The Beach Boys On CD 2: Surfer Girl/Shut Down Vol 2
It shows how fast the pop music industry moved in the early 1960s that the Beach Boys released their third and fourth albums in the same month, September 1963, less than a year after their first. Little Deuce Coupe, their fourth album, suffered as a result – a concept album of sorts, based on car songs, it shared two songs with Surfer Girl and also took one each from the previous two albums, as the band simply couldn’t come up with material fast enough.
This means that the CD ‘twofer’ pairings have a slight chronological inaccuracy – the two September 1963 albums, rather than being paired with each other, are each paired with a 1964 record, thus avoiding repetition of tracks. As I’m dealing with these records on a per-CD basis, that’s how I’ll be looking at them too. These albums can be heard on Spotify here
band membership – Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, David Marks, Al Jardine (uncredited)
The pressure to produce new music at an incredible pace had made Brian Wilson want to give up touring and concentrate on writing and production. As a result, Al Jardine, who had sung and played bass on the band’s first single, was drafted in to replace him on the road and augment the band in the studio. This line-up wouldn’t last long, however, as shortly after the release of this album David Marks fell out with Murry Wilson, the band’s manager and father of the Wilson brothers (and Mike Love’s uncle), and was either sacked from or quit the band, leaving Jardine as his replacement and Brian Wilson back on tour for the moment.
Jardine’s return saw the band’s style finally gel – adding a strong tenor vocal part to the mid-range of the band’s harmony stack finally allowed the band to be the vocal group Brian Wilson had always intended them to be – from this point on the four- and five-part harmonies start to resemble less the simplistic records of Jan & Dean and more the sophisticated jazz harmonies of Brian’s teen idols the Four Freshmen.
Supposedly the first song Brian Wilson ever wrote (though presumably the lyrics were only added after the band started writing surf songs), this song had been demoed at the same sessions that produced Surfin’ Safari and 409, and it remains a mystery why this was left off the earlier albums when so many terrible songs were included.
A rewrite of When You Wish Upon A Star, with the same arpeggiated guitar feel as The Lonely Sea, this is the first real harmony work-out for the band, sung as a close harmony number with Brian’s falsetto soaring across the top. It’s not a perfect performance – the middle-eight double-tracking is slightly sloppy – but it’s far more assured than anything they’d done previously.
It’s also the most harmonically interesting thing the band had done to date. While it’s mostly just a I-vi-IV-V7 doo-wop progression, it does have a minor sixth (v6) at the end of every other line (‘undone’ and ‘ocean’s roar’) which anticipates the later use of minor sixths in songs like God Only Knows. It’s also the first of the Beach Boys’ records to feature a key change (unless I missed one last time, but I don’t think so) – having a semitone step up for the last verse.
Released as a single, this became the band’s last surf-related single to be released during their American chart peak, as well as the first to be credited to Brian Wilson as producer.
Catch A Wave
Comparing this song to any on the previous two albums shows just how far the band had come in production terms. Harmonically simple, this insanely catchy track is nonetheless a far more sophisticated record than anything they’d done before, with a piano doubling the two guitars in an early example of a technique Brian had learned from Phil Spector, an overdubbed ‘Palisades Park’ organ riff, harp glissandi (provided by Mike Love’s sister Maureen), and a traded-off organ/guitar solo that presages the similar solo used in Fun, Fun, Fun. This would have been a stand-out track on the earlier albums, but here it’s just another track.
A Brian Wilson/Mike Love song, Love’s lyrics would later be replaced by Roger Christian and turned into Sidewalk Surfin’, a minor hit for Jan & Dean.
The Surfer Moon
The second Brian Wilson solo composition of the album is an unsuccessful rewrite of the first. The verse chord sequence is almost a clone of that of Surfer Girl, right down to the minor sixth, although the middle eight is surprisingly sophisticated. It’s let down though by the lyrics, which literally resort to moon/June rhymes, and the string arrangement (the first on a Beach Boys record) which apes the muzaky sound of the Four Freshmen and other 50s easy-listening acts. A solo vocal performance by Brian, this is still far ahead of anything from the first two albums, and points forward to the romanticism of later works like Today! and Pet Sounds, but doesn’t really work.
South Bay Surfer, credited to Brian and Carl Wilson and Al Jardine, is a rewrite of the old Stephen Foster song Swanee River, which must have been on Brian Wilson’s mind at the time, as he also recorded a track with his wife’s band, the Honeys, based on the same tune (Surfin’ Down The Swanee River).
Nothing special, this is mostly notable as being the first song where Al Jardine is really noticeable in the vocals, singing the top line of the harmonies (such as they are, being mostly Brian, Carl and Al chanting in near-unison).
The Rocking Surfer
One of the last of the surf-style instrumentals the band did, this alternates a simple hammond organ statement of a rather dull melody with some relatively competent guitar work. The whole thing’s drowned in hiss too, due presumably to poor quality tape. Another Brian Wilson solo credit, this at least has the decency to be credited trad. arr, as presumably nobody could believe this actually needed to be written.
Little Deuce Coupe
The B-side to Surfer Girl, this charted separately itself at number 15 in the US. Written by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian, this is one of the songs Mike Love sued over, and if you compare the lyrics on the demo (on the Hawthorne, CA rarities CD) you can see that there were certainly alterations made before the recording.
Recorded at the last session before Al rejoined the band (and the first where Brian was credited as official producer), this track shows the band’s influence shifting from Chuck Berry to more groove-based shuffle music like Fats Domino. To the ears of an Englishman (and one, furthermore, who can’t drive) the lyrics are utter gibberish, but I am reliably informed that “She’s got a competition clutch with four on the floor and she purrs like a kitten til the lake pipes roar/and if that ain’t enough to make you flip your lid, there’s one more thing I got the pink slip daddy” is in fact in English…
One of the best of the band’s early hits.
In My Room
This is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, by Gary Usher and Brian Wilson. A refinement of the Surfer Girl formula, and like that based on arpeggiated triplets following something akin to the standard doo-wop changes (though extended and altered) with block harmonies, this is one of the times when utter simplicity is the most effective musical and lyrical technique.
A song about both comfort and loneliness, this track is much more ambiguous than it might seem, being about both Brian Wilson’s escaping from his abusive father by hiding away in the music room and about sharing his bedroom with his brothers (the first two voices we hear after Brian’s) growing up and harmonising with them as they sang themselves to sleep, but Gary Usher’s simple lyric manages to take these experiences and universalise them.
Featuring all six Beach Boys plus Maureen Love on harp, this is the stand-out track of the band’s first four albums, and if they’d never recorded anything else this track would still have been enough to make the Beach Boys’ reputation.
Recorded the same day as Catch A Wave, much like that song Mike Love’s vocals show evidence of a sore throat, and he sounds spookily like his cousin Dennis for much of the song.
A great little pop song by Brian and Mike that can never quite decide whether it’s in C, D or G, this is a standout track that could easily have been a hit single and remains in the touring ‘Beach Boys’ repertoire to this day.
Surfers Rule is a filler track about how ‘surfers’ are better than ‘hodaddies’, written by Brian and Mike with a rudimentary lead vocal by Dennis. It’s mostly notable for the fadeout, where the song turns into a challenge against the band’s East Coast rivals the Four Seasons, with the band singing “Surfers rule (Four Seasons, you’d better believe it” while Brian imitates Frankie Valli’s Walk Like A Man falsetto over the top.
Our Car Club is a not-especially-good Wilson/Love song turned into a rather interesting production, all low Duane Eddy throbbing guitar and sax and pulsating drums. The young-sounding falsetto vocals don’t really work well with the backing track, but it’s an interesting experiment.
And again, I might appreciate the song more if I had any idea what lines like “We’ll really cut some low ETs” meant. Or maybe not.
Your Summer Dream is a more effective attempt at The Surfer Moon, a solo Brian vocal over lush chords (almost all minor 7ths). While not one of the best songs on the album, this is much better than the earlier track, as not only is the chord sequence slightly more original, with a nice melancholy tinge to it, but Bob Norberg’s lyrics are far better than anything Brian Wilson could come up with on his own.
And to finish an album that, while still patchy, is exponentially better than either of the first two, is the generic instrumental Boogie Woodie. Credited to Rimsky-Korsakov arr. Brian Wilson, this is supposedly based around Flight Of the Bumble-bee, but sounds far more like Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie to my ears.
SHUT DOWN VOL 2
Band members – Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine.
The band’s first album of 1964 was also the first by what is now regarded as the ‘classic’ five-man line-up of the band (which would stay in this formation for not much more than a year). A mixed bag, this album more than any other shows how bands still weren’t thinking in terms of albums – the best material on here is as good as the best music recorded by anyone ever, and the worst is so bad as to be laughable.
The album’s title is a subtle dig at Capitol records, the band’s label, who had put out a cash-in compilation called Shut Down, featuring a couple of Beach Boys tracks alongside people such as Robert Mitchum.
Fun, Fun, Fun
One of the most exciting of the band’s early hits, this song was almost begging for another lawsuit from Chuck Berry, having an intro that is note-for-note identical to that of Johnny B Goode. Rather amazingly the lawsuit never came. (I’ve also heard it claimed that the verse melody was taken from Berry’s Carol, but I can hear very little resemblance).
Based on a true story (which happened either to a girlfriend of Dennis Wilson or the daughter of a radio station in Utah, depending on whose story you believe), this is one of several songs on this album whose creation is the subject of wildly differing accounts – Mike Love claims it was written in a cab in Salt Lake City, while Brian Wilson says they wrote it in Australia, after seeing the Beatles on TV.
Either way, the competition from the Beatles (who had not yet had a hit in the US when the song was recorded, but who were known to the band by this point after their Australian tour) clearly motivated the band to up their game, and everything about this track is exceptional, from Mike Love’s lyric (one of his very best) to the backing vocals acting as a Greek chorus, to the duelling Hammond and guitar solo, to Brian’s falsetto soaring over everything as the track fades.
The single mix (included as a bonus track on the CD) is the superior one, but this is a wonderful track in either form.
Don’t Worry Baby, the second track on the album, is even better. Based loosely on the Ronettes’ Be My Baby (with a little of Walking In The Rain for good measure), which Brian Wilson considers the greatest single ever recorded, this changes that adolescent sexual longing for something altogether more personal.
We see time and again in Brian Wilson’s music the figure of the woman who can save a man who is let down by his own weaknesses, and this is in fact the key to pretty much everything Wilson did (and one reason why although people compare him to Paul McCartney he is far closer to John Lennon, the only other songwriter in popular music to be as obsessed with masculine weakness being saved by a strong woman). This is the first time this figure appears, and it’s probably no coincidence that this song was written around the time of two pivotal events in Wilson’s life – his first nervous breakdown (on the ‘plane on the way to an Australian tour) and his engagement to his first wife, Marilyn.
Roger Christian puts this vulnerability and need for help into a typical Beach Boys context – someone afraid to drive in a drag race, but unable to back out because of his own bragging – but what really matters is just that this is a man trapped in a traditional masculine role, and only the unnamed ‘she’ can help him escape, when she says “Don’t worry baby, everything will turn out all right”
Musically, as well, this is very typically Brian Wilson. I’ve talked before about how he’s very much a piano-based composer and chords out with his right hand while playing melodies with his left, and this can be seen here better than anywhere else. On the chorus, Mike Love is clearly singing the moving left hand piano part (“Now don’t/now don’t you wo/rry ba-by”), the rest of the band are singing the block right-hand chords (“Don’t worry baby/Don’t worry ba-by”), while Brian is singing the melody line he would have been singing while playing the piano, on top (“Don’t worry baby/everything will turn out all right/Don’t worry baby”).
This is just a stunning, beautiful song and performance, and when released as the B-side to I Get Around managed to chart at number 24 in the US in its own right. In fact MOJO magazine, in the late 1990s, did a ‘hundred greatest singles of all time’ list and this came in at number 15, despite being a B-side.
In The Parkin’ Lot, another Wilson/Christian song, is filler about which there is essentially nothing to say, except that the intro and outro have nice harmonies.
“Cassius” Love vs “Sunny” Wilson is even less essential, being a ‘comedy’ spoken-word section where the band pretend to be rehearsing for a show, with bits of their hit records interspersed with Mike and Brian making fun of each others’ voices.
The Warmth Of The Sun, however, gets us back to Don’t Worry Baby levels of quality. Written by Brian and Mike either the night before or the night after the JFK assassination, depending on who you believe, this is the most sophisticated, complex version of the Surfer Girl formula the band ever did.
It sounds at first like a simple rewrite of that song, being another 12/8 arpeggiated track with block harmonies, starting out with the familiar doo-wop changes, but those changes soon go in a radically different direction.
The I-vi-ii-V (or the variant I-vi-IV-V) chord progression (doo-wop changes or ‘four chord trick’) is the basis of literally tens of thousands of songs, from Blue Moon and Heart And Soul to Please Mister Postman, This Boy and I Will Always Love You. And this song’s first two chords, C and Am, follow that pattern precisely.
But then rather than go to the expected Dm, the song changes key to Eb (a tone-and-a-half up), *restarts* the progression, and continues *that* until it gets to Dm, where it stays twice as long as it ‘should’ before finishing the original progression in C, so we have I-vi-IIIb-i-ii-ii-V-Vaug (the Beatles did something similar to this in Day Tripper, but using a 12-bar blues rather than doo-wop changes).
As well as being musically clever, though, this also suits the mood of the song – the song is about loss, and hope after loss, and by moving from C through to Cminor back to C again, that feeling of loss followed by renewed hope is conveyed in the chords – musically it’s like going through the night and getting to the dawn again.
Warmth Of The Sun is one of those songs that by rights should be a standard, one of the most perfect songs ever written.
This Car Of Mine is a Dion-esque song by Mike and Brian, written to give Dennis a vocal spot. It’s catchy enough, but has nothing of any real interest about it.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love? is a fairly straight cover of the Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers classic from the fifties, with a nice added a capella statement of the title in the middle of the song. One of the band’s best covers, but not hugely different from the original.
Pom Pom Play Girl is Carl Wilson’s first solo lead vocal, on a Wilson/Usher song that has little to recommend it – musically it’s a rewrite of Little Deuce Coupe while lyrically it’s a rather nastily misogynist portrait of a cheerleader who “doesn’t really know why she’s waving her hands”.
Keep An Eye On Summer is another 12/8 doo-wop based song, written by Brian Wilson and Bob Norberg (with Love gaining credit in his lawsuit). Bearing a slight resemblance to the Four Freshmen’s Graduation Day, which was in the band’s live repertoire at the time, this is nothing special. Strangely, this was one of two Beach Boys songs Brian chose to rerecord for his 1998 solo album Imagination.
Shut Down Part II is another generic surf instrumental, credited to Carl Wilson but again the kind of thing any band knock outs in a jam session. It starts with Mike Love reprising his two-note sax ‘solo’ from Shut Down, presumably to justify the title.
Louie Louie is a pretty poor cover, with Carl Wilson actually enunciating the lyrics, although Love’s dumb ‘duh-duh-duh’ bass vocal has just the right kind of stupidity (sounding very like some of the backing vocals on early Zappa records).
Denny’s Drums is a solo drum performance, supposedly by Dennis Wilson, who is credited as composer, but suspicious minds *might* think it was actually session player Hal Blaine…
Fun, Fun, Fun (single mix)
This is a slightly different mix to the album mix, with Brian’s vocal higher in the mix on the fade, and a drum overdub, but little other difference.
Ganz Allein is In My Room sung in German, to the same backing track.
and I Do is a Brian Wilson song that was eventually given to The Castells, a harmony-pop band whose lead singer later joined the Gary Usher-produced Hondells. Recorded around the time of the Surfer Girl sessions, this sounds like it was influenced by some of Phil Spector’s work with the Crystals, and would have made a better album track than many of the filler tracks that did get released.