WHY I LOVE THE BEACH BOYS

I have loved The Beach Boys for over 20 years. When I was going through some of my hardest times growing up, they were a constant and powerful uplifting presence in my life. I have seen Brian Wilson live, three times, and was there in Glasgow on the SMiLE tour when he and Van Dyke Parks finally finished the album. The Beach Boys were among the first true musical obsessions of my life. They overtook all other concerns and considerations, and dominated my life for many years. Their music was responsible for my choosing writing as my main creative medium. Writing on the old SMiLE Shop message board, and later having a small part in my first writing being published there, helped me hone my skills and become far more adept in debate and criticism. That is somewhat beside the point however; the point being that The Beach Boys are one of the great musical/artistic loves of my life. In fact, the love I have for them is on the same level that I have for my family, my friends and my infrequent, though no less significant, romantic relationships. 

 I have listened to every single Beach Boys album, from the first tentative steps, as heard on 1962's Surfin' Safari to the 50th anniversary reunion album, That's Why God Made the Radio in 2012, and every single one has good stuff on it. Even at their least inspired, the power and harmony of the group endured. Unlike many other bands, who quit when things got tough, The Beach Boys kept on going. This is the main reason why the band has more than one period which could arguably be called their greatest. These include that run of great early 1960s albums from Surfer Girl to All Summer Long, the 1970s resurgence that began with 1970's Sunflower, and of course the albums that preceded and followed the supremely influential work of art that was Pet Sounds. Please find my choices for the Ten Best Beach Boys Albums, in chronological order below. 

  1. Surfer Girl (1963) - The Beach Boys' first two albums featured some good songs, including the hit song "Surfin' USA," a riff on Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". It was on their third album, Surfer Girl though that the group truly began their musical journey that would redefine pop music and result in countless songs that would raise up a weary spirit. The title track remains one of the most beautiful pieces of music that Brian Wilson has his name on. The mixture of deep melancholy and the belief in an all encompassing love, as well as the stunning harmonies, would go on to define the Pet Sounds era. "In My Room" is equally as poignant, and mature in its themes and shows the benefits of Brian not restricting himself to collaborating with Mike Love. Gary Usher, who wrote the lyrics, was in some ways a sign of what was to come with Pet Sounds and SMiLE, where Brian collaborated with Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks, respectively. This introspection is coupled with some of the band's best surf songs, including the utterly joyous "Catch a Wave" and "Hawaii". Surfer Girl is an album that represents the very best of The Beach Boys' early sound and laid the groundwork for what was to follow. 
  2. Shut Down Volume 2 (1964) - A sequel to a compilation? Well, yes, but Shut Down Volume 2 is an important step in the evolution of the band's sound, and has some sublime songs. Most noticeably is the classic love song, "Don't Worry Baby," a song that is ostensibly about a drag race, but is really about a never dying love that gives one reason to live, even in the most inhospitable reality. Written by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian, this song is one that really stays with you. If one doesn't love "Don't Worry Baby," then one is unlikely to understand the particular beauty and genius of Brian Wilson's music. This song in many ways defines Brian's search for the music that was growing within his soul, even better than Pet Sounds. Its purity is astonishing. "The Warmth of the Sun," written by Brian and Mike Love, is a powerful memorial for the recently murdered President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and is proof that Mike Love was capable of writing gentle, beautiful lyrics to accompany the evolving brilliance of his cousin, Brian. "Fun, Fun, Fun" is a big ball of fun and along with "I Get Around" - more on that in a bit - is my favourite song from the car and surf material. 
  3. All Summer Long (1964) - Two albums in the same year?? Yep, such was the prolific output of The Beach Boys. All Summer Long marks the point where the early Surf and Car period ends and where the writing, production and performance of band leader, Brian Wilson, reaches another level of sophistication and innovation. Everything on the album revolves around the production of the band's first number one hit, "I Get Around". This is one of Brian's greatest productions, disguised as a simple good time hanging with your friends song. There is an unmistakable energy to the song with its many shifts and changes, all happening in only two minutes and fourteen seconds! The rest of the album is equally as dynamic, developing the sound that would lead to Pet Sounds. "Hushabye," "Wendy" and the title track all possess the kind of gentle, youthful sense of being in love and knowing that soon these times will be in the past. All Summer Long closes with the electrifying "Don't Back Down". Again, on its surface a simple surf song, but when that falsetto comes in from Brian and he sings, "You got to be a little nuts, but show em now who's got guts..." the listener experiences a profound change and jolt of pure joy. 
  4. The Beach Boys Today! (1965) - Released just over a year before Brian Wilson's masterwork, Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys Today! is in many ways, a trial run for that album. That is not at all to diminish the beauty and sophistication of the album, more to say that it is a proof of concept for the kind of music that Brian Wilson had been working up to for his entire career. This is especially clear on "She Knows Me Too Well," "Please Let Me Wonder," and "Kiss Me Baby," a powerful trio of songs that are wise beyond their years. The album is not without its big hitters either, featuring the astonishing "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)" and the first version of "Help Me Ronda," which would go on to be a hit with a different arrangement and production. Today! is an album that surprises many people not aware of the depth and variety of The Beach Boys' catalogue, thinking that Pet Sounds was an exception. Today! is an album that deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as that masterpiece, a fearless expression of a melancholy mind, and a deep Holy love for life. 
  5. Pet Sounds (1966) - My goodness... where to start? Well, how about that this is arguably the greatest work of Brian Wilson's career, surpassing even the great achievements that came before and those that would follow. This is the peak of Wilson's powers as a writer, producer and performer; a work sophisticated beyond his years. Pet Sounds is also one of the great albums of the 1960s, on a very short list for the top spot, unified in themes and concept. The Beach Boys deliver an album, the power of which, they would be chasing for the remainder of their career. So what is it about Pet Sounds that is so remarkable? Well, let's start with the production of the thing. By 1966, Brian Wilson had become a producer of singular vision and talent, whose ear for melody and harmony was unmatched in Pop music. Pet Sounds is the culmination of the journey that began with Surfin' Safari only four years before. The emotional power of the album is the thing that sticks with the listener, long after they have finished listening. Songs that are in turns joyous, melancholic and hopeful. Pet Sounds is above all, a devastatingly beautiful, profoundly meaningful work of art. From the opening of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," to the anguished cry of "Caroline, No," Pet Sounds is a sustained exaltation of love, the pain that can come with it, as well as its capacity for salvation.  
  6. Smiley Smile (1967) - For some, the story of how Smiley Smile came to be is a sad one. Not for me. While it is true to say that the SMiLE sessions resulted in many beautiful things that were not realized on Smiley Smile, it is wholly inaccurate and unfair to say that the real life result of the SMiLE sessions is a depressing thing. SMiLE is a what-if, an audience participation number that allowed ordinary, untalented people to brush against genius. Smiley Smile is a real life, honest to goodness, living and breathing completed album. And while it can't be said that the overall production is as sophisticated as the music of the SMiLE project, or indeed as that of Pet Sounds, the album remains a masterpiece. Everyone knows the colossal hit "Good Vibrations," the beginning of the idea of modular music; the idea that a song can be constructed in sections and fitted together at a later date. "Good Vibrations," for its many decades of play, remains undiminished as probably the single greatest song that Brian Wilson wrote and produced. The opening track, "Heroes and Villains," a long gestating work that took many forms in the months that preceded its eventual completion and release as a single, is as good as "Good Vibrations" in this obsessive fan's opinion. "Heroes and Villains" is a good example of something that many thought was incomplete in its released form, leading to many, many hours of tedious fan-edits that alleged that the song as completed by Brian Wilson, was not the correct one. The "My children were raised..." section is reason enough to state with pride and confidence that both the single version, and the album version - which adds the Baldwin organ that Brian had become attached to - are indeed the legitimate article. The lo-fi approach that defined the rest of the album took people a while to appreciate, but the chilled out vibe of songs such as the utterly gorgeous "With Me Tonight", "Little Pad" and "Vegetables" possess their own quality that is truly individual. I might humbly suggest that creating art is not a straight line or progression, with more = better, and that sometimes to approach things in a minimal fashion can result in art just as powerful. 
  7. Wild Honey (1967) - Embracing the lo-fi aesthetic of Smiley Smile, Wild Honey is an R&B album that has earned a place in many Beach Boys fans hearts as one of the best albums the band ever recorded. It is interesting how separated from the expectations of SMiLE that the fans were far more receptive to the homegrown, minimalist style that Brian and the band were into in 1967. The album is a beautiful tribute to the R&B music that Brian and The Beach Boys were so in love with. Some of the stand-out tracks include one of Mike Love's best vocals "Aren't You Glad", the supremely passionate Carl led"Darlin'", the atmospheric, ethereal "Country Air" and of course the title track. Throw in a wonderful cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made To Love Her" and you have an album that is sure to entrance and delight. 
  8. Friends (1968) - The three albums that followed Pet Sounds are aurally connected and exist as an unofficial trilogy that charted the end of Brian Wilson's 100% control over the sound of the group, production credits going to The Beach Boys instead of Brian alone. This does not in any sense diminish the beauty and brilliance of these albums. Friends is a warm, welcoming and heart warming album. The title track is a wonderful song about lifelong friendships that bring so much joy and comfort. In many ways the song "Friends" is about the way in which the group gathered around Brian when he was going through a mental illness related crisis. In some ways it can be argued that these three albums marked the time when Brian took his foot off the accelerator. The intricate and sophisticated productions of Pet Sounds were for the most part replaced with a warm and minimalist approach to recording. Yet, listening to Friends, it never seems like the listener is missing out. "Busy Doin' Nothing" is my favourite song on here, a stream of consciousness tale about hanging around the house, waiting for a friend to call over. 
  9. Sunflower (1970) - Sunflower was the first Beach Boys album for Warner Bros. records, and was intended to be the big comeback for the group. It did not to turn out to be that, but its legacy has grown in huge leaps and bounds since it was released in the first year of the 1970s, and is today considered one of the greatest albums released by the band. The album is filled with great songs including the absolutely delirious and thrilling "This Whole World", and featuring such otherworldly beauty as "Add Some Music To Your Day" and the proto-shoegaze "All I Wanna Do". Closing the album is a reworking and completion of "Cool, Cool Water", a song that began its life as part of SMiLE. While the album was considered at the time to be something of a failure, at least commercially, it is clear in 2020 to anyone with ears that it is an exceptional work of art. 
  10. The Beach Boys Love You (1977) - Love You is an album that is undeniably the most eccentric and idiosyncratic album that Brian Wilson and the band ever had a hand in. Returning to the sole producer credit, Wilson turned out a series of songs that are extremely odd, but no less beautiful for it. There is a childlike wonder to the songs that recalls Brian's Holland EP, Mt. Vernon and Fairway, especially on songs like "Airplane", "Solar System" and the morally dubious but gorgeous, "I Wanna Pick You Up". The best song on the album is for me, the Carl led "The Night Was So Young", an utterly sublimely crafted song, the wailing backing falsetto and the strong, tearful lead melding in wondrous ways. 

 



 
















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