The Beach Boys on CD: Still Cruisin’

[NB, no, I’m not missing out Brian Wilson’s eponymous solo debut. I want to check a couple of facts in a book I’ve had on order for a couple of weeks but which hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m skipping ahead, and I’ll go back to that album when the book arrives]

While Brian Wilson’s comeback was receiving critical acclaim but little commercial success, something rather strange was happening to the rest of the band…

The Beach Boys had spent much of the 1980s releasing odd one-off singles, often for film soundtracks or as collaborations with other artists. These were pretty much uniformly awful, and didn’t trouble the charts, and the band generally dropped them out of their live sets after a perfunctory few weeks or months at most.

But then came “Kokomo”, a song the band recorded for the Tom Cruise film Cocktail, which was itself a massive hit. But while the film was big, the song — written and recorded without the presence of Brian — became a massive phenomenon, selling over a million copies, and becoming the band’s first US number one in twenty-two years, making them the record holders for the longest gap between number one records.

As a result, the band got a one-off album deal with Capitol, to put out an album of songs that had featured in recent films. The resulting album was the result of much horse-trading between various interested parties, and ended up featuring a mix of recent minor hit singles, new songs, and three old hits (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “I Get Around”, and “California Girls”) that had recently appeared in successful films. It’s a strange mix of styles and sounds, which went gold mostly because it featured “Kokomo”, but which has been out of print for a long time, with very little demand for a reissue.

This review will only deal with the 1980s tracks on the album, as I dealt with the 60s ones on their respective albums (though note that the version of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” here is an alternative mix, included by mistake, which can now be found on the Pet Sounds Sessions box set).

Unless otherwise mentioned, all tracks were produced by Terry Melcher.


Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston (and Dennis Wilson on the three 1960s tracks)

Still Cruisin’
Terry Melcher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Carl Wilson

The album opens surprisingly strongly, with Love’s “come on let’s cruise, you got nothin’ to lose” hook, on a song that John Phillips referred to as “Still Kokomoin’”. In truth, this is a better song than the one it’s patterned after — while both have a repetitive Love bass vocal hook and Carl Wilson singing a high chorus line, this one is far catchier, and has a better groove to it than the earlier single.

We do, though, here see the final end of Mike Love’s ability to write a lyric without referencing both the environment (“you got a greenhouse effect on me”) and the titles of earlier, better, Beach Boys songs (“hop in my hot rod and do it again”, “party all summer long”). This will get much, much worse on the next album.

But while the song itself is pleasant (and makes occasional returns to the Beach Boys’ live set to this day), and the vocal arrangement is strong (each of the four Beach Boys on the track — Brian Wilson is not present — is clearly audible and in strong voice), the problem is the production. Whether the blame lies with Terry Melcher, or with Keith Wechsler, who engineered and also provided the keyboards and drum programming, the result is a treble-heavy, thin, jangly mess. There are things that purport to be solos here, but they’re just lost in a trebly mush of reverb.

While the track made the top thirty in a few countries, it barely scraped into the Hot 100 in the US.

Somewhere Near Japan
Terry Melcher, John Phillips, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love, Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

Another attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle, this time by rewriting another song by John Phillips, who had provided the basic idea for the song that became “Kokomo”. This time, Love, Johnston, and Melcher took a song, “Fairy Tale Girl”, which Phillips had originally written as a baroque pop song [footnote: Phillips’ version can be heard on the album Many Mamas, Many Papas. It’s not very good.], and ditched everything but the second verse, which became the first three lines of the new song, and the general subject matter.

The subject of Phillips’ song was the first honeymoon of his daughter, Mackenzie, who had married her drug dealer, and had called Phillips from Guam asking for help when the drugs and money ran out. Phillips’ original version saw the “fairy tale girl’s” drug addiction as not entirely negative — “sometimes you have to leave a place, and head on out into inner space”.

The Beach Boys make the girl’s plight far more obvious, while also increasing the drug references — “and now she’s trupping on some Chinese junk/Her world is spinning and all hope is sunk…strung out in no man’s land”. They also replace Phillips’ plinky baroque-pop-by-numbers with a generic eighties rock sound, overlaid with a little Hollywood orientalism.

The song is widely regarded by fans as the last truly great Beach Boys track, at least until 2012. I disagree myself, but that may well be because of my own distaste for thin layers of “exotic” faux-Japanese music overlaid on rock songs. It’s one of the few songs on this album or its successor that actually has any musical or lyrical coherence, or aims any higher than providing a not-too-unpleasant soundtrack for a beach party, and for that it should be applauded, but I still don’t think it’s actually all that good.

Island Girl
Al Jardine
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine, Mike Love and Carl Wilson

…and here’s where the album gets really bad. Al Jardine, possibly the world’s whitest man, trying to write tropical music — since “Kokomo”, the Beach Boys had clearly decided to go after some of the Jimmy Buffett money. The melody is derivative of both “The Tide Is High” by Blondie and “Every Day” by Buddy Holly, but the song is actually not too bad, and Jardine’s production has more depth to it than the two Melcher tracks that preceded. We also have our first bit of Brian Wilson on the album, as he appears with Carl and Al on the intro (though not on the rest of the song).

The problem is, surprisingly enough, Carl Wilson. Carl was always a great vocalist, but as the eighties drew to an end he didn’t seem any longer to have the ability to rise above mediocre material. Here he distorts his vowels in a way that suggests he is trying for a Caribbean accent.

This is the Beach Boys’ equivalent to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, but for the 1980s, synthesised steel drums and all. Between this and the last track, one starts to wonder if this album should not have been called The Beach Boys Appropriate Other Cultures.

In My Car †
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

This track, produced by Brian Wilson and, allegedly, Eugene Landy, was apparently a late addition to the album, and is sonically completely different from everything else on the album. This makes sense, as it’s a Brian solo track, onto which Al and Carl have dubbed chorus lead vocals (Carl takes the first chorus, Al the second, and both the ending choruses). It shouldn’t be confused with “Let’s Go To Heaven In My Car”, which is a completely different, and better, song — and which actually would have fit the theme of the album, as it appeared in Police Academy IV. That said, Brian does make an attempt to fit in with the rest of the record, echoing the “still cruisin’ after all these years” line from the title track.

This could have been a fun track, had the band been more involved. Sadly, we have a wall of Brians — and while Brian sounds great on the second and third verses (or at least “great for Brian in 1989”), on the opening verse he’s practically incomprehensible, and the attempts to go into falsetto for the bridges are just painful.

The last Brian Wilson track released by the Beach Boys in their original incarnation should have been better than this.

John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Terry Melcher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love, Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston

And this is the last time the Beach Boys made any significant cultural impact on the world with something new…

“Kokomo” started as a song written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, with his friend Scott McKenzie (for whom Phillips had earlier written the song “San Francisco”). Phillips’ song was a gentle lounge song about nostalgia and memories. In his song, he looks back on trips to Kokomo, “where we used to go to get away from it all”, with a lost love, and compares it to his present life. “At least we gave it a try” is the refrain, which ends the middle eight and which is repeated at the end of the song.

Love and Melcher took Phillips’ verse melody and about a third of his lyrics (the first two lines of the first verse, much of the last verse, and odd phrases from elsewhere), and changed it to a straightforward fantasy — whereas Phillips sang about “where we used to go”, Love sings about “where we wanna go”, and he wants to take you there with him.

While the verse lyric changes were sometimes minor (and oddly one of the lines Love always claims for himself, “by and by we’ll defy a little bit of gravity”, which he claims to be a reference to yogic flying, is clearly based on the line “Everybody’s tryin’ to break loose from gravity” from the original), they change the focus dramatically, from being about specific times with a specific, remembered, lost lover, to being about a fantasy of the future with a generic “pretty mama” to whom Love and Carl Wilson are singing.

But the verses aren’t what made the song — what made the song a hit is Love and Melcher’s major contribution, the two-part chorus. Love apparently came up with the “Aruba, Jamaica,” section — a list of places in the style of “Surfin’ USA” or “California Girls”, which opens the song as a bass vocal hook, sung by Love alone, and then becomes a mass chorus on subsequent repeats — while Melcher came up with Carl Wilson’s “Ooh I wanna take you down to Kokomo” section. This chorus, far more than Melcher and Phillips’ verses, is what made the song into the hit it became.

And it became a massive hit. When released as a single, backed not even with a Beach Boys track but with Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”, it reached number one in the US, and went on to sell more copies than anything the band had done since “Good Vibrations”. While it didn’t have the long-term cultural or critical impact of the earlier song, and is now mostly remembered as a piece of 80s kitsch, it could easily be argued that it was as big a hit.

And it did deserve to be a hit; there’s no question of that. Personally, I find the song at best uninteresting, at worst actively unpleasant, depending on my own mood, but as a crafted piece of work it’s quite extraordinarily well done. As it was being made for a big-budget film, even the demo was far more crafted than most of the finished tracks on this album, with Melcher cutting an instrumental track with such big names (and long-term colleagues) as Ry Cooder, Van Dyke Parks, and Jim Keltner — although it says everything about 80s attitudes that Keltner was hired, not to play the drums, but to come up with the drum machine part. Over this Love, Johnston, Jeff Foskett (who also played acoustic guitar), and Melcher layered vocals, and the demo was used to get the song on the Cocktail soundtrack. Only once that had been agreed did Jardine and Carl Wilson drop in their own vocals.

And the vocals are quite remarkable — Love, in particular, is in far better voice than normal, singing in his more comfortable baritone rather than his increasingly-strained tenor voice, while Johnston doubles him on the “everybody knows…” section, and Carl’s vocal on his short section is possibly the most memorable part of the track.

Brian Wilson, on the other hand, was not involved. Sources differ as to why that was — either the band deliberately excluded him because they considered him unreliable or, more likely, Landy kept him away from the session and didn’t inform him of it. Either way, this meant that when the track got to number one, Love had irrefutable proof that he could make a hit record without Brian Wilson…

Wipe Out (with the Fat Boys)
Bob Berryhil, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller and Ron Wilson
Lead vocalist: Prince Markie Dee, Kool Rock-Ski, Buff Love a.k.a. The Human Beatbox, and Brian Wilson

Oh dear…

The story goes that this track, from 1987, was originally going to be a collaboration with Run DMC, who approached the Beach Boys after the hip-hop act’s earlier success working with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way”. One can only imagine what such a collaboration would have been like — certainly, there was every chance it could have been dreadful, but it also could have revitalised the Beach Boys’ career in the same way that “Walk This Way” had for Aerosmith.

Instead, allegedly because Mike Love thought it would be more commercial, though reliable information about this track is hard to find, it was decided that the Beach Boys should guest on a track by novelty rappers The Fat Boys, whose main claim to fame was that they were, indeed, fat.

The chosen track for the collaboration was a remake of the Surfaris’ classic instrumental “Wipe Out”, whose most distinctive aspect was its frenzied, bacchanalian, drumming — so naturally it was decided to take the track at a slower speed and use a dull drum machine part instead. While the Fat Boys rapped about going for a ride to the beach and meeting “the real Beach Boys”, a stack of overly-processed Brians sing the words “wipe out” and “wah wah wah” over and over, all feeling drained from the vocal by the production in a desperate attempt to make him sound something like in tune.

While Love, Jardine, and Johnston all appear in the video (there were apparently some lows to which Carl Wilson wouldn’t stoop), Jardine and Johnston are not audible on the track. While Gary Usher, who assisted in the production (credits: “Produced by Albert Cabrera and Tony Moran (Little Rascals) in association with the Beach Boys, co-produced by Darren Robinson and Damon Wimbley”), claimed that all the Beach Boys were present for at least one session, all that can be heard is multi-tracked Brian and what may be Love on the bass part.

Rather surprisingly, the track reached number twelve on the Billboard chart (and number ten on their R&B chart), and actually made number two in the UK, becoming their biggest hit other than “Do It Again” and “Good Vibrations”. This meant that the song stayed in the band’s live repertoire for far longer than was decent, with Billy Hinsche rapping.


Make It Big
Terry Melcher, Bob House and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

And the final new song on the album is a track that was recorded for the film Troop Beverly Hills. The song is built around a synth riff that sounds like…well, like every other bad rock song built around a synth riff for a poor eighties film. It could be Huey Lewis, or Kenny Loggins, or Survivor, or any of a thousand other identical awful excuses for music.

Over this riff is…not a song, exactly, because “song” implies something more structured than this. There are several things that seem to be trying to be hooks, joined together into a twelve-and-a-half-bar pseudo-chorus sung with more gusto than it deserves by Carl Wilson, there’s a sixteen-bar verseish sung by Mike (with a bit of Al), and there are some repetitions of the main “make it big” line. But at no point does this cohere into anything like a workable song, rather than a few half-arsed ideas glued together by synth riffs and sax solos. The lyrics, meanwhile, are motivational-poster pabulum.

I really don’t like talking about what, despite appearances, are my favourite band like this. But the fact is, Still Cruisin’ as a whole, and this song in particular, are lazy, half-thought-out, and bland, the epitome of “will this do?” MTV-era mediocrity. And sadly, this was not the worst they would do. There was still a further depth to which they would sink…

This post was supported by my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

Two notes to Patreons

I’ve already asked this on the Patreon page, but got no responses, and I don’t know how often people check there rather than here, so I’m doing one here:

Could any of my Patreons who are backing at a level for physical books please let me know your addresses? I’m currently sending out the paperbacks of California Dreaming, which will only go on general sale once the backer copies have been sent out. My email is andrew @ . Ideally I could do with your postal addresses this week.

Secondly, a reminder that I’ve been putting at the end of all the Patreon posts:

A REMINDER — from now on, this Patreon charges *per post*, not *per month* (you didn’t get charged at all for last month). If you’re being charged more than you want to pay now, you have until the end of the month to cancel, to lower your per-post payments, to cap your maximum monthly payment, or some combination of those. Thanks for your support, no matter what you do.

(I’m only charging for proper posts, not stuff like this or the linkblog — and the reason I’m doing it that way is because I’ve not been hitting my word targets and don’t want to take people’s money when they’re not getting what they were paying for).

Linkblogging For 19/11/15

Proper post tomorrow, but I’ve been absolutely exhausted over the last few days. So here are some linky things instead.

The first ever adaptation of 1984 — a radio version starring David Niven

The original, Borges-approved, translation of The Garden Of Forking Paths (his best collection of short stories) which went out of print after Borges’ widow commissioned a new translation with different royalty rates, is available as a PDF here

James Graham on extremism, the Paris attacks, and Star Wars

My friend Miriam, who doesn’t know or like 60s LA music very much, was interested in some of my posts about it anyway, and so on Saturday she is going to try livetweeting her reactions to the full four-hour mix of all the music I talk about in California Dreaming. She’ll be tweeting as Mimbletron, and the mixcloud mix is here

Britain’s got a Lib Dem sized hole in its heart

And Slate Star Codex has hardball questions for the next Republican debate (usual SSC comments warning probably applies)

New Story on DailySF

My short short story, Ten Things You’ll Only Get If You’re A 50s Kid is currently on the front page of , and in the inboxes of its email subscribers. If you’re reading this from tomorrow onwards, it’s archived here.

No, I’m not doing an Iain M Banks with the middle name thing — I honestly don’t remember why I typed my middle name when doing the submission form.

The Beach Boys On CD: The Beach Boys (’85)

1985 saw the Beach Boys making their first album in five years, but the band making it was very different from the one that had recorded Keepin’ the Summer Alive. In the intervening years, both Brian and Dennis Wilson had hit lower points in their mental and physical health than either had hit before. Brian’s life had been saved by the band getting psychiatrist Dr Eugene Landy back in to get him off street drugs and start him on a programme of exercise and healthy eating that saw him become physically healthier than he had been in decades.

Sadly, however, by 1985 Landy had already started his well-documented abuses of Wilson, which would within a few years lead to Landy having his license to practice removed, and he was insisting on getting songwriting credit for Wilson’s new songs. Landy’s credits, along with credits for his girlfriend Alexandra Morgan, have apparently since been removed from the songs (though they were still credited for some on the most recent CD issue), and in these essays songs for which Landy was originally credited will be marked with an asterisk, while songs for which both Landy and Morgan were credited will be marked with a †, but the assumption throughout will be that neither made any substantial contribution.

Dennis Wilson was not even as lucky as Brian. Reeling from a succession of personal problems, including the break-up of his sixth marriage (to Shawn Love, a teenager who claimed to be Mike’s illegitimate daughter — a claim which he denies), Dennis turned increasingly to alcohol, and on December 28, 1983, he went diving after drinking a large amount of vodka, and never came back up. He was thirty-nine.

The tragic loss of Dennis seems to have spurred the rest of the band into one of their increasingly rare acknowledgements that the world had moved on since 1965 (though they had already been making plans for a new album before his death), and by June 1984 they were in the studio again, this time to record an album with the first outside producer to take sole charge of a Beach Boys album in more than twenty years.

Steve Levine had been a protégé of Bruce Johnston in the late 70s, and considered that he largely owed his career to Johnston’s encouragement, but by 1984 he was briefly one of the hottest producers in the world, thanks to his production of Culture Club’s massively successful albums Kissing to be Clever and Colour by Numbers. He, along with arranger Julian Lindsay, helped the band create a truly up-to-the-moment sounding album, with the bulk of the instruments (and, according to some, a fair chunk of the backing vocals) created using Fairlight sequencers.

The results sound incredibly dated now, as precisely of their moment as the back-cover photo (in which the band look like five Republican Senators heading for a casual team-building exercise at the golf course), and much of the material seemed sub-par even at the time — Brian Wilson was writing again, but nothing he came up with here would threaten the claims of “God Only Knows” or “Good Vibrations” to be his most important work — but the album gave the band their biggest hit with new original material since “Do It Again”, with Love and Terry Melcher’s “Getcha Back”, and proved that even without Dennis, the Beach Boys could continue making music in the 1980s.


Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston

Getcha Back
Songwriters: Mike Love and Terry Melcher
Lead vocalist: Mike Love with Brian Wilson

The album starts with this Frankenstein’s monster of a track, which sounds like it has been bolted together in the most cynical manner possible to produce a perfect facsimile of what people in the 1980s thought a “Beach Boys record” should sound like.

Thus we start with an 80s “sonic power” update of the drum sound from “Do It Again”, and then get a backing track reminiscent of “Don’t Worry Baby”, before Love’s vocal comes in. The basic shape of the melody line is taken from Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, his own hit attempt to replicate the Beach Boys’ formula, while the chorus hook is taken from Billy Joel’s contemporary Four Seasons pastiche “Uptown Girl”, but over the rising progression that made up the chorus to “Sail On Sailor”. Then add in lyrics about trying to recapture the lost glories of a bygone adolescence, and you’ve got the perfect focus-group-approved Beach Boys track.

Everything is processed to hell — they’ve managed to get one half-decent take of Brian Wilson singing a few bars of wordless falsetto and used that same recording over and over — but somehow it works.

Partly this is because of Love’s vocal, which is nasal to the point of self-parody, but precisely because of that works in a way that most of his recent vocals at that point hadn’t. (Love himself dislikes his vocal on this, and on recent tours has often had either David Marks or Love’s son Christian take the lead). There’s also the joy of hearing the last gasp of Brian’s husky late-70s voice on the tag, before his late-80s slurring-robot voice comes to the fore.

But mostly it’s because of Levine’s production. This is an odd thing to say, as the production on the album hasn’t dated well. But it’s only dated precisely as badly as anything else from the time period, and no worse, and there’s an aesthetic sense here that’s missing from a lot of their contemporaries’ recordings of the time. Levine has noticed things about Brian Wilson’s production sound that get missed by a lot of the less competent pasticheurs — the way he uses almost no cymbal on his recordings, for example, and the way that a lot of his bass-lines are played on instruments other than guitar — and adapted them for an 80s audience, so this has a wonderfully simple drum machine part and a great honking sax bassline.

The song itself may be a cynical one, but there’s a lot of joy in the recording, and taken as a single it’s probably the best they’d put out since “It’s OK”, if not earlier. It reached number 26 in the US, and number two on the Adult Contemporary chart.

It’s Gettin’ Late
Songwriters: Carl Wilson, Myrna Smith-Schilling and Robert White Johnson
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

The second song is a dull affair, based around a three-chord minor-key chorus and a two chord major-key verse. It plods so much it actually sounds at times like the drum machine is slipping out of time. The horns on here sound like synths, despite being live, and the vocals sound sequenced, especially the opening stack of Brians, where you can almost hear the keys being pressed and released on the synth triggering them.

It’s not a terrible song — it would have fit onto either of Carl Wilson’s solo albums and been better than much of the material on them — but it’s tired and dull. Released as a single, it didn’t chart.

Crack At Your Love
Songwriters: Brian Wilson and Al Jardine *
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Brian Wilson

A minor piece, but a fun one, this track more than most sounds like Levine’s work with Culture Club, having a generic upbeat synth-pop backing.

But while the lyrics to this track are simplistic (“I’m goin’ crazy/Would you be my baby?”), the vocals, by Jardine, are the best on the album to this point — until Brian Wilson comes in for the middle eight, again singing plaintively in the husky voice that would soon be gone for good, “Lonely nights, lonely days…”

It’s one of those little moments that lift an adequate song for a moment or two into greatness, and while this is never going to be anyone’s favourite Beach Boys song, it’s far, far better than anything on Keepin’ The Summer Alive or much of MIU Album.

It may also be the first recording to feature the band’s touring falsetto vocalist Jeffrey Foskett, who had joined the band when Carl had temporarily quit a few years earlier, and who would be a major part of the band’s story throughout the 80s, and again from 1998 on. While no full vocal credits for this album have ever been made available, Foskett has often claimed to have provided backing vocals on several tracks, and the falsetto on the intro sounds more like him than any of the actual Beach Boys, though everything’s so processed it’s hard to be sure.

Maybe I Don’t Know
Songwriters: Carl Wilson, Myrna Smith-Schilling, Steve Levine and Julian Stewart Lindsay
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Possibly the blandest thing on the album, this has the dull, loping, swing of much 80s jazz/soul influenced AOR, an unimaginative descending chord sequence, and meaningless lyrics. While Gary Moore was capable of greatness as a guitarist, his cursory squealing here adds little, and the whole thing isn’t even saved from banality by Carl Wilson’s lead vocal.

She Believes In Love Again
Songwriter: Bruce Johnston
Lead vocalist: Bruce Johnston and Carl Wilson

Johnston’s only song on the album is also the second-best thing he’s ever contributed to the Beach Boys. A simple ballad, based around a keyboard part that sounds like Johnston’s own playing (he’s one of three keyboard players credited on the track, along with Lindsay and Levine), this is the most craftsmanlike song on the album. There’s nothing here that’s massively innovative, but it’s put together beautifully, with the only crack in the facade coming with the “God I’m sorry” in the middle eight — an interjection that throws the melody out, and provides just enough of a sense of real emotion that it gives the whole carefully-constructed song a sense of conviction it would otherwise be missing.

Johnston’s voice helps in this, too. Between Keepin’ the Summer Alive and the recording of this album, his voice had grown notably huskier, and here he sounds almost like Rod Stewart at times — but this is a good thing, as especially given the death of Dennis and Brian’s usual absence on tour, Johnston’s voice now provided a little of the grit that the harmonies needed.

Both he and Carl Wilson are in fine form here, subtly multitracked in ways that only become apparent when listening with headphones but which give the vocals a real richness, and while sonically this has the same 80s sheen as the rest of the album, the arrangement (with a slow build from single keyboard through to guitars, strings, and trombone) is much better thought-out, and more organic, than much of the album.

California Calling
Songwriter: Brian Wilson and Al Jardine
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

Another strong track, featuring Ringo Starr on drums, this is yet another rewrite of “California Girls” and “California Saga” (and also lyrically references “Surfin’ USA”), with nothing particularly interesting about it musically, but it’s done with such enthusiasm that it’s hard not to be swept along. Al Jardine’s voice is stunningly good, and while Love’s tenor lead sections are weak, his “callin’ me, ring ring ring” bass vocal in the chorus is wonderfully goofy

Passing Friend
Songwriter: George O’Dowd and Roy Hay
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This, on the other hand, is utterly worthless. Written by Boy George and Roy Hay of Culture Club, who were at that time very briefly one of the biggest bands in the world, this is a fairly typical example of Boy George’s songwriting, one of the many interminable songs he wrote at the time about how everyone else was a phony, with what sound like several digs against George’s boyfriend, Culture Club drummer Jon Moss.

The track is, at five minutes, at least double the length that the musical material demands, and Carl Wilson sounds embarrassed singing lines like “through the child’s eyes there were feelings touching my violet skin”.

In fact here, as we’ll see again later, we have Carl Wilson on autopilot. The track was originally recorded by George and Hay (who provides almost all the instrumentation), and George’s guide vocal was replaced by Wilson. It sounds like Wilson didn’t bother thinking about the song at all, and just imitated the guide vocal as closely as possible — the phrasing, and even many of the vowel sounds, are far closer to George’s than to any other vocal he ever did. It’s a lazy performance, but no worse than this profoundly tedious song deserves.

I’m So Lonely
Songwriter: Brian Wilson *
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson

Starting with a sax solo that sounds suspiciously like the one from Sade’s then-recent hit “Your Love Is King”, this song is about the most perfunctory thing imaginable, with a verse shuffling between I, IV, and V, a chorus that just goes through standard doo-wop changes, and lyrics along the lines of “I’m so lonely, really, really so lonely” and “I wish/since you went away/that you’d soon be back to stay”. And while Brian’s vocal on the verses is quite good for his shouty, husky, early/mid-80s voice, his attempts at falsetto in the chorus are painful.

This sounds like an exercise to get Brian writing again, and while there’s nothing horrible about the song itself, it’s clearly not the work of someone who’s actually trying.

Where I Belong
Songwriter: Carl Wilson and Robert White Johnson
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Al Jardine

Carl Wilson’s final songwriting contribution to the Beach Boys is also arguably his best. Certainly the other band members seem to have warmed to it — this is the only track on the album to feature an instrumental contribution by a Beach Boy who didn’t write the track, with Brian adding keyboards, and it’s also one of the few on which every band member’s voice can be heard.

In fact every band member shines vocally here — it’s Carl’s best lead on the album, but Al’s countervocals on the later choruses lift the track immensely, and the two-chord section after the second chorus, where Brian and Bruce sing wordlessly over Mike’s doo-wop bass might be the last appearance of Brian’s young voice, in all its nasal whining glory.

But they’re all rising to the occasion because of the song. The song is allegedly about John-Roger, the cult leader who was Carl’s “spiritual adviser” for much of the later period of his life, but the lyric shows little sign of that, being instead a generic love lyric, albeit one about having drifted through life until finding the right person.

Musically, though, this sounds like an expansion on, and progression from, the musical ideas on Carl’s first solo album. There’s a strong similarity to both “Heaven” and “Hurry Love”, but this is more musically sophisticated, with a bassline rising almost independently of the chords in the first part of the verse, where the singer is confused. The bass note then stays on the tonic while the chords change, on the line “you just could be my anchor”, before it descends under simple IV, V, and I chords to get to the simpler, more broad-strokes emotions of the chorus.

The sparse instrumentation, allowing the gorgeous vocals to do the work, makes this the least dated sounding track on the album, and this is the one thing on the album that can legitimately stand up with the band’s very best work.

I Do Love You
Songwriter: Stevie Wonder
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Al Jardine

And then the album slumps into this. Stevie Wonder, who wrote this and played almost every instrument (and it also sounds like he provided uncredited backing vocals on the tag), is one of the great geniuses of popular music of the last fifty years, and even though this sounds like something he tossed off in about as long as it takes to listen to it, it’s still one of the catchiest things on the album. Mediocre Stevie Wonder is still Stevie Wonder, after all.

The problem is that Stevie Wonder isn’t the Beach Boys, and the style just doesn’t fit. Both Carl Wilson (who takes the bulk of the lead vocals) and Al Jardine (who sings the “I do love you” sections) seem to be imitating a guide vocal by Wonder — much as with “Passing Friend”, the vocals sound far more like the songwriter than like the singers normally sound.

The result is not a combination of Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys — rather, it’s two of the greatest voices in popular music turning themselves into a Stevie Wonder tribute act. There’s nothing of the Beach Boys in here, and why would I want to listen to a Stevie Wonder impersonator, when I have Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life, or Talking Book that I could be listening to instead?

It’s Just A Matter Of Time
Songwriter: Brian Wilson *
Lead vocalist: Mike Love with Brian Wilson

A generic doo-wop track, this passes two minutes and twenty-two seconds perfectly acceptably, and that’s about all that can be said about it.

Male Ego
Songwriter: Brian Wilson and Mike Love *
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson and Mike Love

This song was only included on the CD version of the album, not on the vinyl or cassette releases, and was originally the B-side to “Getcha Back”.

Musically, this is utterly fantastic, with more energy than almost anything on the album, some great analogue-sounding squelchy synth bass, a baritone sax honking away in the lower register, tuned percussion, and the most enthused vocal from Brian we’ve heard on anything since Love You — which this sounds very like. It’s almost impossible to believe that this is from the same producer — or indeed the same band — as the album proper. If the rest of the album sounded like this, it would have been one of their all-time classics.

Sadly, the lyrics are about how great it is to sexually harass women in the street. Oh well.

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Linkblogging For 12/11/15

Just a few links today.

Alan Moore gave a friend £10,000 to help him get round our country’s despicable immigration rules.

Lovecraft was always a terrible choice for the World Fantasy Awards

Charity parachute jumps cost the NHS far more in treating injuries than they raise for charity

Nick Barlow’s answer to “what does it mean to be a Lib Dem today?”

The Black Archive — an equivalent to the 33 1/3 books, but about Doctor Who stories, starting next year. I’m writing one.

Zoe O’Connell looks at the Investigatory Powers Bill (the “Snooper’s Charter”)

Basic income as the social vaccine of the twenty-first century

Take action to stop the execution of Kho Jabing

A good post on the exclusion of women from the jazz canon

A Kickstarter to bring some of Eisner’s earliest work back into print

And finally, here’s a full live concert performance of Frank Zappa’s The Yellow Shark, by the Ensemble Modern: