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.
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 …
“A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A TREE,” (SURF’S UP, 1971):
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.
“HERE COMES THE NIGHT [DISCO MIX],” (L.A.: LIGHT ALBUM, 1979):
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.’]
“SUMMER OF LOVE,” (SUMMER IN PARADISE, 1992):
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.]
SMART GIRLS, (SWEET INSANITY, 1991):
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.]
“BUSY DOIN’ NOTHIN,'” (FRIENDS, 1968):
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.