Tuesday, May 17, 2016

When I Grow Up

[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.


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.]


Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments re: the Beach Boys.

Another album I love by the group is FRIENDS (from 1968) - a brief, gentle, understated record that I've probably actually played more over the years than PET SOUNDS.

I also really enjoy some of the contributions that Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar made in the early 1970s when they joined the group - "HERE SHE COMES" and "LEAVIN' THIS TOWN" are two of my favorite songs EVER by the Beach Boys, and Blondie's lead vocal is just another thing that makes "SAIL ON SAILOR" one of the greatest Beach Boys singles ever (hell, one of the greatest singles ever by anybody, period).

If you haven't done so already, Steve, you should post "GUESS I"M DUMB", the gorgeous single that Brian Wilson produced for Glen Campbell in 1965. It did not make the charts but definitely should have. Brian also either co-produced or co-wrote - possibly both, I can't quite remember - a very nice 45 around 1970 for Dino, Desi & Billy called "LADY LOVE". That would probably be worth posting, too.

Thanks for reprinting that piece from 2006 - I did not see it the first time around.

J. Lag

Anonymous said...


Another track that would be worth posting is a song from 1964 that Mike Love and Brian co-wrote called "THINKIN' ABOUT YOU BABY". It was released as a 45 on CAPITOL by a singer named Sharon Marie. Apart from being a good record in its own right, the song is interesting because, a few years later, Brian would decide to keep the melody, have a new set of lyrics written for it and turn it into "DARLIN'", one of the greatest Beach Boys' singles ever and another highlight of that white r-&-b masterpiece (WILD HONEY) to which you referred.

Hell, you could probably do a whole week of posts on Brian Wilson-related rarities.


J. Lag

pete said...

One of my favorite LPs is "Smiley Smile," often underrated because off its backstory as the reworked version of the "unreleased masterpiece" Smile. When they brought out Smile a few years ago I still liked Smiley Smile better.

Anonymous said...

as a long-time reader of your blog and a BB fan as long as I can remember you totally nailed it, Steve. Excellent.

Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating that Brian has a difficult time hearing the interviewer over the shrill screams of the audience. The way he cups his ear is heartbreaking. It took me into my sixties before I had such problems hear my students clearly in my noisy classroom.

Fuck you Murray!!! And just for the hell of it you too dickwad Mike Love.

Captain Al

danny1959 said...

"Sail On Sailor" from Holland is my favorite Beach Boys song, if it's possible to choose only one.

Anonymous said...

Nice re-post, Steve. Never saw it the first time round. You make a great case. Today and Summer Days are academic. But IMO Wild Honey's kinda over-rated. Friends is under-rated. I dig 20/20 and Sunflower too. Me and Sandy never gave up on these guys when a lot of our friends had moved on to the heavies. We felt the same way about the Byrds. A lot of people bailed after Notorious, but we loved that record and remained total Byrd Nyrds.

An older good friend of mine named Sharon, who I met a Cream concert, had the Beach Boys play her prom. She fixed me up with a surfer guy from her high school so I could go. I met him at El Porto when me and Sharon were surfing. I told her to let him know that I wanted to get with him really bad.

Unfortunately, we got pulled over by a sheriff on the way to the prom. We had an open quart of tequila. I was turning my date on to how delicious it tasted with pineapple juice. The cop wasn't amused. I told him that it was my booze and I had taken it from my parents' bar. Even so, my date got a minor in possession ticket. This wasn't that big of a deal in those days. A 25 buck fine or something.

Then he found out that my date was 18 and I was 14. He mumbled and lectured about contributing to the delinquency of a minor and statutory rape (my heels were in the back seat). I smiled and asked the cop to give us a break. He had to be kidding, right? It was quite obvious by our formal attire that we were on our way to a prom. The sex would happen later.

The fuckin' Beach Boys were playin'! We couldn't miss it! My mom helped me pick out the sexiest chiffon strapless number for the occasion! My date bought me a red rose corsage. Since there was really no place to pin it, I modified it and cradled a single rose in my cleavage. Unfortunately, the cop wasn't a reasonable sort. A short guy with a big badge and bitchy gay tendencies.

He even threatened to take me to Los Padrinos after I gave him a gigantic piece of my mind. When I asked him "what for" he said "Resisting Arrest" and Terrorist Threat". The guy was a total nightmare. Was this really happening? My date stuck up for me and the cop cuffed him. We both took a ride in the back of the squad car to the Santa Monica jail. They booked him and let me go. Guess they didn't feel like making the drive to juvy.

I didn't feel like buggin' my parents and makin' them worry. I figured that I'd walk to Pico Lanes, which just down the road apiece, and see if anyone I knew was there. Maybe I'd get something going. The bowling alley is right across the street from the Civic. I couldn't help but notice there was a concert that evening so I thought I'd investigate. A racing mechanic from Hemet that my dad knew, named Rick, and his wife were in the parking lot. They told me it was a Creedence show with Sir Douglas. I was able to get a ticket at the door. So the evening was far from a total loss.

Rick, who to this day worships Fogerty, went out of his way and gave me a ride home to Berdoo. It was pretty weird going to a rock concert in a prom dress, but everybody survived. And I never went to another prom in my life, not that I wasn't asked. The idea never appealed to me. Maybe if the Beach Boys were playin' I woulda.