[Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beach Boys' landmark "Pet Sounds" album. Better late than never, then, here's a slightly rejiggered version of a Beach Boys piece I originally did here in '06, back when the world and this blog were young. I first wrote it as a comment in response to something NY Mary had written -- she was a bit puzzled that I rated the group so highly -- so it's a little rough around the edges. I stand by every word of it, however. Enjoy! -- S.S.]
I must confess I find it a little odd to be writing this -- the Beach Boys music is pretty much my lingua franca, and the idea that they need defending feels weird to me given how much I love them (although I understand your skepticism, at least in the abstract. After all, Mike Love is a humongous dick).
In any event, here's why I think they deserve respect from
mere mortals like you and me.
TEN REASONS THE BEACH BOYS ARE SELF-EVIDENTLY ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT AMERICAN BANDS OF THE SIXTIES. IF NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT.
1. They invented an instantly recognizable sound of their own,one that practically defines a genre. Very few rock artists can make that claim. (Chuck Berry with "Johnny B Goode", The Byrds with "Tambourine Man," the Ramones, and maybe U2). That alone should guarantee the Beach Boys immortality.
2. What Raymond Chandler did for California in prose the Beach Boys did in music. They reflected a place and a time and made a kind of poetry out of it. They were not fake.
3. Five part harmonies, astoundingly gorgeous. And Brian's conception -- mating progressive jazz voicings a la the Four Freshman with classic doo-wop -- was totally unique. Here's a 1965 live clip that proves the point -- and if this a capella version of the Freshman's "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" doesn't put a lump in your throat, you need to check your meds.
4. From their inception in the early 60s, they were pretty much the only self-contained rock band in America. Wrote all their own songs, produced their own records. Who else was doing that?
5. They were a kick-ass live act. If you doubt it, listen to "Beach Boys Concert," get a video of their closed-circuit show from '64, or find "The TAMI Show" video, in which -- performing on the same bill with the Stones, James Brown and most of the Motown acts, they tear the audience to shreds. Carl Wilson was a killer surf guitarist, and the rhythm section was as good as anybody in rock at the time.
Here's their British TV debut on Top of the Pops -- from 1964, totally live versions of "I Get Around" and "When I Grow Up."
6. Contrary to myth, they were not white bread at all. Carl and Dennis Wilson were as soulful singers in the r&b sense as anybody else working in the mid-Sixties. And that includes Stevie Winwood or Felix Cavliere.
7. The car and surf songs are actually quite brilliant. Who else ever conceived of writing love songs to a carburetor? And has any rock song ever conveyed as much sheer teenage elan as "Fun Fun Fun" or "I Get Around"?
8. Brian's best songs from the early period anticipate the confessional singer/songwriter LA genre. "Don't Worry Baby" may be as nakedly emotional and self-revealing as anything Joni Mitchell ever wrote. Ditto "Warmth of the Sun" or "In My Room" or "When I Grow Up."
9. The albums that preeceed the sainted "Pet Sounds" and "Smile" are masterpeices. "The Beach Boys Today," Brian's first real studio concept album, is a mind-boggler; "When I Grow Up" isn't even the best song on it (try "Don't Hurt My Little Sister" or the astounding Sinatra goes r&b of "The Back of My Mind" sung by Dennis). It's every bit as good as "Rubber Soul." in terms of consistency and melodic invention. The follow-up --"Summer Days and Summer Nights," of which "California Girls" is simply the icing on the cake, is even better -- it's every bit Brian's "Revolver." He never used the studio more impressively than "Let Him Run Wild" or emulated the Beatles with the riffy brilliance of "Girl Don't Tell Me."
10. The album that follows the sainted "Pet Sounds" and "Smile" is another masterpiece. "Wild Honey" is one of the handful of great white r&b albums of the period, and if you doubt it check out the title song or Carl's gorgeous reading of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her." And in it's back to basics way, it's very much of a piece with the Beatles "White Album."
I could go on about the Beach Boys early 70s output -- you could make a fabulous comp album with songs like "Marcella" (one of their best ever rockers), "This Whole World" (Brian's canniest pocket symphony), "All I Wanna Do"(the most glorious use of reverb in history), "Bluebirds Over the Mountain" (progressive rockabilly, if you can believe it), "Do It Again" and any number of others up through "Trader" on HOLLAND.
The decline after that was appalling, to be sure, but you get my point....the Beach Boys have a huge body of really transcendent work, and Brian wasn't the only big talent in the band.
Have I mentioned that Mike Love is a humongous dick?
[NYM replies: I have actually reconsidered my position in light of Steve's arguments. I expect my attitude was based on limited knowledge and access, plus coming up in the later, crazy Brian days. But I've listened more carefully now, and I see what Steve sees. Also, the fact that he did the Barenaked Ladies' "Brian Wilson" in concert tickles me no end and speaks to a healthy self-image and sense of humor.]