Friday, August 31, 2007

Surf's Up - My Shameful Beach Boys Admission

As summer winds down (nooooo!!!), I take with me a precious memory of the soundtrack to my summer of '07. I rather liked both Maximo Park's Our Earthly Pleasures and 1990s' Cookies, while I have also been seriously digging the new VHS or Beta album, Bring on the Comets, which contains moments of pop perfection like "Can't Believe a Single Word" and "Fall Down Lightly". I'm still warming up to Snakes and Arrows, Rush's latest (Rush fan! No shame in it!), but musically speaking it ranks with some of their best works and thanks to some industry connections (yeah, I'm connected), I can tell you that the latest album from the Toronto-based Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War, is a first-rate effort all around. I also want to give a shout-out to The Ref-O-Ree Records Story soul compilation from SPV for giving me some damn fine classic soul to discover throughout the summer. But on top of it all, the group that made the summer of 2007 for me was a band from Southern California who put out some of the most incredible, soulful music I've ever heard. Their name? The Beach Boys.

Yeah, that Beach Boys. The "Fun, Fun, Fun", "California Girls", "Good Vibrations" Beach Boys. I know, I know, I'm a little late to the party. And yes, I'd heard of them before, wise ass.

Like most folks, when it came to The Beach Boys I knew the hits. I own a copy of Pet Sounds on both cassette and CD and have an old greatest hits double LP. I knew of their history and about Brian Wilson, who I even sat close to at a 2005 SXSW screening of the Smile documentary (that's about as close to greatness as I've gotten). But as for all the other stuff, basically the music they were making when they had stopped making hits, I was at a bit of a loss. A real loss, actually, since all of that stuff was just a mystery to me. Until recently, I'd never heard Wild Honey, 20/20, Carl and the Passions, Surf's Up, none of that stuff. It doesn't get played on the radio and you don't really hear it in movies or ads. Why I didn't ever investigate the Boys' work until now I don't really know, but it wasn't until this spring when I got my hands on a copy of The Warmth of the Sun, a new "Best of" compilation did I ever really get to hear much of it. Warmth of the Sun is actually a very smart and cool package of songs that have been favorites of true Beach Boy fans but aren't the "hits"; it's got such tunes as "Friends", "Feel Flows", "All Summer Long", and the title track and whoever put this thing together deserves a nice, big raise, because it's an exceptional compilation. The songs were all enticing enough to get me excited about the rest of the Beach Boys catalog that I was missing out on, a mix of songs from the early 60s to the mid-70s and if you're looking for a Beach Boys primer, I do suggest looking here.

Stoked to hear more, I used some of my aforementioned connections to get my hands on some of these previously unheard albums. Asking someone I know through work, I was in the process of making some simple trades when my connection asked me if I was looking for any particular music. Without a second thought I said, "If you can get me some Beach Boys, that would be great" and a couple of days later a box filled with every Beach Boy album available on CD came my way. Ho-ly shit! No search through album review after album reviewer, no picking a CD here, a CD there (I'm not big on downloading), they're all here, all of them containing 2 albums on 1 CD, all of them mine. Yes! So over the summer I've been diving into almost all of them (can really only do one at a time), but as I think you can guess, I'm becoming more and more enraptured with what I hear. The earlier albums, fine as they are, aren't the same as those later, more complex works; "I Get Around" may indeed be a piece of pop genius, but a song like "Til I Die" has more weight to it, with lyrics that feel like a broken heart that will never heal. The hopefulness of youth having given way to the realities of the adult world (felt in "Disney Girls (1957)") and certainly the difficulties the band itself were going through obviously took their tool, but they added in an odd way, too. They allowed members of the band other than Brian Wilson and Mike Love get their opportunity to shine (especially Dennis Wilson's contributions, like "Be With Me" and "Forever", probably one of the best love songs ever written) and proved that the Beach Boys as a collective, beyond just Brian Wilson, were indeed a great rock 'n' roll band. Sure, there were still misfires, but a bunch of new classics were born, too; I mean, Jesus Christ, how fucking great a song is "Surf's Up"? Is it possible that this song, filled with truly haunting melodies and poetic lyrics, is their masterpiece? I don't know, but I know that I love it to death and have listened to it countless times over the summer.

On top of all this, they still made a bunch of those fun little ditty's that made them famous, but they made them even better; songs like "Darlin'" and "Do It Again" are as good as pop music gets. Then you've got tracks like "Sail On, Sailor" and Carl's ode to cocaine, "Feel Flows" (both songs I knew but never knew they were Beach Boys songs) that are great mood music and you're like, what an idiot I've been for missing out on all this great stuff for so long. And I'm glad that I made this discovery in the summertime, because it's given the season a soundtrack all its own. How cool is that?

Beach Boys fucking rule.

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