OK – like the last beach Boys album I commented on I already have this album on CD.
I sneak it in because I have just acquired the vinyl.
And what a piece of vinyl it is.
This is up there with the greatest of rock albums.
There is genius in the grooves.
The Beach Boys create a magnificently melancholy album about the state of the world, 1971.
I hate this but when people talk about The Beach Boys they inevitably talk about The Beatles. I suppose you have to because they were neck and neck until 1966 and The Beatles were (unintentionally and inadvertently) responsible the Beach Boys subsequent marginalisation.
But, money talks.
And, accordingly, The Beach Boys lost the race.
Also, equally devastating, they lost the “cultural capital” race.
The Beatles were hip, happening and looking forward. The Beach Boys stalled with the young-uns. They became the conservative, establishment has-beens. The newly emerging middle class rock criticism magazines (like Rolling Stone) could never fully forgive a former surf band and put the final nail in the Beach Boys cultural coffin when they sided with the Beatles.
Negative critical write ups, or worse, no write ups means sales decreased and ultimately your light isn’t going to shine if no one buys your records.
Sure, the records were rediscovered later, but who knows how the (music) world would have turned out if The Beach Boys post “Pet Sounds” had sold as much as The Beatles.
They should have.
The only thing that surprises is how quickly their audience turned on them.
I think they were being distracted by self-appointed and self-important cultural shamen.
The truth is that The Beatles were always playing catch up with The Beach Boys but after they discovered Bob Dylan and won the culture wars and, more importantly, the chart wars they (circa 1968) shifted gears. Through George Harrison, they became enamoured with the rustic experiments of The Band.
Maybe if they had lasted a few more albums they would have aped the gentle, haunting sounds of this Beach Boys album and its predecessors “Sunflower” (1970) and ”Friends” (1968).
Then again, maybe not. The Beatles always seemed to be interested in what the Beach Boys were doing musically but Lennon and McCartney really didn’t relate lyrically to Brian Wilson (or any of his lyricists) or his brothers or even Al Jardine or Mike Love for that matter. With a few exceptions Lennon and McCartney wrote love songs from year one up till the end whereas The Beach Boys did that and more. On this album they tackle civil unrest, ecology, the past, the future and various parts of the human anatomy.
Of the English musicians only Ray Davies was mining the same territory at that time.
These are observational songs about little things: trees, feet, jobs etc. The Beatles were all love songs or big picture ‘all you need is love” pronouncements. Admittedly they did it well but they weren’t, lyrically, on the same page as the Beach Boys.
As an aside I will say that Ray Davies must have been influenced by them. Cagey Ray always plays his cards close to his chest but the music the Kinks were making between 1968 – 1974 bears more of a resemblance to the Beach Boys (and coincidentally The Band) than it does to The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ray, who is bona fide genius, but I’m looking at his inspirations.
Every hipster doofus knows and praises the magnificent “Pet Sounds” (1966) and more often than not it seems the conversation (or at least the extent of praisers knowledge) ends there. But the Beach Boys were nothing if not prolific and that means some so-so material escaped with the gold but they did follow “Pet Sounds” with three albums that are equal to “Pet Sounds” (a big call, OK, almost equal): “Friends” (1968), “Sunflower” (1970), “Surf’s Up” (1971) and two that are a level below but nevertheless magnificent: “20/20” (1969) and “Wild Honey” (1967) and “Smiley Smile” (1967).
The average punter would be hard pressed to name a track on any of those albums after “Pet Sounds”. Still, seven great albums in five years, how many acts can say that?
This album isn’t always easily accessible and it certainly isn’t consistently commercial but there is the right mix of inspiration, musicality, inventiveness and plain weirdness that makes the album memorable.
Where the Beatles or the Stones ever this off the wall?
The Kinks were, and they suffered as well.
Brian Wilson isn’t the svengali on this album but he does ride shotgun, holding the album together. The Beach Boys trademark harmonies are there but they are gently stark creating a sense of foreboding that is palatable. If anything, when you listen to this album you get an idea of how the world was, circa 1970, and how people were reacting to those events.
The melancholy mood is accentuated by the fact that this is the Beach Boys and everything that name implies: fun, sun, surf, sex, is turned upside down. Here they are singing about civil unrest, pollution, unemployment, ageing and the loss of innocence.
The simple, evocative cover art is also most effective in putting over the mood.
The beauty is, despite the subject matter, the album rarely comes off as forced or pretentious. There are no solutions, pronouncements or sledge hammer stances. There are observations, concerns and a lot of insight.
For a band so identified with Californian hedonism their later more “thoughtful” music and particularly this album (combined with Brian’s avant-garde leanings) must have confused the fuck out of, and alienated, their audience.
Tracks (best in italics)
Don't Go Near the Water – (Mike Love/Al Jardine) – sung by: Mike Love/Al Jardine/Brian Wilson – an ecology lesson with some pop, psych and pre- hip hop(!) thrown in. Beautiful.
Long Promised Road – (Carl Wilson/Jack Rieley) – sung by: Carl Wilson- a gentle and beautiful song about hope (in the face of normal everyday obstacles).
Take a Load Off Your Feet -(Jardine/Brian Wilson/Gary Winfrey) – sung by: Brian Wilson/Jardine- a joy, a magnificent song about feet and, err life. (Ray Davies must have listened to this).
I do them when I'm down in the tub
With avocado cream they'll take a rub
They wrinkle like a-raisins if I stay too long
I wouldn't want to do it wrong
They'll put you in the driver's seat
And to the table when you want to eat
But when you go to sit down in your chair
Something else has got to put you there
Take good care of your feet, Pete
You better watch out what you eat, Pete
Better take care of your life
'Cause nobody else will
Disney Girls (1957) -(Bruce Johnston) – sung by: Bruce Johnston- by new Beach Boy, Bruce Johnston, this song is a gentle and starkly beautiful ode to loves past and a positive future
Student Demonstration Time – (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller/Mike Love) – sung by: Mike Love- This is a re-write of The Robins R&B hit (and The Coasters) "Riot In Cell Block Nine" which was originally written by Elvis regulars Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The Beach Boys had done the original live but Mike Love re-wrote the lyrics as a response to the Kent State Shootings in 1970 and other unfolding protest events. Weird but effective.
Feel Flows -(C. Wilson/Rieley) – sung by: C. Wilson-another great song. This one has an ethereal mesmerizing groove
Lookin' at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song) – (Jardine/Winfrey) – sung by: Jardine- the flipside to a lazy day in the sun …the narrator wants a job, doesn’t want aid and is positive in expectations. Odd, but, again, quite ethereal.
A Day in the Life of a Tree -(B. Wilson/Rieley) – sung by: Jack Rieley/Van Dyke Parks/Jardine- an ecological masterpiece. A narrative from the point of view of a tree.
'Til I Die -(B. Wilson) – sung by: C. Wilson/B. Wilson/Love- very heavy – death and what is the meaning of life.
Surf's Up -(B. Wilson/Van Dyke Parks) – sung by: C. Wilson/B. Wilson/Jardine- "Surf's Up" is a double entendre that suggests the early Beach Boys and their “the surf is up, let’s go surfing” songs as well as later disillusionment because those days are finished ….surf’s up.
Hung velvet overtaken me
Dim chandelier awaken me
To a song dissolved in the dawn
The music hall a costly bow
The music all is lost for now
To a muted trumpeter swan
Columnated ruins domino
Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping, Brother John?
I can’t adequately describe how good this album is …. I'm keeping it.
1971 Long Promised Road The Billboard Hot 100 #89
1971 Surf's Up The Billboard 200 #29
1971 Surf's Up #15
Don't Go Near the Water
Beach Boys – Don't Go Near The Water
Beach Boys – Surf's Up
Brian on drugs (talks abouth that is)
in relation to 'Til i Die – wikipedia: "After asking Brian how he came up with the chords, Don Was recalls that "he told me that he was sitting at a piano, creating geometric patterns with his fingers, trying not to move the fingers on the outside of the patterns, but limiting changes to internal movements. When he landed on a shape that both looked cool and sounded good, he wrote it down. So, essentially he created this masterpiece by contorting his fingers into really groovy shapes." However, Was goes on to say "I've absolutely no idea whether this story has any basis in truth or whether he was just making it up on the spot to entertain me."
Bruce Johnston on harmony and backing vocals was the 6th Beach Boy on this album (and had been since about 1965)