Deep Cuts: The Beach Boys
Memorial Day is just around the corner, and that of course means the unofficial start of summer. And what would a summer be without the music of the Beach Boys? It would be crap, that’s what. Everyone knows the biggest hits (and there were a ton of them), but there’s a lot of great material that has gone unnoticed by all but the biggest fans. So here’s ten overlooked classics by the boys from Hawthorne, CA.
(note: the audio player’s default level is pretty loud, so headphone wearers beware).
- “This Whole World” (Sunflower, 1970) – If any song proved that the Beach Boys (and a post-breakdown Brian Wilson) could still deliver the goods after their late-’60s commercial freefall, this was it. In just under two minutes the band packed in more stunning harmonies and top-notch songwriting flourishes than they had since 1966’s Pet Sounds.
- “Anna Lee, the Healer” (Friends, 1968) – OK, the lyrics are pretty abysmal (look them up if you doubt me). But the minimalist arrangement (just a simple bass line, some tasteful percussion, and a hint of piano), combined with some lush vocals, make this a lo-fi gem.
- “Can’t Wait Too Long” (originally unreleased, c. 1967/68) – The first time I heard the full version of this song, long sought after by BB fans, was on the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey CD reissue. I couldn’t understand why it never made it onto a regular album, but at least we have it now. The song’s brilliance was emphasized even more when the opening vocal section was released as a separate a capella cut on the 2001 odds ‘n’ ends release, Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy.
- “Lonely Sea” (Surfin’ USA, 1963) – Although the Beach Boys staked their claim to fame on upbeat surf music, I almost always prefer the slower and more melancholy songs. This is one of the better ones from the group’s early period, and features an aching, minor-key Brian Wilson vocal melody. I could do without the spoken word interlude, but it’s a lot less hokey than it could’ve been.
- “Disney Girls (1957)” (Surf’s Up, 1971) – Brian Wilson’s decision to stop touring with the band in early 1965 paved the way for the immensely talented Bruce Johnston to join the group. That partnership eventually yielded this lovely ballad, an ode to the good ol’ days (“Patti Page and summer days/On old Cape Cod/Happy times making wine/in my garage”). Trivia time: Barry Manilow’s 1976 #1 hit, “I Write the Songs”, was actually written by Johnston.
- “Summer Means New Love” (Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!), 1965) – It was a tossup between this and “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” from Pet Sounds, both of them being really nice vocal-less orchestral numbers. Since Pet Sounds gets more than its share of love as it is, I went with the earlier instrumental.
- “How She Boogalooed It” (Wild Honey, 1967) – After the collapse of the SMiLE sessions and the release of its dreadful substitute, Smiley Smile, Wild Honey can now be viewed as a breath of fresh air. It was very much a back-to-basics album, and “How She Boogalooed It” is one of the standouts. It’s just so damn upbeat that you can’t help but move to it.
- “Our Prayer” (20/20, 1969) – Originally intended to open the aborted SMiLE album, this gorgeous but brief vocal track borders on the spiritual in more than just name.
- “It’s About Time” (Sunflower, 1970) – This propulsive rocker might just be one of the hardest songs the Beach Boys ever recorded. The unusually gritty vocal delivery of Carl Wilson is a highlight, as is the presence of a searing guitar solo.
- “Good to My Baby” (Today!, 1965) – Today! offered the first evidence that Brian Wilson’s decision to abandon touring and focus on writing and recording would pay huge dividends for the group. Basically split into an upbeat/pop side and a melancholy/ballad side, it showcased Wilson’s rapidly developing compositional and arranging skills. This track was #2 on the upbeat portion, and it could have easily been a successful single had they chosen to release it as such.
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