Something Else! Featured Artist: The Beach Boys

As the Beach Boys prepare to celebrate their 50th anniversary with the Nov. 1 release of Smile Sessions, an updated version of the 1968 track “Do It Again” and a proposed world tour, we take a look back at some fun, fun, fun old favorites

GOOD VIBRATIONS (SMILEY SMILE, 1967): A statement that I’ve repeated many times: I was too young to appreciate the talent of Brian Wilson when I first encountered it. If you had asked me about the Beach Boys when I was in my teens, “Surfin’ U.S.A” would have been my response. And while I’m sure I’d heard a bunch of other tunes at that point, they were probably all lumped into my “Sort of fun but not loud enough” pile.

It would be nice if I remembered the exact album that was my gateway into more subtle listening but the truth is that it was probably a gradual process, with many records contributing. At some point in my 20s I spent a fair amount of time listening to the LP version of Endless Summer, finally discovering the pop music symphonies that Wilson and company had constructed. “Good Vibrations” has so many examples of Wilson’s genius that it seems like a Beach Boys primer in concentrated form. There are so many bits of sonic goodness, from the use of electro-theremin and cello to the layered and gorgeous vocal harmonies, to the bridge that ends on that one beautiful harmonized note.

It’s the kind of song I like to offer as a counterexample when somebody remarks that a tune is “just a pop song.” — Mark Saleski

FOREVER (SUNFLOWER, 1970): Maybe he was just a later bloomer than his brothers. Maybe it just took him a little longer to find his comfort zone. For whatever reason, Dennis was never really taken as seriously as his brothers until “Forever.”

The song has that laidback “California” vibe of much of the Beach Boys earlier material but it also has a soft tenderness that exposes Dennis as having a bit more to him than had been previously believed. As beautiful and brilliant as the song was it was a mere glimpse of what Dennis was capable of. His full talents not really coming into display until his solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue a few years later.

“Forever” was Dennis’s first “coming out” as a creative voice and creative force though. And it leaves me wondering how much of Dennis’s talents were overlooked to the detriment of the Beach Boys success in the seventies. — Perplexio, from DancingAboutArchitecture and The Review Revue

“SAIL ON SAILOR” (HOLLAND, 1973): This is the song where everyone who listened to rock music radio in the mid-seventies have heard it and generally liked it, but didn’t know at the time it was the Beach Boys. I had my discovery that it was them sometime in the late 1980s. Poor Mark? Didn’t know until mere weeks ago.

There’s a couple of reasons, I think, of what made “Sailor” a little atypical for a Beach Boys tune, even though Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks were the primary songwriters on it. It’s got that early seventies swampy sound that contrasts with the sunny pop of the prior decade, and a loping gait that was later used on bigger hits like Toto’s “Hold The Line” and Huey Lewis’ “If This Is It.” That little beat is the optimal head noddin’, steady rockin’ beat.

The other out-of-character feature of the song is that the lead vocalist is not Mike Love, or Al Jardine or Bruce Johnston or any of the Wilson Brothers. It’s then-member Blondie Chaplin, who also later had short stints with the Byrds, The Band and the Rolling Stones. For this tune, Carl Wilson thought that the ex-Flames vocalist was the best fit for the song and his soulful tenor does sound like the right fit. But the rich harmonies behind him, especially on the “sail on, sail on, sailor” chorus, deserves equal attention, if not more. Well, that part of the song, at least, is vintage Beach Boys. — S. Victor Aaron

CALIFORNIA GIRLS (SUMMER DAYS [AND SUMMER NIGHTS!!], 1965): The song that made this twelve year old boy one of the world’s greatest Beach Boys fans. When I heard the song for the first time all those years ago, I was astounded that five guys could come up with an arrangement so lush and full of sound. (It would be years later until I realized that none of the Beach Boys played a single note on the record, but unlike other outfits who didn’t play their own stuff in the studio, this group was different. The boys from Hawthorne, Calif., were still creating their own art in the studio because resident genius Brian Wilson was the boss, not some outside producer.)

The song opens with one of the more famous intros in rock. It’s a slow, dreamy, folky, melody that deceives the listener into believing he’s about to hear a tune from some far off fantasy land. Then suddenly the tempo picks up, keyboards and drums kick in, and Mike Love’s lead vocal takes us into traditional Beach Boys territory, the land with majestic five and six part harmonies (this was Bruce Johnston’s first Beach Boys session) that can’t help be anything but beautiful. As the main theme suddenly ends, Wilson uses bells as a transitional tool that leads us into a coda that features the entire group singing one of the most gorgeous vocal arrangements in rock history. The ending gave me chills when I heard it for the first time in the summer of 1965. I couldn’t wait to buy the record because I came to resent every DJ that would talk over the voices as the song faded.

In short, “California Girls” was everything that was great about The Beach Boys. — Charlie Ricci, from www.Bloggerhythms.com

IN MY ROOM (SURFER GIRL, 1963): Before Pet Sounds, most of the Beach Boys repertoire focused on girls, cars, and surfing. “In My Room” was one of their first stabs at something outside their traditional wheelhouse.

The vocal harmonies are tight, the lyrics are poignant and yearning. Largely the song was a glimpse of the musical brilliance that Brian Wilson was capable of that he hadn’t yet full exhibited to the listening public. Even to this day there are very few pop songs that match the haunting beauty of “In My Room.” — Perplexio

ADD SOME MUSIC TO YOUR DAY (SUNFLOWER, 1970): Of all the wonderful melodies and heavenly harmonies sung by the Beach Boys the little known “Add Some Music to Your Day,” from the just as unfamous LP Sunflower (1970), may be their greatest triumph ever.

In many ways “Music” is a typical Beach Boys song. It features a double-tracked Mike Love lead with the boys warbling right behind him doing what they always did better than everyone else. The tune’s lyrics are nothing deep, it’s just a simple love song to music itself, written by Love and Brian Wilson (long after he ceded control of the band). Its lightweight theme is enhanced by the melody and the heavyweights singing behind it. Because of their instinctive vocal abilities the group could take the most mundane, and often silly, compositions and send them into the stratosphere.

I once wrote that if The Beach Boys sang the phone book they would still be able to connect with their fans. I continue to believe that. When they worked with really good material, as they do here, the results are outstanding. This truly moving song only made it to No. 151 on the Billboard charts, a real travesty because it almost makes me cry every single time I hear it. — Charlie Ricci

I JUST WASN’T MADE FOR THESE TIMES (PET SOUNDS, 1966): I’ve heard people employ the heavy snark when talking about rock musicians who complain about their lives. The reality of these situations is that quite often they’re self-induced (read: drugs). In Brian Wilson’s case, it was a little bit of both.

“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” as part of Pet Sounds — Wilson’s reaction to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul — telegraphs the problems that Wilson would soon encounter. The nasty soup of drug use and mental problems threatened to end Wilson’s career, but before that darkness descended, Pet Sounds would change everything. — Mark Saleski

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