What follows is an erratic look into the career of The Beach Boys. It's not definitive, nor is accuracy guarenteed, but hopefully you'll share in my renewed appreciation of their music.
The Beach Boys' legacy is an odd one. Far from the fairy tale of The Beatles, their career suffered its fair share of hiccups (and genuinely bad songs), leaving their story fragmented and at risk of being unheard by generations to come. It real shame because theirs is a story worth hearing.
Till I Die
One chapter of The Beach Boys tale that will never be forgotten is their surfer music. Songs about surfin', girls and cars will survive for years to come, long after this fun-loving culture is obselete. And while they certainly weren't the first band to use vocals harmonies, they did it in a way that made the listener aware and appreciative of this amazing effect, without sacrificing accessibility. In the eyes of history, surf music is The Beach Boys.
But while this music is fun to listen to, it isn't what makes The Beach Boys worth remembering. Instead, it's their efforts to use their position, at the helm of popular music, to steer listeners into new directions. This where their story gets a bit rocky. And while it's safe to say that they failed in the their endeavour, they made some great music in the process. It turns out there's more to The Beach Boys than just surfin' safaris and good vibrations.
All Summer Long
The Pet Sounds era is another piece of Beach Boys history that will be safely remembered. An amazing album in its own right, it didn't actually sell that well upon initial release, but widespread critical acclaim has ensured it will live on. This has been helped in part by it's significance in The Beatles story. Inspired by Rubber Soul, Beach Boys mastermind, Brian Wilson quit touring to focus on writing their next album. The result was Pet Sounds, which would in turn inspire The Beatles to create Sgt Peppers. This tale is what first prompted many Beatles fans, including myself, to seek out Pet Sounds to see what all the fuss is about. And since The Beatles aren't about to be forgotten, Pet Sounds will remain etched in musical history.
God Only Knows
Brian Wilson's follow up masterpiece was to be called Smile, an ambitious project which would push The Beach Boys into completely new territory. The first single, Good Vibrations, was a huge success, despite it's relatively complex nature. But all this anticipation along with in-band fighting, record label demands, drug abuse and the release of Sgt Peppers meant that it never saw the light of day. It was a spectacular collapse and one they would never recover from. The rest of their career was inconsistent at best and as a result, a lot of quality work went largely unnoticed.
The myth surrounding Smile lived on for many years. A couple of songs popped up on future albums and diehard fans clung to unreleased demos, but it wasn't until 35 years later, when Brian Wilson returned to complete the project, that the story got its happy ending. The final result is quite epic indeed. If you want any chance of appreciating this album, you need to set aside some time and really LISTEN to it. It's quite amazing how it all unfolds.
Heros and Villians
And now to the very reason I am writing this post. The often-ignored later years. Up until recently, I knew nothing about The Beach Boys after Pet Sounds. And to be honest, I didn't really care. I was under the impression that they faded into obscurity and lost their touch, but it's not true. The Beach Boys did enough during this period that we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss it.
It all began when my brother bought home a vinyl copy of Surf's Up. As you can see above, the contrast of a dark, disturbing cover image, with the care-free connatation of title is quite striking. It's quite indicative of what The Beach Boys were going through at the time and after a few spins, I quickly became fond it. The album features a number quality composiitons from other band members, along with sounds you wouldn't noramally associate with The Beach Boys. It made me think twice about what I thought i knew and left me wanting more.
Looking At Tomorrow
As it turns out, the story behind the album isn't as quite as I imagined. There was 5 albums between Pet Soudns and Surf's Up and none of them had done very well. Brian Wilson was growing more and more distant and the fans sorely missed him. Surf's Up was a notorious track from the Smile era; Brian Wilson's equivalent of 'A Day in The Life'. It was added to the album and made the title track in a bid to sell more copies. Certainly not the stuff of fairy tales, but I've come to accept that when in order to find the gems in their later career, you're going to find some dirt.
By no means am I an expert on these later years. I am taking my exploration very cautiously, listening one album at a time, starting with the most critically acclaimed. At the moment I am listening to Sunflower (1970), which is even stronger than Surf's Up. Next on the list will be Friends (1968). Sure, this dream run of discovery will probably end eventually, but for the moment, I'm loving it.
This Whole World
(wow, picking a track off Sunflower was hard...go listen to the whole album!)
((and one more because it's awesome))
Loop de Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' in an Aeroplane)