With the endless summer again upon us, I hearby take it upon myself to compile a Consumers Guide of sorts to the sort of sounds every discriminating listener, both old and new, should first consider when diving into the vast, sonically daunting Brian Wilson audio catalog.
In other words, in strictly chronological order that is, It’s
GARY PIG GOLD’s ALL-TIME FAVORITE BEACH BOYS SONGS:
A wet, wild and totally wonderful Call To Arms for the barefooted legions of West Coast beach trash, both real and imagined: This is one of the band’s first, and best, signposts towards the fabled, mythical Land of California (“Four Seasons, you BETTER believe it!”)
The Warmth Of The Sun (1964)
A rich, evocative B. Wilson melody swirling beneath lyrics of loss, pain and remorse (composed in the wake of the John F. Kennedy assassination): One of an absolute wealth of Beach Boy recordings which continue to grow and mature ever so gracefully with age.
I Get Around b/w Don’t Worry Baby (1964 single)
This was the very first Beach Boys record I ever owned: Not a bad way to start off one’s collection, no?
Good To My Baby (1965)
Their initial album of 1965, The Beach Boys Today, is rightfully recognized as the beginning of the band’s most creative period (no doubt due to the fact that Big Brother Bri had just retired himself from touring). This all-but-lost rocker finds the band scaling Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound brick-for-sonic-brick, with more than compelling results. Turn the clock Back To Mono, I say!
I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man (1965)
Tacked, as if by mere afterthought, onto the end of the Boys’ Summer Days album, this exercise in barbershop-quintet-from-hell vocalizing takes on all sorts of new, ominously macabre undercurrents in light of Father Murry Wilson’s ball-busting child-rearing practices.
The Little Girl I Once Knew (1965)
Capitol Records, and no doubt at least three actual Beach Boys, flew into an absolute panic when this eccentric “Little Girl” failed to hit the Top Ten in the autumn of ’65. Solution? Throw out the Beach Boys’ Party! version of “Barbara Ann” as a quickie-as-possible follow-up. Result? One of the band’s biggest international hits ever (Sheesh… go figure!) proving, I do suppose, that the dreaded Dumbing WAY Down of the B.Boys’ (mass) audience began long, long before “Kokomo” first put them on Cruise control.
PET SOUNDS (1966 album)
You mean you DON’T have your copy yet?!!
Good Vibrations (1966)
What is really left to be said about this, one of the greatest recordings of all time? Proof of its durability: The “Good Vibes” have duly survived countless subliminal appearances on radio, on TV, and now online hawking soda pop, cupcakes and low-fat butter substitutes. But somehow still, this song continues to ring out strong, bold and true. They simply do NOT make records like this anymore.
Heroes And Villains (1967)
As the intended cornerstone of The Great Lost SMiLE Album (not to mention follow-up single to the aforementioned “Vibrations”), this poor disc could never even attempt to live up to its utterly undue expectations. But listened to today, it reveals itself to be one of the most subtly clever inventions the Boys ever concocted. (Also highly recommended is the 1973 live recording off the Beach Boys In Concert album).
Had the SMiLE album actually managed to come out a half year before Sgt. Pepper, this is but one of a dozen examples therein proving The Beach Boys were easily, musically and vocally, light-years ahead of all other players then on the field (and that includes Messrs. Lennon and McCartney). The melody of this song in particular is absolutely without precedent in the annals of (pop) music history.
Busy Doin’ Nothin’ (1968)
More often than not, Beach Boys lyrics mean – and say – much, much more beneath the surface than mere sun, fun and surf: Listen closely to this gem, for example, and you’ll hear actual driving directions to Brian Wilson’s late-Sixties Bel Air pad!
Do It Again (1968)
The Beached Boys needed a hit – BAD – during this low-point in their career (can you believe a concert in New York City drew only 200 paying customers that summer?!!) So Mike Love took a trip back to the beach, Brian discovered a great new drum-loop effect (several decades before the sampling scourge), and Voila! A Top 20 Triumph circa “Tip Toe Through The Tulips” !
Break Away (1969)
Metaphorically sending a message to their ex-employers, the Boys ended their initial contract with Capitol Records with this stunning if seldom-heard single (with lyrics purportedly by parental unit Murry!) Soon afterwards Mike Love (not war) sent a similar rabble-rousing message of support to anti-Commie Alexander Dubcek during a performance in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
I Can Hear Music (1969)
When Carl Wilson became the second Beach Boy to forever drift away in 1998, the band was dealt a crippling blow from which it never fully recovered. “I Can Hear Music” was, unbelievably, the youngest Wilson’s very first attempt at record production, and somehow, someway, he deftly made this original Ronettes number practically his own. Ahh, my… Rest in peace, sweet young Carl.
Surf’s Up (1971)
Casting about for a fresh lyrical collaborator in the wake of Pet Sounds, Brian turned to Hollywood boy wonder Van Dyke Parks, and this landmark composition was supposedly the result of their very first night’s work together. An auspicious beginning to say the least, and one of the truly great Beach Boy creations.
Til I Die (1971)
True, Brian may have gone into hiding for a few years ’way back when, but he’d never fail to regularly send out little phonographic “messages” to his fans the world over. This message however, snuck onto vinyl Side Two of the Surf’s Up album, sounded like nothing short of a musical suicide note. Powerful, disturbing… and uniquely magical, as only Brian Wilson can be.
In one of the band’s greatest (of several dozen) marketing disasters, their Carl and the Passions: So Tough album was first released as a two-record set, packaged alongside the first-ever Pet Sounds re-issue. Of course, So Tough was made to sound all the more wobbly when placed next to their 1966 masterpiece: nevertheless, its truest redeeming factor was “Marcella,” a stirring, zither-driven stomper originally composed by Brian in honor of one of his favorite Sunset Strip masseuses. No, really!
Mt. Vernon & Fairway (1973)
When The Beach Boys decided to relocate to the Netherlands for a year in order to write and record their Holland album, Brian was of course hijacked from his room and (speaking of disasters) forced to come along. Naturally out of sorts, wiped on apple sap and wallowing in Randy Newman’s Sail Away, Brian composed a marvelous suite of tunes which, slyly disguised as a children’s fairy tale, told the sad, and sadly autobiographical story of a man abandoned by his muse. Cut from the final album’s line-up by forces untold (all you need is Love), it was eventually pressed up onto seven-inch EP’s and included with the album’s first pressings. Needless to say, it shuts every other sound on the Dutch debacle down …WAY down.
It’s OK (1976)
This snap-happy little-single-that-couldn’t was supposed to provide the band with their first (self-composed) hit in a decade, and was even the theme song of their legendary Summer of ’76, Saturday Night Live-produced television special (wherein Officers Aykroyd and Belushi hauled a bathrobe-clad Brian out of bed and into the cold, cruel waters of the nearby Pacific). Of course, this first of several ill-fated “Brian is Back!” P.R. campaigns backfired severely, but this song remains one of the Boys’ coolest ever records: Grab some headphones and start picking it apart vocally sometime for some REAL fun!
Morning Christmas (1977)
The late, very very great Dennis Wilson has gotten criminally short shift insofar as musical appreciation is concerned: This beauty (originally from the band’s unreleased Merry Christmas album), along with such other wonders as “Fourth of July,” “Slip On Through” and “Be Still,” so obviously reveal a tunesmith as inventive as Brian himself, yet with a heart perhaps even more fragile. Dennis, truth be told, embodied the very persona of “Beach Boy,” both physically and emotionally, and as such it was perhaps fitting he finally succumbed to the sea mere miles from the Wilsons’ Hawthorne, California homestead – a childhood house where, it seemed a million years earlier, this entire magnificent story-in-song had begun.