The Beach Boys On CD: Friends/20/20

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By 1968 the band were in the doldrums, commercially if not creatively. Experimenting with various gurus (some more dangerous than others) and allowing each member to write more of the material, the band were in such a state that on one tour they were playing to fewer than two hundred people per venue. At the same time, they were being treated as conquering heroes in Europe, where they were wildly popular – their tour of Czechoslovakia was so important in that country’s culture that Tom Stoppard used it as a key point in his 2006 play about the Czech counterculture from the 1960s through to the Velvet Revolution, Rock & Roll.
The two albums on this release see them trying, in very different ways, to find a new place for themselves in a music world they’d helped revolutionise but which was already looking on them as past it.

One of the two albums Brian Wilson regularly cites as his favourite Beach Boys album (the other being The Beach Boys Love You) , this, rather than Wild Honey, is the logical next step after Smiley Smile. A set of more coherent, more tightly-produced songs, that still has the same gentleness, fragility and whimsy of that album. With more than half the songs lasting under two minutes, and many of them influenced by Transcendental Meditation, which a few of the band, especially Love, had taken up, this is one of the most highly-regarded of all the Beach Boys’ albums (although Bruce Johnston loathes it).
This is also the first Beach Boys album to be released only in stereo (A ’fold-down’ mono mix of this was made, as was one for the next album, but these weren’t separate mono mixes, just both stereo channels played through one channel.)- another sign of Brian’s waning influence in the group.

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

Meant For You
At only thirty-nine seconds long, this is the shortest song in the Beach Boys’ catalogue, but one of the loveliest – a Wilson/Love song with only organ and piano backing, as Mike sings “As I sit and close my eyes, there’s peace in my mind, and I’m hoping that you’ll find it too/and these feelings in my heart I know are meant for you”.
Probably the first Love lyric inspired by Transcendental Meditation, this has little of the hectoring obviousness of some of his later TM songs, and is all the better for it. A genuinely welcoming, genuinely peaceful opener.

A lovely little waltz – one of many on this album – based around bass harmonica, vibraphone and acoustic guitar, with a fuller sound than almost anything on the previous album, the credits for this – it’s written by Brian, Carl, Mike and Al – show the first sign of a trend that would become apparent by the next album. More and more often Brian was coming up with fragmentary ideas – sometimes even finished songs, but often just partial songs – and leaving the rest of the band to flesh these out into full songs, as he became less and less inclined to be involved in the band.
Lyrically, this is a step back to the adolescent view – and language – of All Summer Long – “you told me when my girl was untrue/I loaned you money when the funds weren’t too cool/I talked your folks out of making you cut off your hair” – but the sentiments, about the lasting power of friendship, were probably welcome for a band that had been on the brink of splitting recently.
Carl takes lead, and the most interesting thing musically is the semitone key-change between the first and second line of the verses. The whole thing is calming, but with just enough of interest in the arrangement to keep it from tipping over into the soporific.

Wake The World
A co-write by Brian and Al, this is Brian’s first lead vocal on the album (with Mike and Carl assisting on the choruses), and is an unutterably beautiful one minute and twenty eight seconds. Just listen to the way the minor chords and strings in the descending bridge after “the light of the day is no longer here” turn into the relative major and the joyous horn part (my wife and I have been debating as to whether it’s a euphonium or a tuba – definitely a saxhorn-type brass instrument, anyway) of the chorus. It’s also one of several songs on this album to have as a strong component the I-IV-V standard progression – the songs on this album, more than on any other, are a strange mix of the sophisticated and the simplistic, in ways that can’t obviously be put down to factors like the various collaborators on the songs.
This song was released as the B-side to the Do It Again single, and remained in the band’s set in an even-more-abbreviated version for a year or two. A minor classic.

Be Here In The Mornin’
Another multi-author (Wilson/Wilson/Wilson/Love/Jardine) waltz, this consists of four distinct sections.
We start with a short, Hawaiian-sounding two-chord strum, with Brian singing wordlessly over it, before entering the verse. Contrary to David Leaf’s CD liner notes, the verse isn’t Brian singing – rather it’s Al, singing a higher falsetto than Brian ever managed, over a very prominent bass, strummed acoustic guitar and very simple drums. The verse is easily the most harmonically interesting section, feinting at Friends’ semitone key change after the first line, but going somewhere slightly different.
The chorus, with Carl singing lead and Al answering, both hugely phased, is much simpler harmonically, with no real surprises other than the Dsus4 chord (“make my life whole”). The almost-inaudible organ from the verse is much louder here, and a countermelody on tubular bells is introduced.
We then have a second verse (the Korthoff, Parks and Grillo mentioned are members of the band’s management team – and see the credits for the next song) and chorus, before an eight-bar break consisting of single organ notes.
We then go back into the intro, but with Dennis rather than Brian singing the wordless vocal. We then have a final chorus, and an outro which is the same musical material as the intro, with Dennis again taking lead and the band harmonising, ending on a snare drum roll.
One of the less impressive songs on the album, this is still pleasant enough, and continues the mood set by the previous songs.

When A Man Needs A Woman
Written from the point-of-view of someone waiting for a son to be born (Brian and Marilyn were expecting what turned out to be their first daughter, Carnie), this is a charmingly simple (if mildly sexist – Brian doesn’t seem to have considered that his first child could be anything other than a boy) country-flavoured song whose only deviation from the standard two-guitars-bass-drums line-up is a heavily reverbed ’ice-rink’ Hammond organ that comes in on the instrumental break.
Harmonically simplistic in the verse, the chorus has a nice little chromatic run from G# up to D, and most of the variation in the song comes from repeating the same material in different keys (the song starts in C# for the verses, moves to D for the choruses, goes to C in the “a man needs a woman like a woman needs a man” section before going into a verse which leads to a final chorus in F# and a fade in C#).
A song this lyrically and musically simple, about something in Brian’s personal life, with Brian the only Beach Boy heard vocally, might be expected to be a solo composition. Instead there are five credited writers here – Brian, Dennis, Al, Steve Korthoff and Jon Parks, the latter two part of the band’s management.

Passing By
A short organ-led semi-instrumental, with Brian’s wordless vocal singing a melody very similar in feel to many of the Jack Nitzsche inspired instrumentals he’d earlier done, but with an arrangement very like the instrumental break of When A Man Needs A Woman.
This song originally had lyrics – “While walking down the avenue / I stopped to have a look at you / And then I saw / You’re just passing by” – which more-or-less fit the verse vocal.

Anna Lee, The Healer
Mostly written by Love, though credited to Wilson/Love, this was written about a masseuse Love met while on a retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh (the same retreat where the Beatles wrote much of the White Album.) Much of Love’s contribution to this album – and future albums – is inspired by his embracing of the Maharishi’s teachings of Transcendental Meditation.
The verses are very simple, being based around the standard “Louie, Louie” I-IV-V-IV progression, with just Love singing over a piano and a bass (not, as David Leaf says in his liner notes, ’a piano bass line’ – there are clearly two instruments on all but the first verse) with the band providing rudimentary harmonies. The chorus meanwhile starts with iii-IV-V-vi twice over, with the band singing block harmonies (with Brian singing a clearly strained falsetto on top, if it’s not Al again). The only unusual points in the chord sequence are the I9 in the bridge and the iv on the lines going into and out of the chorus.

Little Bird
If you don’t count Denny’s Drums, this is Dennis Wilson’s first songwriting credit without any of the rest of the band. Written with lyricist Steve Kalinich, this is by far the best song on the album to this point.
Clearly very influenced by Brian’s Smile music, this is harmonically simple, and based around a small number of sections, all of which are in turn based on two-chord repetitive phrases. The biggest influence is Child Is Father Of The Man, a then-unreleased Smile song whose arrangement and chord sequence is taken wholesale for the end of the song.
But this is still clearly a Dennis Wilson song. The meditative mood, the way it’s built up out of independent sections that never quite repeat – this points the way to much of Dennis’ later work. The arrangement (all muted trumpet, ’cello and banjo) might be his big brother’s, but with this song Dennis was showing that he was soon going to be his brother’s equal.
Dennis takes the lead, apart from the ’what a day’ line, which Carl sings.

Be Still
The second Dennis Wilson/Kalinich song on the album, this is possibly the simplest thing the Beach Boys ever recorded. Each verse is just a I-IV phrase, repeated, then the whole thing repeated a tone up. The only instrument is an organ, holding chords down. And the only voice is Dennis, singing right at the top of his range, croaking rather than singing the higher notes.
A beautiful, delicate ballad, this would work well as a children’s lullaby, sweet and innocent with no hint of darkness.
A word, though, on Steve Kalinich’s lyrics. Kalinich will appear several times in volumes two and three of this series of books, and is far from my favourite lyricist – I may be very critical of him there. However, he’s a friend of many of my friends, and they all say that once you know him as a person his lyrics seem much better. This is one of the few cases where I can see that. These lyrics (inspired by a line from Psalm 46 – “Be still and know that I am God”) are simple and to the point, as many of Kalinich’s lyrics are, without falling into cliché.
Between this and the previous song, Friends shows that even without Brian Wilson, Dennis’ songwriting talent would be enough to make most bands jealous.

Busy Doin’ Nothin’
With its bars of 5/4 half-way through otherwise 4/4 verses, and the odd bars of 7 we hear in the instrumental fade, this bossa nova piece is the most metrically irregular thing Brian Wilson has ever released.
One of only two Brian solo compositions on the album (the other being Passing By, this is musically the most complex piece on the album, full of VII9 and VI♭7(♭5) chords. Lyrically, however, it’s another matter.
This is another of Brian’s ’slice of life’ songs, written about whatever he’s thinking at the time, so we have lines like “I get a lot of thoughts in the morning, I write them all down/If it wasn’t for that, I’d forget ’em in a while” in the verses, and the first chorus gives directions to drive to his house:

Take all the time you need, it’s a lovely night
If you decide to come, you’re gonna do it right
Drive for a couple miles, you’ll see a sign and turn left for a couple blocks, next is mine,
You’ll turn left on a little road, it’s a bumpy one
You’ll see a white fence, move the gate and drive through on the left side
Come right in and you’ll find me in my house somewhere
Keeping busy while I wait

Brian’s songs over the next few years would increasingly be of this nature. While unusual, this is still a stand-out track on the album, and one that could only have been written by Brian Wilson. Brian is the only vocalist on this track.

Diamond Head
A Hawaiian-flavoured instrumental, played on steel guitar, hand percussion and ukulele, this was apparently worked up in the studio, as the credit is split between Brian and session musicians Al Vescovo, Lyle Ritz and Jim Ackley.
A very simple collection of ’exotica’-sounding phrases, this sounds like a much bigger production than it in fact is, thanks to judicious use of reverb and sound effects.
The Hawaiian theme of this piece – plus the fact that it was briefly considered for a place in the 2004 Smile concerts, have led some to suggest that it was part of that album. But the recording dates, and the credits for the musicians, suggest otherwise.

Transcendental Meditation

A loud, rather dissonant, uptempo horn-driven song over a moronic riff, credited to Love, Jardine and Brian Wilson but mostly by the former, many fans of Friends think this song out of place. I disagree. While it’s definitely a bit of a shock coming after so many gentle tracks, it still sounds of a piece with them, thanks to its short length, its repetitive, mantra-like nature, and its lyrical content. Far from the band’s best album closer, it still fits nicely enough here, closing one of the band’s best albums.

The Beach Boys’ last studio album of the 1960s, and their last studio album of new material for Capitol, was a mixed bag of singles, cover versions and outtakes. So titled because it was their twentieth album (counting three ’best of’ compilations) it’s the last album they made under the intense deadline pressure they’d been under for the previous seven years – from now on, one album a year, at most, would be the norm.
It’s notable as the major turning point for the band though. There are only five Brian Wilson songs on here, and four of those were either leftovers from earlier projects or intended for other people. Brian doesn’t even appear on the cover. The band were going to have to learn how to cope without their leader…

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

Do It Again
For the Lei’d In Hawaii project in 1967, Brian had come up with a new arrangement of the band’s first single, Surfin’, featuring an organ riff based loosely on Underwater by The Frogmen, a surf instrumental that had been released on Candix records (the same label on which Surfin’ had originally been released) in 1961.
Taking this riff and turning it into a vocal melody, Brian and Mike kept the surfing theme for this, their first surf record in four years (since Don’t Back Down on the All Summer Long album). Produced by Brian and Carl, this has a curiously deadened sound, probably the result of one bounce-down too many, but the drum sound at the beginning is like nothing the band had ever recorded before.
One of the band’s simplest hits (all on three chords apart from the middle eight, which adds in a few minor sevenths) the combination of the nostalgic lyrics (“let’s get back together and do it again”), the opening drum part and the gorgeous middle eight melody brought this to number one in the UK – the band’s second and final number one over here. In the US, it made number twenty – the band’s last top twenty hit in the US for eight years.
The album version includes, on the fade, some ’woodshop’ sound effects – these are from a recording done as part of the Smile sessions.
Mike sings lead, with Brian singing the wordless high falsetto.

I Can Hear Music

Carl Wilson’s first solo production for the Beach Boys, this track was for a long time believed not to even feature Brian at all, though in fact he is in the harmony stack. Carl does an admirable job of replicating his production style, though on this cover of an obscure Ronettes track (the last song the Ronettes had released on Philles records, Phil Spector’s record label).
Instrumentally, the track is simple, being mostly a bed of acoustic guitars and sleighbells, plus bass and drums (an electric piano was recorded, but I’ve seen people have huge arguments as to whether it’s audible on the finished track at all. I come down on the ’audible’ side, but it’s so faint that even I have my doubts).
Vocally, however, it’s extraordinary. The verses and choruses are just carried by Carl Wilson’s lead vocal (one of the strongest he’d done thus far) with ’ooh’ and ’aah’ block backing vocals, but then there’s an a capella section that’s far and away the best Brian Wilson imitation arrangement the band ever did. While Carl keeps singing a standard lead vocal, the rest of the band chant the word ’music’ over and over, while Mike sings “doh re mi fah so la ti do/I hear the music all the time now baby” in the bass register. The last great bit of harmony vocals the Beach Boys did in the 1960s.
Released as a single, this went to number 24 in the USA, and number 10 in the UK.

Bluebirds Over The Mountain

Written by Ersel Hickey (no relation to the current author), this is a nondescript 50s country song with frankly appaling lyrics (“A boy and girl they once fell in love/To each it seemed like heaven above/He looked into her eyes and said/Ooh-ee baby you’re so good for my head”) that Bruce Johnston liked for some reason. (The Beach Boys’ version is actually slightly different lyrically to Hickey’s original, but both are equally poor).
Johnston had recorded a rough backing track as a potential solo single, but when the band were desperate for material it was dusted off by Carl Wilson and turned into a group performance.
The result is a clash of four completely incompatible types of music. The song itself is a bad 50s number, but then the basic track is done in generic-Beach-Boys, with tuned percussion doubling the bass-line. But then, in an ill-advised nod to modernity, the band try to imitate Jimi Hendrix and the other heavier rockers who were popular at the time, by getting touring band member Ed Carter to perform a squealing guitar solo all over it. And then we get a tag in which Johnston’s lounge music tendencies come to the fore (Johnston would, a few years later, perpetrate I Write The Songs ). Any two of these styles might – might – have worked together. Four of them on one single sounds like a game of Consequences gone seriously wrong.
Mike sings lead on the verses, Carl on the choruses and Bruce on the tag. Carl and Bruce produced, and the strings were arranged by Van McCoy (of The Hustle fame), who also arranged the strings on Be With Me and The Nearest Faraway Place on this album.

Be With Me
After the unimpressive previous track comes this, its polar opposite. Written and produced by Dennis, with as far as I can tell no participation by any of the other band members, here Dennis sings several vocal parts himself, over a moody, intense production unlike anything the band had done before, though still clearly indebted to his elder brother’s work.
Harmonically very simple, mostly moving around i, iv and III in Gm with a brief key change to B♭ in the middle eight, everything here is geared around the production, all low throbbing bass and booming drums. This is the sound of desperation and frustration made audible.
The only minor flaw – if it is a flaw, and not intentional – is the double tracking error on the last verse, where Dennis simultaneously sings “set you free” and “set us free”. Otherwise, this track shows again that Dennis was fast becoming the Wilson brother to watch out for, as a songwriter and producer.

All I Want To Do
Not to be confused with the similarly-named All I Wanna Do from the band’s next album, Sunflower, this is an altogether more raucous affair, quite the loudest, rowdiest thing the band ever did, a four-chord rocker (apart from the orgasmic climax of ascending major chords before the last chorus and fade) by Dennis, driven by piano, saxophone and guitar. This is a much, much more convincing attempt at assimilating heavy rock than Bluebirds, and Mike Love turns in a performance unlike anything he’d done before or since, gruff and at times screaming.
I will never, ever forgive lyricist Steve Kalinich though, because Mike Love repeatedly sings the line “I just want to do it to you”, and that’s not an image I ever wanted in my head.
The very faint sounds at the end are apparently a recording of Dennis actually having sex with two groupies in the recording studio. According to engineer Steve Desper, this didn’t record properly the first time and Dennis insisted on a second take…

The Nearest Faraway Place

An instrumental for electric piano and string section by Bruce Johnston, this is the kind of thing that gives elevator music a bad name. Saccharine, over-orchestrated, and pointless, this is tuneful enough in its way, but has no real reason for existing.

Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)

An old Leadbelly song suggested by Al Jardine, who wrote the additional verses about ’a nice old man, he had a hat on’ and sings lead, this is a Brian Wilson production but shares the curiously flat sound of much of this album, although there’s some nice banjo work. The band would re-record this the next year, with Al producing and a more dynamic arrangement, and it would be a hit in most countries outside the US (that version is on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set, which I deal with in volume two).

I Went To Sleep

This Brian and Carl Wilson composition was recorded for Friends but unaccountably left off. Another slice-of-life song, this time about walking to the park on a sunny day and falling asleep in the grass, this is a lovely little waltz, with a flute-let instrumental track and lush ninth chords, and with beautiful harmonies by the band (and listen out for the snoring sounds during the instrumental break). It also shares a few melodic ideas with the next song.

Time To Get Alone

Another Brian Wilson song, another leftover from a previous project. This was originally recorded in 1967 by Redwood, the band that became Three Dog Night, but according to Chuck Negron of that band, Brian was bullied by the rest of the Beach Boys into giving the song to them.
Recorded over the same backing track as that version (Steve Desper apparently disputes this, but my ears say otherwise), Carl Wilson produced the vocals, in an expansion of Brian’s original three-vocalist arrangement.
Despite whatever acrimony may have been involved, the result is lovely. One of Brian’s simplest songs, this is very much in the mould of other ’escape’ songs like In My Room, and one’s heart breaks on hearing the lines “just away, away from the people, and safe from the people”. But unlike many of Brian’s other ’scared’ songs, this time he’s going away with someone, and that comfort and security comes through in every note of this gorgeous harpsichord-based waltz.
Because of its origins, this is the ’arty’ mid-60s Brian Wilson sound, with harpsichord, strings and vibraphone, but with the lusher vocals of the late-60s albums. Carl and Brian sing lead. A minor masterpiece.

Never Learn Not To Love
And here we get to a song it’s almost impossible now to review dispassionately, and to hear as it must have sounded when it first came out.
While this is credited to Dennis Wilson, it was actually largely written by a friend of Dennis’, who asked that his name not be put on the record’s credits. That friend, Charles Manson, was leader of a hippie commune who within a few months of this record’s release were responsible for a series of horrific murders that became one of the most well-known crimes of the twentieth century. (Dennis had cut off all ties with Manson some time earlier, and was as horrified as anyone, and more so than most, at his crimes).
While it’s not the business of this book to judge the band’s private lives, in this case the behind-the-scenes story is so awful it’s simply impossible to objectively assess the song. I would be doing my readers a disservice to treat this as just another Beach Boys song and look at the chord changes without taking into account that it’s by a murderer, even if I could, but my perception of this song is tied up with my perception of Manson. Would I find lines like “submission is a gift, give it to your lover” as creepy had they actually been written by Wilson? I don’t know.
It’s long been rumoured that Manson helped with some of Dennis’ other songs from this period too, but this is the only one for which there’s definite proof.
For that reason, I’ll have to recuse myself from discussing this track – I want neither to damn a performance and production that had a lot of work put into it, nor to be seen to be praising something whose major creator was a mass murderer.

Our Prayer
And as if to provide a spiritual cleansing after the unpleasantness of Manson, comes this beautiful piece.
A pastiche of Bach’s choral work, this wordless a capella hymn was written by Brian Wilson as the introduction to Smile, and is every bit as beautiful as one would imagine a Brian Wilson pastiche of Bach to be.
Recorded in 1966, the band thickened the sound with additional overdubs and reverb in 1968, but either version is among the most beautiful vocal music ever recorded.

And the last song on the album is by far the best, a track originally intended for Smile. Written by Brian and Van Dyke Parks, this had been completely recorded for Smile except for the lead vocal, which was added by Carl in 1968.
The result is astonishing, one of the best things the band ever did – which is to say it is one of the best musical recordings of the twentieth century. Parks’ punning, Joycean lyrics contrast an idyllic ’home on the range’ in the verses with the ’iron horse’, the railway that made the West possible, in the choruses, before at the end focussing on the immigrant labour that had built that railway. In the context of Smile these lyrics are much more powerful, referring back to other songs which in turn refer to this one, but even taken as a song on its own, divorced from its intended context, and placed near the end of a patchy collection like this, it still retains its power.
The verse, in 4/4 time, starts with just a banjo, evoking the old west, and Brian singing an ascending scalar phrase, singing ’doing doing’ over and over in imitation of the banjo, while Carl sings in his gentlest, purest tones, as bass and piano come in, before everything drops out except a harmonica and a harmonium, playing variations of the trumpet part from Heroes & Villains, but in counter-movement to each other, for two bars.
This musical material then repeats, before entering into a two chord waltz-time chorus with an utterly different feel. Over clanking percussion, representing the spikes being driven into the ground to hold the rails together, the band chant ’who ran the iron horse? ’ over and over, while a wailing falsetto Brian, fuzz bass and ’cellos race each other up and down ascending and descending scales, in much the same manner as in the similar-sounding Smile track Mrs O’Leary’s Cow, but much more frenzied, before collapsing back, exhausted, into the comfort of the verse.
After the second verse, we get another chorus, but this time with an additional element. Dennis is now singing a totally different, unconnected set of lyrics. These are buried in the mix, but I’ve reproduced them below:

Truck driving man do what you can
High-tail your load off the road
Out of night-life-it’s a gas man
I don’t believe I gotta grieve
In and out of luck
With a buck and a booth
Catching on to the truth
In the vast past, the last gasp
In the land in the dust
Trust that you must
Catch as catch can

We then enter a little, gentle, round as the band sing “Have you seen the grand coolie working on the railroad? ” (the use of ’coolie’ here an unfortunate oversight on the part of Parks, who is usually far more sensitive to the connotations of his words, but presumably was too enamoured of the pun on the Grand Coulee Dam and its resonances with the other themes of Smile) over a tinkling waltz, before the ’cellos come back in, in one of the most beautiful, and complex, pieces of contrapuntal vocals the band ever recorded.
And then over ’cello, banjo and harmonica, while the tinkling percussion continues, Love starts singing “Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield”. This line apparently caused one of the biggest arguments in the recording of Smile, when the literal-minded Love kept questioning Parks as to the literal meaning of the line, and Parks was unable or unwilling to provide him with one. Nonetheless, Love eventually did sing it, and sing it beautifully. Then the band start singing those up-and-down fast scales again, as a fuzz bass comes in, and the banjo gets steadily more distorted til at the end the banjo sounds exactly like a sitar.
As the Beach Boys’ last Capitol studio album ends, there’s almost a sense of “This is what you’re giving up”, as a song from two years in the past points the way to the next two albums in the future.

CD Bonus Tracks

Break Away
The Beach Boys’ last single for Capitol for nearly twenty years was this, other than Good Vibrations possibly their finest 60s single.
Co-written by Brian and his father Murry Wilson (under the pseudonym Reggie Dunbar), on first listening this is a cheerful, upbeat song about escaping from all one’s worries – many have interpreted it as being at least in part about the band being released from their onerous contract with Capitol. It’s only on closer examination that it becomes clear that it is, at least in part, about trying to escape from mental illness:

When I lay down on my bed
I hear voices in my head
Telling me now, hey, it’s only a dream
The more I thought of it
I have been out of it
And here’s the answer I found instead
It’s in my head…

Coming from someone who would spend much of the next few decades being tortured by those ’voices in [his] head’, this is no longer quite so cheerful – and the historical knowledge that Brian wouldn’t ’break away’ from his problems makes this all the more heartbreaking; doubly so when you consider that the song was co-written by the father who was the cause of so many of those problems.
Nonetheless, the song itself is upbeat, cheerful and exhilirating. Never a favourite of the band (Johnston believes the vocals, which are slowed down from the original recording, make them sound like old men, while Jardine considers it underproduced) their views may be tainted by the fact that the single did nothing at all on the US chart – though in the UK it made number 6 and was one of their biggest hits.
Carl sings lead on the verses, Brian on the first bridge, and Al on the choruses (another example of these three sounding spookily similar), while Mike sings the prominent bass vocal on the tag and the second bridge. A simplistic song, this is all in the vocal arrangement and performance, which are some of the best the band would ever do.

Celebrate The News

The B-side to Breakaway, by Dennis and his friend and frequent collaborator Gregg Jakobson, is on such a similar theme it’s almost like the two brothers had deliberately decided to write complementary songs. While harmonically simple – it’s based around repeating two-chord shuffles between chords a fifth apart, with the patterns themselves moving up and down in whole-tone steps much like his brother’s 1965 and 1966 work – this manages to throw off expectations by keeping a constant pulse but varying the stresses in such a way that without changing tempo at all he manages to switch between 6/4 and 4/4 time signatures, confusing one’s time sense.
A very ’Dennis’ song, with its throbbing bass and pounding kettle drums, this is a far more visceral record than Brian’s more cerebral A-side, but it’s hard to say that one approach is better than another. As Brian was becoming less and less involved with the band, Dennis was rapidly taking his place as a songwriter and producer worth paying attention to.

We’re Together Again

A Friends era outtake, co-credited to Brian and Ron Wilson (no known relation to Brian, this is not the more famous Surfaris drummer of the same name, but someone for whom Brian produced an unsuccessful single around this time. One presumes he is also not the even more famous Ronald Wilson Reagan, of whom more, sadly, in volume two). Some versions credit just R. Wilson, and it is actually hard to see how this song could have taken two people to write, but it does have enough of Brian’s fingerprints on it that I find it hard to imagine that he had no part in its writing.
A very simple song that sounds unfinished, this is another song built around I-IV chords in the chorus, with a slight variation of the doo-wop sequence for the verse, and a middle eight built around IV and ii. The most ’Brian’ section comes towards the end, when the two-chord chorus phrase is repeated, each time a semitone up, before dropping back to its original key for the fade.
Carl and Brian appear to be the only Beach Boys on this track, but one suspects it inspired Bruce Johnston to write the very similar Deirdre, which would appear on the Sunflower album.

Walk On By
A fragment, barely forty seconds long, of the Bacharach/David song, with Brian singing the lead up to ’foolish pride’, where Dennis takes over and immediately forgets the words, and busks through with just ’aah’s, til the band come in with a full vocal part for “I break down and cry”, at which point the track ends. It’s interesting to hear this sophisticated piece done in the laid-back, stripped-down style the Beach Boys were using at the time, but this isn’t even an attempt at a proper recording.

Old Folks At Home/Ol’Man River
This, on the other hand, is a fully-fledged-out arrangement that wouldn’t have been out of place on Smile. Starting with a simple statement of the “Swanee River” melody on the piano (another appearance for a song – and a songwriter – that had influenced much of Brian’s work already) the song goes into an uptempo version of Ol’ Man River, with a Smile-esque run up and down a chromatic scale on a ’cello to bridge the two. The Ol’ Man River arrangement goes between just acoustic guitar and bass, and a fuller band with drums and tack piano, and with a harmonica and trombone playing off each other.
And the harmonica and trombone are echoed in the vocals, by Brian and Mike respectively – oddly the only two band members who appear vocally. These were clearly guide vocals however – there are multiple Brians sketching out hesitant vocal lines, and points where Mike forgets his words – but there’s the essence of a great arrangement there. One of the best unreleased bonus tracks out of all the ’twofer’ CDs. (It’s worth noting that there are two slightly different mixes of this track available, depending on if you buy the 1990 release of this CD or the 2001 re-release. Anything you purchase from an MP3 store or listen to on an internet streaming site will be the latter.)

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13 Responses to The Beach Boys On CD: Friends/20/20

  1. Larry says:

    Jeez, Andrew-I’m really quite psyched up by your Beach Boys and Beatles writings; and to think I stumbled on to them purely by chance…

    Thank you so much for all the insights, and for making clear to me what Dennis is singing during the latter part of “Cabinessence”. I wish Capitol could have fit the 45 version of “Cottonfields” on to the disc – I first heard it on a UK compilation in the mid-70s, and have loved it ever since. The first Beach Boys track to feature pedal steel guitar, I think.

    “20/20″ is my third favorite BBs album, after” Pet Sounds” and” Sunflower”, but the first time I listened to “Friends” I was, except for the title track, a bit bored – I just didn’t think the tracks were all that interesting. A few months later, after I had read that it was Brian’s favorite album (this was before” Loves You” had been released), I played it again, on an early autumn afternoon-fading-into-evening listening session in my sister’s bedroom in Queens, New York; and in that calm setting, with the fading sunlight coming through the window, I really “heard” that album for the first time. One of the gentlest albums I have ever heard by any band I love. And Dennis’s two songs – so delicate for the surfer in the band, who had to ask his mother to get his older brother to let him in the group…

    Finally, I am over 45, and I didn’t know what the hell to make of “Smiley Smile’ or “Loves You” when I first heard them – it’s a bit irritating to find myself so snugly included in that group of listeners you described in your last BB review (damn you). I am absolutely going to give “Smiley Smile” a thorough listening when I have the chance; but I purchased “Love You” on vinyl upon its release, and I don’t know if I’ll truly be able to find anything in it. Brian’s voice was fairly shot by then, and I thought the songs were mostly infantile – maybe that’s what I’m overlooking.

    I will be buying all your Beatles and Beach Boys books in the very near future. Thanks so much for the postings – though the postings concerning the comics are bewildering to me; a world I know nothing of…

    Best Regards,

    Larry Sojka
    Maryland, USA

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks for this – it makes me very happy to realise that people are actually getting stuff out of these posts (they’ve been my least popular posts among my regular readers). Maybe once I talk about Love You you’ll get more out of that, too ;)

      And the reason the 45 version of CottonFields was left off the CD was that at the time the 70s material was being issued by Caribou rather than Capitol, and the 45 version was from around the time of Sunflower.

      • RAB says:

        Your regular readers are mistaken. The Beach Boys posts have been spectacular, and tremendously helpful, and I’ve been remiss in not saying that earlier.

        And yes, I’ll buy the book — as soon as I decide what format I want (which is not a question I’ve ever had to deal with before).

        Also seconding Larry’s thanks for those buried Cabinessence lyrics. I’ll be very eagerly awaiting what you have to say about Surf’s Up…

  2. TAD says:

    I wonder why Dennis would buy someone else’s song (Manson’s, in this case)? Dennis was writing his own stuff by then, and presumably had songs he could have used instead. Maybe he was just trying to give Manson some exposure. I think Neil Young was casually involved with Manson a bit too, from what I remember reading.

  3. S. Barrios says:

    i’d prolly like 20/20 a whole lot better if not for “bluebirds over the mountain.” that guitar makes my teeth hurt ! (your description, though, is a thing of Beauty)

    Crap from Peter Levenda’s “Sinister Forces” (Vol. 3!)
    “I like to think that ‘The Blue Bird’ production was Jane Fonda’s wake-up call, literally. After all, as detailed in Book I, she was likely present – along with husband-director Roger Vadim – at the Polanski home on the day that drug dealer was pistol-whipped in front of Polanski’s guests, only days before the actual murders of Sharon Tate and her friends.”

    “Never Learn”
    as arranged/presented by Dennis/the Beach Boys, this is a far far cry from the crude Folk/Blues of No.Name Maddox, the hick car thief who re.made himself as some *magical hippie dwarf*. anyhoo, in some alternate universe, maybe he’s released from prison years earlier and, i dunno, stalks – then *joins* – the Kingston Trio ..

    ( hmm, and because i’m *terribly* out of the loop, i missed the Capitol announcement that a set of Smile sessions will be released this year. not expecting much in the way of “revelation,” but it’s certainly something i would Enjoy )

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I didn’t know that about Fonda – was there anyone *not* at the Polanski house that week?
      And yeah, the arrangement is very, very different from Manson’s original.

      Re: Smile sessions – there’s going to be a 2-CD set and a 4-CD plus two vinyl album plus two vinyl single limited edition set. There are apparently no ‘Holy Grail’ tracks – no completed 67 mix of Surf’s Up or anything – but plenty of previously-unbooted material.

  4. Mike Fullerton says:

    I thought you would appreciate this, from Warren, if you’ve not seen it before now:

    I mean:
    “Does Brian Wilson even have a secret beach lab?”

    That’s gotta make you look, I would think…

  5. arkhonia says:

    Tried to post a query before but may have failed: Andrew, do you know *why* Do It Again ends with the Smile ‘woodshop’ sounds? I’ve never seen an explanation – or whose idea it was…curious as to your thoughts.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      No, I’ve never seen a decent explanation for that either. The track was produced by Brian and Carl, so I would assume one or other of them (probably Carl, as I *think* the way it worked was that Brian produced the basic track as heard on Endless Harmony and Carl the overdub session), but for some reason I’ve never thought to ask about that. Odd how these things slip by you…

      Steve Desper would know, and he often answers questions on one of the message boards I sometimes visit. I’ll try to remember to ask him (am at work at the moment). Poke me if I don’t get back to you in a couple of days.

      • arkhonia says:

        Oh cheers! I have some theories about what it might ‘mean’ (or rather how it could be *read*), but none of these have anything to do with why it happened. Always thought it very odd indeed. In 2012 it seems even more peculiar.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Actually just found that Desper had answered that question a few years back:
      “Actually I answered this in some detail in previous replys at this thread. Maybe someone can find it and post it. Simple answer is that Carl decided to put it there because at the time, it looked as if the Smile project was dead and that those sessions would not be released. We just wanted to do something with the sounds and stuck it on the end. ~swd “

  6. arkhonia says:

    Brilliant! So there’s no ‘thematic’ explanation, and likewise no meaning – it just happened. Just the answer I needed.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah. There were quite a lot of odd tags that don’t have anything to do with the rest of the track around then (All I Want To Do being the other obvious example, but I think there were a few more). I think they were just playing around.

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