"All we knew was we liked to sing and make harmonies together. So to have it become part of American musical culture is pretty amazing." Mike Love
The Wilsons - Brian, Dennis and Carl along with their cousin Mike Love and friend Alan Jardine - were the original Beach Boys. Another friend, David Marks, briefly replaced Jardine, before Al returned and they became the band that took America by storm with hits that included 'Surfin USA', 'I Get Around', 'Fun, Fun, Fun, 'Help Me Rhonda', 'California Girls', 'Barbara Ann' and 'Wouldn't It Be Nice.'
The Beach Boys' first album, Surfin' Safari came out in the autumn of 1962 and aside from its urging to get on a surfboard it was a mix of covers and co-writes between Brian Wilson and Mike Love as well as Gary Usher. Surfin' USA continued where their debut album left off, with the distinction of including the Beach Boys first big hit single, when the title song of the album made No.2 on the Billboard charts.
By the time their third album, Surfer Girl, in late 1963, Brian had hit his song-writing stride and their songs were beginning to reference life beyond the beach. 'Little Deuce Coupe', a song written by Brian and Roger Christian, is the first Beach Boys car songs to gain recognition when it came out as the B-side of 'Surfer Girl'. The album also includes the gorgeous 'In My Room'; a firm favourite among fans.
Little Deuce Coupe was also the title of their next album, and it was almost exclusively an homage to cars, with a few songs about girls thrown in for good measure. Aside from the title song there's '409', 'Custom Machine' and 'The Ballad Of Ole' Betsy'. Cars were again to the fore in Shut Down Vol.2, which includes the classic 'Fun, Fun, Fun', 'Don't Worry Baby and the beautiful 'Warmth of the Sun'.
Released the week after July 4th in 1964, All Summer Long, with its delightful title track, took a step forward. Brian was growing more ambitious and stretching the boundaries of his creativity with classics including 'I Get Around', 'Little Honda', 'Wendy and the gorgeous Â 'Hushabye', a tribute to the doo-wop records they all grew up with.
Following on from the Beach Boys Concert album their next studio album was The Beach Boys Today! This was a giant leap forward in both concept and sound. It has classic singles, 'Dance, Dance, Dance' and 'When I Grow Up To Be a Man' as well as two of Brian's most heartfelt ballads, 'Please Let Me Wonder' and 'Kiss Me Baby' - check out the version on Hawthorne CA, it is a capella and stunning!
Summer Days (And Summer Nights) from 1965 is the first album to include Bruce Johnston, who had been drafted into the band as a replacement for Brian who had opted to quit touring to concentrate on writing and producing. Bruce's first recording was 'California Girls', not a bad place to start and the album also includes the hit version of 'Help Me Ronda' and the fabulous 'You're So Good To Me', along with 'Girl Don't Tell Me', with Carl on vocals. From 1965 is the The Beach Boys Party!, which includes 'Barbara Ann' (which became their biggest UK hit to date) and three Beatles covers.
Their next album, Pet Sounds, could not have been more different from The Beach Boys Party!. Where the latter was just as described by the album's name, Pet Sounds was largely just Brian working in the studio when the band were on tour. Although, their vocal contributions are what helps to make this album so special. It proved to be a difficult project and caused conflict within the band, largely divorced from the creative process. However, it has been hailed as the greatest album ever made in numerous polls, and when it isn't top it is second or third - it's an awful lot to live up to. Yet it does. From the unrivalled beauty of 'God Only Knows' - which in the finished version just features, Brian, Carl and Bruce - to the inspired reworking of 'Sloop John B', to the gorgeous 'Caroline No', this is a classic!
From the hundreds of hours that Brian spent in the studio attempting to create Smile, which later came out as The Smile Sessions, the band cherry picked the best bits, added some songs written by other members of the Beach Boys and came up with Smiley Smile in the autumn of 1967. At its heart are the two 'pocket symphonies', 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Good Vibrations'. Among the elements salvaged from Smilewas 'Vegetables', which includes Paul McCartney munching on a stick of celery and there is also the brilliant 'Wind Chimes'. Smiley Smile was the band's 12th studio album in six years. Over the same time period they had 18 singles on the Billboard charts - 13 of them in the top 10, the 18th single was their third No.1, 'Good Vibrations. All in all, it is an astonishing record.
It was in1967 that the band released their 13th album, the unlucky Wild Honey it failed to do well on the charts by which time the sound of the beach was left behind while they embraced the mood of California. The Beach Boys were embracing a brave new world and did so with the rocking title track, a Stevie Wonder cover, 'I Was Made to Love Her', and the uplifting 'Darlin'.
For Friends, the tracks that standout are the title track along with 'Wake the World' and 'Transcendental Meditation.' It was followed by Stack-O-Tracks instrumental highlights from the past studio albums, and including a booklet with the bass lines, lead lines, chords and lyrics so that we could all sing-along
Then in 1969, with 20/20, the band honed their creativity to a point where old and new sat side by side in a comfortable setting. 'Do It Again' is the perfect amalgam of what the Beach Boys were and had by now become, while 'I Can Hear Music' is Carl on top form, there's 'Bluebirds Over the Mountain' and Al's adaptation of the old folk song made famous by Lead Belly, 'Cottonfields'. Just check out the beautiful 'Our Prayer' - it is what the Beach Boys were created for.
The Seventies opened with Sunflower, for some it's their favourite Beach Boys album, after Pet Sounds. There's the beautiful 'Add Some Music to Your Day', 'Cool, Cool Water', a hang over fromThe Smile Sessions, 'This Whole World', and Bruce's 'Tears In The Morning'. A tough act to follow, album-wise, yet 1971's Surf's Up did just that and more. It is a rock album rather than a pop album and is justifiably loved by many fans. It includes 'Til I Die' -arguably the most poignant song in the Beach Boys entire canon - the lovely, 'Feel Flows', 'Don't Go Near The Water' and the epic title track.
The band's excursion into rock continued with 1972's Carl and the Passions - So Tough on which they are joined by South African musicians, Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, who helped create one of the lesser known Beach Boy's classic albums. There's the fantastic 'Marcella', Dennis Wilson's lovely, love song, 'Cuddle Up' or the equally beguiling TM chant, 'All This Is That'.
Then came the pinnacle of the Beach Boys rock trilogy, the outstanding Holland, which came out in January 1973. Largely recorded in the Netherlands it includes the fabulous 'Sail On Sailor' sung by Blondie Chaplin, 'The Steamboat', 'The Trader' and the excellent 'Funky Pretty'.
It was the four years until a new Beach Boys studio album came along, but in between they released the excellent The Beach Boys In Concert album, which has the most sublime version of 'Caroline No'; originally sung by Brian on Pet Sounds but here handled tenderly by younger brother Carl. Bruce Johnston had by this time left the band to produce records and pursue his own career. It was in the period before their next album that they released two excellent compilations, the classic Endless Summer, which made No.1 on the Billboard chart, and 'The Spirit of America'; both are well worth looking into, the latter for the inclusion of their big British hit, 'Breakaway.'
On 1976's 15 Big Ones there's some excellent covers, including Chuck Berry's 'Rock and Roll Music' and Brian's Spectoresque, cover of The Righteous Brothers 'Just Once In My Life'. Among the originals are Brian and Mike's lovely, 'Had To Phone Ya' 'It's Ok' and 'Everyone's in Love With You' - Mike's song about the Maharishi with jazzman Charles Lloyd on flute. In 1977 The Beach Boys Love You followed in quick succession. It was originally intended to be a Brian solo album but at the 11th hour the Boys stepped in. Nevertheless Brian still wrote every song. Dennis' vocal on 'I Wanna Pick You Up' is the very essence of this album.
In 1978 the MIU Album, partly recorded at the Maharishi International University in Iowa, was very much a return to traditional territory, with a 60s vibe to the whole thing, 50s even, with their cover of the Del-Vikings doo-wop classic 'Come Go With Me', but there's also Â 'Winds of Change' with a lovely Al Jardine and Mike Love vocal - when the harmonies kick in you know you're in safe hands - and their rousing, 'Kona Coast'.
By 1979 Bruce Johnston had returned to the fold and it was him that produced LA (Light Album). It features the excellent 'Full Sail', one of Carl's most lovely vocal performances on any Beach Boys' album. There's Al's love song to his then wife, 'Lady Lynda', and most poignantly Dennis's final lead vocals with the group 'Bby Blue' and 'Love Surrounds Me'. Dennis tragically drowned in 1983, just after his 39th birthday. RIP.
1980's Keepin The Summer AliveÂ continued where LA (Light Album) had left off, although most of the tracks are Brian Wilson's. One of the exceptions is 'Endless Harmony', a Bruce Johnston song. He crafts every one and this is arguably his rarest gem of all. "Striped shirt freedom, brave new heroes, go out on a roll." There's also the lovely, 'Santa Ana Winds', the uplifting, 'Goin' On' and another Chuck Berry cover 'School Days (Ring, Ring Goes The Bell)'.
"We recorded Endless Harmony standing outside at Al Jardine's Big Sur barn among the Redwood trees. Four of us around one mic. and Mike on another. The whole vocal took just 20 minutes to do. Not bad!" Bruce Johnston
It was five years until the next Beach Boys studio album; one largely produced by Culture Club's producer, Steve Levine, and it even includes a song written by Boy George ('Passing Friend'). The opening number, 'Getcha Back', is a strong song, along with 'Where I Belong' featuring Carl, and Bruce's 'She Believes In Love Again' on which Bruce and Carl share the vocals.
"Smokey Joe's Cafe" written by Lieber & Stoller influenced me a heck of a lot when I went to write Kokomo I heard the verse which was done by John Phillips, the melody of the verse and I said 'That's a beautiful melody and a beautiful verse but it doesn't groove'. So I went back and 'Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya' so 'ooh ahh at Smokey Joe's cafe' it has the same sort of syncopation, same sort of groove, as Smokey Joes Cafe as the chorus of Kokomo, which became our biggest selling hit." Mike Love
'Kokomo' was originally released on the album entitled Still Cruisin', which came out in 1989. It's a mixture of originals and Beach Boys songs used in movies - 'Kokomo' featured in Cocktail, of course. It's also on The Platinum Collection, along with many of the band's classic singles
In 1992 Summer in Paradise was released, the band's 27th studio album and the last to feature Carl Wilson who sadly died in 1998. A live version of the title track is on the Made in America box set.
After this a number of repackaged CDs came out, including the Pet Sounds Sessions and Endless Harmony, to tie in with the documentary about the band in 1998. There's a wonderful track called 'Soulful Old Man Sunshine', which had been recorded during the sessions for Sunflower, but unreleased at the time. Another anthology released in 2001 and entitled Hawthorne CA, after the Wilson's birthplace is essential to check out. There are a number of very interesting alternate takes and a cappella versions of songs including a lovely version of 'Forever'.
Then in 2012 came a new studio album, That's Why God Made the Radio, made by all the surviving members of the band. It includes the title song which is, as the title suggests, a perfect radio record, but for a rare, precious and beautiful gem check out, 'From There To Back Again'. It evokes everything that makes the Beach Boys such a loved and cherished band; nostalgic lyrics, lush harmonies, and a melody that doesn't give up.
For their 50th anniversary the band took to the road and it was captured on the Live-50thAnniversary Tour CD. From the opening, the rousing 'Do It Again', it celebrates the amazing music that they have given to the world. Among the highlights are the group 'dueting' with Dennis on 'Forever' and with Carl on 'God Only Knows' with them both appearing on video for the concerts.
Their music is transcendent and will live on, long after others who have been pretenders to their crown.
After the party it’s time to clean up and The Beach Boys did that here on what is recognised as a 24-carat masterpiece of enduring majesty. Baroque psychedelia informs ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘God Only Knows’ (who knew Carl was this good? It’s just Carl, Brian & Bruce) and the whole was constructed as a song suite a la Rubber Soul. Tony Asher’s lyrics took off from ‘You Still Believe In Me’ and the arrangements, often performed by The Wrecking Crew, explored the possibilities of the new Ampex 8-track system.
Recording in four different studios Brian Wilson conducted proceedings with a zeal not seen before nor since encouraging the Boys to harmonic heights to match the backing of French and English Horns, clarinets, twelve strings and vibraphones, everything in the classical armoury. Hard to pick highlights (the British loved ‘Sloop John B’) but ‘Caroline, No’ and ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)’ capture the melancholy of Brian’s mind; the instrumentals ‘Let’s Go Away For A While’ and the title track preface his journey towards the (then) unreleased SMiLE.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘I Know There’s an Answer’. Written with Love and Terry Sachen, originally titled ‘Hang On to Your Ego’, this is acid surf at its peak driven by a crazy bass harmonica, banjo and Hammond organ reflecting the group’s oddest lyric to date: ‘They trip through their day and waste all their thoughts at night.’ Cosmic stuff.
The last album for eight years where Brian could be said to be in charge, Friends continues in the Wild Honey mood, mixing gentle psychedelia, spiritual empathy and a sixth sense level of harmony that suggested the group’s flirtation with ‘Transcendental Meditation’ was no bad thing. Designed by Wilson as a poignant song cycle expressing togetherness and the healing process necessary to keep the group relevant to each other, the aptly named Friends slips by the listener like the smell of new mown hay on a warm breeze.
A beautiful, nostalgic triumph and one of the last great hippie recordings, stand out cuts include ‘Meant For You’ (all 38 seconds of it), the child-like ‘Wake the World’, the trippy ‘Diamond Head’ instrumental and the peaceful pottering of Brian’s ‘Busy Doin’ Nothin’ set to a lazy samba beat. At the time reviewers were baffled by Friends’ lack of experimentation but retrospect delivers the album from such a negative interpretation. Plenty going on here if you’d care to listen.
Undiscovered Gems: 'Little Bird'. At last Dennis returned to the vocal booth contributing two songs co-written with his new accomplice Stephen Kalinich, a New York born poet. Putting aside his roustabout image Dennis turned in a perfect interpretation of a sensitive nature tale and the song is remarkable for being solely a Brotherly affair plus bassist Carol Kaye. Dig this out, it’s genius. And then skip back to ‘Anna Lee, The Healer’, gorgeous!
At last. Their mission statement. The Beach Boys Today! Not yesterday’s nostalgia, Brian is saying, this is where we really crank up the group and answer the challenging gauntlet thrown down by those pesky Beatles. The album, recorded over Christmas and New Year, swept away a lot of the Boys’ old business, including papa Murry. The levels of sophistication and experimentation – in various forms – became an end in themselves.
The studio was now the whole of the game plan and Brian arrived with magical music to match Mike’s magnificent method, the parts demanding utter concentration, dedication and a level of playing that necessitated the addition of the finest players in Hollywood, including bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist Glen Campbell. Today! is superb. Dennis kicks off ‘Do You Wanna Dance’? Al levitates on ‘Help Me, Ronda’, there’s the sublime ‘Don’t Hurt My Little Sister’ and the elegiac ‘Please Let Me Wonder.’ What’s not to like?
Undiscovered Gems: This one is a tough call. It could be ‘When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)’ or ‘Please Let Me Wonder’, but we’ve gone for ‘Kiss Me Baby’, Brian’s homage to lost young love. The sheer complexity of the vocal arrangement is mind-boggling. Mike and Brian sing lead with the ‘Boys’ singing in unison, but the beauty of the words, “Kiss a little bit, fight a little bit” is heart breaking. Check out the version on Hawthorne CA, it is a capella and it is STUNNING!
Almost a companion piece to Smiley Smile, the albums overlap when a salvaged section of ‘Vegetables’ becomes the chant in ‘Mama Says’, Brian relinquished complete control to the rest of the group while he spent time in his organic store The Radiant Radish! When he returned he decided he wanted to make an R&B inspired album so Carl turned in a terrific version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made To Love Her’ and Mike Love, chancing upon a jar of wild honey in Brian’s kitchen, busied himself with the soulful title track.
Often viewed as the Boys’ most chilled album there are many treats inside, including ‘Darlin’, the soaring cathedral filling voices on ‘Let The Wind Blow’ and the Motown flavoured ‘Aren’t You Glad’. Despite its cool ambience – ‘Country Air’ is a signpost to sounds yet to be made – the group’s relationship with engineer Stephen Desper ensured their production surpassed most others’ and as Brian took his back seat the other fellows embraced new technology and a hard won independence.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘I’d Love Just Once to See You’. The sweetest and yet, whisper it quietly, the most erotic or romantic song in Brian’s thoughtful, sentimental canon. Basically a preamble to asking a lady to get naked still there is nothing salacious here, just a gorgeous love song.
Originally envisaged as a Brian solo album he completed most of the tracks using old school analogue Moog synthesisers before turning to the group for their harmonic expertise. Brian’s increasingly gruff vocals didn’t go unnoticed but since he was in prolific mood it would be churlish to deny the raw majesty of tone or the delight in having him back on board for such in-band favourites as ‘Johnny Carson’, ‘Mona’ and ‘Solar System’, written while staring at a stained glass window in Brother Studios as he picked out a deceptively complex melody on the Hammond B3 organ.
Viewed later as part of Brian’s rehab there are flashes of humour around, particularly in ‘Honkin’ Down the Highway’ and the sublime ‘Good Time', first recorded by Marilyn Wilson and her sister Diane Rovell on their delightful American Spring album. Brian was particularly pleased with a brief but enchanting co-write on 'Ding-Dang' with Roger McGuinn, marking the first known meet between a Byrd and a Beach Boy.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘I Wanna Pick You Up’. With its triplicate – at least - connotations and multi tracked harmonies this often overlooked gem could only have come from Wilson’s mind since it manages to be bafflingly simple and simply baffling at the same time. Dennis handles it with brotherly care and attention and the song is the absolute essence of the album title.
The Beach Boys entered the 1970s with their sixteenth studio album and a new label, their own Brother imprint distributed by Reprise. Their star was now higher in Europe than America but this sprawling, down-home disc with its gatefold sleeve and funky family vibe is a total blast and is rightly considered to be a classic, if only in retrospect. Having broken away, the Boys embraced their new freedom with Dennis being both particularly active and determined to drag the band into the new era with frantic pieces like ‘Got to Know the Woman’ and the rousing ‘Slip on Through’.
The first of the truly democratic Boys discs they had now left their preppy look far behind and the sound reflected the era. ‘Add Some Music to Your Day’ and ‘Cool, Cool Water’ are vintage. Bruce was also on a roll with ‘Deirdre’ and ‘Tears in the Morning’, carving himself the ballad niche. Reflection arrived via ‘At My Window’ and ‘This Whole World’ with glorious a capella passages.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘It’s About Time’. Percussion driven and ever so slightly weird, this deals with the problems of stardom in a contemporary, hard driven manner, copping a Latin jam that pushes the song towards a riveting climax. Probably the most far out item they’d recorded until that point.
Having hired new manager Jack Rieley to pull them into the fresh minted rock world the Beach Boys highly anticipated Surf’s Up arrived just as they were being taken seriously as a great American band, rather than a hit machine or Brian Wilson’s project. Of course that was nonsense but this album was a dramatic change. It included a lyric sheet for the first time and the album cover, depicting a dying Native American Indian, exerted a mystic allure.
The music inside reflected a changing social climate with the eco number ‘Don’t Go Near the Water’ bubbling along like smoke in a hookah. Carl’s ‘Long Promised Road’ and ‘Feel Flows’ are magnificently free form and Brian’s closing trilogy of ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’ (sung by Rieley) ‘Til I Die’ and the incomprehensible but enthralling title song push the Boys into places they’d never visited before. Having guested on a Grateful Dead concert the group, or were they now a band, began to reach the counter culture although Love’s acerbic ‘Student Demonstration Time’ wasn’t entirely on message.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘Disney Girls’ (1957). Bruce’s finest hour has become something of a standard but the original remains the benchmark. Decorated with moog bass, mandolin, flute and acoustic guitars it’s a lovingly realised and vivid snapshot of disappearing down home America. Brilliant. As is ‘Til I Die’ arguably the most poignant song in their entire canon.
Recorded in Baambrugge, Netherlands, using a studio built by Stephen Desper and shipped over to a Dutch tulip field, Holland was made without much initial assistance from Brian but with some inspirational performances from everyone else. The homesick Jardine and Love imagined themselves in Northern California, Steinbeck country, for their epic three-part ‘California Saga’ (Bruce added some harmonies when the tracks were mixed) but Dennis, Carl and Rieley enjoyed the trip and came over all nautical for ‘Steamboat’ and that classic, ‘The Trader’.
The South African boys were now fully fledged Boys with Blondie capable of staggering vocal power on the rocking, stomping ‘Funky Pretty’ and the most delicate touch on the moog driven ‘Leaving This Town’. Completing a sequence of his heart-rending ballads was Dennis’s ‘Only with You’. The charming bonus ‘Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale)’ pulled Brian back in to the project.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘Sail on Sailor’. Back in California Brian felt inspired to revisit this Van Dyke Parks number about a seafarer who can never find peace and finished a grand job with Ricky, Blondie and Carl. Often viewed as one of the group’s most enigmatic songs - that hasn’t stopped it being covered by everyone from Lulu and Ray Charles to KGB and Golden Earring.
Dig the cute innuendo of the album title. Amazingly Capitol questioned the ‘new direction’ of Today! And asked Brian to return to older values. His quizzical response was this beauty which cloaked apparently all-American sentiments inside an increasingly adventurous ‘Wall of Sound’, spending the longest time yet on his own productions, including a drastically improved Help Me, Ronda, the elaborate instrumental Summer Means New Love (precursor to Pet Sounds), his homage to Phil Spector – a brilliant cover of 'Then I Kissed Her' – and the piece de resistance, the godlike introduction to ‘California Girls’, which remains one of the most heart stopping moments in musical history and is his own favourite work.
Despite their apparent simplicity ‘Amusement Parks USA’ and ‘The Girl from New York City’ covered equally sophisticated ground, while the epic ‘Let Him Run Wild’ and Y’ou’re So Good To Me’ bore the stamp ‘Brian is here'.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’. Carl’s finest choirboy singing to date embellished this Brian song, which was written in the style of Ticket to Ride. This also marks Bruce Johnston’s arrival as an unaccredited band member. Note there are no backing vocals here. It’s a rarity indeed. A very lovely thing and far from a minor piece. Honourable mentions to ‘Let Him Run Wild’ along with ‘And Your Dreams Come True’.
The Beach Boys last album of the 1960s couldn’t have had a better title, referencing as it did perfect vision or clear sight. Very much a second phase recording, they touched on genres like country and hard rock but also revisited the euphoric styles of earlier days during ‘I Can Hear Music’, the folk blues ‘Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)’, another huge UK hit for Al Jardine fans and even slipped back to SMiLE to for the sumptuously elaborate Cabinessence, penned by Van Dyke Parks.
The opening chug of ‘Do It Again’ was classic Mike Love and Dennis and Carl stayed front of house throughout. 20/20 contains the controversial ‘Never Learn Not to Love’, a dark post-hippy collaboration between Dennis and a certain Charles Manson, though his ‘Be With Me’ was a less tempestuous affair and another pointer to his increasingly vital positioning as the Wagner of the group. Another surprise is Bruce Johnston’s instrumental, ‘The Nearest Faraway Place’ that sees him emerging from the shadows again. Brian’s ‘Time to Get Alone’ was originally intended for Three Dog Night, but the group insisted they keep it. Good thing.
Undiscovered Gems: ‘Bluebirds Over the Mountain’. Guitarist Ed Carter, soon to become a vital touring member, makes his appearance on this rocked up version of Ersel Hickey’s rockabilly romp, trading licks with Carl on a slithery number that also gives Bruce a chance to shine on the chorus.