Long Promised Road: 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. Everyone knows the story, so I’ll be brief: The Boys released a string of hit albums and singles in the early to mid ‘60’s, most of which were based around cars, girls and surfing. But as fun fun fun as these songs were they lacked any sort of depth and sound fairly naïve and childlike to my ears, always have. Then came the Beatles and Rubber Soul, which begat one of the all time best albums in Pet Sounds, which was promptly ignored upon its release. Then a monster: Good Vibrations, a single that was supposed to be a taste of an upcoming album (sMile) that was supposed to rival the mighty Revolver in terms of artistic growth, but…it never happened. Brian Wilson had a breakdown, took all sorts of nasty drugs, hung out with Charles Manson, built a sandbox in his living room (which his cats used as a litter box, according to Van Dyke Parks), gained a ton of weight and stopped caring, about his band and life in general.

After that the world stopped caring. Each successive B-Boys album that came out was promptly ignored and quickly taken out of circulation.

I’m going to take this opportunity to totally ignore the truly lamentable “Kokamo” period and move right on up to the 1990’s, where bands such as The High Llamas, Boo Radleys, Stereolab, Super Furry Animals, Flaming Lips, Grandaddy, Teenage Fanclub, The Shins and Wilco started to cite their late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s albums as major influences.

At the time I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, which shows you how ignorant I was back then. So about 12 years ago I bought Pet Sounds and was blown away. No, wait, let me back up. It was 1997 or 1998, a few months after I saw the movie Boogie Nights in the theatre. The way the song God Only Knows was used in a particular scene affected me somehow, and made me view that song, and the Beach Boys, in a whole new light. I can really say that I understood the genius of Brian Wilson as soon as the album sunk in.

I then, like a dork, wrote off the album as a ‘one-off’ fluke and was unmotivated to delve any further. I eventually did, though, last year as a matter of fact. I bought the two-fer Surf’s Up/Sunflower, then Friends/20/20, then the 2-disk version of Smile. And although there are some truly forgettable tunes the good/great/phenomenal 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 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. Once you hear it you’ll lose 25% of your hearing, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! These albums were a dumping ground for many of the songs from the aborted sMile sessions, all of which are great, but some of the rest of the stuff (maybe as much as 50%), by Dennis Wilson in particular, is at least the equal to anything on Pet Sounds. This is the period—67-71—that is the most influential on modern bands.

Go on and give these albums a try. If you’re a newbie to the Beach Boys and only own a greatest hits comp, you would do well to buy/download the following albums in the order below. You’ll find much to love and little to hate here.

Pet Sounds

Sunflower

Surf’s Up

Friends

sMile

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