little dated and Fifties in style. Moving in the right direction, but quite slowly.

Score 3 1/2

Little Deuce Coupe  (Oct 1963)

Their third album in 1963, this contains four previously released tracks, but none of the songs are about surfing, most are about cars or the American way. Continues the doo wop / rock and roll of the earlier albums, but the production is becoming richer, and the vocals are fully in the style we associate with the Beach Boys. The new songs are a little weak here, but the sound and production are moving in the right direction.

Score: 2 1/2

Shut Down Volume 2   (March 1964)

"Fun, Fun, Fun" is great fun, but it's a pure Berry rip off. It's no wonder Chuck Berry has a huge chip on his shoulder when white bands like the Beach Boys rip off his music and lyric style and the guy who rips him off gets called a genius while he gets thrown in prison because he's black. But the next track, "Don't Worry Baby" is genuinely wonderful. In among the rip off and copies, there are moments like this in the Beach Boys' development which marks them out (or rather, marks out Brian Wilson) as something a little different and special.  Yes, it's a copy of "Be My Baby", one of Phil Spector's masterpieces, but I suppose that at least Wilson was taking his influences from the right places, and doing something decent with them.

The vocal harmonies on the first part of "Parking Lot" are sublime (though it then ups the pace into standard Chuck Berry style doo wop), and show that the band were just starting to match and perhaps outdo their doo wop rivals The Four Season whose "Rag Doll" was released this year.

Track 4 "Love v Wilson" is a mix of speaking and song clips - it seems to be influenced by the Beatles' informal and homely style, and attempts to present some of the personality of the group and its individuals in a chatty, fun Beatles style.  The rest of the album falls apart in covers, instrumentals and plain bad songs.  At this point it is clear why there are so many Beach Boys compilation albums - while they made some classic songs, they also made a lot (a lot!) of rubbish.

This album is a bit messy, though there are indications that Wilson was pulling together all the strands of the musical influences around him and the band, and moving if somewhat awkwardly in a positive direction.

Score: 3

All Summer Long   (July 1964)

I'm not getting much from this album. "I Get Around" is the sort of feel good snappy pop song we associate with the Beach Boys, it's light and pleasant, with good vocal harmonies, and works well on a compilation album. There's a dreamy Fifties nostalgic feel to the "Girls On The Beach" song - something you can imagine hearing at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance in Back To The Future (the song played was "Earth Angel", originally recorded by The Penguins in 1954). So it's mostly the same old stuff they've been doing - nothing exciting, but well done doo wop and Chuck Berry influenced pop.

Score: 3


Beach Boys Concert  (Oct 1964)

Its a record of the Beach Boys live, but its not worth listening to unless you are interested in what they sounded like live. It's a curiosity only. Its not that its bad, it's just that its not that good. The sound quality is poor. The boys work their way through it all in a quaint goofy manner but it's not an exciting concert in any way.

Score: 2

The Beach Boy's Christmas Album  (Nov 1964)

Inspired by and leaning heavily on Phil Spector's Christmas album, this is a well constructed pop record, showing Brian's commercial skills. It's not interesting, and its not worthy, but its not rubbish. It fits in well with what the band have been doing since they started, and is possibly the best album they have made so far. But, as with all the others so far, it's really not worth listening to, and sounds very dated for 1964. "Little Saint Nick" is often lifted for compilation albums as its an original song, and quite well done.

Score: 3 1/2

The Beach Boys Today!  (March 1965)

I've been looking forward to getting to this album as it is generally regarded as the first of the band's decent albums, and a preparation for Pet Sounds. I'm not quite there with that yet, as it doesn't sound hugely different to what has gone before, other than it has a rather obvious Phil Spector type production. I like some of the songs here, such as the Phil Spectorish "Help Me, Rhonda", but because the band are always following and copying rather than pioneering, they are a little way behind what Phil Spector himself was doing at the time, such as "You've Lost That Loving' Feeling" (1964), "Unchained Melody" (1965),  "Be My Baby" (1963),  and "Walking In The Rain" (1964).  It's also worth noting the contemporary album  People Get Ready, which includes the sublime title song "People Get Ready" - as that is an album that gets overlooked, yet put side by side with Today!, is clearly the more sophisticated, meaningful, authentic, musical, immediate, considered, and important.

The Beatles inspired track  "When I Grow Up", complete with Harrison riffs, is quite lovely, and as usual is a good homage.  The ballads on side two seem to be generally considered the best aspects of this album

I'm returning to this after a few months, and liking it a whole lot more than previously. Some of the band's best songs are on this album.

Score: 6

Summer Days (And Summer Nights)  (July 1965)

Oooh. I like this. It's not an album that seems to be highly regarded: most critics and fans seeing Today! as the remarkable album, with its reflective melancholy ballads on side 2, and then skipping this one as simply a return to superficial happy pop songs. It appears that Today! didn't sell as well as previous albums (it is a little dull), so a return to snap, crackle and pop was seen as in order, and the band responded. So there is a strength and energy about this, and a certain familiarity, which works for me, as at this stage the band are not as innovative as I had been expecting - I think those who have been claiming innovation, may not been looking closely enough at the music both around the Boys, and a few years earlier as well. At this stage in their career they have, like the Beatles, been good at absorbing the music around them, and making it their own. You hear a Beach Boys record and you know instantly that its the Beach Boys. Hmmm. That's a good point. Something perhaps I should be reflecting on a little more. Perhaps I should go back and listen to the albums again, and ask myself - "What makes this so distinctively Beach Boys?"

Anyway, what I was going to  say, is that while I like things that are new and exciting, I also like familiarity. I think blending the new and exciting with the ease and joy of the familiar is what makes great music great. And for me the Boys do it here. There are odd, quirky things that I find quite staggering. The confessional style of  "I'm Bugged At My Ol' Man" is something quite new. We'll get such stuff later with the singer-songwriters. It's a modern, vivid, sharp, and fascinating song which is either overlooked or cruelly dismissed by most critics. Uncomfortable, edgy, personal, yet very universal. Wow. And even John Lennon's "Help!" wasn't yet released - and the attention that has been focused on that song regarding Lennon calling out for help in the midst of the Beatles' fame, and Help! is nothing like the raw and savage "I'm Bugged". Phew. The three Wilsons would do the song for a TV show in 1976.

"Amusement Parks USA" is an indicator that something darker and more creative is going on with this album than previous. There's the familiar Berry-Beach Boys rhythm, and the theme of having fun, but it's darker and richer than previous Boys songs, and the words are full of hinted negativity: "you can't keep her smilin'", "down on the ground", "mess", "shake us up", "get you bad", "mad", "it's a fake", "crash and burn", "a chicken at the jackhammer ride".  There is a link back to "Country Fair" from the band's first album, which also has a barker calling out, and in the midst of what should be a happy occasion, something darker and more anxious is going on.

The opening song, "The Girl From New York City",  is not immediately obvious as a Beach Boys song as the structure is a little different - while there is a Berry style beat, it's delivered via the beat stomp of the Beatles, and there is little evidence of a Spector type production. In addition, though it is based on  the Adlibs "The Boy From New York City", a doo wop song, the doo wop elements are secondary to the folk rock structure, no doubt borrowed from The Byrds, who had just had a success with Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man". Where you can pick up the Beach Boys is in the soaring background "woo oooh", which will be used to great effect in "Good Vibrations".

At this stage in their career, the band now have clear influences from doo wop, Chuck Berry, Phil Spector, the Beatles, and the Byrds. They have blended these together to create a sound that is recognisably Beach Boys. The twangy guitar sound of rock and roll instrumentals is still lingering around, but is now considerably less important.

I am going to return to this album as its intriguing me.

Score: 5

Beach Boys Party!   (Nov 1965)

An odd album, quite inventive in a crude way. The record company wanted an album for the valuable period leading up to Christmas, but as there was no new material ready, various solutions, including a greatest hits and a live album were considered. The solution was this party album, in which the band play with acoustic guitars and bongos in a relaxed party atmosphere with much talking and overdubbed background voices. All the songs are covers, including of their own songs - the album closes with the ecstatic cover of the Regents  "Barbara Ann". Unfairly dismissed by most critics, this is such a fun and inventive album, the song choices are great, and their treatment of the songs is far from dull. Bongos were very much in flavour during the late Fifties / early Sixties, with Cuban bongo players such as Mongo Santamaria being very popular - his Watermelon Man (1963) and Hey! Let's Party (1966) albums being typical.

This is fun, inventive, interesting, original, and it works!

Score: 5

Returning to this a few months later, and I'm not so enthusiastic today.  I've been playing the Today! album a lot, and growing to like that. Coming to this after Today!, and this does sound a bit throwaway, false, and forced. However, it still holds a charm for me, and "Barbara Ann" is one of the highpoints of the Beach Boys career. That's the entry point to the album. Get the mood of "Barbara Ann", and the rest of the album opens up.

Score: 4


Pet Sounds   (May 1966)

So here we are. Pet Sounds. Not just acclaimed as the Beach Boys best album, but for many years now, acclaimed as the best album ever made.  Oddly it is the only Beach Boys album that gets that acclaim. No other album by the band gets even a fraction of the attention this album does. There are critics and fans who like certain other albums by the band, such as Surfs Up or Holland, and there is a certain mythology surrounding the unreleased Smile album, parts of which have appeared on other albums, mostly on Smiley Smile, but its Pet Sounds that is seen as the embodiment of what the band were really about.

The album was not well received initially by either critics or public. And two greatest hits albums had to be released before the next album of new material due to difficulties with the recording of the Smile album.

I have struggled for years with this album. I don't reject it. I just don't get it. I try it now and again, and I don't see the magic that others see. But I want to.

While doing research for this article I have come upon this recently written article on Wikipedia: Brian Wilson is a genius.  This kinda clicked for me, as the article is about a marketing campaign, undertaken by the publicist Derek Taylor, in which - just before Pet Sounds was released - he promoted the idea that Wilson is a genius who is well respected not just by pop musicians but also by scholars of classical music. It all seems to fit. We still have this notion that Wilson is this tortured genius with an  uncanny ability to create profound melodies that the most musically sophisticated respect, while us ordinary mortals can also enjoy the beat. Wilson himself helps this notion with his mental health issues and his shyness - this seems to fit our notion of a musical genius. Also helping is the mystique surrounding Smile, the unreleased follow up to Pet Sounds. If Smile had been released and flopped, there would have been no fuel to feed the story.

So I felt kind of vindicated by my hesitation all these years to acclaim Pet Sounds as a brilliant album. I felt relaxed about the album for the first time. It was no longer a mystery to me. And then, working chronologically through the album releases I came up to the 50th anniversary issue of Pet Sounds and listened to the album again, but this time free of the baggage that had accumulated for years. That is, I just listened to it as an album. I didn't focus on it, or concentrate. I just played it, and allowed it to happened.

And it did, you know. It happened. I felt some of those songs for the first time, and really enjoyed the album. Is it the best album ever made? No. But is it a good album? Yes. It is.

Score: 7

Smiley Smile   (Sept 1967)

The opening track, "Heroes and Villains", is awesome, and sets us up for expecting some lush and wonderful tracks, but the very next track we get is "Vegetables", and it gets worse. By the time we reach "She's Going Bald", it's clear that Brian is trying hard to be interesting and psychedelic, and wants to do a Sgt Peppers type album, but its not quite working for him.   It's an odd album. It contains some good songs such as the incredible triumph of "Good Vibrations", but there's too much bad stuff to even call it patchy. It's a sad failure. Most of these songs should not have been released.

An album with two stunning songs and a lot of failed attempts. How could someone make something as wondrous as "Good Vibrations" and at the same time something as wrong as "She's Going Bald".

Score: 3

Wild Honey   (Dec 1967)

This sounds like the band are looking for a new direction, and are unsure where to go. While there are still traces of the band's familiarity with Fifties style rock and doo wop, continuing to give the band a dated yet comforting feel, the band are sounding more modern here with a fairly standard RnB set up - informed by the Byrds and the Beatles.  This isn't the soaring doo wop hedonistic Berry riff pop that has driven the band since their inception, apart from "Darlin'", so isn't recognisably Beach Boys. Apart from "Darlin'" this is a fairly ordinary album from  a mid Sixties band - there's stuff to like, stuff to dislike, and the whole is unremarkable. Compare it to 1968 albums by unknown bands like One Step Beyond, by The Chocolate Watchband;  Like To Get To Know You by Spanky & The Gang; Silver Apples by the Silver Apples; or Begin by The Millennium. What they all have in common is that Wild Honey and those other albums contain listenable stuff with interesting, attractive bits, but lacking that special something.

Score: 3


Friends  (June 1968)

A fairly ordinary and mediocre album. It's like a forgotten, minor psychedelic album. It's like the band don't quite know what to do. They have always followed the music trend, but in the early days they were more comfortable with the music they were following. It was their music. They liked it and understand it, and could work confidently with it. At this point it seems like they are just out of their depth, and they are trying to do psychedelia and also to keep up with the Beatles, but its not really their thing, and this, as with their previous albums, did not sell. They are happier with more straightforward Berry rock and doo wop vocal harmonies.


Score: 3


Stack-o-Tracks  (Aug 1968)

In an attempt to keep sales going, Capitol released another greatest hits album, and then this  - some of the Beach Boys songs but without the vocals. Yes. Seriously.

Score: 1


20/20  (Feb 1969)

The first track "Do It Again" is a brilliant return to form, but it is a step backward.  "I Can Hear Music" is Carl doing a cover of  Phil Spector's 1966 song for the Ronnettes.  He has a a decent soul voice, and though its not cutting edge,  it is a good song. The rest of the album contains a mish mash of songs from  soft, melodic near misses at contemporary psychedelia to country pap to an instrumental.  Despite the bright moments, it's a sad mess really.

Score: 2 1/2


Live in London (May 1970)

As good as dead in America, where the move away from sunny doo wop songs combined with some odd releases like the Stack o Tracks album had lost them their main audience, the band were still loved in the UK, so this live concert, recorded at the Rainbow Theatre, London in December 1968, was only released in the UK initially. It was released in America in 1976 as Beach boys '69.  The band sound confident and happy, giving a professional boy band performance. There's some good songs on the album, nicely done. This is a much better live album than  the 1964 one, it's quite listenable, but is ultimately quite weak, and kind of shows up the band for what they were a good time singles doo wop band. There is a lack of authenticity or seriousness about this concert. It's a boy band doing it for the money not the music. Compare with Goodbye,  Bless Its pointed Little HeadHappy TrailsKick Out The Jams, Live / Dead, Ummagumma, and The Turning Point, all recorded and released at around the same time, to get a flavour of what other bands were doing live. Yep. It's embarrassing isn't it?  The Beach Boys are so far behind the game it's no wonder nobody was taking them seriously.

Score: 3

Sunflower 
(Aug 1970)

I said a few albums ago that I wanted to look for the distinctive Beach Boys sound, and then entered a series of albums where that distinctive sound is missing. This album is soft rock with some country music touches. Apparently it was well received, but it seems a bit weak to me. This has none of the charm and power of their earlier material.

Score: 3


Surfs Up
(Aug 1971)

I quite like this. It's self-reflecting, slightly mocking, nostalgic, sad. It takes the image of The Beach Boys and uses it to make a statement about maturity. It fits in with some of the lesser semi-baroque / semi prog-rock albums that appeared around this time, such as Trafalgar by the Bee Gees, or Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by The Moody Blues. It's not quite up with the standard of the main albums of the period, but it does feel as though it belongs. There's a similar feel of nostalgia and maturity and moving award from the wide-eyed innocence of early Sixties California in Albert Hammond's album It Never Rains in Southern California (1972).

I recall listening to this album in the early Seventies - I may even have had it in my collection for a while. My recollection is that I had the same feeling then as now - that the album was mildly interesting - certainly not a failure, and was a more mature Beach Boys, but there wasn't enough about the album to hold interest, and nothing on the album that really stood out as impressive.

So, an OK, but minor album.

Score: 4


Carl and the Passions - So Tough
(1972)

Brian was largely absent from this album, and two new members join. Widely regarded as one of their worse albums. It's competent enough, though a little directionless with a variety of Seventies styles - a bit of soft rock, a bit country rock, with some gospel thrown in.  Most critics like the opening track, "You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone", which marries Brian's Beach Boys doo wop / Spector style to some modern country rock, with a bit of slide guitar.  "Marcella" is a throwback to an old Brian WIlson song, and the boys do it in Beach Boys style, but its fairly flat. The sub-Eagles country rock of "Hold On, Dear Brother" is not brilliant, but works well enough.

Not a terrible album, and not that obviously worse than other Beach Boys albums, but generally not liked much - perhaps because of the low involvement of Brian.

Score: 3


Holland (Jan 1973)

I had this album when it was released and quite liked it, though it gradually faded from view. Listening to it again now, I find there is a sense here of the Beach Boys working to their strengths, yet bringing their sound up to date. It's possibly one of their best albums. The opener "Sail On Sailor" is quite simply a damn good Beach Boys song, well executed, and then the album goes into new territory, waking up to the playfulness and envelope pushing of late Sixties psychedelia, coupling that with the earnestness and seriousness of early Seventies folk-tinged rock, and the result is an intriguing, interesting, and slightly challenging album. The Beach Boys have finally properly grown up.  Yes, it's not a classic, but it's one of the few albums of theirs I've listened to so far that I find satisfying, and that I really look forward to listening to again.

Score: 6


The Beach Boys In Concert
(Nov 1973)

I had this album and played it a lot until a friend borrowed it in the summer of 1976, and it got warped in the heat when he left it in his car.  This is a great album - the band are at their most competent and professional yet in a live setting, the song choices are solid, so we get the full range of the best of the Beach Boys from the early Sixties right up to Holland, and the arrangements are fresh and interesting so we get the playful Sixties doo wop delivered through the maturity of the Seventies country-rock version of the band. And it's so wonderful to hear the music played by decent musicians - listen to the bass and drums on this version of "Surfin' USA" compared to the basic wimpy simplicity of the original,  or the beefy "Fun, Fun, Fun" here compared to the thin 1964 live version or original. I think we all overlooked the poor musicianship of the band, focusing on the vocal harmonies, and the simple clean fun. Here is one indicator of how much better the band would have been if they all had been proper musicians.

All in all a very satisfying and accomplished best of the Beach Boys. Probably their best album, yet grossly under-rated (probably because it's a live album, and also because ("the genius") Brian is not involved).  Get this album and you truly have the best of the band, delivered in  a consistently good and unified manner so the music flows as a unity rather than jumping around from different production values, different sets of session musicians and different sounds. This is the complete job. And nothing they did after this is really worth listening to. Job done.

Score: 7

Endless Summer
(June 1974)

There had been compilations before this one, but this one seemed to catch a moment and reminded people just what it was they liked about the band - they liked the sunny doo wop songs. They didn't like the attempts at being a grown up serious band because they weren't very good at that (though over the years opinion has changed on that, and there are many critics and fans who feel that Pet Sounds is really what the band were about).  The album is full of fun songs, and it sold. I would rather have this than the majority of their albums. I can play this over and over again - it's easy, fun, sunny - pure pop.  Is is the perfect Beach Boys compilation? No - it doesn't contain "Good Vibrations", "Heroes and Villains", "Darlin'" or  "Sail On Sailor", for example (which The Beach Boys In Concert does), while weaker songs like "True to Your School" intrude on the fun; it would be replaced later by better compilation, but it's still an attractive package. 

Score: 5 


Spirit of America
(1975)

This compilation follow up to Endless Summer contains lesser known songs, but still proved to be successful as it has that lovely Sixties feel of fun and optimism.  The songs do have that Beach Boys sound, and while the songs are not classics, and there will  be better compilations later, it is, like Endless Summer, an attractive if ultimately much weaker package. 

Score: 3 


20 Golden Greats
(June 1976)

Released in the UK in the endless summer of 1976 this album was huge. It had all the fun hits from Endless Summer, none of the dross, and included "Good Vibration", "Heroes and Villains", and "Darlin'".  You can slip this on your player and sing along for an hour. Instant happiness, nothing challenging, just good time music. 


Score: 5


15 Big Ones
(July 1976)

Continuing the band's tendency to make really odd decisions, they release an album called 15 Big Ones at a time when compilation albums of their music were all the rage. What would the average person think this album was, other than another compilation? And  then to confuse matters even more, the album contains famous songs like "Rock and Roll Music", "Chapel of Love", "Blueberry Hill", and "Just Once In My Life", but these are covers (appallingly done!) interspersed with some poor quality originals including rubbish fifties style corn like "Had to Phone Ya". Mad. Avoid at all costs! 

Score: 1 1/2


Love You
(1977)

O dear.

Score: 1


M.I.U. Album 
(1978)

Only three of the band were involved in this, and there seems to be a lot of blame shifting and disowning and rubbishing of the result, with a good number of critics dismissing it. But it seems OK to me. I'm not seeing this as inherently weaker than the bulk of the Beach Boys albums. Indeed, some of the Brian Wilson songs work fine. Clearly I seem to be out of step with many critics who found Love You a decent album, and this one a piece of absurd nonsense. I'm kinda the opposite. Hmmm. I'll return to this and Love You later.



Score: 3 1/2


LA (Light Album) 
(1979)

This again reveals the band as being just a little behind the times - there's a disco track, and a Moody Blues type ballad based on a piece of classical music. But it's not a bad album. The songs are competent enough, and the playing is of the average standard that the band maintained throughout their career, apart from the brief period when they had a  decent rhythm section in Fataar and Chaplin.

Score: 3


Keeping The Summer Alive
(1980)

This album is generally disliked by fans and critics. I'm not quite picking up the essential difference between this album and the bulk of their albums. It seems the typical competent enough but uninspired musicianship (the drums are good though*).  Music is made. The band have rarely focused on the music or the playing of the instruments - the band have always been about the vocals.  Are the vocals here significantly lower than the bulk of the rest of their output? No. 

*I just checked - the drumming is by Ricky Faatar, who was the official drummer for the band when they made two of their best albums - Holland and Beach Boys In Concert.  The  brief amateur sounding drumming on Endless Harmony is by Dennis Wilson. 

Score: 3


The Beach Boys
(1985)
It's a competent but uninteresting album. There's still the sense that the band don't quite know where their direction lies. A mix of styles, a harking back to the Sixties style that served them well, and a bit of a copy of Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, etc. It's listenable, but essentially it's quite throwaway.

Score: 2 1/2

Made in the U.S.A.
(July 1986)

Another compilation album. I'm not listing them all, just those that were significant in some way - this one contains a couple of alternative takes and two new tracks. It also marked a brief return for the band to Capital Records. It's a decent, well produced collection, though most folks would already have these tracks, other than the two new ones, which are not that good.  If folks didn't already have a compilation album, then this is an OK one, covering a wide span of their career.

Score: 4






Summary


Voice / Musicianship

All members of the band sang, with the main duties being taken up by Mike Love, Brian and Carl Wilson.

Carl Wilson had a pleasant soulful voice, but nothing really special - his solo albums, Carl Wilson and Youngblood, show how decently but unremarkably he could sing. Carl was also the lead guitarist; as with his singing, he was competent but unremarkable. When the band, recognising their limitations, allowed session musicians to play on the albums, Carl insisted on continuing to play the lead guitar. As the band didn't focus much on the music it hardly mattered as they never used any intricate guitar playing. Carl could do simple Berry riffs, and chug along in basic country or soul style - nothing flash or profound.

Mike "don't fuck with the formula" Love is the big man in the band. Main lyricist and singer, he has been there from the start and keeps the band name.  He is classed as mainly a baritone with a wide range. He did the bass notes during the vocal harmonies, but he also did some (rather nasal) higher notes - which from songs on his solo album, was his preferred style.  He is competent, but unremarkable,  and is a less attractive singer than Carl, but more flexible. He was probably used so much because he could match his voice to whatever style was required, and also because he was the main lyricist, and it is quite common for writers to want to sing their own lyrics.

Brian Wilson has the strongest, most interesting, and best voice, particularly for ballads which he could hammer out or treat with sublime delicacy.  His solo albums are worth listening to, especially the first, Brian Wilson (1988),  and Smile (2004) [interesting to play alongside The Smile Sessions (2011)].  He played keyboards in the band, though started as as the bass player.

Dennis Wilson was the coolest member of the band, backing and occasional lead singer, and the drummer.  He was a very weak drummer.  He made a solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, in 1977 that is liked by some people. Difficult to know if it would have been liked as much if he was also a member of the Beach Boys, as there's not an awful lot going on to admire.

Al Jardine was a backing and very occasional lead singer and rhythm guitarist. He released a solo album Postcard From California in 2010 - here are a few tracks.

The band were competent but unremarkable musicians. Their strength was their singing. Individually their voices are not remarkable, though Brian Wilson's voice has some appeal. Their voices are, however, quite similar, so they work together quite well, and that's how people think of the band - as a particularly good doo wop band, and credit must be given for that.

Score: 6/10

Image

A huge part of the appeal of the band is the carefree, happy California sun and surf. But added to that is the Brian Wilson is a genius mythology, which raises them above the crowd.

Score: 7/10

Lyrics

Ha! Mostly it's feel good stuff, borrowing ideas from Chuck Berry about teenage interests in girls, fun, and cars. Brian seemed to want to reflect a bit deeper, and brought in writers from outside the group to go beyond Mick Love's "formula", but not that successfully. However, folks do like to sing along to the main songs, and the lyrics to "Fun, Fun, Fun" just make you grin so much!

Score: 6/10

Music

The band became famous and popular on a blend of Chuck Berry and doo wop. They were the main practitioners of this style of music, and carried doo wop forward into the mid and late Sixties. Brian wanted to add something extra from the Beatles, the Byrds, Phil Spector, etc, but this was not initially commercially or critically successful. In the Seventies the band looked to broaden their image and musical style to embrace what was happening at the time, and this had mixed success, and the band resorted to relying on compilation albums and nostalgia tours.

Score: 6/10

Impact/Influence

AllMusic has a long list of those who they feel have been influenced by the band. Most of those on the list are not big name bands, but there are some like REM, Crosby, Stills & Nash, St Etienne, My Bloody Valentine, etc, so credit should be given for that, but rather too much credit can be given, as exemplified in this over the top article written for Wikipedia: Cultural impact of the Beach Boys. Every single positive comment ever made has been dug up and dumped in there, with no balancing reflection, and no pausing to research the claims made.  It's as though James Brown, Phil Spector, the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, and Motown simply didn't exist as regards production values.  Also to be noted is the failure of Brian's creative control, and that the record company's wishes for a return to the formula won out. Discussion of the importance of Brian's creative control would only come much later when Pet Sounds was being reappraised, and when bands were already taking creative control for granted.

Score: 7/10

Importance

Regularly seen as one of America's big bands on a par with the Beatles.  Though their recording career is a mess, with their one big album not being a commercial success at the time, and now the critical acclaim given to it is seen as having been manipulated by a leading publicist, they are still to be regarded as a significant part of the cultural and musical history of the Sixties, and to a lesser but not completely irrelevant part of the early Seventies.

Score: 7/10

Popularity

Their sun and sand Sixties doo wop songs still have an appeal. They are on a level with David Bowie for records sold.

Score: 7/10

Star quality

They are mostly seen as a good time working band with a slightly crazy, chubby, shy genius song-writer and producer. Not a lot of star quality.

Score: 4/10

Emotional appeal

Feel good factor in the sun and surf songs. Some gentle nostalgia in Brian's more reflective songs. A little more than average.

Score: 6/10

Legacy

If it was just the surf songs, the band would gradually fade as those who could remember them in the Sixties got older and died. Their legacy will largely rest on the mythology of Brian Wilson, and the status of Pet Sounds as the greatest album ever made. I think that is a story that is now such a part of our culture that their fame is ensured.

Score: 8/10


Total:  57



Links

* Fan website
* The Beach Boys
* Brian Wilson
* Wikipedia 
* AllMusic



Lists

* BestEverAlbums
* Brooklyn
* Ten Best
* Ranker
* Sputnik
* TopTens
* Tangled 


Reviews

Sfloman
* CoS
* AVClub
* Adrian


Kitchen Table Music Blogs
Best Of The Best

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