|The Beach Boys - Karen Theme Song|
Growing up on the West Coast in the 50's and 60's, it wasn't hard to get caught up in the excitement of the Beach Boys. They were singing about the things we did and the places we went to. Brian Wilson and his extended family brought the urban sound of Chuck Berry to those of us in the California suburbs. From the moment I heard them, I was smitten and became a rabid fan from that day on.
Living in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose had the distinct advantage of two record shops that were walking distance from our house. Stevens Music was where my dad took my older brother and myself to buy our first records. We must have badgered my folks who finally agreed to give us $5 to spend on some singles. My choice was Having A Wild Weekend by the Rockin' Rebels. I also remember buying a Dick And Dee Dee release and something by the Four Seasons.
Stevens Music was primarily an instrument shop, and the record section disappeared with the band explosion in the mid 60's. We still spent plenty of time there checking out the guitars and trying to pick up some pointers from the real musicians who frequented the shop.
Luckily for us we had a second and even better source for records just across the street. Mike Scarpelli had a small storefront next door to the Garden Theater. His family owned Campi's Music out west of down town at the Valley Fair Mall. Mike was the wild member of the family and a real record hound, so he'd been exiled to our neighborhood. As a result, we had a guy who might have been a few years older than us kids, but had the same enthusiasm for music that we did. He would gladly track down our obscure special orders, and he was famous for handing out promo material with every purchase. My brother's friend Jack had some marvelous stand up displays from the first couple of Beatles releases. I still have the Revolver poster that I was given by our local dealer.
In 1964, when the Beatles appeared on the scene, I was torn, being a Beach Boys fan. Of course I loved the Beatles too, but I didn't realize at the time you could like more than one band. I still remember looking at the rack full of Beatles albums and tell Mike Scarpelli "oh man, the Beatles are just a fad. The Beach Boys will be around forever." Mr. Scarpelli nodded in polite agreement.
With in a couple of years, it was the hard to find Yardbirds and Who singles that we were ordering. When I finally saw the Yardbirds live in the summer of '66, I knew I was hearing a new sound a million miles removed from the Beach Boys, and I took off in a different direction. But then Smiley Smile grabbed my by both ears and brought me squarely back to the Beach Boy fold. Jud Cost likes to remindme that the first time we met, I was buying an import copy of The Beach Boys Live In London. This was in the very early 70's when it was generally accepted that being a fan was very "uncool". At least one of my girl friends dismissed them as "a bunch of fat guys with beards".
Unfortunately all through the 70's and 80s most news about the Beach Boys wasn't good. There seemed to be a preoccupation with Brain's mental state than the music they were making. In the 90's the situation had turned around considerably. A new generation of music fans were investigating the music made in the years before they were born. The Beach Boys were effectively over as a creative entity, but they offered a huge catalog of music to the neophyte.
It would seem that for most people The Beach Boys begin and end with Pet Sounds. Then there was the Endless Summer compilation which reintroduced the Beach Boys to a new, younger audience when it was released in 1974. Endless Summer and the follow up Spirit Of America shifted more copies than any of the original releases, and cast the still creative band as an oldies act.
Now here in the 21st Century, much to everyone's surprise, we find Brian Wilson, back out on the road. For a life long Beach Boy fan, this dramatic change of fortune boggles the mind. I've watched with interest as a new audience had discovered the music of The Beach Boys.
For better or worse, the band's 1967 masterpiece, Pet Sounds has become the center of this new Beach Boy universe. There have now been five major PS reissues, beginning with the original remastered CD release in 1990. Since then there has been a box set devoted to the Pet Sounds Sessions, a stereo remix, a Brain Wilson led live album and now a DVD 5.1 Surround Mix. With all this attention to lavished on one album the rest of the Beach Boys sizable catalog has been overlooked, and in many ways misunderstood.
It's nearly impossible to grasp the fact that between November 1962 and May 1966, when Pet Sounds was released the Beach Boys had released a staggering eleven albums. To think that Pet Sounds was the first good album they made is a reckless assumption. Still, it's not surprising that many new fans find the albums that preceded Pet Sounds "corny" or "quaint".
Granted, Surfin' Safari gives little indication of what Brian Wilson was capable of. There are credible covers of Summertime Blues and the Gamblers' instrumental Moon Dawg. Of the nine Wilson-Love-Usher originals at least four are keepers. The ode to root beer, Chug-A-Lug has always been a favorite of mine, and apparently Brain as well. He had this one in mind as the follow up to Surfin'.
The song writing had improved considerably by the time Surfin" USA was released five months later. The title track leaps out of the speakers and sent countless kids on a search for the beach. The album is peppered with five rockin' instrumentals. The original Stoked would seem to have been theinspiration for the Rolling Stones B side, Stoned. Farmer's Daughter and The Lonely Sea are the stand out album tracks.
If Surfin' USA was a big improvement the two albums that followed in quick succession were another quantum leap. Surfer Girl is the first album of all original material. Brian and company manage to get "surf" into five of the titles. By this time the songs had become more sophisticated, yet still stuck close to the formula. The Surfer Moon, Hawaii, Catch A Wave, and In My Room all incorporate and expanded musical palette, with strings, and harp! Your Summer Dream is a real surprise with it's jazzy vocals. This is a direct link to future musical experiments.We were well aware that Brian was now listed as the producer and spent hours studying the arrangements and harmonies.
Little Deuce Coupe was an odd one. It was released only a month after Surfer Girl and reprises four previously released hot rod themed songs. The other eight tracks were recorded in one day. Despite the apparent rush job to ride a new craze, the album holds up well. How can you not love songs like Cherry Cherry Coup and Custom Machine. And Spirit Of America, a tribute to the land speed record holder, Craig Breedlove, classic.
On these first four records several Beach Boy signature sounds were established. If the instrumental break wasn't guitar is was probably a snazzy organ interlude or a blast of boogie woogie piano from Brian. The harmonies were there from the start, but the band had become more comfortable in the studio, and were now double tracking lead and background vocals.
After a generous three months off, the Boys were back in the studio at the beginning of 1964 to commence recording the first of a string of seven classic albums leading up to Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys first release of the year, Fun Fun Fun would be the last record they would release before the Beatles hit the American shores. If the band from Hawthorne was worried, it sure didn't show on the cover of Shut Down Volume 2. They look tough and full of confidence.
The next four studio albums would show Brian, the Beach Boys and their collaborators tapped into the minds of American teenagers like no one had since Chuck Berry. Shut Down Volume 2 keeps one foot in the past with a cover of Louie Louie, the title track, a rockin' instrumental, a fantastic cover of Why Do Fools Fall In Love and three of his best compositions ever: Don't Worry Baby, Warmth Of The Sun, and the lead off single Fun Fun Fun. If this didn't sum up every teens joy and angst, then try In The Parking Lot. A song that on the surface is simply about sitting in your car with a girl waiting for the final bell to ring before class starts. But it's surrounded with a musical arrangement that lifts this song into the realm of unbelievable. The first time I heard this, I just had to sit down, and reconsider everything I had ever thought a rock and roll song might be.
All Summer Long might be the perfect Beach Boys album. A flawless song cycle that was the sound track of our lives that year. Granted, I was only twelve at the time, didn't have a Honda, surf board, or a girl, but that didn't mean I couldn't be a part of it. There are so many musical inventions on this album. Again the albums opens with the latest single, the marvelous I Get Around. From there it's right into the title track. A lot of people have tried to write a "summer song" but nothing beats this little bit of heaven on earth. The quality never lets up. Little Honda could easily been the blueprint for the Who's I Can See For Miles. Wendy is one of the most mysterious songs to come from Brian Wilson. While the subject matter of the album is boy-girl, having fun and Rock And Roll, the music was unlike anything we'd ever heard before.
Collectors Note: Keep an eye out for an original album with the prophetic "Don't Break Down" misprint on the front cover.
What could possible follow up such a great record. Well in the case of the Beach Boys, an even better one. But first there was the live interlude Beach Boys Concert. It's not easy to dismiss this one. It's a very accurate representation of a Beach Boys live show from this era. I saw them two months after it's release, and saw essentially the same show with the addition of several songs from the as yet unreleased Today album.
There was also the Christmas Album, which included a handful of original holiday songs. Little St Nick, Santa's Beard and The Man With All The Toys should not be over look because of their Christmas theme. The original album was expanded for cd release in the early 90's. It saw a second cd release as Ultimate Christmas. This 1998 release added eight songs from an abandon 1977 Christmas album for Warner Brothers.
It's a shame this second holiday album wasn't released at the time. But then considering the state of their career in the 70's it doesn't seem like it would have sold any better than their much heralded proper releases. Child Of Winter had snuck out on 45 a couple of years earlier, becoming an instant collector item.
So after the perfect wave of All Summer Long's sun and fun what next? On the verge of his retirement from touring, Brian goes straight to the head and heart. The albums kicks off with a rousing cover of Do You Wanna Dance with Denny handling the lead vocals. When I Grow Up To Be A Man is the first hint that Brain has been thinking about more than the beach and his car. Things get even more personal with Please Let Me Wonder. Contrary to David Leaf's CD liner notes, these new topics hardly put me off at the time. I found the reflective lyrics to be a revelation. Today is capped off with a song so atypical of rock at the time, In The Back Of My Mind. I could easily connect this to the sophisticated music of Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra that I'd grown up hearing. Except it was coming from a band that was playing to us, not my parents. After this record, I expected all rock music to show a bit of intelligence.
An out take from the sessions for this album was given to their friend and temporary touring member, Glen Campbell. Guess I'm Dumb would have easily fit into the theme of Today, but maybe it was a little to close to the real emotion for Brian to sing it.
There are some who cite this as the best Beach Boys album, ever. I'd be glad to chair that committee.
It seems that some of the powers weren't so sure. The follow up, Summer Days And Summer Nights seemed like an attempt to recapture the less demanding thoughts of All Summer Long. This isn't a criticism, as the album is the perfect companion to the previous release. Again the music is challenging, full of key changes and detailed production treats. With out a doubt, the introduction to California Girls is one of the greatest moments in popular music. Girl Don't Tell me has emerged as one of the other highlights of this last step towards Pet Sounds. On this track the band cut the song without the help the the Wrecking Crew, and do the Beatles one better.
Why then after such a stunning string of albums full of ground breaking original material and arrangements did the Beach Boys drop one of most unnecessary albums, Beach Boys Party on those of us looking for the next bit of genius? I don't know, but when the anticipated new album appeared, it wasn't what I was waiting for. I was more than a little disappointed. By the time Pet Sounds arrived a few months later, my attention had been grabbed by the new sounds happening all around, and I didn't rush out to buy it the day it was released as I had in the past.
Released at the same time, November 1965, the proper studio track She's Not The Little Girl I Once Knew was released as a single. It sank with out a trace, and was nearly impossible to find until it's appearance as a bonus track on the Today/Summer Days cd. The odd structure of the song, with the long rests (big chunks of silence) scared some radio programmers. This was the first Brian Wilson flop in a couple of years, and the song was quickly forgotten. Too bad, asit has a certain charm and quirkiness that holds up forty years on.
Just because I didn't run out and buy Pet Sounds in May of 1966, it didn't stop it from selling well. The preview single, Sloop John B, added on Al Jardine's suggestion, was a smash hit, and kept the Beach Boys in the public eye. So much has been said about it, and by this time, everyone has a strong opinion. Looking at it now, I think it is Brain's masterpiece. It also is an anomaly in the Beach Boys catalog in the same way the album it prompted Paul McCartney to record, Sgt Peppers, is unique in the Beatles song book. After writing most of the lyrics of the previous two studio albums, Brian has handed most of that responsibility to Tony Asher. The music was completely Brain's creation, with no input from the band, who were on tour at the time the tracks were recorded.
So much has been said about this album in the last few years, that everyone must know about this one. Well how is it? In a word, perfect. It's Brian Wilson's ultimate statement of his post-Phil Spector pop.
Despite a hit single, and coming off the smash, Barbara Ann, Pet Sounds wasn't the big break though it should have been. Quite simply, this was released at the height of the Beatles popularity, and in the US it was a fickle audience. By contrast, it was well received in the UK., where the Beach Boys were given proper recognition. With in a couple of years, Pet Sounds was out of print.
As you know all too well things became even more complicated with the plans for the follow up, Smile. Me, I loved Good Vibrations, which was released only a few months after Pet Sounds. Heroes And Villains was even better. The album that followed was't what was promised, but I find it hard to criticize. In fact I find it to be a most amazing album. Yes, I've heard loads of out takes, both legitimate and otherwise. They are all very good. Some are amazing, but Brian wasn't able to make a coherent album from all the fragments. I'm afraid too many people were caught up in Brian's vision, and when he crashed the magic fell apart, and no one involved could possibly have a impartial view of the situation.
Several of the original Smile songs surfaced on later Beach Boys albums and the Good Vibrations box set dishes up a handful of previously unreleased tracks. More about this fantastic box set in part two.
Since this this article was written, the impossible had become a reality in the form of Brain Wilson Presents SMiLE. The most amazing thing about this modern recreation is how close to completion the Beach Boys version was. To be honest, the Beach Boys versions, even in their incomplete form beat this new version by a nose. Nothing can match the layered voices of the Beach Boys, and the analog organic sounds of the original sessions is hard to beat.
It's clear that Brian Wilson had composed something much more than a new album, this is modern American classical music.
To my ears Smiley Smile is not a grand failure, or a pale shadow of what it could have been, it's simply the most honest album I've ever heard. Other than the single versions of Heroes And Villains and Good Vibrations, the other four Smile songs are new and much different versions. Wonderful and Wind Chimes are transformed from the original complex arrangements to dreamy vocal and keyboard soundscapes. She's Going Bald revisits the Smile theme usually referred to as He Gives Speaches. While many, including the Beach Boys themselves, would disagree, I rate this one as one of their best. This album is also a template for much of the music Brain would do in the future.
The CD reissue adds an extended version of Heroes And Villians, and some ofthe progesss tapes from the many Good Vibrations studio sessions. It's clear that Brain had a head full of ideas, and was recording them all, then fitting the pieces together.
While it may have spelt an end to the Beach Boys as the premier American band, it hardly stopped them from making music. The good news was that Carl Wilson stepped up to fill the void left by the retreat of Brain. Dennis also became an important song writer. The band found a new sound that fit in perfectly with the times, if not anticipating the coming trend of "getting back to our roots". The three albums from this period late 1967- though the release of 20/20 in early 1969 saw the Beach Boys find a new way of presenting their music. With out the pressure to produce three albums a year, and a diminishing audience in the US, they were set free from the forces that drove them to try to top themselves and reach for the impossible. Wild Honey, Friends, and 20/20 are all great records. These three albums also represent a distinct third phase of their career at Capitol.
My brother and I had a band mate who was quick to take up the new sound of the Beach Boys, and would play Wild Honey and the successive releases non stop every time we would gather at his house to listen to records and admire his collection of vintage TV Guide (we would look up to see what bands had been on TV shows like Shindig) and Uncle Scrooge comics.
If Brain had "come apart" during the Smile Sessions, there is little sign that it had effected his prolific song writing, in fact he's credited on all but two of Wild Honey's eleven tracks.The big change is that rather than a collection of tracks recorded by Brian and session men, this one was done by the band at Brain's home studio. A lot of the Smiley Smile production style is present here. The fresh crop of new songs seem like a breath of fresh air after the complexities of Smile and the oozing desperation of Smiley Smile.
The title tracks seems to pick up where Good Vibrations left off. The other stand out track would have to be Darlin'. The album's closing track Mama Says is actually a bit of Smile version of Vegetables, The cover of Stevie Wonder's I Was Made To Love Her is a small surprise and lends to the R&B feel of the album. A clever choice.
Friends is an understated effort. If Wild Honey was an attempt to show the band was back on track after the Smile affair, Friends is possibly the most organic Beach Boy album. It was also one of their "least heard". Too bad, as it's a real treat. Friends, Be There In The Morning, Little Bird, and Busy Doing Nothing are all as good as anything the Beach Boys have ever done.
It was the underground press, Paul Williams's original Crawdaddy, that continued to champion the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. In recent years these three albums have been recognized as and important turning point in the musical career of the Beach Boys. At the time they were lost in the crush of the guitar dominated late 60's. The Beach Boys relative lack of success was equaled only by the Byrds through this period. Great records, moving beyond their commercially successful sounds, totally ignored by the masses.
20/20 would be the Beach Boy's last album for Capitol. It's a collection of covers recorded for singles, and two more Smile tracks and several new songs. Of the singles released during this period only Do It Again, released in the summer of '68 showed any commercial promise. It made an awful year a little easier to survive. I suppose it's the nature of this release, but there are no new Brian Wilson compositions here. Besides the two smile compositions, I Went To Sleep is a left over from Friends, and Time To Get Alone was intended for Danny Hutton's band Redwood.
Denny steps up with two songs, Be With Me the better of two. Bruce Johnston also contributed, producing two songs.
Despite the odds and sods nature of this album, 20/20 holds up remarkably well. The current Capitol 2-fer release adds the wonderful flop 45 Break Away w/w Celebrate The News.
Before we close the book on the Capitol Years there is one more album in the catalog that is even more baffling than Party. That would be Stack-O-Tracks. Released in August 1968, this album was a collection of Beach Boy's backing tracks, sans vocals. The idea was the listener was meant to gather together his own brothers, cousins and friends to sing along with these instrumental versions. An odd concept indeed. It hardly sold, and became a collectors item a few years down the line. The thing is, it's a great listen. It makes it clear how important the vocals were to the complete arrangement. Not just a vehicle for lyrics but an important musical element. With out vocals it came become a test to identify which tune you're hearing.
end of part one.... part two, Warner Brothers And Beyond can be found here.