A Quick Note For Those Who Aren’t Beach Boys Fans

My blog may seem rather boring to you at the moment, and I just wanted to explain what’s going on. I’m currently working on three books simultaneously — the Beach Boys one, one on Doctor Who, and a novel I can’t talk about publicly yet but which will be published by a traditional publisher this year. I’m serialising the Beach Boys one here, the Doctor Who one on Mindless Ones, and the other one I can’t serialise for obvious reasons. So that makes this site effectively my Beach Boys site at the moment.

But I should get these finished relatively quickly, and as each project finishes I’ll be starting a new one. Some of those will end up on Mindless Ones, others here, and others will be at least submitted to traditional publishers, but this site will *not* just be Beach Boys-oriented. I’m trying to approach my writing more professionally this year, and get more stuff finished, and between these three projects I’ve written just over 38000 words this month so far, so if I can keep that level of productivity up there should be a *lot* more stuff going on on this blog this year. So bear with the Beach Boys focus for a little while — other things are being planned.

Pop Stars And Their Loves

The following is a list of things that are loved by musicians in my MP3 library:
A Ukulele – Janet Klein
Buddha – Damon Albarn
Another Woman – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
Hot Nights – Jonathan Richman
How You Love Me — The Paris Sisters
LA — Randy Newman
Makin’ Love To You — Evie Sands
My Car — Belle & Sebastian
My Dog — Cat Stevens
My Lips — VeggieTales
Only One Girl — Elvis Presley
You, Porgy — Brian Wilson
To Say DaDa — both Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys
You — the Barenaked Ladies, Dennis Wilson and Don Preston. Lucky you.
You, And I’m Glad That I Said It — Dolenz, Jones, Boyce And Hart
You Because — Elvis Presley
You Because (You Look Like Jim Reeves) — Half Man Half Biscuit
You Better — The Monkees
You (For Sentimental Reasons) — both the Righteous Brothers and Sam Cooke
You So — The Mighty Sparrow
You So Much It Hurts — Ray Charles
and You, You Big Dummy — Captain Beefheart

Also, both The Knickerbockers and Margo Guryan just love generally, without specifying what they love in song title form.

Meanwhile, the only things that are hated are Nerys Hughes (From The Heart), by Half Man Half Biscuit, and You, by The Monks.

This utterly pointless post brought to you by three days straight of ripping CDs and sorting out my MP3 library after a hard drive crash meant I had to restore it from multiple incompatible backups. Proper post soon.

The Beach Boys On CD: 15 Big Ones

The years between 1972, when Holland was released, and 1976, when this album came out, were the most important in the Beach Boys’ career. It’s no lie to say that the band on this album is utterly unrecognisable as the one which, a handful of years earlier, had been recording extended suites with flutes and spoken poetry segments.

The reasons for this change are far too complex to be covered in full in a book like this, which is devoted to the music more than the personalities, but a huge number of factors converged to change the band permanently, and not for the better. Firstly, both Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar quit the group, and Jack Rieley stopped managing them, and thus also stopped collaborating with the Wilson brothers as a lyricist.

On top of this, Murry Wilson, the Wilson brothers’ father and the band’s early manager, died of a heart attack. The loss of their father caused the already-vulnerable Brian Wilson to descend into his worst ever period of depression (this period is the source of the urban legends about Wilson spending years at a time in bed), while Dennis Wilson’s substance abuse and alcohol problems became even worse.

But at the same time, the band had suddenly become, for the first time in a decade, the most popular band in America. The OPEC crisis in 1973 had precipitated a wave of nostalgia for the late 1950s and early 1960s in American culture, and with this came a reappraisal of the band’s early surf and car material. All Summer Long was used on the soundtrack of the hit film American Graffiti, and a rather shoddily-packaged double hits collection, Endless Summer, went to number one in 1974, spent three years on the charts and sold three million copies. A follow-up, Spirit Of America, went top ten and gold despite having few hits on it. The Beach Boys went from playing mid-sized college venues to headlining stadium gigs.

All this meant that there was a huge appetite for new Beach Boys material — but only if it came from Brian Wilson, and was in the same mould as the early hits. After intensive therapy with the controversial therapist Eugene Landy (who will show up much more in volume three), Wilson was ‘well enough’ to return to the studio and produce a new album, and to rejoin the touring band.

15 Big Ones was released with a massive publicity campaign, based around the phrase “Brian’s Back”, and became the band’s first top ten album in a decade, as well as spawning two hit singles. But many were shocked by what they heard. The album was a mix of new material and 50s covers, and Carl and Dennis Wilson as good as disowned it before it even came out, saying that they had believed the plan was to record the oldies as a warm-up before doing a full album of new material.

The arrangements were idiosyncratic, with much use of Moog, but the vocals were what shocked listeners the most. Brian and Dennis’ voices had been almost destroyed by alcohol and drug abuse, with Brian having lost his falsetto (though there is some doubt as to whether this was a deliberate decision on his part, as he wanted to sound more manly), while Dennis’ vocals were a husky rasp, sounding like nothing so much as Tom Waits. The harmonies on the album are sloppy, ragged, and often off-key.

There’s still much to like about 15 Big Ones, but as with many Beach Boys records to come, there’s a lot of music that sounds truly terrible, too. And the question then becomes how one interprets this music, as a listener. Is it a genius doing something too clever for the listener to get? A genius trying and failing to do something clever? A mentally ill man incapable of coherent work? An act of rebellion from someone being forced to work with a band he no longer cared about? A subtle musical joke?

At different times, the conclusion I come to comes out different ways, and I suspect that the true answer has elements of all the above in it. But the fact remains that in 1976, all the Beach Boys had to do to cement their artistic reputation, and re-establish themselves commercially, was to release something even vaguely competent. They didn’t manage to do it, and it would be thirty-six years before they released another top ten album.


Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Ricky Fataar (uncredited), Bruce Johnston (uncredited)

Rock And Roll Music
Chuck Berry
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

The album’s opening track, and lead-off single, sums up the whole project in a nutshell. It’s a cover of the Chuck Berry classic, with an inventive backing track largely played by Brian Wilson, but given a curiously flat mix, and with an unimaginative “rock, roll, rockin’ and roll” backing vocal chant that has none of Wilson’s normal flair for vocal arrangements. And over this, Mike Love sounds like almost a parody of himself. Recording a song by Chuck Berry (and one which had a famous cover version by the Beatles, to boot) invites comparison with some of the greatest vocalists of the rock era. Love’s vocal is neither as witty as Berry’s nor as exuberant as John Lennon’s, just a flat statement, and we’re left wondering why anyone would want to dance with him.

The superior (though still not very good) single mix of this track went to number 5 in the US charts, more because of the immense affection the band were held in at this time than because of any redeeming qualities in the record itself, making it the band’s biggest hit since Good Vibrations a decade before.

It’s OK
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Dennis Wilson

The second single on the album, and the first original, actually dates from 1974, and was recorded with Ricky Fataar on drums (most songs on this album actually feature Dennis Wilson on drums, the first where that was the case for some years), along with members of Roy Wood’s band Wizzard on saxophone [FOOTNOTE Wood has talked about being invited to the session because Brian Wilson admired Wood’s Beach Boys-esque doo-wop pastiche Forever, a hit for him in the previous year. He’s spoken in interviews about having sung on at least one track with the band, singing at the same mic as Brian and Carl. Whether his vocals are somewhere in the mix here is, however, hard to ascertain, and it may be that they were wiped or that he sang on a different, as yet unreleased, track.] .

Essentially a return to the feel of Do It Again, this was the first ‘fun in the sun’ Beach Boys song to be released since that song eight years earlier, and it’s enjoyable enough, but there’s a sense of diminishing returns here, with its “in the sum-sum-summertime” chant and banal lyrics. The track mostly works because of the saxophone line and Dennis Wilson’s gloriously goofy bass vocals, but it’s a creative dead end. As a single, this went to number 29 in the US charts. The song remained in the band’s live setlist for the next two years, and has been a regular in the set of Mike Love’s touring Beach Boys in recent years.

Had To Phone Ya
Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Diane Rovell
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love

The first really strong track on the album is this one, originally written for and recorded by (American) Spring, a vocal group consisting of Brian Wilson’s wife Marilyn (who sings backing vocals here) and her sister Diane (credited as a co-writer of the song).

The song is a miniature, only two minutes eleven seconds long, but has a typically Wilsonesque chord sequence, full of major ninths and sixths, and a wonderful section (starting with the line “it lifts my spirits…”) where the melody climbs as the bassline steadily descends underneath.

The arrangement, too, is outstanding, with interjections from clarinets having much the same function that the Moogs in Wilson’s other arrangements of the time do, and with every band member getting a couple of lines of lead vocal in turn, ending with Brian’s new ‘low and manly’ voice, singing “come on, come on and answer the phone” (and a very buried Marilyn saying “Hi Brian” right as the song fades out).

While Brian’s beautiful voice had been more-or-less destroyed, and would never really return, his gruff vocals here still show a musicality, and an emotional honesty, that makes them equally as good in their way as his earlier performances — the artistry is still there.

This is only a minor track, but is a lovely one.

Chapel Of Love
Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

And here we get to one of the tracks that it’s almost impossible to judge, except possibly as outsider music. This is a cover of a track Wilson admired enormously, but with a wildly eccentric arrangement — cymbals playing triplets, when Wilson normally avoided them, a bank of saxophones droning, stabs from an ARP string synthesiser, and Moog bass. Then over this Brian Wilson sings what sounds like a serious attempt at the lead in his low, gruff voice, with Love doing a competent job on the bass vocals — but Wilson then screeches answering vocal parts, sounding like a small child doing a joke voice. Is this an experiment that didn’t quite work out? Is it a joke? Is it just Wilson being enormously lazy? There’s no possible way to tell. It’s not actually unlistenable, in its own strange way, but its qualities are…orthogonal to those one normally looks for in music.

An alternative mix of this exists which is slightly less eccentric, with some additional backing vocals, but that mix makes it no clearer what the intent of the track was.

Everyone’s In Love With You
Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

This track is a much more conventional one than anything on the album up to this point, and the explanation lies in the credits — while Brian Wilson is still credited as producer, Love is credited as arranger, and Darryl Dragon [FOOTNOTE the Beach Boys’ former touring keyboardist, then having success with his wife, Toni Tennile, as The Captain And Tennile. Tennile sings the high vocals on this track.] as vocal arranger.

This is Love in mellow mode, much like on Big Sur, as he sings to someone who is loved by everyone, but who “can’t give your love to only one” — the person in question being the Maharishi, though this is not made explicit in the lyric. The backing is very, very loosely inspired by Bach, probably via Procol Harum, as the track has more than a little of the feel of Whiter Shade Of Pale about it, and jazz musician Charles Lloyd (a fellow follower of the Maharishi, and a member of the Beach Boys’ touring band at this point) provides some nice flute.

This song is clearly important to Love, as he rerecorded it in 1978 (for his unreleased solo country album Country Love) and again in 2004 (for his unreleased album which at various times went under the name Unleash The Love and Mike Love Not War) and regularly includes it in sets by the touring Beach Boys. However, it was less popular with the public — when released as the third single from the album, it failed to reach the charts.

Talk To Me
Joe Seneca/Bob Crewe, Frank C. Slay Jr. and Frederick A. Picariello
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Another track where it’s literally impossible to understand what Brian Wilson could have been thinking. The bulk of the song is a rather plodding cover of Talk To Me, a fairly nondescript 12/8 R&B ballad, originally recorded by Little Willie John, and it’s passable enough, though Carl Wilson sounds quite bored. But then, for no discernible reason, at the end of the middle eight, the song is interrupted by ten bars of the uptempo rocker Tallahassee Lassie, a minor hit for Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon, which is in a different key, tempo, and time signature, and whose lyrics have no connection with those of the earlier song. After these ten bars, the original song is resumed. It sounds for all the world like a mistake, and many people listening in this download age will assume they have a corrupted file, but it’s totally deliberate.

That Same Song
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

And suddenly we get an absolutely joyous gospel-flavoured track, with an enthusiastically gruff Brian turning in one of his best vocal performances of the album, as he tracks the evolution of music from Gregorian chant to rock and roll. It’s utterly simple — for much of the track it’s just Brian on piano and organ and Dennis tapping a cymbal, while Brian and the band sing, although there are occasional passages with more instruments (most notably saxophone, provided here as on much of the album by old Wrecking Crew stalwarts Steve Douglas and Jay Migliori) — but the vocal performance is filled with such irrepressible joy that one can’t help but be swept up by it.

T.M. Song
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

Easily the most “Brian” song on the album, this ode to transcendental meditation has more inventiveness in seventy-four seconds than most of the rest of the album has in total. Starting with twenty seconds of scripted arguing, reminiscent of some of the attempts at comedy on the band’s very earliest recordings, ending with Al saying “phew, it’s time for me to meditate”, we then have two fairly straightforward verses, describing the effects of meditation, before going into a middle section that almost defies description, with a melody line wandering all over the place while the track speeds up and slows down under the line “sometimes it goes real fast and other times it goes real slow”. There’s then yet another eight-bar section, an uptempo tag which tells you “transcendental meditation really works for me good/more much more than I thought it would”.

The track manages to remind one simultaneously of the jokey material on the earliest albums and of both Smiley Smile and Friends, and so probably should have been the kind of thing people who wanted Brian to be “back” were expecting. But it wasn’t.

Palisades Park
Chuck Barris
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Side two opens with the second Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon cover of the album, this time of a song written by Chuck Barris [FOOTNOTE A TV gameshow producer, who created The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game (for UK readers, these are the shows that were remade as Mr. And Mrs. and Blind Date), and who later became the presenter of The Gong Show. His autobiography, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, also claims that he was a CIA assassin who killed thirty-three people, though the CIA have denied this.].

The original version of this had been a huge influence on the band, to the extent that Brian Wilson had more-or-less blatantly ripped it off twice, for County Fair and Amusement Parks USA, and this seems a far more respectful take on the song than many of the other covers. It’s also the only track on the album where all the instrumentation is played by old Wrecking Crew members — almost every other track has instrumentation provided by the Wilson brothers, touring guitarists Ed Carter and Billy Hinsche, and then session players only augmenting the band for instruments like saxophone, but here the old gang are all back together.

The track is a fairly straight take on the song, with the only new addition being the “run run running, now the rides are running” backing vocals, replacing an organ part from the original, and Carl Wilson gives the vocal his all. The song itself is not especially inspired, but the track is fun.

Susie Cincinnati
Al Jardine
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

This track of Jardine’s actually dates back to January 1970, and so features Bruce Johnston on backing vocals. It had actually been released twice before, as the B-side to both Add Some Music and to the 1974 single Child Of Winter, in two different mono mixes, and the stereo version on the album is apparently those two mono mixes synced together.

One of the most enjoyable, catchiest things Jardine has ever written, this is a simple four-chord rocker (with a key change for the last verse), with incredibly silly lyrics about a taxi driver in Cincinnati (whose “looks aren’t exactly a plus/but it doesn’t matter to us”). It’s an absolutely ridiculous song, but it knows it’s ridiculous, and Jardine sings it with such enthusiasm it’s impossible not to grin, especially when Brian Wilson’s harmonica impersonates a car horn. The song became a B-side yet again when it was released on the flip of Everyone’s In Love With You.

A Casual Look
Ed Wells
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Al Jardine

A straight cover of a minor doo-wop record, originally by The Six Teens, with the gender swapped in the verse lyrics. The track’s not bad, except for some utterly horrific nasal vocals by Love on the first verse. Jardine almost rescues it with a wonderful performance on the second verse, but by then the damage has been done.

Blueberry Hill
Vincent Rose and Al Lewis
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

This cover of the old standard works really well for the first verse, with just string bass, clip-clop percussion, and Love’s vocal, and it sounds like we might be in for something very special. But then a whole wall of sound comes in (this is another track that features mostly Wrecking Crew members, though Brian and Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston contribute instrumentally) and overwhelms Love’s voice, to no real purpose.

Back Home
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

Given that the theme of the album is looking back at the past (the fifteen “big ones” of the album title refers both to the number of songs on the album and to the length of time since the band’s first recordings), it makes sense for them to dig up a song that dated back to the earliest days of the band’s career.

This simple four-chord country song, with much the same feel as some of Brian Wilson’s work with Gary Usher (notably Sacramento and That’s Just The Way I Feel) was first attempted by the band in 1963, and then again in 1970 in a version with totally different lyrics. This version mostly reverts to the 1963 version, though it replaces its middle eight with a simple chant of “Back home, I’ll spend my summer, back home”, and the track mostly gets by on the enthusiasm of Brian Wilson’s croaky lead vocals. It’s not a great song, but it’s an enjoyable performance, and remained in the band’s setlist for a couple of years. Brian Wilson also included this in his sets on his first ever solo tour, in 1999.

In The Still Of The Night
Fred Parris
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson

An almost note-for-note identical cover version of the 1950s doo-wop song, originally a hit for The Five Satins. The only notable difference is the lead vocal, where the silky, beautiful vocal of the original is replaced by Dennis Wilson’s wounded bellow. While not sounding as ravaged here as he did in later years, his voice is clearly raspy, and he’s already started slurring his words slightly. Brian Wilson plays everything except the drums (played by Dennis) and contributes what may be his last really good falsetto on the tag, where he sounds huskier than previously, but still capable of hitting the notes and with a fragile tone that is in some ways an improvement on the perfection of his 60s work.

Just Once In My Life
Gerry Goffin, Carole King and Phil Spector
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Brian Wilson

And the album ends with a real reunion, with both Ricky Fataar (on percussion) and Bruce Johnston (on backing vocals) rejoining their old band for this cover of the Righteous Brothers’ classic.

The original on which this was based was an attempt at following up You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling with something written to the same formula, and was an absolute masterpiece. Wisely, here the band stick almost exactly to the template of the original, capturing most of the crucial elements of Jack Nitzsche’s magnificent arrangement, but they make a few subtle changes, notably swapping lines between verses to give the lyric a better through-line (in the original “I’ve given up on schemes…” was in the second verse, while “there’s just one little dream…” was in the first).

Carl Wilson takes the verses and the middle section here, turning in by far his best performance on the album, going from a gentle, placid start with “There’s a lot of things I want…” to a hopeless but still kind “that old pot of gold ain’t so easy to find…” to almost screaming on “I can’t give you the world, but I’ll work hard for you girl”, to begging on “do this for me, baby”. The range he displays here is just extraordinary.

Brian, meanwhile, takes the choruses, and here his broken, wounded voice works perfectly, as he sings “just once in my life, let me hold onto a good thing I’ve found”. It’s an extraordinarily moving performance.

It doesn’t quite beat the original, which is one of the greatest singles ever recorded, but it comes close enough that it’s not a ridiculous comparison, and at the end of an album which even the most charitable listener would have to concede was patchy, it provides, at last, some proof that this once-great band still had the potential for greatness inside them.

The Beach Boys On CD: The Beach Boys In Concert

Ask ten different Beach Boys fans their favourite period for the band as a live act, and you’ll get ten different answers. Over the years, the band’s stage show changed radically, and each period showcased a different aspect of the band. So some may prefer the band’s shows from the late 60s and early 70s, centred around the gentle material from Wild Honey, Friends and Sunflower. Others prefer the “Brian’s back” era of the late 70s, when the now-husky genius returned to the stage to add the quirky Love You material to otherwise nostalgia-driven shows. Yet others will argue for the 1993 box set tour, with its unplugged sets, positioning the band squarely in the ‘classic rock’ field, or the 2008 UK tour, or the 2012 reunion tour, both of which managed the difficult feat of balancing the artistic and nostalgia aspects of the band.

But more than any other period, people mention the 1972-74 period as a highlight for the Beach Boys’ live shows. In some ways, this is entirely for good reasons — this was the period when they had the most adventurous live sets, and had some of the best backing musicians they would ever have.

In other respects, though, it betrays a certain insecurity among Beach Boys fans. The 1972-74 live band were wonderful, but this was also the period where the band was the most acceptable to the kind of people who talk about ‘real music’. Yes, the band had none of the tacky accoutrements that damaged their later shows — no cheerleaders, Hawaiian shirts, cheap synthesisers or attempts at rapping — but on the downside there was a certain obviousness to the arrangements, with delicacy being ignored in favour of a riffy, heavy, guitar-based sound.

This is not to say that these performances were bad, by any means — they do deserve their reputation — but they were good in a very particular way, and represent a vision of the band, as long-haired, bearded, guitar-toting rockers, that practically oozes testosterone. If that’s not the version of the band you’re interested in — if you have less interest in rock music than in pop — then adjust your expectations accordingly.

While this album is compiled from many shows, over two separate tours (an early single-album version, with only material from the winter 1972 tour, was rejected by the record label, so they recorded summer 1973 tours and turned the result into a double album), it is an authentic record of what the band sounded like live at this time, as those who have heard the many audience recordings from this period can attest.

I will have less to talk about with this album on a track-by-track basis than for other albums, as I have already spoken about most of these songs in the context of their original albums. There are some general notes which are applicable to all the songs, though.

Firstly, as stated above, this is a rock album, not a pop one. In general, the songs are sped up and more dominated by guitar than the studio versions. There are also two drummers on most tracks, and at least one of the drummers uses far more cymbal than was ever used on a record produced by Brian Wilson.

Secondly, the harmonies are very different from what one might expect. With Brian Wilson absent from the touring band and Bruce Johnston having quit, the low and middle ends of the harmony stack are far more prominent than the high end. In later years, of course, the band would hire outside falsetto singers to take those parts, as they became more concerned with reproducing the sound of the hit records than with playing their new music, but at this point their set was dominated by songs which had little or no falsetto anyway. On the other hand, Dennis Wilson’s voice is far more audible in the harmony stack than it was most of the time — at this point, he was still unable to play the drums because of his hand injury, and so he was singing a lot more (he very rarely sang while drumming).

What’s perhaps most noticeable is the repertoire. This was the Beach Boys’ third live album in ten years, and yet of its twenty songs, only six had appeared on either of the previous two (and none had appeared on both). This was a band that was still growing, still changing up its setlist regularly, and mixing hits, obscurities and new songs with more concern for putting on a good show than for fitting someone’s preconceived idea of what a Beach Boys show ‘should’ be.

With those points in mind, on to the songs themselves.


Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar
with backing band members Billy Hinsche, Ed Carter, Robert Kenyatta, Mike Kowalski, Carli Muñoz

Sail On Sailor
Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer and Jack Rieley
Lead vocalist: Blondie Chaplin

Unsurprisingly, the opening track, from the band’s then-new album, sounds very similar to the studio version. The main differences are a more prominent bassline, a slight increase in tempo, and the loss of the ‘morse code’ guitar part, but otherwise this is much like the record.

Sloop John B
trad arr Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

The second in a miniature set of songs about sailing that starts the album, this is, like much of the album, a stripped-down, simplified, but relatively faithful arrangement of the hit. The orchestration is obviously not there (though the flute intro remains), but there are some nice instrumental touches, like the twelve-string guitar being doubled by an analogue synth.

The most notable differences from the record are Carl, rather than Brian, Wilson taking the lead vocal on the verses, the lack of the a capella break (in general the harmonies suffer more than the instrumental parts on this album), and the frenetic pace at which it’s taken (I actually felt my heart racing when listening to this with headphones, it goes at such a pace).

It’s not the best live version of the song (that would be the version on the Live In London album), but it’s a perfectly decent performance.

The Trader
Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

Much as with Sail On Sailor, this was recorded close enough to the release of the studio version that it’s, if not indistinguishable, then still very, very similar. The most notable difference is a prominent bongo track in the left channel, and the inescapable fact that when performed live the transition between the two sections of the song is less abrupt.

You Still Believe In Me
Brian Wilson and Tony Asher
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine with Carl Wilson

A very creditable attempt at what is possibly the most difficult song from Pet Sounds to perform live. Obviously, there was no possibility at this point of them reproducing the complexities of the record on stage, but the solutions here (replacing the plucked piano strings and falsetto on the intro with guitar and Moog, for example) work very well at giving the same feel.

This is also the best example of the band’s vocal work on the album. While Jardine can’t reproduce the delicacy of Brian Wilson’s original falsetto vocal part, his stronger, richer tone gives the vocal a pleading note which works just as well, and the transition between his vocal and Carl Wilson on the line “I wanna cry” (which goes out of Jardine’s range) is handled extraordinarily well. The harmonies on this show that while the band were hampered at this point by having their vocal ranges concentrated in the mid range, they could still pull off some beautiful vocals when required.

California Girls
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

Pretty much exactly what you’d expect a live version of California Girls to sound like. The harmonies on this are a bit ragged, and we hear Dennis at the beginning exhorting the crowd to sing along, but you already know what this sounds like. Love’s joking “ooh, we mean it so much!” at the end seems to confirm that at this point, the band still saw their biggest hits as something of a joke and a distraction from their more artistic work, though that attitude would soon change.

Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This kind of material is where the band at this time excelled — songs that depend on a driving rhythm and a lead vocal performance. While the horns from the original are sadly missed, the addition of Hammond organ, along with the best drum and percussion track on the album (some great cowbell work and bongos) makes this the first song on the album that it’s safe to say is a definite improvement over the original.

Brian Wilson, Jack Rieley and Tandyn Almer
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This track mostly differs from the studio version in that the guitar parts have been beefed up substantially — unsurprisingly given that the original’s glossy sonic sheen is pretty much unreproducible in a live setting. The vocals here again shine — this version of the band was not wonderful at the close harmonies that normally defined the band, but were as good as any vocal group ever at singing interweaving, independent solo lines in counterpoint with each other, and this track gives a great opportunity to show that off. The one flaw in this track is the percussion part in the left channel, which goes slightly out of time on occasion.

This arrangement of the song, as opposed to the studio version, is the basis for the version played live by Brian Wilson’s touring band in recent years, and is also the arrangement used on the Beach Boys’ fiftieth anniversary reunion tour.

Caroline, No
Brian Wilson and Tony Asher
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This, again, has a simplified arrangement (no percussive intro, just straight into the first verse), but this was never a song that needed much in the way of orchestration, and the simple electric piano part (presumably Dennis Wilson) and flute embellishments work perfectly (though the solo gets a little too close to lounge jazz for my own tastes). If you have a singer as good as Carl Wilson and a song as good as this, it’s impossible for it not to sound great.

Leaving This Town
Carl Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Blondie Chaplin

The upside: the organ solo on this (played by Billy Hinsche) has some real feeling and invention to it.

The downside: this is thirty seconds longer than the already-ridiculously-overlong version on Holland.

Probably sounds really good if you’re stoned.

Heroes & Villains
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

The early-70s band’s version of this track is spectacular. Al Jardine, on the verses, sounds much more comfortable than Brian Wilson does on the single. Carl Wilson sings the Bicycle Rider lyrics on the choruses (and Mike Love adds in the “heroes, a-heroes, a-heroes and a villains” chant), and again the band are given the chance to shine vocally, including on the only a capella sections on the entire album (for the scat section and the last “I’ve been in this town” section), again singing wonderful cascading, overlapping vocal lines like no other band could do. Easily the highlight of the album.

Funky Pretty
Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Jack Rieley
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love

The consensus among Beach Boys fans is that this is a massive improvement on the studio version, and that this is ‘how the song should always have sounded.’

Like most Beach Boys fan consensus, this is bunkum. On Holland, Funky Pretty is a mediocre song brought up to near-greatness by a spartan, Moog-dominated production that makes it sound almost like a piece of experimental electronica. Adding guitar riffs, honky tonk piano and a ‘proper’ rock drum track, and cutting out most of the Moog parts, turns it into something that sounds like a Rolling Stones album track. (It’s no surprise that the band regularly covered Jumpin’ Jack Flash in shows at this point, or that Blondie Chaplin spent most of the 1990s and 2000s as a sideman in the Stones’ touring band).

Let The Wind Blow
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Of all the more radical reworkings on this album, this is the one that works the best. While the original track, on Wild Honey, has a gorgeous delicacy to it, this turns it into a gospel ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on a Ray Charles or Al Green record, with the original’s shared lead vocal turned into a solo for Carl Wilson. The wordless backing vocal lines from the original are dropped until the last verse, and other than the answering lines and some occasional touches from Jardine, the only vocals we pay attention to here are from Carl Wilson — the whole track is built around his vocal performance. Luckily, it’s an absolutely stellar performance, so while when hearing this one still misses the ethereal beauty of the studio version, this has its own strengths.

Help Me, Rhonda
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

The oddest rearrangement on the album is this, with all the arrangement details blurred out into a nondescript guitar boogie with little charm and less grace, an excuse for jamming on mediocre solos. Bizarrely, the band stuck with this arrangement as late as the mid-90s (and Brian Wilson still uses it for his solo tours), though Mike Love’s touring “Beach Boys” (and the reunion tour of 2012) thankfully reverted to the original arrangement. Al Jardine does his usual spectacular job, and the audience sound enthused, but it just seems rather cruel to do this to a song that never did anything to harm the band.

Surfer Girl
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

Mike Love’s introduction to this, emphasising how old the song is, is another pointer to how mildly embarassed the band were at this time to be doing this material.

Despite this, though, they do a lovely job on this. The harmonies are huskier and more fragile than on the record — these are definitely Beach Men, not Boys — but they still sound good.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Brian Wilson, Tony Asher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

It shows the way the band had improved as musicians over a relatively short time that while on Live In London they cut out a huge chunk of this song (the part where the tempo changes in “you know it seems…”), here they not only perform that section but it gets what sounds like the biggest cheer of the disc.

Jardine once again does a splendid job on the lead vocals, although some of the backing vocals are rather perfunctory.

We Got Love
Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Ricky Fataar

The one new song of the album was this, a song which had been originally intended for Holland before it was dropped at the last minute. It’s another very pleasant, but unspectacular, track from Chaplin and Fataar, this one possibly influenced by Allen Toussaint’s song Riverboat, which had been recorded by Van Dyke Parks on his Discover America album around the same time, and which has the line “We got love” emphasised several times, and a generally similar feel. (Toussaint’s song would actually have fit well on Holland, and may have also inspired Steamboat).

The lyrics, which sound like Love’s work primarily, are a generic call to treat other people nicely along with some new age stuff equating evolution and karma.

This is the last Chaplin/Fataar collaboration to feature on a Beach Boys album — Chaplin departed from the band, acrimoniously, before the end of 1973 after disagreements with Rieley. Fataar would remain with them until the end of 1974, and leave on mildly better terms, but by the time the next Beach Boys album came out, both would be long gone.

Don’t Worry Baby
Brian Wilson and Roger Christian
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

Given that they have a bigger band to play with here than they did when recording the single, the band decide to stop pretending and just play this as Be My Baby, right down to the drum intro, and until the lead vocal comes in this bears far more resemblance to the Spector classic than to the Beach Boys’ track (prompting two waves of recognition-applause from the audience — one at the beginning when the track starts, and another when the lead vocal starts and they realise what song it actually is).

Jardine and Carl Wilson split Brian Wilson’s lead part between them the same way they did on Heroes & Villains, with Wilson taking the higher part in the choruses and Jardine taking the slightly lower verses, and both do a very good job, though neither quite has the fragility of Brian Wilson’s original. Jardine messes up some of the lyrics, but in a recoverable way (and oddly is mixed far to one side), but the harmonies are spot on, and this is as good a version of this song as one could hope for given the absence of a 22-year-old Brian Wilson.

Surfin’ USA
Brian Wilson and Chuck Berry
Lead vocalist: Mike Love with Al Jardine

This is about what you’d expect — a little faster than the original, the guitars a little more distorted, and with Al Jardine attempting Brian Wilson’s falsetto part. A rockier, more muscular live version of the song, but basically what you’d expect to hear from a 1970s Beach Boys show.

Good Vibrations
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

This is about as accurate a rendition of an impossible-to-perform song as one could imagine (understandably, as the song is too big a hit, and too much of a masterpiece, to dare mess with). The big change made to the arrangement, and one the band kept through to the late 90s, was to extend the ‘gotta keep those lovin’ good’ section to several times its original length (and change the lyrics on that line to ‘happenin’ with you’ instead of ‘with her’), to allow for an audience sing-along section and a scatted show of vocal dexterity. Other than that, the only notable differences from the record are those made to make the song performable at all live (the ‘theremin’ part being played on a ribbon synthesiser, rather lower in the mix than on the record, no odd instruments like the jew’s harp, the triplets in the chorus being played on guitar rather than ‘cello).

Fun Fun Fun
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

And the album ends with a rather chugging, graceless, performance of this song, which trades the original’s pop energy for a 70s heaviness. Hearing this version, it becomes much clearer why this song was a natural choice for a duet between the Beach Boys and Status Quo in 1996.

Overall, this is probably the best Beach Boys live album one could hope for, and at times it matches or even surpasses the studio recordings. If it lacks the subtlety and gentleness of the best of the band’s studio work, that’s more a reflection of just how special that studio work is, rather than a negative about the band themselves. With current technology, and on current budgets, it’s possible to reproduce the textures of Brian Wilson’s production on stage, but in the early 70s this was as good as it would be reasonable to expect it to get. It will never be my favourite Beach Boys album, but it’s a good one, and one that can be useful for dispelling some of the myths about the group. But there’s a definite sense from this that you had to be there.

The Beach Boys On CD: Holland

Holland is, in many ways, the last gasp for the Beach Boys as an artistic group. They would produce good work again, both as a band or as individuals, but in future their work would be driven by one or two members of the band at a time rather than being a true group effort.

For the recording of the bulk of the album, the band decamped to Baambrugge in the Netherlands, and had their recording studio shipped over as well (which caused a huge amount of delay). This was at the instigation of Jack Rieley, and many reasons have been given over the years for the move, including tax issues, the idea that a change of scenery would inspire Brian Wilson, and even the laughable claim that it would be harder for those band members with drug problems (especially Brian Wilson) to obtain drugs in Holland than the USA. The fact that Rieley opted to remain in the Netherlands (and, for a while, attempted to continue managing the band’s career from a distance) may say more about the reasons than anything else.

The trip abroad did inspire Brian Wilson, but not in the way that the band had hoped or expected. Instead of coming up with any new conventional songs, his main piece of work during the trip to the Netherlands was a short story with musical accompaniment, Mount Vernon And Fairway (A Fairy Tale), that was initially included with the album as a bonus 45 and is now included at the end of the CD release.

The resulting album was considered too weak to release by Warner/Reprise, until Van Dyke Parks suggested that the song Sail On Sailor, initially not part of the album’s line-up, would make a good single. This replaced the Chaplin/Fataar/Love track We Got Love (which was accidentally included on some early German pressings of the album) and the resulting album got some of the best reviews of the band’s career, though it was less commercially successful, scraping into the top forty in the US, but doing slightly better in the UK where it made the top twenty.

The album is actually one of the most cohesive the band had done, with an ongoing theme of travel, especially by sea, and of a homesick longing for America. It’s also the most collaborative of the Beach Boys’ albums, with many different combinations of band members writing together in ways they otherwise never did.

This cohesion helps overcome what is actually a fairly weak set of material — there’s nothing here on the level of an All This Is That or Make It Good, let alone Til I Die or Surf’s Up, but the album is nonetheless one of the more worthwhile listening experiences of the band’s later years.


Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar

Sail On Sailor

Songwriter: Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist: Blondie Chaplin

The opening song has a history which has been the subject of much recent debate. The generally-accepted story until recently was as follows: the Beach Boys turned in the Holland album but it had no obvious single on it. At this point Van Dyke Parks remembered a cassette he had in his possession of a song being written by himself and Brian Wilson, which had single potential. Various hands brushed up the song, at which point Carl Wilson took various backing band members into the studio and cut a backing track, with Brian supervising over the telephone. Dennis Wilson attempted a lead vocal, but gave up after a couple of takes, and Blondie Chaplin took over.

However, Steve Desper, who had been the band’s engineer for much of the late 60s and early 70s, but had stopped working for the band just before the trip to Holland, claims that the backing track dates back much earlier, and is a track that Brian Wilson had been working on for a long time. He also claims that the song originally had Carl Wilson on lead vocals, and that Chaplin is imitating Wilson’s phrasing exactly (a reasonable claim — Chaplin sounds spookily like Wilson here).

Whatever the truth of this (and I am inclined to believe Desper here), there is also the question of who exactly wrote what. A press release at the time claimed it was “a Brian Wilson-Jack Rieley song with writer credits suggesting informal assistance from a wide range of characters, among them Van Dyke Parks”. Steve Desper, on the other hand, has claimed that the lyrics are entirely Parks’ work, and Parks has claimed in the past that not only did he write all the lyrics but also the chord changes in the chorus and the start of the middle section. If this is the case, then Brian Wilson’s contribution to the song is reduced to coming up with the verse riff (a 12/8 shuffle between I and IV, actually quite similar to a gospel take on Imagine) and possibly the melody.

One might possibly get an idea of what actually happened by listening to a version of the song recorded by KGB, a band featuring Ray Kennedy. This version is credited only to Wilson/Kennedy, and has fairly incoherent lyrics about cocaine and trying to get out of the ghetto. One suspects that Wilson brought his initial idea to several different collaborators, at different times, without necessarily thinking to mention to them that he was working with other people. My own guess (given the reliability of the various parties involved) is that Parks’ account is largely correct — not only is Parks the most scrupulously honest person involved, with an excellent memory, but the song just sounds like a Van Dyke Parks song rather than a Brian Wilson song.

Whatever the process involved though, the end result is the most convincing attempt at R&B that the Beach Boys ever did, with a strong lead vocal from Chaplin, excellent group backing vocals (apparently only featuring Carl Wilson, Chaplin and Fataar from the Beach Boys, along with backing band member Billy Hinsche, session steel guitar player Tony Martin, and Gerry Beckley from the band America, though some have claimed that the other Beach Boys later overdubbed additional vocals), and in its VIb-VIIb-I chorus changes a hook so powerful that the band reused it (a tone up and in 4/4 time) for their 1985 hit Getcha Back.

The song was released twice as a single, hitting number 79 on the charts in 1973, and number 49 in 1975. Despite this relative lack of chart success, it was popular on the radio at the time and has remained a fixture in the setlists of the Beach Boys and their various solo shows.


Songwriter: Dennis Wilson and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist:
Carl Wilson

The second track on the album continues the sailing theme, here with a typically-inscrutable Rieley lyric about steamboat travel. The lyrics are pretty and evocative, but make very little sense on any kind of literal level — lines like “The stream is a timepiece of children bridged with crystal haze” defy any normal interpretation. On the other hand, the lyric is slightly more comprehensible in the USA than elsewhere, as the “Mr Fulton” referred to, Robert Fulton, is considered a major historical figure in the US for his development of the first successful steamboat. He doesn’t, however, have the same “as every schoolchild knows…” status elsewhere.

Musically, the song is built around simple I-V7 changes for the most part (with a V7-VI7-II7 change at the end of the verse which is actually similar in its effect to the more outrageous chorus progression in Sail On Sailor), until the tag when the V7 changes into a VIb7, with mechanical-sounding drums perfectly evoking the feel of a paddle-wheel turning in the water and the hiss of steam.

The effect is possibly a little too dragged out — the combination of Carl Wilson’s lazy-sounding vocals, however, lovely, and the slow, mechanical pace of the song, tends to drag long before the four minutes and thirty-six seconds of the song is up — but it’s a worthwhile track, and a sign of the stylistic evolution that was bringing Dennis Wilson to the more confident style of his later work on Pacific Ocean Blue.

California Saga: Big Sur

Songwriter: Mike Love

Lead vocalist: Mike Love

The centrepiece of Holland, covering the bulk of side two, was a thematically-linked suite of songs by Love and Jardine called California Saga. Possibly the most artistically-ambitious thing either man ever did, this was in part inspired by their homesickness for California while living in Holland, but also tied into the themes of the environment and of travel that suffuse the band’s music at this point.

California Saga is unusual in the Beach Boys’ work in that rather than celebrating Southern California, and in particular Los Angeles, as most of their California-centred work did, it instead focuses on Central and Northern California, especially the less-populated areas.

The first of the three songs is this, the first song released by the band to have Love as the sole credited writer, and a surprisingly pleasant song. Starting with the ascending/descending Cm arpeggios that make up the bulk of the next song, we then go into a pleasant country-folk waltz, mostly based on a single C major chord with a scalar bassline that goes up and down much as the arpeggios at the beginning.

The song only really contains four chords, and is the kind of thing that could be written by someone with rudimentary or non-existent instrumental skills, but it has a catchy enough melody, and shows that Love was at least a competent songwriter in his own right. The instrumentation is equally primitive, mostly acoustic guitar and harmonica, evoking a campfire singalong, along with piano, drums and steel guitar.

The whole track is surprisingly pleasant, for a first solo songwriting attempt, but it could have been better — the song was first recorded three years earlier, and that version (unreleased but widely bootlegged) is in 4/4 rather than waltz time. Once one has heard this earlier version, the version on Holland sounds slightly ungainly in comparison, with the stresses falling less gracefully than on the original.

California Saga: The Beaks Of Eagles

Songwriter: Al Jardine, Lynda Jardine and Robinson Jeffers

Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

The second part of the California Saga is unique in the Beach Boys’ catalogue, though it points the way stylistically towards some of Jardine’s later work.

It’s almost two separate songs in itself, in fact. In what, for want of a better term, we can call the verses, we have the ascending/descending C-minor piano arpeggios (with a descending bass) that started Big Sur, along with some Morricone-esque flute from Charles Lloyd. Over this, Love recites, in three sections, The Beaks Of Eagles, a poem by far-right-wing environmentalist poet Robinson Jeffers, about how in the lifetime of one eagle human civilisation could change utterly, and how yet ultimately humans are constrained by their natures just as much as the eagles are.

The choruses, meanwhile, are in C major, built around yet another ascending/descending bassline, and feature Jardine, singing new lyrics to a conventional melody, over a guitar/bass/piano/drums/flute backing.

The thing that most people listening to this will notice now is that it is the first time Jardine uses a style which he uses consistently in his later songs, of having someone speak or recite poetry over part or all of a song (see especially the Tidepool Interlude on his solo album A Postcard From California , but also California Energy Blues and Santa Ana Winds), and it’s interesting to see this as a step towards that style from Jardine, probably inspired by the artistic success he’d had using The Road Not Taken for All This Is That (Robert Frost, the author of The Road Not Taken, was a contemporary of Jeffers and wrote on similar themes).

But what’s more interesting is to compare the poem that inspired this piece, and which Love recites verbatim, with the interpolated material by the Jardines. Jeffers referred to himself as an ‘inhumanist’, and claimed that humanity was fundamentally unimportant to him, that he preferred nature to humanity. His poem, therefore, like much of his work, is an attempt to see things on an inhuman scale, to apply a perspective that one might call either realistic or misanthropic depending on one’s own sympathies.

The chorus material, though, is all on the human scale — about death, and rebirth coming from it. The lyricist here (either Al or Mary Ann Jardine) is also writing about natural cycles, as Jeffers is, but on a human scale, and based in human needs and concerns. And despite the rather hippyish conclusion, there’s a real sense here of how the need to acquire mineral wealth can destroy people’s lives (the image of the dead mariners, shipwrecked while transporting limestone ore, ties in nicely both with the first two songs, but also with The Trader).

Fundamentally, while Jardine may have been inspired by Jeffers’ poetry, their worldviews are incompatible. The writer of those chorus sections cares about human beings in a way that Jeffers doesn’t, and while one may argue that in the grand scheme of things Jeffers’ worldview is more correct, the worldview of the choruses is much more caring and decent.

California Saga: California

Songwriter: Al Jardine

Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine

The second single off Holland was this song, the last part of California Saga, and with good reason. Easily the most commercial thing Jardine has ever written on his own, this is an updating of California Girls for the 1970s country-rock era, keeping Love’s nasal voice and the Tumbling Tumbleweeds bass-line (here played on Moog), but using acoustic guitar, harmonica (apparently played by Brian Wilson) and banjo rather than a Wall Of Sound orchestra.

Musically, it’s a simple song, just using the chords C, F and G, but it communicates a feeling of relaxed joy in nature that really does seem like a more mature version of the youthful ecstasy of California Girls. Out of the larger context of the California Saga, this is an unpretentious and unambitious song, but all the better for it.

Despite its relative lack of commercial success (barely scraping the top 100 in the US, though reaching the lower reaches of the top forty in the UK), this has remained a fan favourite, and was the only solo Jardine composition (and, other than All This Is That, the only one for which he was primary songwriter) to appear on the career-spanning Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set. Jardine returned to the song on his 2010 solo album A Postcard From California, remaking it with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young providing harmony vocals, and the song also became a regular in the setlists of the Beach Boys’ 2012 reunion tour.

The Trader

Songwriter: Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson (with Justyn Wilson saying “Hi”)

The Trader is Carl Wilson’s primary songwriting contribution to the Holland album, and the last new song he would bring to the band until LA (Light Album) in 1979, so it’s a good job that it’s a good one.

The song breaks into two halves, with little connection between them, either musically or lyrically. The first half is possibly the most overtly political thing the Beach Boys ever recorded (albeit it is a condemnation of acts carried out by people who were long-dead). Over a piano-led rock background, Wilson sings about the colonisation of the Americas, the genocide of their native population, and the way the land had been ‘civilised’. It’s Rieley’s most straightforward lyric, and also his best. It also manages to tie in with the themes of sea travel, America, and nature in opposition to industrial civilisation that permeate the whole of the album.

But then, almost exactly half-way through the song, the key changes from G to C, the prominent piano drops out to be replaced by sighing backing vocals and tinkling Moog, and the lyric goes from concrete to utterly abstract, as the song turns into something closer to Carl Wilson’s songs from Surf’s Up. Instead of “Trader found the jeweled land was occupied before he came/By humans of a second look who couldn’t even write their names”, the lyrics suddenly become “Embracing together, like the merging streams, crying dreams”.

Frankly, it shouldn’t work — this song sounds exactly like something that’s been bolted together from two different ideas, with no real thought as to how the two sections actually interact. Yet it does work, mostly through sheer chutzpah, but also through an absolutely remarkable vocal performance from Carl Wilson, who goes from a strained, pained vocal near the top of his range in the rock section to a softer, gentler, reassuring vocal for the second, mellow section. Somehow, the result is actually better than the sum of the parts, though there’s no earthly reason why it should be. It works because Wilson and Rieley say it works, and because they both had enough talent at this point to do something as ambitious as this.

The song became a regular in the band’s setlist for much of the rest of the 1970s, even as the rest of the set became increasingly dominated by hits, and was a favourite with crowds, again thanks largely to Carl Wilson’s vocal performance.

Leaving This Town

Songwriter: Carl Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love

Lead vocalist:
Blondie Chaplin

A tedious song that unfortunately merges the worst aspects of both Carl Wilson’s and the Flame team’s writing, this plods along based on slow, steady piano chords in much the same style as Feel Flows, and has a simple chord sequence (alternating between I, V, i and v in two keys a tone apart) with little of interest about it. Then the melody over the top stays, like all the Chaplin/Fataar material, in a narrow range, and consists mostly of long, held notes.

Once the song gets to the two minute long Moog solo, it takes a great deal of effort for the listener to keep awake, and the lyrics are enough of a formless mess (a case of too many cooks, one suspects) that there is no emotional hook there to encourage one to listen for much longer. Easily the least interesting thing that Chaplin and Fataar had a hand in during their time with the Beach Boys, and the most pointless thing on the album (Beaks Of Eagles is worse, but it’s an ambitious failure, while this seems to have been made with no greater ambition than filling six minutes of vinyl).

Only With You

Songwriter: Dennis Wilson and Mike Love

Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

In an unfortunate piece of sequencing, Leaving This Town is followed by another sedate, mellow song at a near-identical tempo, and the momentum of the album is killed stone dead. It’s a shame because, unlike the previous song, this one really is worthwhile.

While Love and Dennis Wilson had a legendarily fractious relationship, their few songwriting collaborations (of which this is the only one to end up on a Beach Boys album rather than a solo release) show a deeper mutual sympathy, and Love’s lyrics and Wilson’s music here complement each other perfectly.

Musically, this is one of the simplest things Dennis Wilson had composed to this point, possibly because it wasn’t written in collaboration with the more musically-sophisticated Daryl Dragon, and the only really interesting change is the one from Em/G to E7/G# (in a section that feels like it’s in G, but which is in fact in the same key of D as the rest of the song) under the phrase “love had always had its ups and downs”. However, the song’s simplicity is its key — a direct lyric combined with simple changes gives this song a formal grace that is very different from the primal howl of many of Dennis’ songs.

While Carl Wilson’s vocal on this track has been almost universally praised, it doesn’t quite work as well for me as for many others — while his vocal on the quieter verses is exemplary, he is a little mannered on the middle eight and tag (something that would become increasingly true of his vocals over later years). It’s a very good performance, yes, but one is left wishing that Dennis had sung his own song, with his less technically perfect but more expressive voice.A version of the song with Dennis Wilson on vocals was released in 2008, on the Pacific Ocean Blue CD reissue, and will be discussed in the chapter on that album.

While it’s not as perfect a song as Forever or God Only Knows, two songs it is clearly an attempt to emulate, it’s still extremely good, and one of the best things on the album, and it makes one wish that Love and Dennis Wilson had been able to work together more often.

Funky Pretty

Songwriter: Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin. Ricky Fataar and Mike Love

The only song, other than Sail On Sailor, contributed by Brian Wilson to the Holland project proper was this track on which he contributed nearly all the instruments (Carl Wilson added some guitar, and Fataar some percussion, but Brian played the drums as well as probably playing all the keyboard parts).

Musically, the song is not all that interesting as a song, but is fascinating as a pointer to Brian Wilson’s musical direction at the time and for the next few years. The entire track is based around Moog, with Moog parts in three ranges (a squelchy, fuzzy bass part, a mid-range part in the same range as the piano, and a high counter-melody), with only the most rudimentary drum part and no real connection to conventional rock music at all.

While the song’s title sums up the feel very well (the vocals have a great, soulful feel, while there’s an ethereal beauty to the Moog parts), the lyrics as a whole are fairly pointless, combining the worst of both Rieley (pointless prettiness without any sense) and Love (an obsession with astrology, a long list of place names, and a slightly lecherous tone). The vocals, though, are extraordinary. For those playing along at home, Carl Wilson takes the verses (and the verse backing vocals), Jardine takes over on “where’s my spark in the dark?”, Fataar “Glow glow glow come on glow”, Chaplin on “the funky pretty flame in my heart” and Love “me and my Pisces lady are apart.”

On the second chorus, Chaplin sings “Cos it’s a silent night in the sea”, Jardine “and if you’re cosmically conscious you’ll see”, Fataar “why she’s a princess imparted to me” and Love “daughter of Neptune, the ruler of the sea”. Carl Wilson takes the middle section with the listing of place names, and Chaplin takes the fade. The fade-out would be the perfect end for the album, but then we have…

Mt Vernon And Fairway (A Fairy Tale)

Songwriter: Brian Wilson (with Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley)

Lead vocalist: Jack Rieley (with Brian and Carl Wilson)

Possibly the most controversial thing the Beach Boys ever released, this is, depending on who you talk to, either one of Brian Wilson’s greatest masterpieces or a sad record of a once-great talent’s decline.

When the Holland album was being recorded, Brian Wilson was at a low ebb, mentally and creatively, and wanted little or nothing to do with the recording process. Instead, he found himself listening over and over to Sail Away by Randy Newman [FOOTNOTE:An absolutely wonderful album, which anyone who likes good songwriting should check out.].

He discovered that while he was listening to this, he was able to get into a creative mood, and wrote a fairytale, about a young prince who lived at Mount Vernon And Fairway (the address where Mike Love had grown up) and who, while alone in his bedroom, discovered a magic transistor radio, which normally played the music of Bach, but sometimes was possessed by “the Pied Piper from the faraway land of night”, whose music was unlike anything the prince had ever heard.

Unsurprisingly, when he presented this fairytale to the other band members and suggested it go on the album, their reaction was not hugely enthusiastic, and Brian was apparently so discouraged that he didn’t finish the story (Jack Rieley apparently supplied the rather abrupt ending, as a result). Nonetheless it was agreed to package the result as a 7 inch single with the album (it appears as a bonus track on CD releases), and the finished piece is one of the most interesting, ambitious, and beautiful things Wilson has ever created.

Rieley narrates the story, which is clearly the work of someone who is not especially articulate, but which makes up for in emotional honesty what it lacks in craft, while under it we have electronic sound effects, piano music, and snatches of vocal music, mostly repeated lines (“Pied Piper, I’d better get back in bed,” “I’m the Pied Piper in the radio”, “Dom dom King dom”). The effect is somewhere between Peter And The Wolf and Nilsson’s The Point, with tiny moments of beauty that are never developed into full songs, but drift away like someone tuning the radio to another station.

The music itself has had more appreciation since it was released, without the spoken narration and sound effects, as Fairy Tale Music on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set, but while the story is not the work of someone with any great skill in language, it’s still joyful and perfectly conveys the wonder of a lonely teenager, sat in his room listening to the radio, hit from out of the blue with music only he can hear, more wonderful and exciting even than Bach.

OK… Here’s a serious question

A friend, in an email about other subjects, said in passing today “if you tried crowdfunding to support you while you’re writing, I’d put in between £50 and £100 per book.”

I’ve briefly considered Kickstarter type things in the past for my work, but decided against it. I have a fairly small audience for my writing, and most of that small audience is only interested in one or two of the four or five things I did (some people are only interested in my SF short stories, for example, while others want me to shut up about anything except music).

But given that one person has (ludicrously generously) said this, I’m now wondering if it *would* be feasible to do a kickstarter or similar for my books. The way my work’s vacation time works is you can buy extra days, and if there were enough people who’d put in those sort of sums of money (the fifty or hundred pound ones), I could buy a few weeks extra vacation from work and use that time for writing. But to do that I’d need to plan soon, because there’s only a short window of time to buy vacation time.

So… please only reply to this if you *would* want to be a patron of one of my books, and if so how much you’d think of putting in (email me if you’d not want to make this public) — and also if, for example, you’d do it for any book I wrote, or only for, say, the next Doctor Watson Investigates story or Beach Boys volume. I’m not holding anyone to anything here, I’m just trying to see if it’s feasible or not.

Frankly, I think it’s incredibly unlikely that this would happen, for a whole variety of reasons, but given that one person has already made the offer, I thought it at least worth raising the possibility.