ALBUMS REVIEWS II: 1965-1970
I - II - III - IV

NOTE: The Beach Boys climbed the scales of fame and sophistication during this period of their history, and then, seemingly overnight, spectacularly crashed and burned in the eyes of the critics and the record-buying public.  But while disillusioned fans stopped buying the albums, the Beach Boys continued making music, different music than their early hits, less sophisticated in its production, but good music nonetheless, some of it equaling anything that had gone before.

The Beach Boys Today! 
Capitol T 2269 [LP] CDP 93694 2[CD]; Released March, 1965
(out of five)

1. Do You Wanna Dance [Freeman]
2. Good to My Baby [Wilson]
3. Don't Hurt My Little Sister [Wilson]
4. When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) [Wilson]
5. Help Me, Rhonda [Love, Wilson]
6. Dance, Dance, Dance [Wilson, Wilson ]
7. Please Let Me Wonder [Love, Wilson]
8. I'm So Young [Tyus]
9. Kiss Me, Baby [Love, Wilson]
10. She Knows Me Too Well [Wilson]
11. In the Back of My Mind [Wilson]
12. Bull Session With "Big Daddy" [Jardine, Leaf, Love, Wilson ...]

REVIEW: Brian Wilson had stopped touring so that he could relieve some of the pressures on himself, and this astounding album was the result.  Not merely innovative and commercial, but it also began to move the Beach Boys in a completely new direction, with side two of the album filled with lush, introspective ballads which would foreshadow the germinating "Pet Sounds" of the following year.  Starting off with a ripping version of Bobby Sherman's "Do You Wanna Dance?" it's followed by a galloping original: "Good to My Baby" (which contains one of my favorite choruses,) and slightly lesser "Don't Hurt My Little Sister."  "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)" is a perceptive and mature masterpiece, and then side one closes with one-two punch of "Help Me Ronda," and Brian's "Dance, Dance, Dance" (which easily equals the opening number.)  Side two is the jaw-dropper, starting off with two similar pieces, "Please Let Me Wonder," and "I'm So Young," both of which are sung from a teenager's point of view, pondering the mysteries of love.  My favorite song on the whole album, however is the underrated "Kiss Me Baby," a Spectorian ballad that is perfect both lyrically and musically.  "She Knows Me Too Well" follows and is almost equal to the previous numbers.  Closing out the album is the challenging "In the Back of My Mind" (with Dennis on the lead vocal, and somewhat out of his depth,) and the bizarre closer, "Bull Session with Big Daddy:" a faux studio interview with Earl Leaf and some hungry Beach Boys.  A must-have album.



Summer Days (and Summer Nights!)
Capitol T 235 [LP], CDP 7 93694 2 [CD]; Released June, 1965
 

1. The Girl from New York City [Wilson]
2. Amusement Parks, U.S.A. [Love, Wilson]
3. Then I Kissed Her [Barry, Greenwich, Spector]
4. Salt Lake City [Wilson]
5. Girl Don't Tell Me [Wilson]
6. Help Me, Rhonda [Love, Wilson]
7. California Girls [Love, Wilson]
8. Let Him Run Wild [Wilson]
9. You're So Good to Me [Love, Wilson]
10. Summer Means New [Love Wilson]
11. I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man [Wilson]
12. And Your Dream Comes True

REVIEW: Released just four months after "Today," this album showed that Brian Wilson was in full creative swing, even if it wasn't a linear progression from the previous release.  "Summer Days (and Summer Nights!) was a much harder rocking album than "Today" had been, with virtually no ballads (of the two present, one, "Summer Means New Love," is an instrumental track;) but is equal to the previous album in most every way.  It starts off with a full-throttle rocker, "The Girl From New York City," which is a great track - a short, punchy tribute to Leslie Gore that could have been a single.  "Amusement Parks, U.S.A.," which was a hit single in Japan, is another interesting song, but lyrically Brian was saddled with lesser material.  A straightforward cover of the Crystals "Then He Kissed Me" is next, followed by the instantly-recognizable chiming guitars of "Salt Lake City," which was a tribute to the Beach Boys strong fan base in landlocked Utah.  "Girl Don't Tell Me," which grabbed it's sensibility from the Beatles' "Ticket To Ride" is a thundering rock track (one of my all-time favorites,) and a revamped, tighter-rocking version of "Help Me, Rhonda" went to the top of the charts.  If any track on this album pointed to the future that Brian Wilson imagined for the Beach Boys, "California Girls" would be it: the symphonic opening strains are magnificent - but again, the lyrics let me down.  Brian's music is miles above the sophmoric scribblings of Mike Love by this time.  "Let Him Run Wild" is my favorite Beach Boys song of all time, melodically and lyrically matched, with an aching vocal by Brian; and a thumping "You're So Good To Me" follows.  The next number on the album "I'm Bugged At My Old Man" is again a head-scratcher, a rambling diatribe against Murry Wilson, with the message cutting a little too close to the bone.  And the closing song is a gentle acapella lullaby, "And Your Dream Comes True," which sounds somewhat out of place on an otherwise rocking outing.  An essential album.



Beach Boys' Party! 
Capitol DMAS 2398 [LP], CDP 7 93698 2 [CD];
Released November, 1965

 

1. Hully Gully [Goldsmith, Smith] 2:22
2. I Should Have Known Better [Lennon, McCartney] 2:23
3. Tell Me Why [Lennon, McCartney] 1:39
4. Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow [Frazier, Harris, White, Wilson] 2:12
5. Mountain of Love [Dorman] 2:47
6. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away [Lennon, McCartney] 2:43
7. Devoted to You [Bryant] 1:19
8. Alley Oop [Frazier] 2:53
9. There's No Other (Like My Baby) [Bates, Spector] 3:02
10. Medley: I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe [Christian, Wilson] 3:31
11. The Times They Are A-Changin' [Dylan] 2:13
12. Barbara Ann [Fassert] 2:53

REVIEW:  An unfortunate album for a couple of reasons.  First, it was a rushed excuse to buy Brian Wilson more time to polish the time-consuming effort of "Pet Sounds;" and second, it was a huge success, proving that a majority of fans of the Beach Boys weren't necessarily interested in having the band advance artistically.  (A paradox that has dogged them throughout their career.)  Having said that, it's easy to see why this album was a best-seller:  it's a lot of fun.  The Beach Boys are relaxed and having a good time belting out some of their favorite tunes, and even though it wasn't quite as off-the-cuff as it sounds, listeners can imagine that *they are there* at a shindig with their favorite band. The album sounds terribly dated, even with "unplugged" acoustic albums being all the rage, and the song selection is the main reason.  "Hully Gully," "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow," "Alley Oop," and yes, "Barbara Ann" were all anachronistic throwbacks by the exploding musical standards of the mid-sixties, and now sound very "old-school."    The two Beatles covers, a raucous "Tell Me Why," and a heartfelt "You've Got To Hide You're Love Away" fare better; a credit to the excellent songwriting partnership of Lennon & McCartney.  Add to that the studio-sweetened "Devoted To You," and a properly 'wall-of-sound-ish' treatment of "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" and you have the only other high points.  Ironically, just before they rip into their rendition of "Barbara Ann," the Beach Boys short-sightedly belt out Bob Dylan's "The Times, They are A-Changing"... Ouch.



Beach Boys' Party!  Uncovered And Unplugged 
Capitol [CD];
Released November 20, 2015



DESCRIPTION:  Beach Boys' Party! was the tenth studio album by the Beach Boys and was mostly cover songs. When originally recorded, the band invited friends and family into the studio for a party. Those sounds were then layered over the recorded music for a true party sound. Uncovered and unplugged now strips away those party sounds so that the true sessions can be heard in their entirety. This special 2 disc set pairs the original album with the newly restored audio, outtakes and dialog.

For full track listing click here.

REVIEW:  It would be easy to say that this new archival release by Capitol is scraping the bottom of the barrel.  And, in what has become a complete circle, it's now Capitol Records who have become the "official" bootleggers, hoping to extend the success found in the release of the Smile sessions. Beach Boys apologists argue that the Party! album is an undervalued gem; that it shows the Beach Boys at their primal best; that it traces their musical evolution and influences - all the while ignoring the fact that what it is, and what it's always been, was a quickie stop-gap album to satiate Capitol's demand for more product.  In today's world of unplugged and independent artists, it's tempting to point to this album and claim it as forward-looking, and that it foretold The Beach Boys own stripped-down sound of the 1970's.  But despite such arguments, to my ears it remains an easy-out - an artistic step backwards; and this two-disc distillation of the extensive sessions, which have already been mined, and in more complete form in the bootleg Sea Of Tunes four-disc volume, proves that the band was throwing everything at the wall during these sessions, hoping something would stick.  If you've not heard these studio outtakes, and have a particular fondness for the Party! album, then you're in for a treat, with excellent sound, unheard tracks, studio chatter, and a loose, easy atmosphere, stripped of the overdubbed clicking glasses and chatter which mar the original release; but for long-time fans, especially those who know what still resides in the vaults, this release can't be seen as anything more than a disappointment.


Pet Sounds
Capitol T-2458 [LP], CDP 7 48421 2 [CD]; Released May, 1966
 

1. Wouldn't It Be Nice [Asher, Wilson]
2. You Still Believe in Me [Asher, Wilson]
3. That's Not Me [Asher, Wilson]
4. Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) [Asher, Wilson]
5. I'm Waiting for the Day [Love, Wilson]
6. Let's Go Away for Awhile [Wilson]
7. Sloop John B [Traditional, Wilson]
8. God Only Knows [Asher, Wilson]
9. I Know There's an Answer [Love, Sachen, Wilson]
10. Here Today [Asher, Wilson]
11. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times [Asher, Wilson]
12. Pet Sounds [Wilson]
13. Caroline No [Asher, Wilson]

REVIEW: I have to confess right now that Pet Sounds is not my favorite Beach Boys album.  Having grown up like so many recent fans listening only to the popular compilations Endless Summer and Spirit of America, I went out and bought the 1990 CD reissue of Pet Sounds after reading the famous "Doonesbury" comic strip (with an AIDS-infected man raving about the album on his deathbed) and various reviewers all praising this classic album.  Listening to it, I was naturally confused:  I was expecting the 'old' Beach Boys sound, but instead was confronted with a lush, textured album, melancholy and introspective, with more instrumentals than I ever knew the Beach Boys had in their entire catalog.  (I've learned differently since then.) Time and repeated listenings have tempered that first impression, but not completely changed it... but that doesn't mean that this album won't move you the way it has thousands of others.  What makes this album great is it's universality: hope, romance, insecurity, joy, all tied together by the still-innovative use of alternately sighing/thundering dynamics and multi-layered instrumental and vocal tracks.  My favorite songs are the most familiar ones,  "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows," and "Sloop John B" (with that outstanding looping, sparkling backing track), stand out.  Everything else is less emotionally tied to me (perhaps I need to experience a little more romance in my life), but I can fully appreciate what Brian Wilson was attempting to create, and can heartily attest that he not only suceeded, but surpassed himself.



Smiley Smile
Brother 9001 [LP], CDP 7 93696 2 [CD]; Released September, 1967

1 Heroes and Villains (Parks, Wilson) 3:36
2 Vegetables (Parks, Wilson) 2:05
3 Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (W. Woodpecker Symphony) (Wilson)
4 She's Goin' Bald (Love, Parks, Wilson) 2:14
5 Little Pad (Wilson) 2:30
6 Good Vibrations (Love, Wilson) 3:35
7 With Me Tonight (Wilson) 2:13
8 Wind Chimes (Wilson) 2:36
9 Gettin' Hungry (Love, Wilson) 2:27
10 Wonderful (Parks, Wilson) 2:20
11 Whistle In (Wilson) 1:02

REVIEW: Out of the ashes of "Smile" rose the Phoenix of "Smiley Smile," and the Beach Boys were never the same.  Hearing this album for the first time only four years ago, I experienced the incredulous shock of transition that I'm sure most fans feel when they hear it.  Druggy, underproduced in the extreme, with songs that occasionally sound like practical jokes, this can't be the Beach Boys.  But there is the best single of all time "Good Vibrations" and it's Wild West twin "Heroes and Villains," couched between songs like the crunchy-munchy "Vegetables" and the marajuana-induced giggle-fest of "Little Pad."  Then, to add to the confusion, you have tracks like "She's Going Bald," and the breathy, haunting sighs of "Wind Chimes" to tickle your brain.  In all honesty, "Smiley Smile" is just plain weird... but that's what makes it so interesting.  Playing this album side by side with ANY of their previous albums is sure to produce intrigue and awe at the sudden, startling change in the Beach Boys.  It's as if they were transformed literally overnight. If you have the patience and desire, you can acutally find some humour and beauty in it's subdued grooves. If you don't have the patience or desire, it's probably better to save yourself a shock and skip the ethereal "Smiley Smile."



Wild Honey
Capitol 2859 [LP], CDP 7 93696 2 [CD]; Released December, 1967

1. Wild Honey [Love, Wilson]
2. Aren't You Glad [Love, Wilson]
3. I Was Made to Love Her [Cosby, Hardaway, Moy, Wonder]
4. Country Air [Love, Wilson]
5. A Thing or Two [Love, Wilson]
6. Darlin' [Love, Wilson]
7. I'd Love Just Once to See You [Love, Wilson]
8. Here Comes the Night [Love, Wilson]
9. Let the Wind Blow [Love, Wilson]
10. How She Boogalooed It [Jardine, Johnston, Love, Wilson]
11. Mama Says [Love, Wilson]

REVIEW: Fans were undoubtedly hoping for a return to form with this Christmas release by the Beach Boys, but what they got was a heaping helping of white soul instead.  This album has grown on me over time, and it's now a favorite.  Jubillant, rocking, and varied, "Wild Honey" was the band reinventing itself before our very eyes and ears.  It begins with guns blazing as Carl screams out the title track before relaxing into the mid-tempo swing of "Aren't You Glad."  Carl returns to his R&B stylings on "I Was Made To Love Her," and then the band graces us with full harmonies with the cool "Country Air."  "A Thing or Two" is forgettable, but the band returns with a full throttle "Darlin,'" (which had it's origins in 1964 as the Brian Wilson/Mike Love-penned Sharon Marie song: "Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby") with a brass section taking it's pound of flesh in the background.  "I'd Love Just Once To See You" (with it's wink-wink tag) is just charming, "Here Comes The Night" is a solid mid-tempo rocker, "Let The Wind Blow" is soothing and sophisticated, "How She Boogalood It" is jumping straightforward rock and roll, and "Mama Says" (an out-take from Vega-Tables off of "Smile") is lovely in it's rich harmonies.  Do yourselves a favor and help yourself to some "Wild Honey."



Friends
Capitol ST- 2895 [LP], CDP 7 93697 2 [CD]; Released June, 1968

1. Meant for You [Love, Wilson] :38
2. Friends [Jardine, Wilson, Wilson] 2:32
3. Wake the World [Jardine, Wilson] 1:29
4. Be Here in the Morning [Jardine, Love, Wilson, Wilson] 2:17
5. When a Man Needs a Woman [Jardine, Korthol, Parks] 2:07
6. Passing By [Wilson] 2:24
7. Anna Lee, The Healer [Love, Wilson] 1:51
8. Little Bird [Kalinich, Wilson] 2:02
9. Be Still [Kalinich, Wilson] 1:24
10. Busy Doin' Nothin' [Wilson] 3:05
11. Diamond Head [Ackley, Ritz, Vescovo, Wilson] 3:39
12. Transcendental Meditation [Jardine, Love, Wilson] 1:51

REVIEW: Friends is a very gentle album, a 180 degree turn-around from Wild Honey, but even the change in direction didn't bring back the fans lost the previous year.  It's a wonderful album though, serene and peaceful, and showing a maturing band still making vital music.  It begins with the short invocation "Meant For You" with Mike (!) delivering a perfect, subdued vocal.  Continuing with a waltz, "Friends" seems to be an affirmation of the band's commitment to stick together.  Next comes my favorite song on the album, the bouncy "Wake The World" (with it's surprising tuba accompianment), which makes me laugh every time I hear it.  "Be Here In the Morning" and "When A Man Needs A Woman" are both unusual in composition and production... the whole album seems to be experimental, however, and the Beach Boys don't even seem to be trying to recreate their "hit" sound of the sixties, but rather to find a new sound for themselves (a much worthier effort than their late 70's and later attempts at self-consciously recapturing the old formula).  The other high points on the album for me are Dennis's first recorded compositions, ("Little Bird" and "Be Still"), both of which are surprisingly simple and heartfelt.  Don't expect to be blown away by this album, rather, expect to be drawn in to it's aural web.



Stack-o-Tracks
Capitol DKAO 2893 [LP], CDP 7 93698 2 [CD]; Released August, 1968
 

1. Darlin' [Love, Wilson]
2. Salt Lake City [Wilson]
3. Sloop John B [Traditional, Wilson]
4. In My Room [Usher, Wilson]
5. Catch a Wave [Wilson]
6. Wild Honey [Love, Wilson]
7. Little Saint Nick [Wilson]
8. Do It Again [Love, Wilson]
9. Wouldn't It Be Nice [Asher, Wilson]
10. God Only Knows [Asher, Wilson]
11. Surfer Girl [Wilson]
12. Little Honda [Love, Wilson]
13. Here Today [Asher, Wilson]
14. You're So Good to Me [Love, Wilson]
15. Let Him Run Wild [Wilson]

REVIEW: Brian Wilson was a studio genius.  Sure, sure, he could arrange the groups' voices like no one else in rock then or now, but relatively little credit has been given to his equally-thoughtful backing tracks that he produced when the Beach Boys were out on the road.  Full of offbeat rhythms, chunky chords, weird breaks and effects, all of which were buried beneath shimmering layers of vocals, "Stack-o-Tracks" is a whole new animal in the Beach Boys' canon.  Capitol records, trying (again) to make a quick buck off the rapidly-fading commercial prospects of the Beach Boys, released this album in a last-gasp effort to pursuade buyers to "sing and play along" with the Beach Boys greatest hits (a first ever karioke album!)  What they inadvertantly accomplished was to unmask Brian Wilson as the excruciatingly careful pop craftsman that he was: the chiming bells, stacatto guitars, punctuating organ trills, shimmering harps, and gulping bass lines all sparkle and crack under the exacting eye of Brian.  Just one example: the near-swamped honky-tonk piano line in "Little Saint Nick" is inspired, and can be heard nowhere else.  Now, that's not to say that this album is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.  I find myself listening to it least of all their albums, but when I put it on, it really opens my ears to an entirely new dimension of their music, and if you own everything else, and are hankering for more, buy this, put it on, and give a good hard listen... I guarantee you'll be bowled-over.


20/20
Capitol SKAO 133 [LP], CDP 7 935697 2 [CD]; Released February, 1969 
 


1. Do It Again [Love, Wilson] 2:24
2. I Can Hear Music [Barry, Greenwich, Spector] 2:38
3. Bluebirds over the Mountain [Hickey] 2:53
4. Be With Me [Wilson] 3:16
5. All I Want to Do [Wilson] 2:02
6. The Nearest Faraway Place [Johnston] 2:36
7. Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song) [Leadbelly] 2:18
8. I Went to Sleep [Wilson, Wilson] 1:32
9. Time to Get Alone [Wilson] 2:40
10. Never Learn Not to Love [Wilson] 2:34
11. Our Prayer [Wilson] 1:05
12. Cabin Essence [Parks, Wilson] 3:33

REVIEW: I tend to like this album more than many fans, simply due to the variety found on it.  It begins with the retro rocker "Do It Again" which is a great song, despite the heavy-handed nostalgia it serves up.  Next, Carl Wilson produces a fine Spector-ish take on the cover of the Ronettes early hit "I Can Hear Music," followed by an atypical (I like 'em!) wail of electric guitars on "Bluebirds Over The Mountain."  Next is the gorgeous and darkly-hued Dennis Wilson composition "Be With Me," and his follow up, a honky-tonk bar-room chest-thumper "All I Wanna Do."  In direct contrast, Bruce Johnston steps into the limelight for the first time as a Beach Boy and delivers a beautiful panoramic instrumental, "The Nearest Faraway Place," and Al Jardine tries to capture lighting in a bottle again with his cover of "Cottonfields."  (The single version re-recorded by Jardine is better, with a  punchier arrangement than the album track.)  "I Went to Sleep" is childlike and strange, "Time To Get Alone" is a rich, harmonic forgotten masterpiece, "Never Learn Not To Love" is rather creepy (go figure, it was written by Charles Manson), and the album closes rather amazingly with two leftovers from "Smile": the wordless, chant-like "Our Prayer" and the quirky Americana of "Cabinessence." "20/20" doesn't hang together very cohesively, but each track has something to recommend it.


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