The Beach Boys On CD: Youngblood

And here we come to the last album that will be dealt with in this volume. The story that’s played out over the thirteen years covered in this book is of the battle between two factions of the Beach Boys — on the one hand Carl and Dennis Wilson, pushing for greater artistic progress, and on the other Mike Love and Al Jardine, allied more by their dislike of the Wilsons’ drug- and alcohol-fuelled lifestyles than anything else. Each faction was trying to gain influence over Brian Wilson, and each had allies, but the two factions had been balanced for most of that time, though by this point things were shifting as Carl Wilson had cleaned up the worst excesses of his lifestyle.

Youngblood, Carl Wilson’s second solo album, came out in February 1983, and was the last album to be released before that balance shifted, horribly, with the death by drowning of Dennis Wilson in December that year.

From that point on, the Beach Boys would be following, pretty much exclusively, the vision of Mike Love. Some interesting things have resulted, as we will see in volume three, but the tension between the two factions of the band was over, for good.

So Youngblood is the last album to have been created when the Beach Boys were still the band dealt with in this volume, and it’s a strange one. It’s almost as mediocre as Carl Wilson, but not quite — if nothing else, it’s better sequenced, and the addition of a handful of cover versions gives the album some much-needed energy.

But also, the album benefits from the production of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, and the combination of Wilson’s live band (who had toured with him during his solo tour in 1981, though he was now back with the Beach Boys) with the session musicians, like Nicky Hopkins and Vinnie Colaiuta, who Baxter was used to working with.

The result is an album that is far more listenable than its predecessor, but is still lacking in ambition — a bunch of very talented people making music that is, ultimately, pointless.

All songs by Carl Wilson and Myrna Smith-Schilling except where noted.

What More Can I Say?

And the album starts as it means to go on, with a song that is essentially as unimaginative as any of those on Carl Wilson, but performed with far more energy and enthusiasm than any of the tracks on that album. The track speeds through as fast as possible, distracting the listener with the rush of the tempo and Baxter’s twiddly, ultra-fast guitar playing, but the production — which is much, much better than anything on the previous album — doesn’t cover up the dullness of the underlying material.

She’s Mine

This is, frankly, the most unpleasant thing ever recorded by a member of the Beach Boys. The lyrics are misogynist as hell — “Don’t ask her she’s mine/She’ll tell you different but she ain’t free”, while the backing track is horrible 80s AOR that could be Survivor, Journey or a million other terrible bands.

The lowpoint — not just of the song, but of Carl Wilson’s entire career — is the second chorus, where he sings — of someone who is supposed to be his girlfriend, mark you, and of whom he’s said earlier “let me supply all the love she needs” — “that bitch can’t help it if she can’t be true”.

“That bitch”.

No more need be said really. This is a song from the point-of-view of a controlling, dominating man who thinks his partner is a “bitch”. Not sung with any Randy Newman style ironic unreliable narration, but with a cock-rocking swagger.

Abysmal.

Givin’ You Up
Songwriters:
Carl Wilson, Myrna Smith-Schilling and Jerry Schilling

Jerry Schilling gets a co-writing credit for this, according to Billy Hinsche’s liner notes for the 2010 CD reissue, because he suggested to Carl the idea of “a love affair unselfishly ending and nobody is to blame”. Myrna Smith-Schilling wrote the lyrics, and was apparently unaware that she was writing about the end of her own marriage with Schilling.

In fact, while Schilling’s original idea was to have the affair end “unselfishly”, it’s hard to imagine a more revoltingly egocentric, self-serving song than this — “I gotta admit you were there when I needed, still there’s something I gotta find”, “I’ve outgrown your love”, “In order to find me I’m givin’ you up”. Possibly it’s just the context, coming after the last song, but this sounds almost psychopathically narcissistic.

That said, Wilson sings the song as well as ever.

This was released in a slightly different edit as the B-side to What You Do To Me, and the single edit is a bonus track on the CD reissue.

One More Night Alone
Songwriter:
Billy Hinsche

Easily the best track on the album, this was written by Carl’s ex-brother-in-law Billy Hinsche, the Beach Boys’ touring keyboardist.

A slow “big ballad”, it’s based around Hinsche’s electric piano part, and like many piano composers he uses a much richer harmonic vocabulary than guitarists, so the first line of the song has the progression C-Fmaj7-Dm7-Bm7/E-E7/G# — a descending pattern where each chord removes the highest note from the one before while adding notes on the bottom — and then the second line (Am-Am7/G-Fmaj7-F6) does more or less the same in the relative minor. This isn’t particularly clever or original, but it is more interesting than the bulk of the album.

And given decent material, Carl Wilson really shines, turning in his best vocal on the album, starting with an almost-whispered first verse, singing the second in full voice, and straining at the emotional peak on the middle eight.

The song’s far from perfect — the lyrics show signs of rhyming dictionary abuse, the middle eight’s not very well thought out, and there’s a lounge sax solo — but compared to everything before it on the album, this is revelatory. This is what should have been the minimum standard for a Carl Wilson solo album, and it’s pretty shameful it took until the fourth song to reach that standard, but we’re there now.

Billy Hinsche later released a solo version of this on his live CD Bay Of Plenty.

Rockin’ All Over The World
Songwriter:
John Fogerty

A straight cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival original, this adds nothing to what was never an especially original song. If you like three-chord rock songs about rockin’, that rock, then you’ll like this. I don’t, although Nicky Hopkins’ piano solo lifts the track slightly.

What You Do To Me
Songwriters:
John and Johanna Hall

This track was the only single from the album, and is a note-for-note cover version of a vaguely Latin-flavoured track from the John Hall Band (led by John Hall, a former member of rock band Orleans, and a Democratic Congressman from 2006 to 2011). The backing track is so similar, in fact, that it sounds closer to a different mix of the same track than to a new recording, though it isn’t.

While there’s nothing of substance to the song, which is just three chords and lyrics like “What you do to me/Feels so heavenly”, the track has an energy to it, though it’s not wonderfully suited to Wilson’s voice.

The single reached number 72 on the US charts, and number 20 in the Adult Contemporary Billboard charts, and stayed in the Beach Boys’ live set for a short while.

Young Blood
Songwriters:
Doc Pomus, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

One of the most interesting tracks on the album, this is a cover version of an old R&B hit by the Coasters, which had also been recorded by, among others, the Beatles and Leon Russel.

However, while the Coasters’ original plays the song for laughs, here Wilson teases out the creepy, stalkerish undertone of the lyrics — something that isn’t hard to do with lines like “I tried to follow her all the way home/Then things were bad, I met her dad/He said ‘You’d better leave my daughter alone’”. But slowing down the track and emphasising the horns gives it a sinister edge, and then adding in the voice of Barbara Reilly, treated to sound like she’s on the telephone, saying “Who is this?” and getting no response, gives the song a whole different feeling.

Easily the best actual song on the album, this is also the one that has had the most thought given it by far.

Of The Times

This is just nasty. A galumphing AOR track that wouldn’t have been out of place as an album track by Survivor or Foreigner, this is an utterly mediocre song with a straight quiet verse/loud bombastic chorus, along with a screeching solo by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter instead of a middle eight, but what kills it are the lyrics.

This is an attempt at non-specific social comment, and as with all non-specific social comment by big 80s rock stars, its message is ultimately inhuman. The verses talk to someone who is concerned about “the state that the world is in” and that “the dollar won’t buy all the things you need”, but then the choruses say “But who else can you blame for the state of your mentality/If you’re just a part of the times?”

The last couple of verses offer newage (not a typo, rhymes with sewage) platitudes about how positive thinking will allow you to change the future, but fundamentally this is a vile bit of victim-blaming. If someone’s struggling with poverty, then being told by a multi-millionaire that it’s their own fault and that it’d get better if they just think positive thoughts really doesn’t help.

Too Early To Tell
Songwriters:
Carl Wilson, Myrna Smith-Schilling and John Daly

More utterly generic rawk, this time a track written as the show opener for Wilson’s solo shows. A duet with Smith-Schilling, there is literally nothing notable about this track, which has lyrics like “It’s time to rock and roll and let it all come out, that’s what it’s all about”. Lots of twiddly fast guitar attempts to cover up a lack of an interesting song.

Even though I’ve only written three sentences about this track, I’ve probably still spent more time writing about it than its composers did writing it.

If I Could Talk To Love

Easily the best of the originals on the album, this is a gentle ballad which unfortunately turns into a power ballad half-way through, but it has more harmonic imagination than any of the other originals on the album, with some nice playing around with major and minor versions of the same chords giving the song a harmonic ambiguity lacking in any of the other originals on either of Wilson’s two solo albums.

The song shows off his voice to better effect than anything else on the album, has a relatively restrained arrangement (at least until the drums kick in at 2:18, bringing 80s ‘sonic power’ along with them), and a very nice, understated, flugelhorn solo by Lee Thomberg that’s far more effective than any of the squealy, twiddly, Skunk Baxter solos on previous tracks.

One might also wonder if, given that this album was written and recorded around the time that Carl Wilson resigned himself to the Beach Boys grinding out the hits and being a nostalgia band, there might be a not-especially-well-hidden subtext in lines like “I put myself into your hands/From this moment on, I make no demands/And if one could talk to love, I’d say/Have it your way, love, have it your way”…

Time

Not the same song as Dennis’ solo song of the same name, this is a three-chord chugging boogie that Billy Hinsche compares, in the liner notes to the CD reissue, to Status Quo. It’s an accurate comparison, but he sees it as a good thing whereas I don’t. After the slow intro, It’s all fast quaver chords on the piano in a rough approximation of Jerry Lee Lewis, but without any of the excitement or danger that one would find in Lewis’ music. A mediocre, forgettable end to a mediocre, forgettable album.

The Beach Boys On CD: Looking Back With Love

OK, I suppose I have to get it over with…

I have tried, in these essays, to be as objective as I can. Yes, some of the reviews have been harsh, but I have tried wherever possible to find something positive to say. The Beach Boys put out some material that was subpar, but never usually less than interesting.

But Mike Love’s only released solo album (he recorded two in 1978 and one in 2004 that remain unreleased) is terrible. Despite the involvement of Curt Becher as producer, and of Brian Wilson on one track, this is easily the worst album ever to involve any of the Beach Boys, if not the worst album ever released.

And the problem is, by saying this I know it will encourage people to listen to it. Don’t.

There is a whole field of study designed to creating warnings to stop future archaeologists from investigating nuclear waste dumps. The problem is to come up with something that warns them off without inviting curiosity, and the more you protect something and warn people off, the more they want to see it. The message they attempt to communicate is [FOOTNOTE According to http://www.damninteresting.com/this-place-is-not-a-place-of-honor/ ]in part:

This place is not a place of honor…no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.

What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

The idea is to warn off the curious. Some things are best left undisturbed.

The album was produced by Curt Becher, and the band backing most of the album was Scott Blair on drums, Michael Brady on bass, Jim Studer on keyboards and George Doering on guitar.

Looking Back With Love
Songwriters:
Jim Studer, Craig Thomas, Dan Parker

Because his surname is Love, do you see?

The thesis of this song is that the 1960s were an age of contradictions, thus “It was the best of times, the worst of times/An age of reason with a rage for rhymes”. Unfortunately, that line is the best in the song, seriously, and it hits a low in the second verse with the line “Good vibrations/Assassinations”

As an exercise in nostalgia it fails horribly, partly because Dan Parker, the lyricist, has the same writing style as Love himself, cramming in as many lyrics to older, better songs as he can (“Soulful sounds from the motor city, California girls now are sure looking pretty/Two girls for every boy”), succeeding only in reminding you of the better records you could be listening to; but also because it seems to epitomise the saying “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there”. Lines like “mod rockers dancing in a Liverpool street” suggest that Parker definitely doesn’t remember the 60s.

Combine this with a synth-pop arrangement, faux-Beach Boys harmonies (featuring a guest vocal from Bruce Johnston) and Love at his most nasal, and what you have is unpleasant.

The album goes downhill from here.

On And On And On
Songwriters:
Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus

It makes a sort of sense for Mike to cover this track, since the original, by ABBA, had a backing vocal arrangement clearly influenced by that on Do It Again. That backing vocal is made the intro here, but the problem is the song itself.

While Andersson and Ulvaeus are not the pop geniuses their reputation these days suggests, they were capable of coming up with good songs. This isn’t one of them. The song sounds like an ELO cast-off, and not in a good way, and is hamstrung further by terrible lyrics like “He said, ‘I’m a minister, a big shot in the States’/I said, ‘I just can’t believe it, but I think it’s great/Brother can you tell me what is right and what is wrong?’/He said, ‘Keep on rocking baby, ’til the night is gone’”

Of course, Andersson and Ulvaeus can be forgiven for these lyrics, because they’re not native English speakers. Mike Love has no excuse for singing them.

The backing track is actually a relatively competent example of disco-influenced synth-pop, making the most of the song’s three-chord simplicity, but the combination of the terrible song, Mike’s nasal delivery, and the addition of a vocoder makes it an embarrassment.

Running Around The World
Songwriters:
James Haymer and Blair Aaronson

Possibly the least unpleasant track on the album, this features co-composer Blair Aaronson on synthesiser, and other than the poor 80s production and nasal vocals would be an inoffensive enough track. For the most part it’s just based on a I-vi verse and a ii-V chorus, and the only point of interest is a backing vocal quote from This Whole World.

Over And Over
Songwriter:
Robert James Byrd

This is just strange. Over And Over was originally recorded by the R&B singer Bobby Day (who wrote it under his real name), the writer of Little Bitty Pretty One, but was a number one hit in the US for the Dave Clark Five (whose version is roughly patterned on the old Little Richard song Money Honey) and is quite a catchy example of late-50s R&B.

For Mike to have done a straight cover of either version of the song would have made some kind of sense, especially given that the album seems very loosely themed around nostalgia for the late 50s and early 60s. It wouldn’t have made a lot of sense, because Day’s version, especially, has a very strong vocal performance and Love was at his most nasal at this time, but it could have been a competent, fun cover version.

Instead, it’s done as an ersatz-Carribean track– actually quite similar in production style to Blondie’s version of Tide Is High, which is presumably the influence here (although Becher had been producing similar-sounding records with California Music for years), which fits neither the song nor Love’s voice, and to make matters worse they introduce a totally unnecessary truck-driver’s key change up a semitone before the last verse.

Rockin’ The Man In The Boat
Songwriters:
Jim Studer, Jim Arnold, Michael Brady

If you have ever, in your life, wanted to hear Mike Love singing in his most nasal voice, over a Status Quo style chugging boogie (but with a bridge in the style of Chicago) about watching through a telescope while a female friend masturbates (and close analysis of the lyrics suggests that she has forewarned him of this), then this is the song for you.

If, on the other hand, you are someone whose tastes have not been totally corrupted beyond all human decency, you will stop the track as quickly as possible, and spend the rest of the week showering in the hope that you can someday feel clean again.

The lowpoint (in a track that is already the lowest point in an album made up of lowpoints) comes when Mike once again feels the compulsion to reference an old song lyric — “You know I’d love to lend a helping hand, you’re such a good singer let me join in your band…She don’t need it, got a good vibration”.

This is quite possibly the most monumentally misjudged recording of all time.

Calendar Girl
Songwriters:
Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

The worst’s over now. Mike Love has punished us, has shown us what horrors he is capable of committing, and now we can relax slightly.

Not that this is good — Calendar Girl is a terrible song — but this is actually better than the version of the song the Beach Boys had recorded (and left unreleased) during the LA sessions. The track’s got some energy to it, it suits Love’s voice, and the sax solo is quite nice.

It’s possible Stockholm Syndrome is sinking in, but this sounds like a relief after the last track. But then, anything would.

Be My Baby
Songwriters:
Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector

This track dates from earlier sessions, and features Brian Wilson on keyboards and inaudible backing vocals. Were it not for the layers of 80s synth overdubs, this could have fit on 15 Big Ones, but would have been one of the less successful covers on there. It has none of the dynamics, passion, or majesty of the original, just Mike Love singing lines like “you know I will adore you til eternity”, which should be a howl of emotion wrenched from the gut, with about as much passion as the shipping forecast.

One Good Reason
Songwriters:
Jim Studer and Michael Brady

This is merely tedious, a vaguely doo-wop flavoured 6/8 ballad that doesn’t even rise to the level of truly bad. The second half of the album is definitely better than the first (if better is the right word…less awful, certainly), but it still only rises to the level of “bad”, and the cumulative effect of the album is much, much worse than any individual song.

Teach Me Tonight
Songwriters:
Sammy Cahn and Gene DePaul

Teach Me Tonight is a standard, recorded by, amongst many others, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Earl Grant, and some performers who didn’t have any noble titles in their name at all. It’s one of the songs that people talk about when they talk about the “great American songbook”, though it also fits one of the recurring themes of this album in that it has a metaphor overextended to the point of absurdity.

The track here is in the same late-70s soft-pop style as LA (Light Album) , but with the addition of a Stevie Wonder style harmonica part (played by Tommy Morgan, who played on many of the Beach Boys’ 60s recordings).

Love’s singing is much better here, but the production style still handicaps the track and… it’s only a personal reaction, and others may differ, but for me Mike Love attempting to be coquettishly seductive starts me shuddering and sends me back to that shower again.

Paradise Found
Songwriters:
Mike Love and Jim Studer

Mike Love’s only songwriting contribution on the album is to this, the (thankfully) last song, a duet with Joannie Sommers. Another track that sounds very like Chicago, this one once again falls victim to Love’s compulsion to cram the titles of Beach Boys songs into everything, meaning the main chorus line is “let’s go away for a while”, once again reminding us of something we could be listening to instead of this.

Overall, when listening to any individual track on this album (except Rockin’ The Man In The Boat), it can feel like my introduction was too harsh — one can find tracks throughout the Beach Boys’ career that are worse than any individual song here (except Rockin’ The Man In The Boat). It’s the cumulative effect of the album — the sheer deadening joylessness, the crassness, and, perhaps worst of all, the impression that at least some of those involved actually thought they were doing something of artistic value.

There are moments here that, in isolation, could almost qualify as competent. But they’re few and far between, and overall one is left feeling slightly soiled for having listened to this. But I feel even worse for having written this review — it’s like kicking a puppy. The makers of this album were clearly trying to do something worthwhile, something that would make people happy, and to do it to the best of their ability. To attack them for that seems cruel, but so would letting anyone listen to this album without adequate warning.

In a way, this is one of the most successful works of art that I’ve ever come across, in that it helps me understand myself better — my first instinct, when writing this piece, is to go all-out with vicious, hyperbolic, mockery. Believe it or not, I toned a lot of that down before publication. But I revelled in the cruelty — this album had hurt me with its awfulness, now I was going to hurt its creators. This album showed me a side of myself I’d rather not have seen, and in that way it might be a much more effective work of art than many better albums.

But that doesn’t mean it’s actually any good.

The Beach Boys On CD: Carl Wilson

In 1981, the Beach Boys were a shambles. They’d just put out a terrible album, Dennis Wilson was spiraling down into the self-destructive spiral that would soon lead to his death, Brian Wilson was ballooning in weight, and the band were putting on poor shows, joylessly grinding out the hits yet again.

So it was unsurprising that when Carl Wilson’s eponymous solo album, recorded the previous December, was released, he announced that he wouldn’t be touring and recording with them, “until they decide 1981 means as much to them as 1961”, in a press release that also stated that there had “hardly been a full Beach Boys rehearsal in more than a year” and that he didn’t want to play “multi-night engagements in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas and places like that”.

What was surprising, however, was the album. Where Dennis’ solo recordings had shown the untapped potential in an overlooked talent, Carl’s showed the opposite. While the vocal performances are never less than excellent, the music is dull, plodding AOR, the type of thing that might easily have been recorded by Bryan Adams or Huey Lewis.

Carl’s main collaborator on the album was Myrna Smith (later Myrna Smith-Schilling), the partner of the band’s manager Jerry Schilling. She was a great singer (she was a member of the Sweet Inspirations, who as well as their own hits also sang back-up for Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, and performed on Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl) and carried her weight as a backing vocalist, but seemed not to bring out the best in Carl.

The album was recorded by a very small core band — Wilson and Smith, along with John Daly on guitar, James Guercio on bass and guitar, James Stroud on drums, with additional musicians limited for the most part to the odd tambourine or saxophone overdub — and produced by James Guercio. It only charted in the US at number 175, for the very good reason that it wasn’t actually any good. It’s not as bad as MIU or Keepin’ The Summer Alive, but it’s not something that has any reason to exist, either.

(All songs are written by Carl Wilson and Myrna Smith, except where noted).

Hold Me

The album’s first single was this plodding rocker, a duet between Wilson and Smith. There is next to nothing interesting to say about it. The production is straightforwardly dull, with a clomping drum part dominated by hi-hat and cowbell, and a strangely swimmy guitar sound. And the song itself is as basic as it’s possible to get — a dull I-V riff for the verse (sung by Wilson), a brief bridge sung by Smith (chord sequence vi-I-vi-V), then a chorus sung by both, over the same dull riff as the verse. Repeat. That’s it.

There’s not even a middle eight or a solo to break the monotony, just a near-endless repetition of the chorus (actually lasting only eighty-five seconds, but feeling like much more). Tedious in the extreme.

Nice vocals though.

Bright Lights

With its semi-disco beat under standard doo-wop changes for the verse, this beats the previous track in that the chorus is made of different musical material than the verse is. In fact there’s even a key change between the verse and the chorus, though only a change to the subdominant, about as banal a change as it gets.

But we don’t need Carl Wilson singing in an over-reverbed voice over a synth bass “Take a number in my black book/And promise to call”.

And again there’s a stunning lack of craft here — the structure is just verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-verse-repeat chorus to fade. Nothing at all to disrupt the monotony.

Nice vocals though.

What You Gonna Do About Me?

This track seems to be recorded to the same click track as the last one. There does seem, however, to have been some actual thought put into the track. There’s a verse, a bridge, and a key change into the chorus (and it’s a key change down a tone, which is more interesting). There’s even a rudimentary instrumental break, some changes in the dynamics, and an overdub of what sounds like a jew’s harp on the chorus to make it stand out.

However, to make sure that nobody accidentally gets a feeling stronger than a mild sense of ennui from the album, the last two minutes and nine seconds of the track’s four minute twenty-nine running time are (apart from a quick drop down to just the drums) a repeat of the chorus musical material, over and over, with no new ideas. And the lyrics are the worst so far, being the whinging of a Nice Guy complaining he’s in the “friend zone” (“I’m the one you keep on running to after they’ve walked all over you/I’m the one who dries your lonely tears, so what you gonna do about me?”)

Nice vocals though.

The Right Lane

Another song at approximately the same tempo, but this one’s definitely the ‘rock’ one, because the guitars are crunchier and the drums are being hit harder.

This is another one with a straight A-B-A-B structure, this time alternating between a two-chord (charitably — the two chords are E7 and E7sus4) verse and a four-chord bridge. Once again we have the last two minutes and forty-four seconds of the song being an extended repetition of the two-chord riff.

This song’s distinguishing feature (all the songs so far seem to have precisely one) is that it has an actual solo, quite early in the track. There’s even an amusing little ‘pew’ noise repeated during the solo and fade.

What’s most ridiculous is that the lyrics to this song are all about breaking the mould, doing something different, breaking away, and yet this is the fourth song in a row to be, to all intents and purposes, interchangeable.

Nice vocals, though.

Hurry Love

Old habits die hard. In the 60s, the Beach Boys’ albums had, on occasion, been sequenced into an uptempo side A and a slower side B, a legacy of the early rock era when there would be a side ‘for the kids’ and a side ‘for the grown-ups’. Whether deliberately or not, Wilson emulates that on this album, so while side one had four rockers, three of the four tracks on this side are ballads.

Immediately the album starts feeling slightly better, because for a ballad you have to have an actual song, and just not having the same bludgeoning drums and crunchy guitars makes this song seem like a relief. This one even has a middle eight.

The track is, overall, quite pleasant. Nothing special, but Carl Wilson singing even a mediocre song, over a backing of acoustic guitars and hand percussion, is always going to be at least listenable. This is up to the standards of such Beach Boys filler tracks as Sweet Sunday Kind Of Love or Full Sail, and was the B-side to both singles from the album.

Nice vocals.

Heaven

Songwriters: Carl Wilson, Myrna Smith, Michael Sun

The second single from the album was this ballad, the only song to involve a songwriter other than Wilson and Smith. On this evidence they should have had Michael Sun work with them more.

That’s not to say this song is as good as its reputation — since Carl Wilson’s untimely death in 1998, this song has, at least among Beach Boys fans, taken on something like the status of Forever and God Only Knows, but it’s very inferior to those songs. But it is a good song — something that has been lacking up until this point.

In fact it seems far more like a Beach Boys track than a solo track, right down to the lyrics about “The gentle waves of love in motion, and the warmth of summer sun”, and this gives Carl the chance to show that he could be a whole Beach Boys by himself, performing some absolutely lovely multitracked harmony parts, and singing what may be the highest falsetto part he ever sang on the line “Heaven could be here on Earth” — so high he’s clearly straining for the notes.

As a single, this flopped, but it was performed off and on in Beach Boys shows for several years later, and Brian Wilson recorded a solo version in 2007.

Very nice vocals.

The Grammy

This is probably the best of the uptempo songs, mostly because of the dropped beats in the chorus, but also because it bothers to have a middle eight (and the high vocals on the middle eight are by far the most interesting thing on any of the rockers here, sounding almost like Queen or Sparks).

But it’s a petulant whine of a song. Apparently inspired by Billy Joel, it casts Wilson as a rock star snubbing the Grammy awards (“You invite me to pick up my award, after all the time I’ve been out here/My music is still the same, why is it just now getting there?”) and being more interested in art than awards, while the multitracked Greek chorus backing vocals sing “We thought you wanted to be a star?/Who the hell do you think you are?”

Of course, this principled renunciation of the Grammies and all that they stand for would have had nothing to do with the fact that the Beach Boys themselves had never actually won a Grammy award.

(For the record, when the Nobel committee come calling about giving me the prize for literature for this book, I shall definitely turn it down.)

Nice vocals, though.

Seems So Long Ago

And we get another ballad, and so another actual song. Unfortunately it’s a banal, plodding song, with a hugely overextended lounge sax solo (not that there’s such a thing as a lounge sax solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but if there was, this wouldn’t be it). The lyrics are doggerel that wouldn’t even measure up for a Hallmark card (“I can see Mom and Dad and the house we had/The trees in the yard and how Dad worked so hard/The good times we shared and how much they cared”) and once again a hugely overextended fade nearly doubles the length of the song.

So at the end of the album (while it only has eight songs, it’s actually a respectable length — it’s just all the songs are at least two minutes too long), the feeling one gets after listening is… “well, that was certainly a recording of some musicians playing some songs.” That’s about as much of a strong opinion as it’s possible to muster about this album.

Nice vocals, though.

The Beach Boys On CD: Live At Knebworth

1980 saw the only European tour of the classic six-man line-up of the Beach Boys. Dennis Wilson was back in the band after his temporary suspension, Bruce had returned to the fold, and Brian was there in body, if not always in spirit.

The highlight of the tour was a performance at the Knebworth Festival on June 21. At the time, the Beach Boys were still producing big hits in the UK — Lady Lynda had been a top ten hit — and the show was filmed, for a potential twentieth anniversary video.

The show as released on DVD and CD is not quite the same one that people saw at the time, though. Several songs were cut, partly because the performances of them were poor, and a lot of overdubbing was done on the basic tracks afterwards — Mark Linnet, the engineer who mixed the CD and DVD release, has said that about seventy-five per cent of the tracks have an additional single layer of backing vocals overdubbed and some keyboard and guitar sweetening, but that no new lead vocals were recorded. Others who have heard the unsweetened original recordings say that more was altered than that.

To my ears, there has clearly been quite a bit of doctoring done — some autotune applied to some of the vocals (but applied in the way in which it was intended, to fix the odd bum note), and some double-tracking done. More importantly, things have been mixed out, like Brian deciding to play totally different songs on the piano.

The result is, however, if not a totally accurate representation of the band around 1980, a more-or-less honest one. This is, roughly, what the Beach Boys sounded like during the last time they were really a band in any meaningful sense. The bulk of the instruments, and nearly all the vocals, are provided by the band, which is something that would not be true even a year later.

For anyone who wants proof of this, incidentally, it’s instructive to compare the versions of the songs here to those on the Good Vibrations Tour DVD (a DVD of the 1976 TV special popularly known as It’s OK). In particular, compare the version of You Are So Beautiful here with the one on that DVD, and you can clearly hear what Bruce Johnston’s piano adds to the band’s sound.

And what’s interesting is how different this version of the band sounded from the records. The arrangements are chopped-down, ruthlessly streamlined versions of those on the studio recordings. Subtlety goes out the window in favour of a muscular rock sound and a hard backbeat.

This was a deliberate attempt to get a thicker sound — when Carl Wilson left the band briefly in 1981, Jeff Foskett (who has worked with the band members off and on ever since) took over some of his parts, and tried to replicate exactly the single-string guitar lines on the orginal records. When Carl saw him perform live, he said “You know, a guitar has six strings”. But at the same time it also made the songs easier to perform.

The result is something that, while certainly not a bad live album by any means, doesn’t repay repeated listening hugely. The DVD, on the other hand, is an essential purchase, and captures the excitement of a live show perfectly. It’s particularly touching to watch the other band members’ concern for Brian, who is clearly unwell at this point.

As I’ve already covered all these songs before, I’ll just deal briefly with them to note the differences from the studio versions. Some observations that apply to all of them:

Mike Love is not in especially good voice, but Carl Wilson and Al Jardine sound superb.

Brian and Dennis are largely absent from the harmonies — Brian for obvious reasons, Dennis because he was behind the drumkit for much of the show.

line-up

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

backing band

Ed Carter (guitar), Joe Chemay (bass, vocals), Bobby Figueroa (percussion, drums, vocals), Mike Meros (keyboards)

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

This is taken at a faster pace than the record, but is done pretty much exactly how you’d expect, given the instrumental limitations. Al Jardine takes the falsetto part and does a very good job.

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

This is a simplified version of the arrangement from the record — no flute, obviously (the flute intro is played on keyboard), but also without the a capella section. Brian Wilson takes lead on the first verse, and this may be the earliest example of his late period voice — less husky than from 76 to 79, but harsh and shouted. Al Jardine doubles him on the first chorus, Mike Love takes his usual part, and Carl Wilson sings the last verse, as well as playing the twelve-string guitar. This is one of several songs that have annoying feedback screeches — an unfortunate artefact of the live recording.

Darlin’
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This was the first track from this recording to be released, on the Endless Harmony sountrack, and with good reason. While it’s a typically dense, airless instrumental arrangement, and misses the horns, Carl Wilson turns in a stunning lead vocal performance here. His little improvised phrase at the end of the recording (“I keep dreaming ’bout Darlin’”) has, since the track was released in 1999, become a formal part of the arrangement when any of the various Beach Boys bands perform this song live.

School Days
Songwriter:
Chuck Berry
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

This is to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from the studio recording, except with lots of space for Eddie Carter to play a twiddly guitar solo.

God Only Knows
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Tony Asher
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

As always, with the pre-1996 Beach Boys, this is a simplified arrangement of the song — not just in that there are no flutes or french horns, but in that the staccato instrumental section is skipped altogether.

Al Jardine takes Brian Wilson’s falsetto part ( sounding like he’s double-tracked in parts), and Mike Love the lower ‘ba ba ba’ part, while Bruce replicates his part from the record, but Carl Wilson is the star here, giving a performance which, while possibly not as good as the one on Live In London, is still the highlight of this album.

When the Beach Boys reunited in 2012, they performed this song to Carl’s prerecorded lead, with Carl projected on a video screen. It was this performance they used for both the lead vocal and the video, and so the lead vocal from this performance also turns up on the 50th Anniversary Tour live double CD.

Be True To Your School
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

A fairly straight reading of this song, unlike later performances where Mike would stretch the word “when” out to ridiculous lengths. Mike Meros takes the “On Wisconsin” organ solo.

Do It Again
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love with Carl Wilson

Again, the instrumental arrangement here is rather overloaded with a surfeit of electric guitars, but it’s otherwise relatively close to what you’d expect. Carl Wilson harmonises with Mike Love on the bridge and plays the guitar solo.

Little Deuce Coupe
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Roger Christian and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

This is pretty much exactly what you’d expect this song to sound like.

Cottonfields/Heroes & Villains
Songwriter:
Huddie Ledbetter/Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine with Carl Wilson

Here Dennis Wilson switches from the drums to being part of the frontline, on vocals and occasional piano, while Bobby Figueroa becomes the main drummer for the next few songs. It’s hard to tell because of the way the DVD is edited, but Brian Wilson may be absent from these songs altogether.

These two songs are performed as a medley, and Cottonfields again is simplified and shortened, with no a capella break or steel guitar. Heroes And Villains, though, is performed in the rock arrangement they’d used in the early 70s, with Jardine taking lead on the verse, Carl singing the “Bicycle rider” lyrics on the chorus, and Love singing “Heroes, a heroes, a heroes and a villains”.

Here they do attempt the a capella break, and the full a capella final verse (unlike on earlier tours) and it works wonderfully, whether thickened in the studio or not. Dennis also adds in an impromptu “we love you!” and some vocal “whoa”s on the tag. This is an absolute tour de force.

Happy Birthday Brian
Songwriter:
Mildred And Patty Hill
Lead vocalist: Audience

Here Brian returned to the stage, Dennis seems to have left, and the audience sang “happy birthday” to Brian, as his birthday was the previous night. This doesn’t appear on the DVD, as the sync rights for the song Happy Birthday are prohibitively expensive.

Keepin’ The Summer Alive
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson and Randy Bachman
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Largely indistinguishable from the studio recording, but with a better lead vocal from Carl, who was really on staggeringly good form for this show. On the DVD, at least, it’s clear that while this isn’t much of a song, it would at least have been very exciting live. Even Brian appears engaged.

Lady Lynda
Songwriter:
Al Jardine and Ron Altbach
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

This is another performance with stunningly good vocals. One might question how good the vocals were live, given that at points here three Al Jardines (Als Jardine?) are audible, but they were apparently good enough for them to perform the a capella break and outro twice — Mike Love shouts “one more time!” after the song ends, and they perform that section again.

The major difference from the studio version here is the lack of strings and harpsichord. Meros plays the Jesu, Blebeit Meine Freunde intro on the piano, and Johnston plays some of the harpsichord trills on the electric piano. From the video and audio evidence neither Brian nor Dennis are on this song.

Surfer Girl
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Group and Brian Wilson

This is quite lovely, with the verse and chorus harmonies dominated by Dennis (with Al taking Brian’s high harmony part), and Brian taking the solo lead on the bridge. The tinkly keyboard part is perhaps a bit obtrusive, but otherwise this is very, very nice.

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

This is the same beefed-up rock arrangement that the band had performed on the In Concert album, with Brian and Dennis on keyboards and Bruce on bass. Mike Love doubles Al on the first verse, until his own harmony part comes in.

I’ve never been a fan of this arrangement, but this is a perfectly competent, enthusiastic, performance of it.

Rock And Roll Music
Songwriter:
Chuck Berry
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

Again, this is much like the record, but taken slightly faster and with louder guitars. A perfectly reasonable performance of an uninspiring arrangement.

I Get Around
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Bobby Figueroa

Another slightly more muscular, thicker arrangement than on the record, this time in large part because Dennis continues drumming throughout the verses. Bobby Figueroa takes the falsetto part here, mixed fairly low, and does a competent enough job, but he doesn’t have a “Beach Boy” voice, and the result sounds slightly off.

Surfin’ USA
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Chuck Berry
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

No different than you’d expect from this kind of performance.

You Are So Beautiful
Songwriter:
Billy Preston and Bruce Fisher
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson

The first encore for this show, as so many in the late 70s and early 80s, was this Billy Preston song that had been a hit for Joe Cocker a few years earlier. Dennis Wilson, who had a similarly husky voice to Cocker’s, sings lead as Meros and Johnston accompany him on two pianos.

It’s quite lovely, although many might question why Dennis chose to perform someone else’s hit. The reason, apparently, is that Dennis co-wrote this, or at least claimed he did. According to reports from author Jon Stebbins, Billy Hinsche saw Dennis at a party when Billy Preston was noodling with this song, and Dennis was apparently with him, helping him work on it. Dennis later claimed to other people that he’d helped Preston write it.

Preston, when asked about this, later denied ever even having met Dennis Wilson.

On the one hand, this song sounds more like Dennis’ work than most of Preston’s, and Billy Hinsche has no reason to lie. On the other, there are already two credited writers to this song, and it’s frankly so simplistic that it wouldn’t even take one writer to have come up with it.

Whether it’s partly Dennis’ work or not (and I lean towards believing it is), he certainly makes it his here, and this is a highlight of the album.

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

A strong performance of this song. Good Vibrations is an odd song, as nearly-identical performances of it, trying to stick as closely to the record as possible, can emphasise very different facets of the track. In this case, the emphasis is on the heavy R&B aspects of the track.

Bruce doubles Carl on the “I hear the sound of a…” part, and the “gotta keep those lovin’ good…” section is extended into a long audience singalong that lasts almost as long as the rest of the song, at the end of which the band scat a short multi-part harmony section while the audience sing. Similarly, the repetition of the chorus for the tag is extended while Carl scats a “wop-diddy-bop-diddy” vocal line that’s not heard anywhere else.

Barbara Ann
Songwriter:
Fred Fassert
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Al Jardine

It’s a loud rock version of Barbara Ann. Al Jardine takes the falsetto part, and does a better job than Dean Torrence. Bruce plays bass.

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

A loud, slightly sloppy, performance with a ton of energy. Carl Wilson takes the distorted lead guitar. Al takes the falsetto during the choruses, with Bruce singing the high “away”s over the very extended tag.

The Beach Boys On CD: Keepin’ The Summer Alive

After the commercial and critical failure of LA (Light Album), CBS insisted that the next Beach Boys album have a reasonable amount of actual Brian Wilson involvement. Unfortunately, Brian Wilson wasn’t in any state to do anything much. The group went into the studio with Chuck Britz, the engineer who had worked with Brian on much of their best 60s output, but all they cut were four uninspiring covers of oldies — School Day (Ring Ring Goes The Bell), Little Girl, Jamaica Farewell and Stranded In The Jungle — before it became clear that he wasn’t going to be capable of producing an album.

Instead, the band turned again to Bruce Johnston as producer, and managed to get enough new Brian Wilson songs together to make the album look like a respectable effort — until you play it.

This is, by far, the worst Beach Boys album up to that point. While Dennis Wilson is pictured on the album cover (a cover which itself tells the whole story — a bad painting of the aging band performing in a sealed glass bubble full of sand and palm trees, in the middle of a polar winter, watched only by a penguin, two polar bears, and a woman in a bikini) he refused to be involved with what he thought was a substandard selection of songs (though he was also suspended from the band around this time after a fight with Mike Love), and can only be heard on one track.

The songs are uninspired, the vocals hoarse and off-key, the instrumental arrangements bludgeoning… the actual sound of the record is good, thanks to the temporary return of engineer Steve Desper, but good engineering can’t save terrible songs, performances and arrangements.

The first Beach Boys album of the 1980s would also be the last to be even nominally by the band’s classic line-up, and it’s a sad way for them to go out.

line-up
Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston

Keepin’ The Summer Alive
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson and Randy Bachman
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

The album doesn’t start too unpromisingly. The first twenty seconds of this are actually quite promising — Mike Love doing a wonderfully goofy reprise of his Louie Louie bass vocals — before the squealing rawk guitars come in.

This is one of two songs on the album written and co-produced by Carl Wilson with Randy Bachman (of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive), and it shows his new fascination with crunchy, guitar-driven AOR, a style that would unfortunately blight all the rest of his songs.

The song itself seems to have been written as a joke — the three-chord verse/chorus chord sequence is in fact the Louie Louie sequence played backwards — and the parts where it’s allowed to be a goofy, fun track are OK. But too much of it involves guitar sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a Huey Lewis And The News album, played by Joe Walsh of the Eagles.

Oh Darlin’
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

This terrible, plodding ballad started out as listenable, if not great — there’s a version of this on bootlegs that has a very stripped-down instrumental arrangement, and one of Brian’s very best late-period vocals, and it doesn’t sound half-bad. Had it been left like that, it would have been one of those little nice tracks that everyone forgets about but, when reminded of them, likes.

Instead, several big mistakes were made. Firstly, and least importantly, the lyrics were rewritten to make them even worse — and they weren’t good to start with. Secondly, the instrumental arrangement was overlaid with tons of unnecessary instruments, including a strange horn arrangement that sounds like something between an accordion and a swarm of angry bees. Brian’s pleasant, if hoarse, guide vocal was replaced by a lazy, almost contemptuous, vocal from Carl, a nasal middle eight from Mike, and a strange, unpleasant, backing vocal arrangement.

But worst of all, they made the same mistake they made on seemingly every track in this period — on the tag, Bruce starts singing “God only knows/how I love only you”, which just reminds the listener that they could be listening to a much, much better song.

Some Of Your Love
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

Easily the best uptempo song on the album, this saxophone-driven uptempo riff-rocker was originally recorded during the MIU Album sessions under the title Mike Come Back To LA, and appears from the video footage of those sessions to have been a largely spur-of-the-moment exercise.

The energy from that session still shines through in the backing track, which is based around two very simple two-chord riffs (I-vi for the verses and V-IV for the choruses), and as long as the track is just a honking sax overdub, that backing track, and the band singing “some, some, some of your love” over and over, it’s a lot of fun.

The mood dissipates somewhat on the verses, where Mike takes a nasal lead, singing lines like “She’s got my vote for number one in the class/I couldn’t help but try to make a forward pass”, but the biggest misstep is in the bridge, where again they reference a much better old song, this time having Carl sing “kiss me baby, hold me tight tonight”.

But it’s fun enough, it’s lightweight and it knows it, but it would have made a perfectly acceptable follow-up single for Celebration after Almost Summer.

Livin’ With A Heartache
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson and Randy Bachman
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

The second Wilson/Bachman collaboration is much, much better than the first. A simple country song, it’s structured around a long, twenty-two-bar chorus (which itself breaks down into an eight-bar, two-chord pseudo-verse in an almost ska rhythm, an eight-bar, three-chord bridge, a two-bar breakdown, and a four-bar repeat of the pseudo-verse) and an eight-bar verse based around a variation of the bridge chords taken at a slower pace.

Unfortunately, less effort seems to have gone into the lyrics, so this country-ska, strange-number-of-bars song is lumbered with lyrics that must have taken literally seconds to write, lines like “after all this time, I still wish you were mine, I miss you every day, come back to me and stay”.

Those lyrics should sink the track altogether, but luckily Carl gives his best vocal performance of the album here. According to Steve Desper, when recording the lead vocal Carl was so drunk that he had to lean against a barn wall while singing. It worked, and his vocal holds the track together and carries real conviction.

This track apparently features no Beach Boys other than Carl Wilson, with the backing vocals provided by Curt Becher, Terry Melcher and Jon Joyce. I say apparently because while Becher in particular is clearly audible in the vocal stack, one of the vocalists sounds very like Bruce Johnston.

This was released as the second single from the album, and didn’t chart.

Four songs in and we’ve finally had one that doesn’t rely on references to older, better songs. Possibly the album is going to get better from here on in?

School Day (Ring Ring Goes The Bell)
Songwriter:
Chuck Berry
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

Chuck Berry covers had been good to the band before, so why not try it again?

And this is, if nothing else, far better than the cover of Rock & Roll Music that had been the band’s biggest hit of the 70s. While the a capella intro does the band no favours, by exposing just how weak their voices now were, Al gives a typically strong, exuberant performance on lead vocals, although the 50s style reverb added to them doesn’t work all that well.

The arrangement is perfunctory, and it fades out early rather than coming to a proper climax, but this is a good enough song that just by playing it straight and not messing anything up too much, it becomes one of the better tracks on the album.

Goin’ On
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Carl Wilson

The lead single from the album, and the first track of side two, is this plodding doo-wop flavoured track. The track was originally titled Why Didn’t I Tell You and featured an incongruous drum solo, before being edited together into its present form.

It just…doesn’t quite work. Nothing on the track is irredeemable (well, maybe the lounge sax solo), there are a lot of interesting musical ideas (the opening, with the band’s harmonies spreading out wider and wider, is something they’d first tried with the unreleased All Dressed Up For School ), and it’s easily Love’s best lyric of the album, but the general feeling is of a poor man’s Good Timin’ (and that track is itself nowhere near as good as its reputation). And again, the track just fades without coming to any resolution.

Sunshine
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: group/Mike

This track started out as a Brian-produced cover version of the Crystals’ Little Boy, retitled Little Girl, before someone had the bright idea that they could take the backing track, edit it a bit, put new lyrics on it, and call it a new original from Brian and Mike.

The result is a mess, consisting of the Little Girl track, reworked as a bad calypso track in the style of some of Curt Becher’s California Music singles, with a backing vocal line taken from the old doo-wop song Smokey Places by the Corsairs, and with the caterwauling excuses for harmonies that ruin much of the album.

This is not only joyless itself, it points the way to the band’s future attempts at Carribean-style music, none of which ended well at all.

When Girls Get Together
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Brian Wilson

Even when digging into their back catalogue, the band can’t seem to get it right with this album. This track was originally recorded during the sessions for Sunflower, and has that album’s sound all over it, from the marxophone (a type of zither) in the top of the arrangement to the banjo and horns underneath.

But the vocal melody doesn’t fit the scansion of the lyrics at all, and the lyrics themselves have more of the stamp of Brian in eccentric mode than of Mike — “When girls get together, they don’t waste time on things like weather and stuff/They all just play around and never seem to discuss it enough”. The vocal arrangement is also odd, just Brian and Mike singing in near-unison, and the whole thing feels like an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite come off.

It’s better than much of the dreck on the album, but given the vast quantities of wonderful music the band had recorded and not yet released, how this got chosen to be pulled from the vaults is a mystery.

Santa Ana Winds
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Al Jardine
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine with the group

This is another track that has a curious gestation, having started out in a very different arrangement during the LA (Light Album) sessions, with totally different lyrics (“On my porch/thinkin’ about the torch/I been carrying for you so long).

All of that track was stripped away except for Brian’s chorus vocals and harmonica part, and it was rebuilt as a rather lovely, folky little track carried by acoustic guitars, banjo, strings and Al’s multitracked vocals.

This has a lot of the flavour of California Saga about it, from the spoken intro to the acoustic guitars and the slightly mystical lyrics about California. In fact it was planned originally as part of another themed trilogy, along with Looking Down The Coast and Monterey. The latter two songs were eventually resurrected, under just the first name, on Al’s 2010 solo album A Postcard From California.

While the rest of the album ranges from horribly poor to merely competent, this is the only track which is an actual pleasure to listen to.

Endless Harmony
Songwriter:
Bruce Johnston
Lead vocalist: Bruce Johnston and Carl Wilson

This, on the other hand, is just horrible. Bruce’s first songwriting contribution to the band since Disney Girls actually dates back to 1972, when it was titled Ten Years’ Harmony. It’s the first, and one of the worst, example of the band self-mythologising, as Bruce sings about just how great the Beach Boys are.

It starts out bad, with Bruce on electric piano singing solo, much like his Going Public album, and all the augmented, ninth and minor sixth chords just make this sound like the worst kind of lounge singer nonsense. And the lyrics are just terrible — “Ocean lovers, who like to harmonise/they’re all brothers, friends and cousins, and they make their mamas cry…”

Then at 2:15 the drums kick in (Dennis’ only appearance on the album) and Carl starts to sing, and the lyrics get even worse — “and we sang God Bless America/It’s the land where we tour/She takes great care of us/And people love the way we sing…”

This kind of self-congratulatory nonsense would be bad enough were it on an album that showed any sign at all of being the work of people who deserved congratulation, but after thirty-five minutes of lazy, incompetent, badly-sung dreck that leaves one with no goodwill towards the band at all, it’s frankly nauseating.

And then it ends with twenty seconds of utterly gorgeous harmony, topped with a pure, lovely falsetto from Bruce. It’s lovely, but if anything it adds insult to injury. In the context of just this song, it’s “look what we can do!”

In the context of the album, however, it’s “look what we could have done if we’d tried.” The singing on this album as a whole is inexcusably bad, and to be shown twenty seconds before the end that they could have done better if they’d tried just makes it all the worse.

This song was used as the theme tune for the 1999 TV documentary of the same name about the band.

The Beach Boys On CD: LA (Light Album)

By late 1978, the Beach Boys were in a bad way. They’d signed a new recording contract with CBS Records, but Brian Wilson was in no fit state to contribute anything of significance to the new album. The band had nearly broken up less than a year before, Carl and Dennis were struggling with both relationship and substance problems, MIU Album had been an artistic disaster, and to make matters worse CBS were not very happy. Having paid over eight million dollars for the band, Walter Yetnikoff, the head of CBS, said on hearing a tape of potential new material prepared for him to listen to, “Gentlemen, I think I’ve just been fucked”… what to do?

The obvious answer was to call in outside production help. They had Jim Guercio, who at this point was the band’s manager, occasional onstage bass player, and record company owner all in one, but they needed somebody who could fill in for Brian in the harmony stack, who could produce, who they were all comfortable with…

They called in Bruce Johnston. He originally came in as a co-producer of the album — the production credits for the album credit him separately, with the album being produced by “the Beach Boys, James William Guercio and Bruce Johnston” except for Here Comes The Night, credited to Johnston and Curt Becher [FOOTNOTE When tracks from this album have been released on compilations or singles, they have sometimes credited individual band members as producers.]. However, he quickly rejoined the band full-time, and has remained in every touring line-up of the Beach Boys ever since, the only consistent member over that thirty-five year period other than Mike Love.

The resulting album, titled LA (Light Album) should by rights have been a mess. A collection of rather weak material, strung together from outtakes from 1974, offcuts from Dennis’ unreleased second solo album, new recordings and a desperate attempt to jump on the disco bandwagon two years too late, it should sound like a horrible failure.

In fact, it’s the last truly good Beach Boys album, and the most cohesive group work since Sunflower. While Love You and Carl And The Passions were both stronger albums than this by far, this sounded like the Beach Boys again. Unfortunately, the reviews were lousy — far worse than the album deserved — and it only reached number 100 in the US charts, though it made the UK top forty and produced a couple of moderately successful singles.

line-up

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

Good Timin’
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

The opening song is one where I have to disagree with fan consensus. Most fans, and many of the band members themselves, have considered this a truly great, classic song. Personally, I don’t consider it anything particularly special — the chord sequence is simplistic, and the lyric banal.

But I can see exactly why it’s so popular among the band’s fanbase — for the first time in years, the harmonies sound like the Beach Boys. Adding Bruce to the mix, focusing on Carl and Al, the strongest singers, and multitracking means there’s a thick, luxurious bed of harmonies here the like of which hadn’t been seen from the band in nearly a decade.

The song itself seems unfinished — and in fact it was, the track having been stitched together by Guercio cutting and pasting multiple copies of less than a minute of Brian on the keyboards, but the sound was strong enough to push this into the US Top 40 — the band’s first single to get there since It’s OK.

The song has remained a concert staple for the Beach Boys over the years, and at various times has had live lead vocals by Carl, Dennis, John Stamos and Christian Love (Mike’s son). On the 2012 reunion tour, Brian sang lead on the verses and Al on the choruses.

Lady Lynda
Songwriter:
Al Jardine and Ron Altbach (based on Jesu, Blebeit Meine Freunde by J.S. Bach)
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

Jesu, Blebeit Meine Freunde (better known in English as Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring) had already inspired one of the Beach Boys’ biggest hits when Brian Wilson had used it to inspire California Girls, so it’s not entirely surprising that Al Jardine would turn to that piece, one of the most sublime pieces of music ever written, for inspiration.

In fact this song came about more or less as a joke — Ron Altbach, the Beach Boys’ touring keyboard player, was playing the Bach piece, and got the idea to play it in the style of his own hit, Dancing In The Moonlight. Jardine got inspired, and wrote the lyrics as a tribute to his then-wife Lynda.

The result is possibly the most 70s record ever. Topped and tailed with straight harpsichord performances of sections of the Bach piece in its original waltz time, the main body of the song recasts it into a 4/4 soft-rock style with a vague disco influence and a syrupy, harp-dominated, string arrangement (to which Dennis Wilson apparently contributed, according to Jardine).

The song is cheesy as hell, but thanks to Jardine’s utterly sincere lead vocal and some glorious harmonies, it falls just on the right side of the line to be the good kind of cheesy, and it became one of the band’s biggest international hits, reaching number six in the UK (though the best it did in the US was number thirty-nine on the Adult Contemporary chart).

After Jardine and his wife divorced, he was less keen on performing the song, for fairly obvious reasons. A horrible remake with new lyrics, done as a tribute to the Statue Of Liberty, Lady Liberty, was recorded in the 1980s, and when the Beach Boys played the UK, Jardine would change the lyrics to “little lady” instead of “lady Lynda”.

Full Sail
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson and Geoffrey Cushing-Murray
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson’s first songwriting contribution since Holland would have fit perfectly on that earlier album, with its nautical theme, stately, plodding pace, and vaguely mystical feel. In fact lyrics like “Does the silence of the sea sound warning of a storm ahead”, with their multiple alliteration, feel very like Jack Rieley’s work, and with the clanging bell sound effects this could easily be a cousin of Steamboat, albeit one recorded, like the rest of this album, with a hazy late-70s AOR tinge to it.

This isn’t a song that gets a lot of love from Beach Boys fans, but to my mind it’s the best song on the album to this point, its placid gentleness perfectly summing up the feeling of floating out to sea.

Angel Come Home
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson and Geoffrey Cushing-Murray
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson

Carl Wilson’s second songwriting contribution to the album is easily the best thing on the record up to this point. It’s harmonically simplistic — only I, IV and V chords — but that’s appropriate for a song which seems, under the AOR strings and electric piano, to be a country rocker. The layers of keyboards and broken drum pattern here almost sound like Love You, but given a thicker arrangement and sounding almost disturbing.

Had this been done more straightforwardly, like Carl’s later solo albums, it would have sounded horrific, but the layers of synths, the slightly off-key backing vocals (Brian Wilson’s only vocal contribution to the album), the strings, and Dennis’ gruff, slurred vocals, all combine to accentuate the slightly unusual parts of the song (like the chord changes that come partway through a bar) and turn it into a classic longing song of lost love.

(Note: Andrew Doe’s book states that this track dates back to 1976, but his website, updated more recently, places the sessions in 1978).

Love Surrounds Me
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson and Geoffrey Cushing-Murray
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson

This track was originally recorded for Dennis’ abortive Bambu album, with various working titles as Dennis had not yet come up with a lyric for it. Once the band decided to pull together for LA (Light Album), a cassette of the backing track was given to Carl’s writing partner Cushing-Murray, who came up with the lyric and vocal melody, neither of which Dennis was reportedly very happy with.

Dennis continued to record overdubs for the track for a long time, discarding woodwind and banjo parts, before finally coming up with the released version, which is driven by Dennis’ electric piano and Mini-Moog and the bass playing of Joe Chemay (who played on a couple of tracks on this album and would be the Beach Boys’ touring bass player in 1980).

Despite the tortuous process by which it came about, Love Surrounds Me is one of the finest tracks on the album, as well as one of Dennis’ most conventionally structured. It starts out with a slow intro establishing the basic harmonic material (extended Am, Em and Dm chords), before going into two verses, each made up of three repetitions of the same basic eight-bar sequence. After the first verse, there is a brief bridge dominated by electric piano and wordless vocals, and at the end of the song there’s a repeated tag, but for once at this stage of his life Dennis was able to pull together a song into a proper structure.

Dennis also puts in one of his best vocal performances of his latter career here, really selling the song, but the real star of the track is Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, Dennis’ then-girlfriend, who provides the wordless high vocal right at the top of her range, in possibly her best ever performance as a vocalist.

The other Beach Boys make minimal backing vocal contributions, and a version without their vocals was released on the Pacific Ocean Blue Legacy Edition double CD.

Sumahama
Songwriter:
Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

Oddly, while the Beach Boys were having difficulty pulling together their first album for CBS, Mike Love recorded two solo albums simultaneously — First Love and Country Love, both thankfully unreleased.

This song was originally recorded for First Love, before being rerecorded less than a month later as Mike’s sole creative contribution to the new album.

The song itself isn’t at all bad — it has the same play-in-a-day style and mellow melodic feel as Mike’s other solo compositions for the band — and Mike sounds excellent on the verses. Unfortunately, the decision to add in a third chord, effectively changing the key up a fourth, for the choruses, means that he sounds nasal and whiny on those. This, combined with the faux-Oriental Hollywood japonaiserie of the string arrangement, and the bizarre decision to sing the last verse in an approximation of Japanese, dooms the track to failure. But while it’s easily the worst track on side one, it’s not terrible, and is better than all but the best tracks on MIU.

Here Comes The Night
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

There is no excuse for this at all. Showing their usual flair for timing, the Beach Boys decided to make a cash-in disco track right at the time the “Disco Sucks” campaign was about to take off.

This, in itself, wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing, but they chose to work with Curt Becher, an old friend of Bruce’s. In the 1960s, Becher (then working as Curt Boettcher) had been one of the most outstanding and original sunshine pop producers around, but by the late 70s he was making terrible disco records, often of old calypso songs and often featuring Johnston, under the name California Music.

Anyone who’s heard those records can tell that this isn’t a Beach Boys record, but a California Music record with Carl Wilson on lead vocals. Apparently the bulk of the backing vocals were completed by non-Beach Boys, although Mike, Carl, Al and Bruce added a final layer (Dennis refused to have anything to do with this).

The seven inch version of the track, a remake of the Wild Honey song, wasn’t actually too bad, and had quite a few nice moments. It wasn’t good, but it was competent. Unfortunately the twelve-inch mix surrounded that competent four minutes thirty with an extra six minutes of “night, oh oh” sung through vocoders, “ooh”s, and tedium. Even more unfortunately, they decided to put an even longer mix than that on the album — this version lasts an astonishing ten minutes and fifty-one seconds.

This was released as a single and bombed horribly, and was soon dropped from the band’s set as the audience booed it regularly. Had they included the 7” version on the album it might now be something that was up for a revisionist, positive critical appraisal. As it is, it’s eleven minutes at the start of side two that kill all the momentum of the album stone dead.

Baby Blue
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson, Gregg Jakobson and Karen Lamm
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson

This, on the other hand, is spellbindingly beautiful. A love song to Dennis’ then-wife Karen, it was originally intended for Bambu, but fits perfectly on here.

The verse, on which Carl takes the lead, has a wonderfully clever little chord sequence — starting on the tonic (F#), the chord moves up to the third, but leaving the I note in the bass (making a ninth chord). But then the key changes down a tone, and this time the tonic of the new key has the third in the bass (creating a very unsettling effect), before the move up a third again, while leaving the bass where it is, resolves the tension.

That four-bar sequence is repeated three times, with Carl singing right at the top of his register, giving what may be his last truly magnificent vocal, aching with a beautiful longing over a harmony stack that sounds like just Carl and Dennis.

We then get a middle section, sung by Dennis at his huskiest, over a chord sequence that repeats the trick he used in Forever of keeping the chord steady while having the bass-line descend in tones. Not only is this good in itself, but the slightly baroque feel it gives this section helps tie the album together, unintentionally echoing back to the Bach references in Lady Lynda.

And then finally, we get a repeat of the verse material to fade, but this time with the addition of, out of nowhere, a dissonant squawk of horns (a wonderfully Dennis touch).

Much of LA is a triumph of style over substance — relatively weak material polished to perfection and wonderfully performed. Here we see the same sound applied to a genuinely great song, one that is both musically clever and emotionally heartfelt, and the results are staggering.

Goin’ South
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson and Geoffrey Cushing-Murray
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Carl’s last song on the album is a less successful attempt to get the same kind of feel as Full Sail. There are some nice moments — “Snowdrifts blowing up against my door” is lovely — but the lounge sax and soporific tempo make this one of the less interesting tracks on the album.

Shortenin’ Bread
Songwriter:
trad. arr. Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson

And the album finishes off with the only real rocker on the record, and it’s wonderful. Shortenin’ Bread has always been an obsession to Brian Wilson — he’s based several songs (mostly unreleased) around the riff — and he’d recorded two versions of the track earlier, one with American Spring and one for Adult/Child.

This rerecording of an arrangement very like the Adult/Child one is absolutely, ridiculously, wonderful. The song is beefed up into a rock arrangement with squealing guitars, Carl doing a throat-tearing intense lead, and Dennis singing the choruses as a doo-wop bass part, so low it sounds almost exactly like Mike Love.

It’s goofy, silly, and everything that the Beach Boys are about, and makes you glad to be alive.

The Beach Boys On CD: MIU Album

In September 1977, the Beach Boys split up, briefly. There were many reasons, but the fundamental split in the band came down to Al Jardine and Mike Love wanting to live cleanly, coast on past glories, and practice transcendental meditation, while Carl and Dennis Wilson wanted to make artistically progressive music while abusing as many substances as possible (Carl later cleaned himself up).

The split was only temporary, but it’s obvious which side won control of the band from the title of this album — MIU is short for Maharishi International University, where the bulk of the album was recorded.

In fact, this was originally two albums. After the band had decided not to put out Brian’s Adult/Child follow-up to Love You, Love, Jardine, Brian Wilson and the backing band decamped to Iowa, to the titular university, to record two albums simultaneously, one to be called California Feeling, the other Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys. Given that they’d just signed to CBS Records, while still owing an album to Reprise, it seems plausible that they were trying to record a contractual obligation album while also recording the first album for their new contract.

In fact, a third album was being recorded along with these two — Mike Love’s side band Celebration, featuring many of the touring band members, was recording Almost Summer, the soundtrack album to the film of the same name, including a title track, co-written by Love, Jardine and Wilson, which made the top thirty in the US when released as a single.

Unfortunately, they spread themselves too thin. Some of the Christmas tracks had minimal lyrical rewrites, to take out the Christmas references, and a compilation of tracks from both California Feeling and Merry Christmas, plus a couple of outtakes from the New Album and Adult/Child projects, became this album [FOOTNOTE Several of the Christmas songs were released on the later compilation Ultimate Christmas, and will be reviewed in volume three.].

The result, which was released in October 1978, is, frankly, horrible. It features no active involvement from Dennis Wilson (who said of the album “I hope that the karma will fuck up Mike Love’s meditation forever. That album is an embarrassment to my life. It should self destruct ”) beyond the archive tracks, and Carl Wilson only contributes one lead vocal (Dennis didn’t turn up to Iowa at all, and Carl only attended briefly). Brian Wilson was there in body, but not in spirit, leaving production duties to Al Jardine (who looked after the vocals) and backing band keyboardist Ron Altbach (previously of one-hit wonders King Harvest, Altbach looked after the backing tracks).

Beach Boys albums had misfired before, but never because of a lack of artistic ambition. Unfortunately, MIU Album was to set the pattern for much of the next few decades.

line-up
Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love

She’s Got Rhythm
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Ron Altbach
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson and Mike Love

At least the first track doesn’t give you any false hope. The album starts with Brian Wilson screeching, as if in agony, “Laaaaast night I went out disco dancing…”

This really does set the tone for the whole album. There’s an attempt to recreate past glories that falls laughably short — this tuneless screech is apparently someone’s idea of a Brian Wilson falsetto — combined with an equally laughable attempt to be up-to-date and trendy.

The song itself is a basic shuffle, based on an instrumental composed by Altbach for the Almost Summer soundtrack, with lyrics provided by Love and Wilson. It consists of a strict alternation between a sixteen-bar, three-chord, major key verse/chorus ‘sung’ by Wilson, and an eight-bar minor-key bridge sung nasally by Love.

This is one of the few songs to which Carl Wilson contributed during his two-day stay in Iowa, and he seems to be just barely audible in the backing vocal stack.

It boggles my mind that something this piss-poor could have been released by a major band, on a major record label.

Come Go With Me
Songwriter:
Clarence Quick
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

This is much better. The Beach Boys had tried this during the New Album sessions, but this appears to have been a completely new recording from 1978. It’s a cover version of a hit by the doo-wop group The Del-Vikings, a song that is probably otherwise best known as the song John Lennon was playing the first time Paul McCartney saw him.

The track seems to feature only Jardine on vocals, but at this point Jardine was probably the most proficient vocalist in the band, and he manages to make a better job of doing Beach Boys style harmonies by himself than the band were doing at this point. The production is ersatz-Spector, and the whole thing is pleasantly enjoyable. While it’s not earth-shattering, it’s cheerful and listenable.

This was released as a single three years later, on the back of a compilation of the band’s 70s work, and made number 18 in the US charts in January 1982. It has remained in the set of the various touring iterations of the Beach Boys to this day.

Hey Little Tomboy
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson

Oh dear. The unreleased New Album and Adult/Child included some of Brian Wilson’s best songwriting, including wonders like Sherry She Needs Me and Still I Dream Of It. They also included this…

A song where five hoarse-voiced bearded men in their mid-thirties ask a ‘little tomboy’ to ‘sit here on my lap’ and tell her ‘I’m gonna teach you to kiss’ and ‘it’s time you turned into a girl’.

It’s easy enough to see why Brian Wilson wrote this — most of his material around this time was from a youthful perspective, and he wasn’t especially mentally well at the time. It’s even possible, just about, to see why the band would record it, to encourage Brian in his work. What it’s not possible to understand is why, when they had at a conservative estimate at least three albums’ worth of material in the can from which to pick for MIU, even not counting Dennis’ solo work, they would choose to put this on the album, especially since it’s not even musically interesting.

We can thank heaven for small mercies, though — the reason the instrumental section sounds so bare is because there was originally a spoken section, with the band members leering “Now shave your legs for the first time”, “let’s put on a little lipstick and see what it looks like”, while making oinking noises like pigs…

Kona Coast
Songwriter:
Al Jardine and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson

And after that, a return to solid mediocrity is a welcome relief. This track was originally recorded for the Christmas sessions as Kona Christmas or Melekalikimaka, and had a lyric about how “I wanna spend Christmas where I dig it the most, in Hawaii”. One quick rewrite later and it became “I wanna go surfin’ where I dig it the most, in Hawaii”, making this the first Beach Boys track to mention surfing in a decade.

Add in an out-of-tune falsetto screech from Brian Wilson, failing to replicate the vocal line from Hawaii from the Surfer Girl album, and some mild ethnic stereotyping (“I’ll learn to talk-a like a local, I betcha”) and you have a crass, boorish track that is nonetheless better than half of what came before, thanks largely to a single mildly interesting chord change (the iim7-III7 change that also heralds Al Jardine’s vocal part, which is much stronger than Love or Wilson’s).

Peggy Sue
Songwriter:
Buddy Holly, Jerry Allison and Norman Petty
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

This track was originally recorded for the 15 Big Ones sessions, before being resurrected in the Iowa sessions, initially as a Christmas song with new lyrics (“Christmas time is here again”), before Al polished it up for MIU Album.

The result is a mess. While it does at least feature actual Beach Boys harmonies, it’s a clodhopping, joyless, stifling wall of sound, taken too slow and without any of the joy and inventiveness of Buddy Holly’s classic original. Al Jardine turns in a typically excellent lead vocal, but when this was released as the single from the album it got no higher in the US charts than number 59, which is about right.

Wontcha Come Out Tonight
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Brian Wilson

It comes to something when a track like this is an improvement. There’s no actual song here, in any real sense — the song alternates between a trite chorus and a not-much-less-trite verse, with lyrics so forgettable you forget them while actually listening, while the chord sequence is a hackneyed doo-wop progression in the choruses and a ii-I progression in the verses, two of the biggest cliches in rock and roll.

But the intro and outro vocal parts show some real inventiveness — a multi-tracked Brian singing in a variety of different voices, with more enthusiasm than he does anywhere else on the album, while Mike Love puts in an excellent bass vocal.

And Brian’s vocals on the choruses (which sound like they might be the same vocal take pasted in multiple places) are just gorgeous. He’s singing in his ‘low and manly’ voice, but gently, rather than in the gruff bellow of the last two albums. The singing style he uses here, on Match Point Of Our Love, and on Winter Symphony from the Christmas sessions, is one he never used before or since, but it makes one wish there were whole albums of him singing like this.

Unfortunately, it’s spoiled by Love’s over-nasal verse vocals, and the song itself is a nothing, but as the closer to side one it at least ends the side on a moderately positive note.

Sweet Sunday Kinda Love
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Side two opens with one of the two songs that comes closest to being actually good on the album. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a solid song, and a return to Brian’s old obsession Be My Baby, with which it shares a rhythmic feel and the chord sequence of the first eight bars of the verse.

There’s not much in the way of major harmonic innovation in the song, but it feels thought about in a way that much of the rest of the album doesn’t — the change to v for the middle eight, and then having the descending bassline drag the chord from the minor fifth to the major fifth by descending by semitones, isn’t harmonically outrageous, but it is interesting.

Carl Wilson doesn’t turn in one of his best leads — he sounds a little bored with the material — but he sings on-key and in his beautiful voice, and on an album dominated by nasal sneering from Love and off-key shrieking from Brian Wilson, that’s a huge improvement.

Belles Of Paris
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Ron Altbach and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

And then they go and spoil it, again showing the lack of thought that went into this album. Quite simply, if you have two songs that rip off Be My Baby, you don’t sequence them back to back!

This, too, is based around the I-ii-V7 progression that powers Be My Baby (very slightly modified — here it goes I-Imaj7-ii7-V7, and the changes don’t come in precisely the same places, but the resemblance is clearly there), and has the same rhythm to it.

Love actually does a very good job of the vocal here, singing in his lower, more mellow register, but the song is a less inventive version of the previous track, the harmonies are off, and the lyrics (describing a trip round Paris “watching belles jeunes filles and the handsome gendarmes”) are pap.

This was originally recorded during the Christmas sessions as Bells Of Christmas, and oddly, when that was released, Brian Wilson wasn’t credited as a writer and Alan Jardine was, suggesting Wilson’s contribution was purely lyrical. Even more oddly, Wilson released a near-identical track, with different lyrics, On Christmas Day, on his 2005 Christmas album, and he was credited as sole composer.

Pitter Patter
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Al Jardine

This is one of the more listenable tracks on the album, a mid-tempo rocker dominated by Jardine’s very strong vocals, with a decent performance from Love, with his nasality working to the song’s advantage.

There’s absolutely nothing of interest to say about it, but it’s not bad either. Had the whole album been like this, it would have been mildly disappointing rather than an utter travesty.

My Diane
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson

And suddenly, I’m in tears listening to this album. Even though I’ve listened to this track more than all the others on the record put together, it still has the power to move me to tears.

This song is a leftover from the 1976 New Album sessions, and the difference between this and even the best of the rest of MIU is… to say it’s night and day would not only be too cliched, but wouldn’t go far enough. It’s the difference between music and Muzak. The difference between a work of art and a cola commercial.

The song itself is simple enough, alternating between a minor-key verse that progresses through related chords, and a chorus that’s just the I, IV and V of the relative major, along with a very brief bridge, but it’s a song written entirely from the heart.

Brian Wilson wrote this about his wife’s sister, with whom he’d had an on-and-off affair for a long time, and it’s a cry of loss like that of a child, who doesn’t understand what loss even means — “Now that I have lost my Diane, there’s no plan as to where to go/It was hard to lose my Diane, now I just miss her so”. It’s simple — simplistic, even — but because it’s an absolutely direct emotional expression.

Dennis Wilson rises to the occasion, bellowing the lyrics like a wounded animal, and the result is one of the most emotionally devastating things the Beach Boys ever did. Powerful enough out of context, when it blindsides you in the middle of the pabulum that surrounds it, it’s almost too much to bear.

Match Point Of Our Love
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

And then we have Brian Wilson singing over the kind of disco-lite background that the Captain And Tennille might have thought was a little too uninspired for them, and the lyrics he’s singing are an extended metaphor treating the end of a love affair as a tennis match. (“So we volleyed a while with small talk and a smile and as push comes to shove/I’d say this must be the matchpoint of our love”). If that’s the sort of thing you like, then you’ll certainly like this track. Well, possibly.

Brian’s vocals are excellent, but there’s nothing here to suggest this is the same band who even recorded 15 Big Ones, let alone any of the Beach Boys’ good albums.

Winds Of Change
Songwriter:
Ron Altbach and Ed Tuleja
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

And this is…not terrible, compared to the rest of the album. Incredibly, the Beach Boys only turned to outside songwriters for new songs three times in their career (as opposed to collaborating with outsiders, or performing cover versions). On their self-titled 1985 album they recorded songs by Stevie Wonder and Culture Club (who were then one of the biggest bands in the world). Here…two ex-members of King Harvest who were in their backing band.

The song itself is perfectly adequate if you like wistful 70s piano ballads with ‘spiritual’ lyrics like “Worlds in motion endlessly/Cosmic ocean flows into my heart” (I bet Bruce Johnston loved it), and it’s just about made listenable by an astonishingly good vocal performance from Al Jardine and a decent one by Mike Love, before being killed by syrupy orchestration, and then buried by the coda, in which Brian sings “won’t last forever” in his screechy falsetto, referencing When I Grow Up (To Be A Man), and reminds us just how good the Beach Boys used to be, and how little this has to do with what made them so great.

The next album would be better, but after listening to MIU Album you can tell that everything that had made the Beach Boys great was gone, perhaps forever.

It’s kinda sad.