The Beach Boys
Not even Mike Love’s detestable existence can deter from the fact that The Beach Boys made some of the best, and most underrated, albums in the history of rock and roll. Now, I’ve been crucified on message boards over the years by Mike Love disciples lambasting me for daring to comment on the Bearded Beach Boys Bard, so don’t go the way of “Without Mike Love (or, My Glove, as I gleefully refer to him) and his singular voice there would be no Beach Boys”, or “He kept the band alive for decades, and is solely responsible for their continuing legacy.” I agree with you, already. Some of my favorite Beach Boys tunes have Love in the lead vocal seat. His overall twattiness over the last 5 decades has not hurt my enjoyment of the band itself. He’s an important part of the band. I get it.
Everyone knows the Beach Boys story, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice to say that after Good Vibrations the pop world stopped caring. Each B-Boys album that came out post Pet Sounds (and even that album was, comparatively speaking, a commercial stink-bomb), was promptly ignored and quickly taken out of circulation. Why? As Jimi Hendrix was fond of saying, they were the worlds only psychedelic barber shop quartet, even though there have always been five members, and the hipster contingent during the late ‘60’s didn’t want anything to do with these guys. I don’t believe it had anything to do with the music they put out during that time and well into the early ‘70’s, because for the most part they continued to record groundbreaking pop that surpassed many of their peers. I think their past “girls and cars” phase in addition to their toothpaste commercial fresh band name are the prime culprits. The public, especially the emerging underground, considered them part of the establishment and effectively ostracized them.
I’m going to take this opportunity to totally ignore the truly lamentable “Kokamo” period and move right on up to the 1990’s and early ‘00’s, where bands such as The High Llamas, Boo Radleys, Stereolab, Super Furry Animals, Flaming Lips, Grandaddy, Teenage Fanclub, The Shins, Wilco and more started to cite the Beach Boys late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s albums as major influences in the press.
At the time I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. I had Pet Sounds, and could clearly hear why it was so revered, but I thought that was as far as it went. All I knew after that was that Brian Wilson gave up and fried his brain after hearing Sgt. Peppers. My knowledge of the music of the Beach Boys went from Pet Sounds right to Kokomo. The thought never occurred to me that I might be missing something. How absolutely and terribly wrong I was.
I eventually woke up and bought the two-fer Surf’s Up/Sunflower CD, then Friends/20/20, then the 2-disk version of the Smile Sessions when it came out in 2011. Although there are some truly forgettable tunes that have aged very poorly, the good/great/phenomenal ones far outweigh the former. There is one god-awful number that I wish I could erase from not only the CD of Surf’s Up but from my memory banks as well. It’s called Student Demonstration Time, it’s by Mike Love, and that’s all you need to know about it.
67’s Smiley Smile right up to Surf’s up released in 1971, were albums that cannibalized many of the songs from the aborted sMile sessions, and are all the better for doing so. Some of the best non-Brian Wilson stuff is by perennial underdog brother Dennis, but there are fantastic offerings from virtually all members (Carl’s Feel Flows leading the pack, IMHO).
I’m sure most of you reading this are already familiar with these albums, but if you’re not, go on and give these albums a try. I believe you’ll find much to love and little to hate and/or feel ambivalent about here. After you’re converted feel free to grab a copy of Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue (the “Deluxe” edition contains the lost Bambu sessions), and is by far the best Beach Boys solo album. Brian included.