The Beach Boys on CD: Summer In Paradise

The early 90s were a terrible time for the Beach Boys. Critically, they were at their lowest point, before their late-60s and 70s work had been reevaluated and seen for the clever, beautiful, music it was. Artistically, they were even lower — trudging through oldies shows with a backing band that was steadily getting worse, and making Hawaiian-shirted guest appearances on family sitcoms. And their interpersonal relations were at their worst.

Brian Wilson was completely uninvolved with the band at this point. He’d recorded a second solo album (the rather decent Sweet Insanity), which remained unreleased, and his family were finally extricating him from the clutches of “Doctor” Landy. But a whole series of lawsuits surrounding Landy (and publishing credits for songs dating back to the 60s) strained his relationships with all the other band members. Meanwhile, for a while, Al Jardine was “suspended” from the band because of an “attitude problem” (Mike Love’s assessment of the situation).

Jardine was thus absent during the initial sessions for what became Summer in Paradise, the worst album, by a long way, to ever be released under the Beach Boys’ name. Essentially a Mike Love/Terry Melcher album, to which Jardine, Johnston, and Carl Wilson added some vocals, it’s the only Beach Boys album with no Brian Wilson involvement whatsoever (apart from his writing credit on the re-recorded “Surfin’”), and it’s truly terrible.

The really sad thing is that it’s clearly not intended to be terrible. The people involved clearly thought they were doing something good — and one can even follow the thinking. “Kokomo” had been a massive hit, and Still Cruisin’ had been a commercial, if not critical, success. So an album of stuff that sounded just like “Kokomo”, written by Love and Melcher, with a few remakes of oldies thrown in, should have made commercial success. And then to combine the fun in the sun theme with advocacy for environmental causes — something about which Love was and is commendably and genuinely passionate — and a little of Love’s spiritual beliefs, should at least have created something with some artistic integrity. Commercial and artistic — how could it miss?

Instead, what we end up with is just awful; an album that the band themselves have quietly disowned (in the video screens and programmes for their 2012 reunion tour, every album except this one had its cover displayed, and in the two career-spanning box sets they’ve released there are no recordings from this), and which is generally, and rightly, regarded as the worst thing the band ever did.

While quite a few people ended up owning copies of this thanks to a QVC sale bundling it in as a freebie with the 1993 Good Vibrations box set, according to Terry Melcher, who produced, it sold fewer than a thousand copies total through normal channels. And it’s easy to see why. It’s terrible without being interestingly terrible — frequently crass, horribly recorded (it was recorded on a beta copy of Pro-Tools, one of the very first albums to be made entirely using that software), and unimaginative. It was released on the band’s own Brother records, and the US distributor soon went out of business, which didn’t help.

It was re-released in a substantially different form in Europe, through EMI, with five of the tracks partially rerecorded, and that version is better, but still not good. The main difference is that Al Jardine features on more tracks in the European release, as he probably would have on the original release had he been in the band for the whole recording.

Either version, however, is unpleasant, and nearly unlistenable. An album that can safely be ignored by even the biggest fan. For twenty years it sat as the ignominious end of the band’s studio career — thankfully, the 2012 reunion means that this no longer even has that significance.

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

Hot Fun In The Summertime
Songwriter:
Sylvester Stewart
Lead vocalist: Mike Love, Carl Wilson, and Adrian Baker

Sly and the Family Stone’s original of this is a glorious, slow-grooving, funky soul track, which one can listen to over and again, just glorying in the interplay of the voices and the swing feel of the instrumental track.

This, on the other hand, is a mess of synth drums, lounge sax, and over-processed vocals, with Carl Wilson sounding bored out of his head (as he does throughout most of the album), Adrian Baker (the band’s touring falsettist for brief periods in the early 80s, very early 90s, and very late 90s/early 2000s) getting as close as he ever does to being on key. There’s horrible tinkly percussion all over the stereo spectrum, and all the vocals sound like they’ve been sung through a tin can thanks to all the processing.

Amazingly, this is one of the better tracks on the album.

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

A remake of the band’s first single, slowed down enormously, with terrible synth drums and a crunchy 80s rawk guitar riff. One could possibly find a use for this song as part of a conceptual art piece of some sort — showing the difference between a gang of teenagers with a single acoustic guitar, double bass, and bin lid, and a bunch of men in their late forties and fifties, who even with the most up-to-date technology in the world couldn’t replicate the simple joy of their teens. One could perhaps call it “The Pro-Tools of Dorian Gray”, or simply “Death”.

What this track isn’t useful for, though, is gaining any pleasure by listening.

Bruce Johnston said online, around 2001, that the vocal tracks from this were being used in a “Britney Spears-style” remix by the producers of “Macarena”, for a potential fortieth anniversary single release. That this never happened is evidence that no matter how bad things are, they indeed could always be worse.

Summer Of Love
Songwriter:
Terry Melcher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

This is the absolute nadir of recorded sound. I can’t really emphasise that enough. One can analyse the song — pointing out that the “sum sum summer” hook (if that’s the right word for anything involved in this track) is a reuse of a hook that had already been used in “Some of Your Love” on Keepin’ the Summer Alive, and before that on “Almost Summer” by Love’s side project Celebration. One can talk about the fact that the song was intended as a duet with Bart Simpson, but turned down, or about the dreadful appearance on Baywatch lip-syncing the track. There are a lot of things one can say about this.

But nothing can prepare you for the experience of Mike Love’s “Well it’s a LOVE THANG” bass vocal, or robo-Bruce singing “Girls are always ready” (because girls, apparently, are always ready for a summer of love). But those aren’t the worst things.

This song features Mike Love rapping.

And not just that, but the lyrics he’s rapping are things like “Well, I’ll take you to a movie, but I’m no fool/First I’ll get you on the beach or in a swimming pool/Doing unto others is the golden rule/But doing it with you would be so very cool”.

I cannot possibly convey how incredibly terrible this track is. Please do not, however, take this as some sign that this is “so bad it’s good”, or that you need to listen to this to see how awful it really is. There is nothing good here. It’s just terribly, terribly sad.

Island Fever
Songwriter:
Terry Melcher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Carl Wilson (Love and Al Jardine on European version)

Compared with the last track, this is astonishingly beautiful. However, compared with any other music ever made, it’s a dull retread of “Kokomo”. Structurally, the two songs are almost identical, but this has none of “Kokomo”s admittedly limited charms.

The USA version sounds, frankly, like a demo, and the European version, with its much fuller production, rewritten lyrics, and new bridge (with a solo line for Al, his first lead vocal line on the album and the best thing on it so far), is much more listenable. But both are, essentially, just “Kokomo” with lyrics that attempt a metaphor about wanting a prescription to treat “island fever”. Dull, but not unlistenable.

Still Surfin’
Songwriter:
Terry Melcher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

Another diabolical song, this time about someone with a law degree who’s quit to become an oceanographer and save the whales while also surfing. Or something. The song doesn’t make much sense, and it’s not helped that it’s a patchwork of other, better songs. The “duh duh” backing vocal comes from “Heroes & Villains”, “that’s where the girls are” from “Palisades Park”, and the chorus is the chorus of “Cherry Cherry Coupe”, just with a ii substituting for the IV chord.

The track as a whole, though, is a dreary, sludgy, mess of midtempo nothing.

Slow Summer Dancin’ (One Summer Night)
Songwriter:
Bruce Johnston/Danny Webb
Lead vocalist: Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine

Easily the best thing on the album to this point, this is Johnston’s last songwriting contribution to the band up to this point. Johnston writes new verses, in his usual style, and uses the verse/chorus of the doo-wop classic “One Summer Night” (originally a hit for the Danleers) as a chorus. It actually works pretty well, if one ignores the horrible drum sound and lounge sax solo.

There’s always an element of schmaltz to Johnston, even at his best, and that shows up in the verses he sings, but Jardine, who takes lead on the “one summer night” sections, sounds extraordinary — unlike everyone else involved in the album, he seems to be really trying with his vocal.

The result isn’t a great track, but it’s one that could, with a remix and with the drums replaced, be a good one.

Strange Things Happen
Songwriter:
Terry Melcher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Al Jardine

This is, at least in the European version, one of the less offensively bad songs on the album. The lyrics, about a New Age woman who “believes in God, and karma too/paranormal powers…” and who travels to the Rio climate summit, are not too awful, and Jardine again sounds fantastic on the chorus. The US version, though, is spoiled by a hugely extended fade containing no musical ideas at all.

The track, in the European version, is merely bland, with annoying amounts of reverb on the vocals, and the usual annoying guitar licks from Craig Fall (who played as large a part in this album as in Still Cruisin’). The US version, with its extra 84 seconds, tries the patience considerably.

Remember (Walking In The Sand)
Songwriter:
George “Shadow” Morton
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

The original version of this song, by the Shangri-Las, is one of the greatest singles ever, with its sudden changes in mood and tempo, its sense of drama, its portentous opening chords, and its stop-start “oh no no no” section.

So of course, the best thing to do was to get rid of half the chorus lyrics, keep everything at a constant tempo, have the same godawful sax part Joel Peskin has played on every other track on this album (and most of Still Cruisin’), have a horrible drum machine, synth percussion, and a voice sounding like a robot from a children’s cartoon saying “remember”.

Vile.

Lahaina Aloha
Songwriter:
Terry Melcher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Carl Wilson

Whenever someone makes a half-hearted attempt to defend Summer in Paradise among Beach Boys fans, one thing is always said: “well, ‘Lahaina Aloha’ is quite good…”

It isn’t. It’s merely not terrible. Carl Wilson takes much of the lead vocal on the chorus, and sounds considerably less bored than on much of the rest of the album, and the accordion part (played by Van Dyke Parks, of all people) makes the arrangement slightly less generic than some of the other tracks. But this is still the same mid-tempo AOR, with the same lyrical themes (mysterious dancing women, ships sailing away, temporary affairs) as everything else on the album, and the same bad generic rawk guitar.

Unlike much of the rest of the album, this at least sounds vaguely competent, like more than ten seconds’ thought has gone into it, but on almost any other Beach Boys album this would be the worst thing by a long way.

Under The Boardwalk
Songwriter:
Artie Resnick and Kenny Young (new lyrics Mike Love)
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Carl Wilson (with Al Jardine on the European version)

Yet another absolute classic song turned into a mess of skittering electronic percussion, with a bored Carl Wilson and an unimaginative sax solo from Joel Peskin. For some reason Love decided to get rid of the second verse of the Drifters’ original (possibly the line about tasting the hot dogs conflicted with his vegetarianism) and replace it with two new verses about walking on the beach.

The US version of this has no redeeming features at all. The European version restores the bridge (which was replaced by even more Peskin solo in the US version), and has Jardine take the lead on that section, immediately lifting it up. It’s also considerably shorter, which is a mercy.

Summer In Paradise
Songwriter:
Terry Melcher, Craig Fall and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love (Love and Roger McGuinn on UK version)

This is the closest thing to a decent new song on the entire album. What starts out as more nostalgia (“our masterplan was having fun fun fun as America’s band/We came out rockin’ with Rhonda and Barbara Ann”) soon turns into a rather more interesting song about wanting to fix the world’s environmental problems “so we can bring back summer in paradise”.

Other than Van Dyke Parks’ accordion, the US version of the track sounds like a poorly-thought-out demo, but the European version, which is largely re-recorded and features Roger McGuinn on vocals and twelve-string guitar, is much more listenable, and has slightly less ridiculous lyrics (only slightly — “surfers recycle now, don’t you know/like everyone from California to Kokomo” becomes “everybody knows that you reap what you sow/all the way from California to Kokomo” — this is still not subtle).

The tempo of the song is still too plodding in either studio version, but a rather nice live version from 1993, with Johnston singing the parts that McGuinn sings here, available on the Made in California box set shows that there is the germ of a good track here, and on the rare occasions the band have performed it live (it still makes occasional showings in their setlist) it’s been enjoyable enough.

Forever
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson
Lead vocalist: John Stamos

And the album ends with a remake of Dennis Wilson’s most popular song. John Stamos, a teen heartthrob in mediocre family sitcom Full House, was a fan of the Beach Boys, and had guested with them on drums occasionally for several years. The band had also featured in his TV series on several occasions, and he had performed “Forever” on the show more than once, including in a scene at his character’s wedding the year before this album came out (a version of the song that’s rather nicer than this one).

It therefore made sense to have Stamos sing the song here, and he does a competent enough job. It’s a hard song to mess up, and while there are once again too many squealing rock guitars, if you hadn’t heard the original you could be forgiven for thinking “this is quite good”.

In a world where the original exists, of course, this is utterly pointless, but it still stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album because it’s a great song and they don’t do anything to deliberately sabotage it. On an album like Summer in Paradise, that’s as close as you can get to a success.

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7 Responses to The Beach Boys on CD: Summer In Paradise

  1. TAD says:

    The Beach Boys version of Hot fun in the Summertime could have been good (I like Mike’s voice on it), but the horrible drum sound and the mess of reverbs makes it all unlistenable. Every once in a while I’ll relisten to this album, thinking I might hear it differently with fresh ears, but I never connect with it. The drum sound alone is enough to sabotage the entire album.

  2. This review is delectable.

  3. Actually, I like the album. I don’t consider it their best one, of course, that goes to Today album of 1965. But I feel OK about Summer Of Love, Still Surfin’ and the title track. Strange how I like some of the albums that are hated so violently, that is Cheap Trick’s Doctor, The Stooges’ The Weirdness, George Harrison’s Electronic Sound, Van Halen’s III and Lou Reed’s Lulu. I want to share my positive emotions about listening these albums and the answer is typical. I don’t know how to deal with that.

  4. Martin says:

    So the version of “Surfin'” that was to be mixed in a Britney Spears kind of style was this one? Thanks, I didn’t catch that at the time for the Bruce interview. Somehow, a small sadistic part of me would like to hear how that would have turned out …

  5. Pingback: Links: High-resolution consumer audio, London for music sales, the worst Beach Boys album. – Rocknerd

  6. Greg says:

    Aieeeee I couldn’t help myself. After reading this great review of such an uber stinker, my curiosity got the better of me and I watched ‘summer of love- and baywatch’ on you tube. I lasted 45 seconds in a state of open mouthed astonishment. Anybody better that time??

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