BEACH BOYS REVIEWS:
Surfin' Safari (1962)
Surfin' Safari (1962)
Album Score: 8
The Beach Boys were clearly one of those bands that took quite awhile to start getting good. So, these early albums are very much weak and pretty much ignored when rock critics discuss their artistic merits. But, I will tell ya that it's still very fun sifting through all their early material. Already, they managed to have two of their biggest hits of all time: "409" and the title track. Those are hits for the ages! Listen to them, enjoy them, and know that they'll get a whole hell of a lot better!
There are a few other minor highlights in this album. One of which is "Cuckoo Clock," which features a marginally catchy melody. It's fun to listen to, and I like it. However, "Cuckoo Clock" is not a very well known Beach Boys song for a single good reason: It's not memorable. So you should know that when I try selling the non-"Surfin' Safari" and "409" songs, I'm really stretching myself thin! There's no reason you shouldn't purchase those two tracks from iTunes and call it a day.
One notable aspect of this album worth a mention is that the Beach Boys write most of this material. That's something very few rock bands could boast as early as 1962. One of the album's covers, "Little Girl (You're My Miss America)," is total crap, so at least we know that Wilson had the Boys' principal songwriter had more sense than everyone else in the world! Wilson, who would very soon emerge as a songwriting genius, is at his formative stages. But already he figured out how to make endurable radio hits. The skills he would develop in harmony and melody would come later on. Even as early as the next album. Can't wait!!
Read the track reviews:
Surfin' USA (1963)
Album Score: 9
The Beach Boys continued down their path of beach-rock glory with their second release, which obviously wasn't very long-awaited!!!! Back in the early 60s, "hot" bands would put out two or more albums per year! They even got away with these dang 24-minute albums. Thank goodness, to the modern CD buying public, that these are currently available as two-fers. I still say most people are better off just picking and choosing the tracks you want on these early Beach Boys albums on a digital music store.
Apart from "Surfin' USA" and their famous cover of the Greek instrumental "Misirlou," you could get away in life without ever owning any of the other songs on the album. But I cannot dismiss the other songs just like that! There's some really good ones on here. Notably, there's "Lonely Sea," which is the first true Beach Boys sounding ballad. There's not really a rhythm section; we're just left to bask in their rich harmonies! Unfortunately, its melody is pretty bland, which is why that's not a very well-remembered song today.
The biggest detrimental factor of this album is undoubtedly the extreme amount of instrumentals in here. Two would have been plenty, but they have FIVE. And they're all pretty much the same. There are other songs in here such as "Shut Down," which is a great fun song even though it's just a rewritten version of "409." Songs like "Farmer's Daughter" and "Lana" are interesting because they're rock songs that strongly utilize their famous harmonies ... but neither of these songs are so memorable.
You can argue with me until you're blue in the mouth, but I say this is quite an improvement over their first album. Overall, the material seems like the Boys were more solidly in the game. They still sound like wimpy white boys, but it's not so embarrassing this time.
Read the track reviews:
Surfer Girl (1963)
Album Score: 9
The title song is great. The first great Beach Boys ballad, it seems. It has a great melody and features those layered harmonies that the Boys are famous for. They follow that up with the utterly solid rocker "Catch a Wave" that, whoah, features a harp! ... That's small potatoes when you compare it to what Brian Wilson would achieve with Pet Sounds, but this was a vital first step.
"In My Room" is a less-famous but still golden ballad. It probably features the album's greatest uses of harmonies ... absolutely spellbinding. They follow that up with another great (but not too famous) light rocker "Hawaii," which features some truly excellent vocal interchanges.
What's the matter with this album is the rest of the material. A lot of it is a painful reminder that 1963 is nearly the '50s, and many of these accused songs are bland anyway! Too much of this material is forgettable ... but much of it is at-the-moment enjoyable, so it's difficult to actually hate them. Fortunately, the four unforgettable songs are so great that it overshadows the forgettable ones.
The real stinkers are the two instrumentals. "The Rocking Surfer" and "Boogie Woogie" (the closing number, I might add) threaten to ruin the whole experience. But they don't. Nothing can ruin "Surfer Girl" short of Madonna covering it.
Read the track reviews:
Little Deuce Coupe (1963)
Album Score: 7
I am still anticipating The Beach Boys' albums finally starting to be awesome like I know they will be, but I have to review this little obstacle before that can happen. And "little obstacle" is all this album is. Forget that it exists.
This is a big old car commercial; every song is about cars ... some have even postulated this is the first concept album. If it is, then it isn't a very good concept album. On the same note, it's also a compilation, because it features songs that were already released in previous albums. Can a compilation album truly be considered a concept album? ... I'll let you mull that one over.
The best songs of the album are "Little Deuce Coupe" and "409." These have already been on previous Beach Boys albums I reviewed. The only new song I like is "Ballad of Ole Betsy" even though that's a huge disappointment compared to the mindbending ballads we were subjected to in Surfer Girl.
It's even arguable if this album was really recorded by the Beach Boys. This is more like a Beach Boys album if they were made out of wood (The Beech Boys). I know who the Beach Boys are but I have no clue who recorded this album. This is corporate-rock at its most calculating and malicious. They should never have been subjected to doing an album like this. Granted, it sold like hotcakes so it served its purpose, but most people who bought it had no integrity. ... Yeah, I'm talking to you, Baby Boomer.
Read the track reviews:
Shut Down Vol. 2 (1964)
Album Score: 9
So whatever happened to Shut Down Vol. 1? Yes, that album exists, but we don't need to worry about it. It was apparently a compilation the record company threw together that featuring songs from many artists about cars. The Beach Boys had a few songs, but they were already released. And, all that's left is this very confusing album title!
Oh well, let's talk about the material in the album. Fortunately for us, this isn't another instance where the studios padded the album with already released songs. But this album sure is padded with a lot of unnecessary material, which is frustratingly what keeps this album from breaking the 8.0 barrier on my rating system! Nothing could be as bad as the faked stage antics in ""Cassius" Love Vs. "Sonny Wilson"," which sounds positively embarrassing, and they even go so far as to add a drum solo in "Denny's Drums," which probably isn't better than any random drummer could probably do it. Meh!
But let's concentrate more on the good side of the album! Right away, the album begins with one of the group's more popular tunes "Fun, Fun, Fun" which is an excellently catchy pop rock number. Immediately, they follow that up with a heartmelting ballad "Don't Worry Baby" (which for some reason isn't that famous) that uses the Boys' melodic and harmonic skills perfectly. They manage to even top the harmony sequences with "The Warmth of the Sun" although the melody leaves a little bit to be desired.
Oh, there's so much great material on this album! One thing I notice in terms of the band progression..... The arrangements are getting more creative! Yes, we've seen this hint already in Surfer Girl, but the progress continues to occur ....... Notice especially "Pom Pom Girl." It probably would have been an averagely good song for the Beach Boys, but Brian Wilson (I assume) adds timpani hits and unusual clapping. Slightly weird if you ask me, but completely compelling. Yes ......... I believe these guys are onto some better times! ........... Actually, they're already there, but they just need to get rid of all that filler!
Read the track reviews:
All Summer Long (1964)
Album Score: 11
This is where heaven starts. Everything that the Beach Boys are revered for finally begins to suface in their first must-have album. It's as clear as day that the one thing that sets All Summer Long apart from the other albums is the song production. I mean, once you hear what these guys do in this album, you'll almost never want to go back to the older ones! (But we all know that's not completely true.)
All it takes to prove my point is to take a listen to the opening track "Get Around," which is the first song they did to define "perfection" in the sense they're famous for. "All Summer Long" is another one of the album's best highlights ... it really captures the whole "summer by the beach" spirit. In a composition stand-point, "Hushabye" is probably the most unique song. It begins and ends a ballad, but Wilson flawlessly transitions a light rocker right in the middle of it! It's pretty compelling!
Even what might have been previously considered "throwaway" in previous albums are greatly improved with the production and the enrichening instrumentation. I can't say I was ever a fan of their car songs, but "Little Honda" is a well-performed track. The '50s nostalgia number "Do You Remember" comes off excellently. Even the usual "surf" instrumental track is better, as much as anything, because there's a dark-register accordion in the background (almost done in a sythn-scape fashion ....... sort of).
This is a verrrrrrry fantastic album from these guys. I probably would have been shocked by this if I wasn't already expecting it. (Oh, and they get better, too ... Yes, I'm expecting that also!)
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 12
They just seem to get better and better ... the funny thing is the music is just a more refined and better version of All Summer Long. Brian Wilson, the genius behind the band, continues to slowly learn about production techniques and also continues to slowly improve his songwriting. And well! This is a gem of an album! Plus, there's hardly even a weak spot here.
We all know the songs "Do You Wanna Dance?," "Help Me Rhonda" and "Dance Dance Dance," but there are a few non-famous gems as well. Whoever dares say a bad word about songs like the extremely catchy "When I Grow Up" or the heart-warming ballad "Please Let Me Wonder" risk getting beat up by ME!!! (I'll fight you any day, noodle arms.) These great songs are another brick in these guys' inpenetrable legacy. So what if they asploded somewhere around 1967?
It's funny that they end the album with five ballads. As we know, the Beach Boys are universally hailed for their ballads, but I think they're the weak spot of Today!. Two of the album's weakest songs (barring the chat between the band members in "Bull Session") are ballads. These songs I speak of, "I'm So Young" and "Kiss Me Baby," are relatively boring, and they don't have heavenly harmonic vibes to back it up. Naturally, the other ballads are excellent. It's physically impossible to even mildly dislike "She Knows Me Too Well." The harmonic progressions are of the gods!
It's not that I want to end the album's assessment on a negative note, but Today! does have its drawbacks. Just the same, this thing screams to be listened to. Are you up to the task? Yesssssssssssssssssssss????????????
Read the track reviews:
Summer Days & Summer Nights (1965)
Album Score: 13
I am differing from the general critical consensus and saying that this is a better album than Today!. I can't explain it any further than I just enjoy this album more. There were a few ballads and such that I didn't like so much in Today!, but I consider this to be a much more even album. Furthermore, I do like the novelty value of this album. They came off as very serious in Today! but they're having more fun here it seems.
Most critics claim that this album is a step backwards for them. They do seem to revisit many of the songs they've already done away with such as the novelty tracks (notably "Amusement Parks U.S.A.") and even the instrumentals ("Summer Means New Love"). But I pointedly disagree with their assessment. If anything, Brian Wilson (the only real genius of the group) is even more on top of his game with his immensely creative song arrangements! Summer Days & Summer Nights effectively brings back all the fun of the early Beach Boys albums, but without all that triteness. The only track I dislike on the album in any remote sense is "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man," but the hilarious lyrics end up winning me over.
Also, they don't repeat that mistake (IMO) of lumping five ballads together. That was a bit much for me!!! Last, and certainly not least, this album doesn't have one of their "studio chatter" noises. That can only be considered a benefit.
Even if I'm wrong about this album being better, I'd argue until I'm blue at the mouth that "California Girls" completely blows away anything the Beach Boys had done previously. That song is an absolute gem, and easily in this group's Top 5. Don't even try to argue with that, or I might punch you in the mouth. I'm usually not such an aggressive person! Hey, I'll defend the Beach Boys against anyone who dares challenge me to a fight!!
Gosh, every single one of these tracks are amazing. The instrumentation is just perfect. Oh, and you do realize this is the album that precedes Pet Sounds (as long as you rightfully omit their studio-demanded throwaway Party!).
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 9
So the legend of Beach Boys' Party! goes a little something like this: The record company wanted the Beach Boys to come up with an album for Christmas, but Brian Wilson wanted more time to formulate his next studio album, the legendary Pet Sounds. Since the Beach Boys already had a live album release recently, Brian Wilson decided to record a "Beach Boys party" album. In other words, they were going to record an album full of tossed-off covers and invite a bunch of people to talk in the studio.
Well, as far as I'm concerned, this album is worth just about as much as that. Tossed-off covers amidst the murmurs of drunk people. Granted, much of this is fun to hear --- and certainly the idea of the album was a unique way to keep the record company happy without compromising the real music he wanted to write. Some of this is too sloppy for its own good. The moments when the crowd is rowdy enough to shout out during the vocal performances proved distracting. It also seemed like they weren't big Beach Boys fans. (You know, classic rock lovers probably cringe at hearing this audience --- they're not respecting the legends!)
Another valuable aspect of Party! is we get to hear the real Beach Boys playing. Brian Wilson was fond of hiring skilled studio musicians to play the tricky arrangements he was coming up with lately. You get to hear the real Beach Boys in live albums as well, but ... I guess you hear them play more clearly here.
Definitely get this to complete your Beach Boys discography. But don't get it until you've completed that discography! ... Yeah.......
Read the track reviews:
Pet Sounds (1966)
Album Score: 15
Everybody and their dogs like to shout out to the moon that Pet Sounds is an enormous and timeless masterpiece, and nothing else like it has ever been made. It would be fun to disagree with this consensus, but I actually agree with it wholeheartedly. Maybe I'd even go a step further and hope that my shout to the moon is louder than everybody else's. This is an enormous masterpiece. This is not just a critical darling, but an album that I enjoy hearing immensely.
This is usually considered a Brian Wilson solo album with somewhat limited help from his other band members. Well, on the conceiving and composing of it at any rate. Brian set out to create a truly fantastic, perfect and timeless album. Simply put, he achieved this. That's exactly what so many critics say about this achievement, and I agree. It's like Ponce De Leon finding the fountain of youth. Quite rare, this album is.
The instrumental arrangements are what it is most famous for. Every track sounds unique in almost unsettling ways. Unsettling in the sense that I can't tell how Brian Wilson ever put this thing together. Usually, I'm able to easily pick out sounds and instruments (whether or not I'm able to correctly name them). Here, it's really difficult trying to dissect it ... even if I were to slow everything down. In fact, it's quite impossible. Listening to the stereo portions of this CD helps a little bit, but that's not even enough. There are too many elements and sounds layered upon each track ... and the songs all seem to take unpredictable and gorgeous terms. Everything is developed enormously well. It was considered crazy at the time --- maybe even futile --- but it's all gorgeous and absolutely nothing is out of place.
Anyway, I had trouble writing the track reviews, because I don't know how to describe the songs. Band-worshipers often say things like: "This song defies all description." Dammit, that's how I felt... I would listen to the tracks overwhelmed with my mouth hanging open. I resorted to generalities, because that's all I could do. Anyway, this music isn't meant for description. It's meant for absorption... And it works. Absorb it, and think about nothing else. I don't need to describe anything anyway, because surely you've heard this album already. If you haven't, then....... you haven't listened to music yet!
But I'm going to have to talk about the melodies. Brian was already established as a superb songwriter with his previous works. Well, he struck gold again with some of the most stunningly gorgeous songs ever on the planet. Wilson was really pulling these things out of his soul. He also proves why composers should pay attention to chord progressions --- everything he does is rich and unpredictable. Very warm and deliberate. Quite nice.
You'd think it'd be hard to come up with a highlight for this album in which every song seems like a highlight. But I can't deny that "God Only Knows" is the cream of the cream. It's so stunning and magnificent. The melody tops everything Wilson ever did. The mood is so heart wrenching, and big kudos goes to the singer Carl for turning in such a great performance. As for the 'second best' song, I'm not even going there. My brain might explode. Every song is a masterpiece.
Of course, it's firmly established in its place in history. One of rock's first concept albums (generally every song is about growing up), and it deeply influenced Paul McCartney to come up with the Sgt. Pepper album. While both albums are great, Pet Sounds is so rich and exotic... You'll never quite be able to put your finger on it...
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Smiley Smile (1967)
Album Score: 9
If you had no idea about the history of The Beach Boys, and you listened to Smiley Smile right after hearing its legendary predecessor Pet Sounds, you'll undoubtedly wonder what the heck happened to them! Pet Sounds was a refined and wonderful album that pushed the boundaries of rock music and song production --- Smiley Smile is a bizarre and poorly produced album with merely whispers of that genius.
The history behind Smiley Smile is pretty tragic, after all... As the legend goes, Brian Wilson had a theoretical album up his sleeve called Smile, and it promised to be magical. It was said to have been so great that it would have made Pet Sounds seem irrelevant. It would have beat out Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by half a year (often considered the greatest album ever made), and it's conceivable that Smile would have had that album's status today.
Wilson already wrote the material for it and he was taking painstaking efforts to get the material recorded. He had already invested so much of himself to get Pet Sounds recorded, but he was getting even more ambitious for Smile. And sometime long before it was completed, he snapped. He just couldn't do it... Some like to blame Mike Love for it. That's certainly warranted! But it was more closely tied to his drug addiction and existing mental instability. Also, you'd have to suppose that those haunting harmonies he wrote would have had a factor. I feel overwhelmed just listening to 'em --- imagine if I was trying to make a perfect song out of them. Luckily, he still stuck with the songwriting, but he was no longer the genius who was constantly pushing the band and the boundaries.
Of course in 2004, Brian Wilson would finally put the thing together, and I believe it to be one of the most beautiful albums ever made! I have an unfortunate perspective of already knowing the Smile by heart, so this failed incarnation really does seem like failed demos.
All of that said, don't start thinking that Smiley Smile is a wasted effort. Far from it... This might be "failed demos" of sorts, but these are weird and pretty interesting. Oh, let's mention that this album contains two seemingly completed songs from Smile and you can hear both of them in all their glory. "Good Vibrations" was a smash hit single and, in itself, pushed the boundaries of songwriting and production. You can tell these guys had reached the pinnacle there --- that's just perfection and does more in three and half minutes than most bands would take in two hours. Wow. And then there's "Heroes and Villains," another brilliant song that even expands upon the Beach Boys' already refined sense of vocal harmonies... They certainly never did anything quite like that before.
But then there are the other songs. Geez, they're weird. Not only do they come off like hollow shells if you're familiar with Smile, but they come off as overly spaced-out and bizarre psychedelic tracks. Even worse, they come off as confused instead of deliberate --- if it were the other way around, I would probably call this a lost masterpiece. I made a comment in the track reviews that I had might as well make up here. This is The Bizarro Beach Boys. One of their incarnations in another dimension probably sound a lot like this album. Maybe the dimensions collided in Brian Wilson's brain or something. The instrumentals seem out of place as well as it seems like a few band members decided not to show up the day they were recording this. Smiley Smile sounds completely out of this world or they were all on LSD and didn't polish it after they sobered up. Alternately, maybe I'm on LSD, and I don't know it.
I mean, even if Brian Wilson had a breakdown, you'd think the band would still be able to put together something a little less ... crappy. OK, I have complimented much worse albums, but ... well ... hm ...
Read the track reviews:
Wild Honey (1967)
Album Score: 10
The good news is that The Beach Boys had their ducks in a row by the time they released Wild Honey after their disastrous Smiley Smile. Unfortunately, they'll never be the same band that I enjoyed listening to leading up to Pet Sounds, but I'll get over it. I know it.
And thus a new era of The Beach Boys was birthed --- one that's much less treasurable and wonderful, but a great band nonetheless. Brian Wilson was still writing most of the songs, but he had less to do with the production--- and he would eventually just whither out of the band. Well, luckily he would still be an official member up until the '80s, because nobody else would ever emerge as a "genius."
It's nice that Brian Wilson continued to write music... The Beach Boys probably wouldn't have existed past Smiley Smile if he would have completely retired. He was obviously very cared for!! But he's not writing music of the same caliber that he used to --- and frankly a lot of this music sounds so freaking weird that I have absolutely no idea where he's coming from. Much of this music is unsettling, and it's not a stretch of the imagination to think that this is from a genius who's no longer trying to move mountains, but he can still amusingly piddle around with the foothills.
So what I'm getting at, post-breakdown Beach Boys had a remarkably positive aftermath, and I'm thrilled this group was still able to move on in a functional state. There's more good music to hear!! Of course this group isn't going to strive for perfection anymore. They're settling on being mortals... Deal with it!!! Besides, this album contains its fair share of gems anyway. "Darlin'" is the hugely wonderful song. Supposedly, it was written in the early '60s, but it sounds great here. The sound is crisp and clear, and I love the harmonies and melody.
Unfortunately many of the other tracks aren't as unabashedly enjoyable, and quite a few of them are difficult to digest. Wild Honey is credited as being their "soul" album. That's accurate, but you'd also call it their "confused" album. There's really no sense of direction anywhere. This seems like a collection of semi-inspired ideas --- many of which were just random and not properly developed. The arrangements are unique but not always enjoyable, and many of these tracks are left sounding too off-base for comfort. All that said, it's much better than what they did on Smiley Smile, which sounded like they plum gave up (except for the two major gems, that is).
It might take awhile to get used to Carl Wilson's attempt to deliver soulful vocal solos in a few of these songs. He sings with passion, but his voice is strained and dry. Yeah, he does that on purpose, but it's not as effective as it might have been. Though I like his performance on the opening track, "Wild Honey," he goes a little too far with the Stevie Wonder cover, "I Was Made to Love Her." But he makes up for that with his perfect vocal rendition on "Darlin'."
I certainly wrote a lot about this album --- especially one that isn't even thirty minutes long. I do recommend this album. As someone who generally likes weird music, I can appreciate this album's uniqueness. It's unfortunate that Wilson was so detached from this work to make it sparkle a bit more, but he had good enough reason not to care so much anymore.
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Album Score: 12
I guess this is the beginning of The Beach Boys' quaint period. Compared to Wild Honey, this album has a much more laid-back and easily palatable quality that I completely adore. This doesn't come off as such a weird and irrational album, and I can much more easily wrap my poor little mind around this one. I enjoy listening to this immensely! Very much, this is a nice album to hear when you want to sit back and try to enjoy life.
This is a very simple album. It only runs 25 minutes and the instrumentation is startlingly sparse. This quality makes it similar to Smiley Smile, except this sounds MUCH more deliberate and I'm more comfortable using the term "minimalist" for this. There's not much excess to be found at all in this album, which is a mentality that really goes against the trends of 1968 a period when bands were starting to experiment with excess. That meant that Friends didn't sell well whatsoever, but that's OK. We can appreciate this album today without the rest of the '60s to confuse us! As always, The Beach Boys triumph songwriting, and that's the one quality that makes this album shine so well.
The other Beach Boys are making more significant contributions and Brian Wilson is even more quietly fading out of the group. Interestingly Dennis Wilson contributes a minor gem called "Little Bird" and a less interesting "Be Still." All four Beach Boys (minus Love) write the entirely pleasant title track, and the memorable "When a Man Needs a Woman." Certainly, this songwriting involvement from the other Beach Boys wasn't so stark! Mike Love, however, was absent for much of this because he spent some time in India for a religious experience or something.
The best song of the album is solely credited to Brian Wilson, though, which sort of puts his band mates in their place. "Passing By" is a real gem, and features some mightily addictive textures. Also, Brian's "Busy Doin' Nothing" is another one of the major highlights. These two tracks are suggesting to me that Wilson did have some sanity after all...
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Album Score: N/A
My review for Stack-O-Tracks is going to be relatively skimpy (and I'm not doing track reviews because I'm not sure what I should write). This album is full of Beach Boys hits without the vocals. This way, you can sing the hits in the privacy of your own home! This was just a silly idea by the record company to release more Beach Boys albums for some $$$, but it didn't end up selling that much. It was released in 1969, and the general public probably didn't care much to purchase something that was basically useless. The Beach Boys' name power wasn't quite as pungent at it was in 1965. That still holds true today. Why would you need something like this???
Needless to say, these versions of the Beach Boys hits are worse than the originals especially since the Beach Boys give so much attention to the sound of their wonderful vocal harmonies. What's the Beach Boys without being able to hear them sing???? Wha-----?????
At the same time, this is was an interesting idea, and it preceded the karaoke movement by a few decades. I never sing karaoke, but I'm sure there are a few people in the world who would like this to sing with. Also, it's kind of interesting to hear how they did those instrumentals --- out of curiosity. Brian Wilson took great care in his arrangements and that was never this evident.
Again, this is just a release for the fans. It's kind of interesting, but it's ultimately just a cash-in.
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Album Score: 12
What a rag-tag bunch of songs! The diversity is crazy!! There's everything from retro surf, to rockability covers, to psychedelic anthems, to country folk, to -- um -- saccharine cinematic music... Doing a little research on the matter, it is quickly discovered that this album consists of a grouping of singles, B-sides and Smile leftovers. Fortunately, just about every one of these songs are well-written and enjoyable, so I guess that means that 20/20 is an enjoyable album!
I suppose you could say that this is the beginning of The Beach Boys' nostalgic period. Nostalgia turned out to be one of the group's main selling points most profusely starting with the late '70s. They were trying to sell their old image and the fond childhood memories from their then-middle-aged fans. 20/20 is only nostalgic in the sense that they're looking back to old styles of music but still trying to do newer things with it. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons this album didn't sell well at all in 1969--- when the vast majority of bands and listeners were looking toward the future.
Right off the bat, they begin with "Do it Again," a throwback to their old surf songs with interesting production standards that were much more advanced than it would have sounded in 1962. The end result, is it's one of the best surf jingles they've ever done. Also, their cover of "Cotton Fields" is as fresh sounding as can be, and their rockability cover "Bluebirds Over Mountains" is fun. Dennis Wilson is notably becoming a bigger part of the songwriting. He contributes three songs, and the best of 'em is the convincingly dramatic "Be With Me." Lesser songs of his include the dirty rocker "All I Want to Do" and the confused "Never Learn Not to Love." Brian Wilson was about ready to be phased out of the group altogether except his band mates tried to keep Brian an active member of the group. Other than the Smile leftovers, Brian contributes two songs. One's the laid-back ballad "I Went to Sleep" and the other is the more inspiring and utterly peaceful "Time to Get Alone."
Perhaps the most striking highlights of this album, however, are the tracks leftover from Smile tacked on at the end, "Our Prayer" and "Cabinessence." Although these are like tiny snippets of a symphony, they sound just as nice away from the whole. "Cabinessence" sounds a little better in Brian Wilson's 2004 album, but it does serve as quite a nice conclusion to 20/20.
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Album Score: 12
It's not that difficult to figure out why The Beach Boys fell incredibly out of style in the late '60s and early '70s, because they were old and they didn't change their sound much since the mid '60s. But anyone going back to listening to The Beach Boys today don't give a damn about that... Sunflower was an unjustly ignored album today, but there is plenty of material on there that's beautiful and deserves to be heard by anyone who likes music! ... There are a number of people who even take it a step further and proclaim Sunflower to be their favorite Beach Boys album altogether. These are interesting people, but nothing they could do would ever surpass Pet Sounds. (Remember, the debacle Smiley Smile was what happened last time they tried to top Pet Sounds.)
The style of this album is incredibly loose, incredibly tuneful, beautiful harmonies and sometimes wild shifts in style. And when I say wild shifts in style, I mean wiiiiiiiild. Seriously, there's a hard-rock song �It's About Time� sandwiched in between two more traditional Beach Boys ballads! These guys were incredibly confused and not being very album-oriented in their approach at all....... But hey, that rocker is actually pretty good! And weird diversity is something that always appealed to me, for some reason.
But everyone loves The Beach Boys for their ballads, and �Dierdre� is jaw-droppingly gorgeous one. Any casual fan of The Beach Boys who know them just for the songs you'll find on one of their Greatest Hits compilations are really in for a treat... this relatively obscure tune is just as good as anything they did in the early '60s. The melody proved that Brian Wilson still had enough juice in him to create gems like that in spite of his personal problems. He obviously wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to 1970 music ... this seems rooted in the mid '60s. But the mid '60s were awesome, so who the hell cares? The folksy instrumentation is very charming, too. (Especially that trombone making a cameo appearance in the middle.) Another Brian Wilson tune, �This Whole World,� is another gorgeous ballad, and those towering vocal harmonies make my heart ache every time I listen to them.
Brian Wilson penned the album's best songs, which isn't really a surprise, but Dennis Wilson had an incredibly strong showing here. I already mentioned his with-the-times �Got to Know Woman,� but he also co-penned a captivating ballad �Forever,� a quirky pop-rock tune �Slip on Through� and a surprisingly convincing blues-rocker �Got to Know Woman.� Perhaps you could accuse him of cluttering this album up with 'uncharacteristic' Beach Boys songs, but they're all incredibly charming and impossible to hate... and he even gives these incredibly likable vocal performances!
A children's tune �At My Window� is charming, but the melody is way to predictable for me. The instrumentation is incredibly well-textured, though, making it very relaxing, and I also appreciate the opportunity to hear Brian Wilson mutter something in French. �Cool, Cool Water� is a very spaced-out leftover from the Smile sessions... The funny thing about that song is there's no real melody to it... It's mostly a vocal groove featuring a couple of the boys singing variations of �cool, cool water� over and over, and sometimes adding in a lyric or two about how good it is to drink cool, cool water. The middle is a strange, sort of new age thing. (This part sounds really cool on Wilson's completed Smile album released in 2004, by the way.) It's incredibly weird, but remarkably charming. It goes to show how confused they were... but certainly well-worth listening to!
Read the track reviews:
Surf's Up (1971)
Album Score: 11
Dennis Wilson had been emerging as one of the Beach Boys' main songwriters in previous albums, but he suddenly left that stage for Surf's Up. On top of that, Brian also was less-functional when it came to songwriting. Apart from a few co-writing credits (in which he most likely only 'help a bit'), his only contributions were a depressing ballad, �Til I Die,� a minimalist tune about a tree, �Day in the Life of a Tree,� and an unused outtake from the busted Smile sessions, the title track. This of course meant that Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston had to come up with the remaining songs. And they did it surprisingly well. (Except for Mike Love.)
Carl Wilson, who apparently hadn't penned anything for the band at this point, contributed �Free Flows,� an oddball and completely original song that proved the guy had some bottled up creativity. The chord-progressions certainly aren't as majestic as Brian's (in fact, there are only two chords being used in a major section of this), but the harmonies aren't the point of it. The choppy chords are somehow mesmerizing, and that mystical jam in the middle (basically a duet between a flute and a mysterious electric guitar) is quite exciting. It more closely resembles Frank Zappa than the classic Beach Boys, and that is a really compelling aspect of it. (Of course, they still wanted it to be relatively accessible whereas that wasn't a main concern for Zappa...) Carl also wrote the more traditional �Long Promised Road,� a multi-part suite that is nearly as 'epic' and tuneful as one of Brian's. The only major difference, again, is it doesn't quite exhibit Brian's incredible knack for harmonies. But it was surprisingly close.
Bruce Johnston wrote a surprisingly heartwarming gem, �Disney Girls (1957).� It's a ballad that probably belongs in 1957, but I guess that was the point. It's a sweet song with one of those melodies that's prone to stick in your mind. Al Jardine co-wrote a quirky pop tune (with some help from Brian), �Take a Load Off Your Feet.� You're more likely to remember the somewhat overactive vocal performance amidst the sound-effects-ridden instrumentation, which could be described as 'a lot of knocks.' It's sort of fun to hear, though. �Don't Go Near the Water� is another funny pop song, except the melody is a little clich� and Mike Love wrote terrible lyrics about water pollution. I do like those rubbery synthesizers they use to give the overall song a watery texture! That was a brilliant move in what would have otherwise been a dull, routine pop song with terrible lyrics. Another Al Jardine contribution was the folk ballad �Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song),� a formidable piece of songwriting but ultimately unmemorable.
A lot of die hard Beach Boys really hate Mike Love. Whether or not such sentiments are deserved, his only major contribution is the only real drag on Surf's Up. �Student Demonstration Time� is the same thing as �Riot in Cell Block #9,� a blues song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, but he rewrote the lyrics to reflect the college campus protest riots. The Beach Boys weren't known for playing blues-rock, but they did OK considering they're the whitest band on earth. But that melody was already generic blues-rock, and those incredibly pretentious and dated lyrics don't help. Bluh!
Naturally, the three Brian Wilson contributions are the ultimate highlights. Even though the band members hated it, �Til I Die,� is a gorgeous masterpiece and further proof that the guy had a natural ear for harmonies. True, it's incredibly depressing, but there is a lot of beauty to be seen in this black-and-white picture. �A Day in the Life of a Tree� isn't as compelling to me, although it's much more minimal than you'd expect a Beach Boys song to be. The predominant instrument there is a very plain-sounding organ and somewhat shaky vocals. It's not Brian's best work, for sure, but it is also oddly majestic and something that could be easy to take to heart. And the title track, of course, is a fairly well-known classic. It's one of those classic sentimental, multi-part suite that shows all the pre-breakdown Brian Wilson at the height of his powers. It sounds a little bit like a demo to me (though with a little bit of orchestration that was actually recorded in 1966), but they probably lacked the budget and inspiration to go crazy with the song production they had originally planned.
Despite its flaws, Surf's Up is a very enjoyable middle-period Beach Boys album that any pop-rock fan should listen to. There's too much good material here to pass up. Considering it's available on the same CD as the also-splendid Sunflower, there's really no excuse for not picking it up.
Read the track reviews:
Carl and the Passions - "So Tough" (1972)
Album Score: 11
The band was having a difficult time selling records for years, and in 1972 they made the desperate move to try to change their sound. Ballads were these guys' specialty, of course, but all the hot-item bands at the time were playing rough and gruff rock 'n' roll! So, they created a band-within-a-band called �Carl and the Passions� (actually the name of a pre-Beach Boys band), and they cut an album with a generic sounding name, So Tough.
Well, these guys know how to rock about as well as I can play baseball (I suck), so they needed a little outside help. In the meantime, Bruce Johnston was so against their idea to go rock 'n' roll that he left the band temporarily in protest. Also in an unfortunate accident, Dennis Wilson was unable to play the drums. (But he still contributed two songs and his vocals.) So, that enabled them to fill the gaps with musicians with rock 'n' roll credentials, guitarist Blondie Chaplin and drummer Ricky Fataar (later of Rutles fame).
Beach Boys purists hated that, of course, but all they did to aid in this �new direction� were two songs they contributed, �Here She Comes� and �Hold On Dear Brother.� Well, both of those are really lame. They are polished and professional-sounding, for sure (the latter particularly has very nice slide guitar), but they are entirely forgettable. I think I speak for music dorks everywhere when I say that lifeless, forgettable songs have no place on a Beach Boys album.
But Brian Wilson contributes an excellent song �You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone,� which I suppose rocks out the most that guy could possibly do! It's a little bit nutty, too, with its ominous piano riff and Carl's humorous, guttural lead vocals. Well, the song is 100 percent awesome, what else can I say? It's catchy, it's weird, it's fun... they even bring in a cool banjo and fiddle to join the festivities. Me likey! �Marcella� also provides one of the album's purest delights. It's as much of a rock 'n' roll song as anything on All Summer Long, which means it's not rock 'n' roll at all. But anyway, it's an excellent song with a memorable melody, great harmonies, and it effectively recaptures much of that former Beach Boys glory. So much for the �new direction!�
Surprisingly, the one person who drove the lethal stake into the rock 'n' roll idea was Dennis Wilson. You would think that a rock 'n' roll Beach Boys album would have featured him since he proved in earlier albums that he is easily the band's most accomplished rock 'n' roll composer. And do you know what his two songs sound like? CINEMA MUSIC! I mean, his two songs are less rock 'n' roll than �Surfer Girl.� Maybe it was because he didn't want to give the scab drummer any work, or he just wanted to be hilariously unhelpful. But still, you really wouldn't have expected Dennis to try and pull something off like cinema music. Much less would you expect him to do it successfully.
His �Cuddle Up� is so good that it reminds me of Ennio Morricone. It is aesthetically gorgeous and terribly moving as he delivers an incredible, melancholic vocal performance. The instrumentation consists of a very low-key piano before a full orchestra sweeps in to create one of the more breathtaking moments that I can ever remember from a Beach Boys song. I find it impossible to tear my attention from it. The harmonies are as gorgeous as ever and that part in the middle where the boys provide some atmospheric �ooohs� is beautiful. That is a song for the ages, for sure. His other contribution, the two-and-a-half-minute �Make it Good,� uses the orchestra in a little more bombastic way. It's not as arresting and it's a bit weird, but I do like that one, too.
While this is a hit-or-miss album and I can understand why many Beach Boys fan regard it with contempt, I can do nothing but give it an overall, hearty recommendation. Sure the Fataar/Chaplin compositions are forgettable, but they are harmless. There are too many amazing moments in this album for you to pass it by.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 12
After their attempt to inject some rock 'n' roll into their blood with fell flat, the band decided to do something else to rekindle their inspiration. They took off to Holland to write and record a new album, feeling that a change of scenery would do them good. (Not to mention the pot and the prostitutes.) They even managed to drag Brian with them hoping that he would get out of his funk and start writing those great, hit songs again.
Well, Brian didn't manage to contribute much except for two songs. There's �Sail On Sailor,� an old song that he and Van Dyke Parks started writing long ago, and �Funky Pretty,� a funny composition meant for a bizarre fairy tale album that he wanted to develop, but the members didn't. What was recorded of the fairy tale album is actually included at the end of the disc as a bonus EP called Mt. Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale). Basically, this EP is nothing more than a curiosity, a weird tale narrated by record producer Jack Reilly about a kid who discovers a magic transistor radio with the help of a goofy entity called the Pied Piper (voiced by Brian). Anyway, you can take it or leave it. Now, let's talk more about about Holland.
�Sail on Sailor� is easily the most enjoyable song on the whole album, a nice 'n' breezy mid-tempo rocker. The melody is catchy, but the hooks aren't particularly deathly magnificent or anything. The arrangements are surprisingly straightforward and crystal clear on it, which is a change of pace from some of the more awkward sounding arrangements in previous albums. It's just a nice song, and nothing else. The album company was hoping that it would be a new hit for them. It wasn't, of course, but at least it helped prompt the critics to get off their hipster high horses and recognize that these post Pet Sounds Beach Boys albums were worth hearing.
Dennis Wilson turns in one of his finest ballads ever, the utterly keyed-down and understated �Only With You.� The melody is beautiful and Carl's melancholic performance is terribly moving. Dennis' contributions to this album and the previous one have been truly magnificent and it's nice to see his songwriting abilities soar to such great heights. His other contribution is �Steamboat,� undoubtedly the most peculiar song of the album. The rhythm seems to have taken its inspiration from an actual chugging steamboat, and the atmosphere consists of a number of oddly compelling tinkly noises occurring subtly in the background. Occasionally, the Beach Boys begin to harmonize with it the way they know best, but that only makes it seem more surreal. While that song is strange, it's also weirdly compelling and I like it lots!
Writing a song about a steamboat was also a little bit weird, but this album has other themes pertaining to Holland. Carl Wilson wrote a song about a trader called �The Trader.� Putting the boring lyrical matter aside (that I ultimately don't bother to pay attention to), that's mostly an unremarkable song that goes on for too long. The melody is a little too bland for my tastes and the harmonies are missing that certain brand of Beach Boys magic. (Come to think of it, why did they pick Holland of all places? They must've been bored out of their minds coming out with songs about traders and steamboats. Brrr.)
At some point in their stay in Holland, Mike Love and Al Jardine were feeling homesick, so they came out with a trilogy called �California Saga� that expressed what they liked so much about California. Mike Love wrote �Big Sur,� a simple and folksy tune that's sweet and earnest. I know a lot of Beach Boys fans hate Mike Love, but how can you hate him after hearing that? Al Jardine composed the following two songs, the first is intermittently a pop song and a reading of a Robinson Jeffers poem. It's like Joan Baez's Baptism sans the pop song, but luckily it's not nearly as insufferable. Part three of the trilogy is the very nice �California� done in the Beach Boys' sunny old style (except with a weird rubbery bass synthesizer playing throughout). Not only was it a good exercise in nostalgia, but it sounds fresh and it's catchy. Cool.
Holland is often considered the Beach Boys final gasp before they turned into a corny nostalgia band. At the moment, I'm actually too ignorant to comment on that, but that seems right, more or less. I know they did do a lot of relentless touring over the following years (minus Brian), and making a boatload of cash doing it. I'm guessing most of them wore white pants, sailor caps, and Hawaiian shirts.
Read the track reviews:
Brian Wilson Live: Kansas City, Mo. (August 25, 2005)
It's been so bloody long since I bought the ticket, but on August 25, 2005, I traveled to Kansas City, Mo. to see the only person that matters in the world: Brian Wilson. And I sat, like, in the seventh row! ... except it was on the side of the stage and this stupid light kept shining in my eyes ... and I think it messed with my rods and cones ... and Brian Wilson looked kinda purple ...
...Oh, why don't I start at the beginning ... or something weird like that ...
It was a rainy day. The wind was so strong that it seemed to be gushing into one of my ears and then out the other (I think it was, actually). A flash of lighting struck a nearby cat and the thunder rattled my brain. And, sixteen days later, I departed Wichita, Kan. To Kansas City, Mo. to go to a Brian Wilson concert...
I left work early (about 3:45 p.m.). Cleverly, I realized that it takes three hours to travel from Wichita, Kan. (where I live) to Kansas City, Mo. (where Brian Wilson's at) to get a good start for the greatest evening of my life, provided that I don't get a headache. (Well, I actually got there in two-and-a-half hours once, but I broke a few laws.)
Unlike the Sarah McLachlan concert I attended previously, I didn't leave early enough to piddle around in Kansas City ... not even remotely ... I only had time to get lost once by taking the wrong highway exit, not being able to find my way back onto the highway, and then maniacally trying to figure out where I was on the city's streets.
And then I made it. I noticed, phenomenally, that they charged much less for (their completely un-Marxist form of monopolistic) parking ($5) than they did before ($11), and I was gladdened ... because gas prices suck ... It probably cost me $5 in gas to trek their one-mile parking lot.
Sos, I parked. And I went into the Starlight Theater ... that place where I saw David Bowie that one time ... and I found my seat (remarkably close to the stage ... but then I remembered that I paid $70 for that seat back in April). And, I told my seat: "Hello!" And then I sat on it.
There were people sitting behind me talking nerdular stuff about the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson's craziness and ... I pretended not to listen. ... But he did have a point when he said that Brian Wilson is crazy. I reflected on that as I wandered around the fancy stadium. It was about 30 minutes before the concert was about to begin.
They remodeled the bathrooms since the last time I was there, I remembered. Last time I was there, there were pipes sticking out of the walls (...well, there's pipes sticking out of the wall in any bathroom ... but these were pipes sticking out of the walls that didn't exactly lead anywhere ...). I was so pleased with the bathroom remodeling that I decided to use them. ... I used the stalls, though, because you never know what kind of weird person would show up at a Brian Wilson concert to look at my ...
There was somebody from my past that I saw at the concert. That one REALLY REALLY REALLY creepy director of the residence hall that I used to live in at the University Formerly Known as Hell-On-Earth (K-State), and ... wow, we're both the type of person that would go to a Brian Wilson concert. ... And he had a better seat than I did.
After I committed suicide, the concert was ready to begin. ... I looked behind me. I looked in front of me ... there weren't too many people there! The amphitheater was about a third full ... WHAT THE HECK??? THIS IS BRIAN WILSON! THE GUY WHO WROTE EIGHT-BAZILLION GREAT BEACH BOYS SONGS SUCH AS "WOULDN'T IT BE NICE," "SURFIN' SAFARI," "CALIFORNIA GIRLS," "GOD ONLY KNOWS," and my ultimate favorite "GOOD VIBRATIONS!!!!" WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE PEOPLE OF KANSAS CITY??? DON'T THEY HAVE ANY CULTURE???? ... OR DO THEY ALL HAVE SAXOPHONES STILL LODGED UP THEIR BUTTS FROM THEIR GLORY DAYS IN THE JAZZ ERA???? ... Yeah! ... Or maybe they didn't have $70 to spare ... or $55, presumably, for the cheaper tickets ... or enough gas to drive up that mile-long driveway ... At any rate, they really missed out. Brian Wilson performed all those songs I mentioned plus OTHERSSSSSS.
Dudes! Brian Wilson is weird! ... I was watching the dude on stage (even when there was a freaking spotlight shining in my face to damage my vision for life) and all he did other than sing most of the time was wave his arms on the air. ... It's kind of like if Jabba the Hut wanted to give a rock concert, it might look a lot like that. ... But ... Brian Wilson is old, dudes ... and ... Hey! What did I expect? Smash his keyboard on the lead guitarist's head? ... Yeah ... that would have been illegal. He did take on the keyboard once or twice ... and during the encore, he stood up (awkwardly enough that I thought he was having a heart attack) and played some bass! ... S-a-w-eeettt ... Wilson's band was 1000 times more cocky than he was ... but I was probably about 100 times cockier than him, and I wasn't even doing anything.
Anyway, I was very very very very very pleased at the sheer number of Beach Boys songs he played. ... I didn't count nor write them down, but he probably did 25 or 30 songs. The first part of the concert was sort of the Beach Boys Greatest Hits time ... and I presume a few songs from his solo career. Unfortunately, I'm not enough of a great Beach Boys fan to have recognized everything he did ... but I recognized a lot. I know Pet Sounds well enough to have noticed four songs from it. "God Only Knows," "Wouldn't it Be Nice," "Sloop John B.," and "Hang Onto Your Ego" were performed. He also did a nice sweep of his career, including his surfing classics ("Surfing Safari," "California Girls") up to a song that's not even released yet ("Some Christmas Song I Don't Know the Name Of"). The songs he played that I didn't recognize (but the people sitting in front of me obviously did, because they sounded like they were having orgasms) were quite lovely ... and made me want to start listening to some more Beach Boys when I got back home ... to Wichita.
There was an intermission ... and then he came back ... AND PERFROMED THE ENTIRE FREAKING SMILE ALBUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
...I was wondering, y'know ... I didn't do much research at all in this tour before I left, and I was a bit miffed at nothing being sung from Smile. I bought that album about a week after it was released last year and couldn't put the thing down! ... AND AFTER THE INTERMISSION, HE PERFORMED IT ALL FROM START TO FINISH!!! ... OooooooooOOOooOOOOooooooOOOOOoooOOOOoOOOoOoOOOo... It all very much sounded like the album does, and ... um ... yaaaaaaay. I saw Brian Wilson sing the whole Smile thing! ... For me, that was easily my favorite part of the concert ... though, the Beach Boys Greatest Hits was s-wwweeet, too.
And then there was an encore! He performed more Beach Boys hits songs (some of which I've actually mentioned) ... And then he left. Since this was my sixth major concert, I was already getting into the habit of there being only one encore and that's it. Figuring that some scant members of the audience screaming their heads off to the point of brain damage for a second encore was wasted gas, I got out of my seat to leave the blasted place, but as I was leaving the amphitheater area ... he came back! ... And he performed a spiritual type song that I'm pretty sure that he didn't write (I forgot the name of it). I watched it from way back ... and there was no light shining in my eyes ... although, I wasn't too close to it ... and ... ohhhh, it's been more than five days now and everything I see still looks green to me ... except for the trees for some odd reason ...
...Hey, I'm going to an Alice Cooper concert in a week! ... ! ... Cooper does turn green eventually, you know ... like on the Statue of Liberty ... and stuff ...
LONG LIVE BRIAN WILSON!!!!!!!
The Beach Boys Live: Woodinville, Wash. (July 13, 2012)
It struck me amazing when I read the announcement that every living member of The Beach Boys were going to release a brand new album (with songs co-written by Brian Wilson) and even embark on a world tour together. In particular since they hadn't released an album since 1992, and Wilson hadn't toured with the group since 1965. In other words: This was history. (Or at least an afterthought of history, to those of you scratching your heads why I like going to see these dinosaur acts.) So naturally, I had to go to this. And how lucky I felt when I learned that they were going to stop by the Chateau Ste Michelle winery, a local venue I've been to four times in the past two years? Tickets went on sale exactly at 10 o'clock on April 28, and I was incessantly hitting the �refresh� button on my Internet browser to get tickets the exact millisecond they went on sale.
Last year, I claimed I was going to join their wine club for $400 a year, which would have allowed me to buy tickets a few days earlier. Doing that probably would have meant I could secure a seat somewhere in the first few rows. However, I didn't end up doing that. I after all don't have much use for wine, having approximately the culinary sophistication of a raccoon, and it's difficult to get me to spend $400 on something that's only liquid anyway. Nevertheless, I managed to score seats in the 13th row. Not too shabby at all.
The line-up they were advertising of course made me very eager to part with my hard-earned cash: This was Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks. Marks, in case you're not a total geek, was the rhythm guitarist for the band during their first four albums. He was the replacement for Al Jardine who had been temporarily absent from the group. (Although there was a brief period when both Jardine and Marks were part of the Beach Boys roster.) Of course these classic five couldn't have embarked on this tour to recreate live the lush sounds of their catalog without a little help. Or a lot of help, rather. As a matter of fact, they had so much help that I don't think the actual sound of the concert would have been very much affected if the core-Five played absolutely nothing. (That is with the exception of David Marks who let rip two or three spirited electric guitar solos.) Naturally, I'm still highly appreciative of at least watching these guys play. We all would have been at a loss without those visuals. But anyway, the backing band they toured with practically constituted an entire army. Among them were three percussionists, a guy who played various woodwind instruments, and many-an-extra-guitarist. Most of these performers also helped provide the thick background vocals required for virtually all Beach Boys songs. One guy of special note was Jeff Fosket who sings all the falsetto stuff in lieu of Brian Wilson, who's no longer able to reach such notes.
I'll also mention with beaming eyes that I remember the very first song performed at the concert without help from reading set-lists. It was �Do it Again.� Although I figured that would be their first song, anyway. I mean, what a better choice? This would become the first of many, many, many songs they'd sing that evening. Fourty-seven in total for a concert spanning three hours. These songs were each performed each in their entirety (which wasn't impossible since many of them are hardly two minutes long), but quite a few were done in succession without pauses in between. These guys of course didn't go three hours without an intermission, but even the intermission seemed rather short. (I remember The Moody Blues last year taking their sweet old time to come back on stage after the intermission.)
Mike Love announced a few times to the crowd that he was up for going late, late, late into the night; however, the winery forces them to stop the show promptly at 10 o'clock. (His kind of circus-ringmaster tone when he talked made it pretty obvious he was insincere about that; I'm sure if they actually performed an extra song, he'd be at the gate collecting a few dollar bills from everybody leaving.) Love was also adamantly peddling Beach Boys merchandise in a manner that somehow managed to be jokey and serious at the same time. He said they wanted to sell as many copies of their new album as possible, so they bundled them together 10 for $100. The reason you'd actually want to buy this is because one copy of the CDs has their autographs on it. (One thing I refuse to do in life: Acquire autographs.) I caught a YouTube clip of Love in 1969 begging the audience to buy copies of all their albums, so I guess this is part of his standard schtick. I've never seen Love in concert before, so I am new to this.
By the way, I'm not a Mike Love basher. I might poke fun at him sometimes, but I'm not bashing him. As far as the mass-hatred this guy seems to receive, I don't think it's always so necessary. One thing that's undeniable is that he's an integral part of the band's history. So many of the group's classic tunes feature his vocals on lead, and they sure as hell wouldn't have been the same without 'em. (You might argue they would have been better without him, but how would you ever know for sure?) However, I suppose I agree it's annoying how often he seems to be suing his bandmates and perhaps even more annoying how proud he is of the #1 Hit Single �Kokomo.� Then again, I suppose he had good reasons for those lawsuits, and... er... �Kokomo� isn't so awful anyway. The worst thing I can say about "Kokomo" is there are at least 75 Beach Boys songs I like better. But that really only goes to show how many great songs these guys have come up with over the years.
And I know writing this is going to be like a dagger in the heart to the Mike Love haters, but here I go: I saw Brian Wilson sing along a little bit with �Kokomo.� I know. A lot of people wish he would cover his ears and cower in pain every time that song pops up, but it was no dice. He was even grinning ear-to-ear as it was starting. ...Although that might not have been specifically because of �Kokomo.� He might have had a funny thought, or something.
...By the way, even though Wilson has approximately the stage presence of Frankenstein's Monster, I think he's far more lucid than he seems. Check out some of his recent television interviews where he not only talks coherently in a jovial manner but also jokes around and pulls out deep memories from childhood that he's never told anyone before. The reason for his heavy touring over these last 10 years, I think, must have been to make up for lost time. Though he does seem awfully out of it on stage; he was seated at a white baby grand piano for the vast majority of the show, sometimes watching the band almost as if he were an audience member. And I'm positive a teleprompter or something was telling him to turn to the audience occasionally and wave. Whenever he'd wave, those moments came off as sudden and quite awkward. (I remember vividly seeing him perform the Smile album in 2005 and he was even reading out loud things on the teleprompter written in brackets, such as [Instrumental].) But as awkward as he might be on stage, it's great he can still get out and tour with The Beach Boys. I know this has been said a million times already, but I don't think anyone would have predicted he'd have been the one to survive into his 70s without either of his brothers by his side. Perhaps it's nothing short of a miracle.
And even though Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson couldn't have been there in person (and I found myself really yearning for that), The Beach Boys found a way to bring them back in spirit. Brian Wilson read off a line stating that the next portion of the show we were about to experience was to honor their memories. What we got first was a video of Dennis singing �Forever," and the remaining Beach Boys provided background vocals and instruments. It was quite a moment. That song easily is one of the most beautiful they have ever done--and by proxy, it's one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Amazingly, isn't as celebrated as it should be. (Hmm... I haven't even celebrated that song; I just looked at my review of Sunflower from four or five years ago, and I only gave it a B+. I'm going to write myself some flame-mail for that.) After that, we got a video of Carl singing �God Only Knows,� and this marked another intensely beautiful moment.
The massive running length of this show certainly allotted them enough time to perform every Greatest Hit you could possibly think of. They lumped together all their famous cars songs like this: �Little Deuce Coupe,� �409,� �Shut Down,� and �I Get Around.� The second song performed that evening, �Little Honda,� was not part of this group, because that's about a motorcycle, duh! (OK, OK, I don't think I knew that until now!) They also performed all their surfing/beach songs at the beginning of the show: �Catch a Wave,� �Hawaii,� �Don't Back Down,� �Surfin' Safari,� and �Surfer Girl.� However, they saved �Surfin' USA� for their final song of that night, sans the encore.
They also played one song early on in the show that I couldn't quite place. It turns out it was �Getcha Back� from The Beach Boys '85. So far I've avoided what has been called their �horrible '80s,� but that will be rectified soon enough. Yes, I'm even going to take a gander at Keepin' the Summer Alive. Even though "Getcha Back" has nothing on their classics, it was quite a lot of fun to see them do. (This just goes to show that I found everything enjoyable at the show. And I truly did.) There was even a selection from vastly non-celebrated album L.A. Light Album, �Good Timin'.� ...Again, not that great of a song compared to their 'hits,' but it was nice to hear anyway. More than anything, this shows us that they're not blowing their noses at any particular part of their back-catalog. Naturally, of course the '60s was the best part of their back-catalog. Everyone in the crowd probably realized that immediately when they gave their highly spirited rendition of �Wendy,� which was clearly one of the highlights of the show's first half. One of my favorite portions of the second half was �All Summer Long" from the same album, a song I've been listening to a lot leading up to this concert. (Whatever it is about that song *clicked* with me suddenly.)
One album that was especially well-represented was Today!, which should have been good news to anyone who thinks that's their best album. All that stuff constituted some of the show's main highlights. Among them were �Please Let Me Wonder� and �Kiss Me Baby.� Their cover of �Do You Wanna Dance?� was the middle song performed in the encore, which lent its hand in helping the concert end on an explosive note. However, the final song from the encore was �Fun, Fun, Fun,� that ditty 'inspired' by Chuck Berry. That was some pure old-school electricity there. (Another massively upbeat song I would have wished to hear from Today! was �Dance, Dance, Dance,� but with a catalog like theirs, I guess it had to be left off!)
But another song from Today! they did perform was �When I Grow Up to Be a Man.� When it started, though, it was only a few seconds before it was suddenly halted by Mike Love. He screamed in his microphone: �Stop! This isn't right!� The players on stage looked confused. Al Jardine said �Well, we got a few notes out.� What I thought Love was going to do next was a joke--something along the lines of �Look at us! Haven't we grown into men by now?� What he said instead was simply that the intro was botched and that we in the audience deserved better. So, he directed the group to start over. I'm not exactly sure what was botched about it, but I wouldn't want to question his judgement. Speaking of botching things, I could barely hear Love's vocals in �Kokomo.� Maybe there was a certain Brian-Wilson-fanboy in the sound-mixing station who did that on purpose?
There were one or two pretty substantial cracks at their old ages at the show. Love knelt on the ground to sing the blaring-saxophone intro to �Be True To Your School,� but he had to enlist the younger members of the group to help him back up. As they did so, there were sound effects of bones cracking. Also, about three songs into the set, Love jokingly announced that it was time for an intermission, because they needed a nap. Another thing Love did was lay thickly some pretty big compliments on his band-mates, especially Brian Wilson. �How do you like those chord progressions? That's pure Brian Wilson there,� he said at one point. The cynic in me, of course, assumes Love only said those things to appease people in the crowd who wouldn't have attended this concert if Wilson wasn't there. But on the other hand, how about those chord progressions?
Love's repartee with the crowd was usually very corny and he almost certainly said the same things everywhere he went on this tour. But I nevertheless enjoyed watching him. I figured, before the show, I'd only want to keep my eyes fixed on pop-royalty Brian Wilson, but I found out that Love was hogging my attention more than anyone. Also earning quite a bit of my attention was the insatiably spirited Al Jardine. He was probably the only Beach Boy people in the crowd were able to recognize, if they only knew them from their old photographs. His voice was also the most preserved.
The evening's definitive WTF moment was a rendition of their psychedelic oddity from Carl and the Passions called �All This is That.� Even though a set-list published the day after the show confirmed that I'd heard that song, as well as distinctly recalling them singing that familiar nursery-rhyme melody, I could have sworn I'd also heard a little smidgeon of �Transcendental Meditation� played before it. (I was probably confused, because I remember distinctly Mike Love saying �Transcendental Meditation� before the performance.) I'm not sure exactly why they needed to play �All This is That� when I'm sure the crowd would have reacted far more positively to at least 40 other songs in The Beach Boys' catalog that I can rattle of off the top of my head. But whatever. As they were singing it, I had a thought that I should rush up to the stage and yell at Mike Love to play �Student Demonstration Time.� ...He probably would have loved that. However, my ultimate idea of a WTF moment would be for them to play �Johnny Carson� and supplement it with random photos of Johnny Carson on their big screen. That would have caused mass confusion. Except to the few people who've actually heard that album, and I don't think a whole lot of people there have. (Speaking of the big screen, what's with all those bikini girl models they kept showing there? I found that very distracting. And we can all go home and see that stuff in the privacy of our own Internet, thanks. With that said, something they also showed frequently on their screen that I did appreciate was classic footage of the band.)
Another unexpected song that I actually loved hearing was Al Jardine's �California Saga/California.� This was the moment of the show Jardine was especially allowed to shine, even though that wasn't the only time he sang lead vocals. Additionally, Bruce Johnston's special moment was �Disney Girls (1957),� which was a lovely and unexpected pick from their '70s catalog. However, it's not too well known; while he sang that, I heard a macaw-voiced woman behind me screech �What song is that?!� (Awwww... Everyone who went to that show should own a copy of Surf's Up, dang it!) Somehow through age, Johnston's voice gained more of a cutesy, sugar-encrusted tinge to it than it ever had before. That isn't necessarily a bad thing for a song like that. Mike Love was even threatening to let Johnston sing �I Write the Songs,� the world-famous tune that ended up with Barry Manilow. But no. They weren't allowed to let the concert go past 10. (In my opinion �Disney Girls� is far superior, but of course the schlock-ridden Manilow song gets all the love!)
During the intermission, I had noted that I had heard nothing from Pet Sounds. Fortunately, my desires to hear anything they could muster from that album were quenched swimmingly immediately after. That was when David Marks came on stage to play that guitar line from the title track I have so engrained in my mind. The rest of the backing band came on to accompany him for that, of course. Soon after, he was joined by the rest of The Beach Boys who played through three Pet Sounds songs without pauses: �I Just Wasn't Made For These Times� (featuring the lead vocals of Brian Wilson), �Sloop John B,� and the most electrifying of the bunch, �Wouldn't It Be Nice.�
There were only two songs from the Smile era, and they naturally picked the two I assume everybody yearned to hear most: �Heroes and Villains� and �Good Vibrations.� Naturally, every song at this concert was played as closely to their studio counterparts as possible; �Good Vibrations� even went so far as to use a modified theremin. (It wasn't actually a theremin, but it also wasn't a keyboard. It was a special instrument with a giant knob that sat idle most of the concert.)
Now, more about Mike Love. (As if he didn't hog most of this review anyway!) I was witness to something a little bit creepy that went on between him and a girl seated two rows in front of me. She must've been about 18 with long dirty blond hair and a cleavage revealing green striped beach-party shirt. Most people at the show were seated in their chairs most the time--because that's this venue's policy. However, she was one of the few people who stood up and danced through much of the show. At one point, I saw Mike Love point to this girl and then loosely wiggle his ring-encrusted fingers at her like some kind of prissy French monarch. He then made a poppy-eyed expression and mouthed �Whoah!� What I don't think he noticed was that this young lady happened to be standing between her parents. I laughed at that, thinking the parents were going to tell their daughter �OK, maybe you should sit down now, sweetie.� Instead, the father enthusiastically gave Love the thumbs-up sign. �.....Brrrr. Am I wrong to think that's creepy? What was a far cuter scene, though, was when Love invited her on the stage to dance and sing along to �Barbara Ann,� and she was as spirited as can be. She was even allowed to sing in a microphone (I think taking the place of Johnston at the keyboards), and she knew all the words. Far better than I would've done, that's for sure. (The sound-mixers must've been very on-the-ball, because I couldn't hear a female voice singing there at all.)
Another thing that was going on at the concert was that people were tossing around plastic beach balls. I'm sure the band's roadies had unleashed these things on the crowd; they do that at all the shows. But the problem with doing that at this venue was that it was a winery, and a lot of people were sitting in chairs sipping on glasses of wine. ...So a common sight I saw was someone in the middle of sipping a glass of wine and BAM be hit in the back of the head with a beach ball! There was one lady in particular nearby me who got hit five or six times. Hilarious. How many times did I get hit, you might ask? Zero. That's because I've got mojo.
It's unclear whether The Beach Boys will ever tour again in this capacity, and if they came to your town, I hope you took the opportunity to go to it. You were probably able to tell from the tone-of-voice in this review that I thought this concert was a blast and a half, and as old as these guys might be, they can still put on an electrifying time. (That is, thanks in a large part to the help of their army of back-up singers and musicians! Which, you know, helped make the show worth the steep $125 per ticket.) My only complaint about it is that as long as they were bringing back old Beach Boys members, why couldn't they also have dug up Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar? Chaplin, after all, was the original lead singer of �Sail on, Sailor.� ...However, perhaps it was best that that the song was returned to Brian Wilson, perhaps its rightful owner, who sang it at the show.