Gimme Five: Songs where the Beach Boys, well, sucked

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The Beach Boys have been showered with accolades since belatedly reuniting again with Brian Wilson, the results of which became their first original full-length album in decades. Still, there were plenty of reasons to believe that the resulting 2012 project, the very charming That’s Why God Made The Radio, might disappoint — rather than become their highest charting effort since 1963.

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Beginning with the band’s foundering efforts to complete SMiLE in the late 1960s, Wilson and Co. have (let’s face it) raised expectations almost as many times as they have dashed our hopes — sometimes with truly catastrophic aftermaths. From rap songs to creepy come ons from Mike Love, from disco mixes to songs that were Seinfeldian in their commitment to being about absolutely nothing, the Beach Boys have — again, let’s face it — often charted a roadmap to disappointment.

Here are five of our least favorite moments along the way …

No. 5

Brian Wilson, and his band, were in free fall — as evidenced, right off the bat, by the fact that this album used as its title track a leftover song from the aborted SMiLE project of five years before. Of course, their cobbled-together version of the tune “Surf’s Up” actually ended up emerging as a minor gem. The same can’t be said for this song (about, you know, a tree), which included howlingly off-key vocals from co-writer Jack Rieley — reportedly because “no one would sing it.” There was also a competing story that Rieley, then serving as the band’s manager, was chosen because his vocals were the most “tree-like.” Heck, even longtime collaborator Van Dyke Parks sounds out of sync when he joins in the proceedings toward the end. I’m guessing, because he doesn’t understand what’s transpiring here anymore than we do.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Who would have guessed, after decades of awful public squabbling, that the battling Beach Boys would return at all — must less in perfect harmony?]

No. 4

Originally included on the Beach Boys’ underrated 1967 R&B-flavored release Wild Honey, “Here Comes the Night” was given a glammed-up, staggeringly long remix some 12 years later — with disastrous results. How long, you may be wondering? 11 minutes! You have to feel for the poor bastards, trapped on dance floors all over. Of course, the Beach Boys weren’t the only ones to reformulate their sound in answer to the then-raging disco craze. Rod Stewart (“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”), the Rolling Stones (“Miss You”), Paul McCartney (“Goodnight Tonight”), hell, even Frank Sinatra (with a gold-chained remix of “Night and Day”) all cashed in. Same here: This song — no kidding — went to No. 44 in America and No. 37 in the UK. They must have had some damned good coke back then.

[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: As the Beach Boys prepared to reunite, we took a look back at some fun, fun, fun favorites — including tracks from ‘Pet Sounds,’ ‘Holland,’ ‘Smiley Smile’ and ‘Sunflower.’]

No. 3

A track that started out, and this says something, as a scrapped duet with Bart Simpson for an animated movie. It actually got worse, as the then-Mike Love-led edition of the band pasted on electronics, a quasi-hip hop beat, and another heaping helping of Love’s past-his-prime pervy asides. Oh, and there’s also Brian Wilson (who didn’t participate in the album) bizarrely dressed in a black leather jacket for the beach-themed accompanying video. Perhaps charitably described in The Complete Guide to the Music of The Beach Boys as “the absolute nadir of their recording career,” Summer in Paradise was wisely ignored when Capitol Records began its massive Beach Boys reissue campaign in 2000-01.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The new Beach Boys book ‘Fifty Sides’ explores more than four dozen hits and hidden gems, infusing them with commentary from collaborators, fellow musicians, and famous fans.]

No. 2

The lead single for a never-released Brian Wilson solo project, “Smart Girls” was actually sent out to radio stations before somebody, somewhere thought better of things. After all, it’s a wackadoo disaster featuring Brian Wilson (yes, Brian Wilson) rapping. Sample lyric: “My name is Brian and I’m the man. I write hit songs with the wave of my hand — songs you dance to, and songs of joy, because I’m the original Beach Boy.” This utterly wrongheaded track, produced by Matt Dike (Beastie Boys, Tone Loc, Insane Clown Posse), actually makes 1987’s laughable collaboration with the Fat Boys on a remake of “Wipe Out” seem like a better idea. The only reason it’s not No. 1 here is because it was, technically, unissued.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Despite a newly recorded version of ‘SMiLE’ from Brian Wilson, no one could have expected what depth and quality the Beach Boys’ 2011 ‘SMiLE Sessions’ would bring to the table.]

No. 1

Consider this: The second verse of this brain-meltingly banal cut is nothing more than the directions to Brian Wilson’s house: “Next, you’ll turn left on a little road; it’s a bumpy one.” No kidding. That’s high art, however, compared to the subsequent stanza — as Brian struggles to remember a phone number. If you’ve ever wondered what a rendition of scribblings from your stoner ex-college roommate might have sounded like in the hands of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, this is it. Appropriately named, “Busy Doin’ Nothin'” is the sound of a creative genius running completely, utterly, disastrously out of gas — right down to the engine’s last sad gasping shudder. Wilson would subsequently cede creative control of the Beach Boys through 1976. Songs like this, in retrospect, make that sound like a very good idea.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on the Beach Boys. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

BEACH BOYS – THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO (2012): Who would have guessed, after decades of awful public squabbling, that the battling Beach Boys would return at all — must less in perfect harmony? The first new album in forever to feature founders Al Jardine, Mike Love and Brian Wilson, along with legacy members David Marks and Bruce Johnston, is highlighted by stirring finale suite of songs, very much in the style and substance of Pet Sounds and SMiLE. If some — or, maybe all – of it feels steeps on sun-drenched nostalgia, well, that’s also part of the magic of their return. After all, Wilson was waxing poetic about things like transistor radios, beach bunnies and hot rods back when they were all shiny and brand new.

‘FIFTY SIDES’ SHEDS NEW LIGHT ON BEACH BOYS LEGEND: Coinciding with a rewarding ne album from founding or former bandmates Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, and coming close to doing full justice — your subjectivity may vary too, after all — journalist Mark Dillon has engineered, in what must of been a labor of love, a page-turning heaven in Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story. Garnering more than four dozen hits and hidden gems and infusing them with exclusive commentary by an array of collaborators, fellow musicians, and famous fans (from Al Kooper to Zooey Deschanel, the simplicity of “Surfin’” to the artistry of “Surf’s Up”) this treasure trove runs the golden anniversary gamut from giddy fun, fun, fun to a sense of misty melancholy — signature sounds still of the once-troubled but reemergent guiding light Brian Wilson.

THE BEACH BOYS – THE SMILE SESSIONS (2011): Wilson’s long-awaited mythical masterpiece was issued in expanded form as The SMiLE Sessions, nearly 45 years after its conception. Be warned, though: While the original album has been referred to as the Beach Boys’ Holy Grail, this massive collection of studio recordings will probably be more well received by musicians and the serious music fan. Novice passersby need not apply. That said, despite the newly recorded version of this project released by Wilson in 2004, no one could have expected what depth and quality Sessions would bring to the table.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: THE BEACH BOYS: As the Beach Boys prepared to celebrate their 50th anniversary with the 2011 release of The SMiLE Sessions, an updated version of the 1968 track “Do It Again” and a proposed world tour, we took a look back at some fun, fun, fun old favorites — including tracks from Surfer Girl, Pet Sounds, Holland, Smiley Smile and Sunflower.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • Mark Saleski

    where’s “Kokomo”??!!!!!!

    • Nick DeRiso

      Summer of Love is so, so — so — much worse than Kokomo. Summer of Love makes Kokomo sounds like Good Vibrations.

  • L. Franz

    The Beach Boys have certainly produced some very poor songs over the years, but it should be noted that your inclusion of A Day in the Life of a Tree and Busy Doin’ Nothin’ in your short list might be considered a little idiosyncratic.

    I think most critics and fans consider Busy Doin’ Nothin’ to be a classic — in fact, I can’t remember anyone ever saying anything bad about it before you did.

    No doubt there is less consensus about A Day in the Life of a Tree, but many of us love that song. Regardless of the oddness of the vocals, the fade alone is extraordinarily beautiful.

    Aesthetics isn’t a matter of majority rule, of course, but I think it’s worth pointing out that those two songs have many, many staunch defenders.

    • Nick DeRiso

      I’m someone who deeply loves Brian Wilson’s greatest moments — and that standard-raising work only makes me more annoyed by the bossa nova-infused insult to his own songwriting gift that is “Busy Doin’ Nothin.'” And I’m certainly not the only one. Here’s LA Weekly writer Chaz Kangas, who ranked the track as the No. 2 all-time dopiest Beach Boys song: “Hey Brian, if you’re that bored, maybe go to the beach?” (

      • L. Franz

        Well, that makes two of you!

        • S. Victor Aaron

          I just noticed that more than one other person agrees with your opinion. You win!

  • Phil Miglioratti

    L. Franz is correct – Tree and Busy are two far-from-the-surf songs that Beach Boys fans (maybe fanatics is the more accurate category) love. They reveal the inner mind of Brian Wilson, making us thin that we are closer to him than we really are.

    Listen to each tune as if someone you care about was telling you these thoughts across a cup of coffee …

    • Perplexio

      My musings over a pitcher or two of beer would make a pretty fun song. Brian Wilson’s musings over a cup of coffee could really be either brilliant or really really scary bad.

      Beauty is in the ears of the beholder methinks.

  • Side3

    I love “Busy Doin’ Nothing” it features a great vocal from Brian, and some interesting lyrics. I believe the lyrics actually give the directions to Brian’s house!

    I take it the writer has never heard ” Hey Little Tomboy”? Super creepy!

    • Nick DeRiso

      “Hey Little Tomboy” would certainly find a home if I expanded this to a Gimme Ten list of Beach Boys regrettables. Super creepy, indeed.

  • TedN

    Just like to point out that there were at least 4 versions of the disco “Here Comes The Night”. The version which became a minor hit was a “45” single edit and was definitely not 11 minutes long. More like 4 minutes maybe. There was also a 12″ single which had a different (but still very long) edit for actual discos as well as an “instrumental” (ie: backing track only) version on the flipside.

    Also, “Summer In Paradise” is not completely without its virtues. “Strange Things Happen”, for instance.

    • Nick DeRiso

      That there are four versions of that song probably means I have to move it up a slot on my list. That makes it so very, very much worse.

  • DF

    I find your inclusion of “Busy Doin’ Nothin'” in a list of poor BB songs to be bizarre. It is possible for a song, or a lyric, to signify more than one thing at a time. You don’t seem to get Brian Wilson’s sense of humor, which is abundant in this song, nor the simultaneous sadness of the lyric (it’s telling that this is the only song on one of the BB’s finest albums that BW wrote the lyrics alone. Through the irony, it’s a mirror into the sad life that BW was living then.

  • Brian

    I mostly agree with your list, although, like many fans, I adore “Busy Doing Nothin’.” It’s the kind of song I imagine on a late-1960s Brian solo album, and I mean that in a flattering way. Most people hate M.I.U. Album, but I’m a staunch defender. After that, though, the Boys fall off a cliff. “Good Timin'” on L.A. is tolerable at best, and “Goin’ South” might be the most boring song ever to come from a band known for innovation. The ideas were gone in Keepin’ The Summer Alive; at least the 1985 album had a couple of OK tracks.

    It’s telling that “Summer of Love” is basically a rewrite of “Monster Mash.” One is intentionally funny; the other is cringe-funny.

    • Nick DeRiso

      Actually never noticed that about Summer of Love before, Brian. Now, of course, it makes perfect sense. Guess I’ve always been too busy projectile vomiting.

  • whut

    Heh fun how different opinions can be. I saw “A Day In the Life of a Tree” and gave out a “wtf?” then saw busy doin nothin and said “WAIT WTF”.

    man those are like two of my favorites beach boys tracks. especially when it comes to deep tracks. And i am a supreme disliker of anything post 1976.

    • Nick DeRiso

      It is, to be sure, just one man’s opinion. One man who can not stand either one of those songs. Maybe some day, when I’m feeling like another round of self-abuse, I’ll ignore the band’s many, many transcendent moments for another crash landing into the likes of California Calling, Student Demonstration Time, That Same Song, California Saga, Ding Dang, Still Cruisin — and, by popular demand, Kokomo.

      • Paul

        You’ve got to be kidding with Busy Doin Nothin. You’ve got to be joking. You’re not, I know. But wow. What a misfire on the number one slot. You even acknowledge something like Student Demonstration Time and pass over it – bizarre.

  • John

    Dear God! I Never thought the beach boys could be THIS bad. Every song mentioned is like that really ugly chick that makes you think that the amount of alcohol required to sleep with her would be a fatal dose! How did you listen to this stuff w/o the use of heavy doses of psychedelics, and do you think we could please get them to stop recording?

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I’m glad you squeezed in an aside for “Ding Dang,” which — for a collaboration by Brian and Roger McGuinn — is at least the most disappointing song the Beach Boys recorded.

  • John

    I can’t believe these guys thought they were in competition with The Beatles…sorry fellas, wrong league!

  • Peter

    Busy Doin’ Nothin has no place on this list, let alone being number 1. One of the best songs off of “Friends.”

  • I love Friends. It’s definitely one of their under-rated classics and “Busy Doin’ Nothing” from that LP is one of my favorites on it. The rest I would have put on my list too.