The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (1971)

AllMusic Review: The Beach Boys’ post-1966 catalog is littered with LPs that barely scraped the charts upon release but matured into solid fan favorites despite — and occasionally, because of — their many and varied eccentricities. Surf’s Up could well be the definitive example, beginning with the cloying “Don’t Go Near the Water” and ending a bare half-hour later with the baroque majesty of the title track (originally written in 1966). The album is a virtual laundry list of each uncommon intricacy that made the Beach Boys’ forgotten decade such a bittersweet thrill — the fluffy yet endearing pop (od)ditties of Brian Wilson, quasi-mystical white-boy soul from brother Carl, and the downright laughable songwriting on tracks charting Mike Love’s devotion to Buddhism and Al Jardine’s social/environmental concerns. Those songs are enjoyable enough, but the last three tracks are what make Surf’s Up such a masterpiece. The first, “A Day in the Life of a Tree,” is simultaneously one of Brian’s most deeply touching and bizarre compositions; he is the narrator and object of the song (though not the vocalist; co-writer Jack Rieley lends a hand), lamenting his long life amid the pollution and grime of a city park while the somber tones of a pipe organ build atmosphere. The second, “‘Til I Die,” isn’t the love song the title suggests; it’s a haunting, fatalistic piece of pop surrealism that appeared to signal Brian’s retirement from active life. The album closer, “Surf’s Up,” is a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia, probably the most compelling track from the SMiLE period. Carl gives a soulful performance despite the surreal wordplay, and Brian’s coda is one of the most stirring moments in his catalog. Wrapped up in a mess of contradictions, Surf’s Up defined the Beach Boys’ tumultuous career better than any other album. — John Bush

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. “Don’t Go Near the Water” Mike Love, Al Jardine Mike Love, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson 2:39
2. “Long Promised Road” Carl Wilson, Jack Rieley Carl Wilson 3:30
3. “Take a Load Off Your Feet” Jardine, Brian Wilson, Gary Winfrey B. Wilson, Jardine 2:29
4. “Disney Girls (1957)” Bruce Johnston Bruce Johnston 4:07
5. “Student Demonstration Time” Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Love Love 3:58
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. “Feel Flows” C. Wilson, Rieley C. Wilson 4:44
2. “Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)” Jardine, Winfrey Jardine 1:55
3. “A Day in the Life of a Tree” B. Wilson, Rieley Jack Rieley, Van Dyke Parks, Jardine 3:07
4. “‘Til I Die” B. Wilson C. Wilson, B. Wilson, Love 2:31
5. “Surf’s Up” B. Wilson, Van Dyke Parks C. Wilson, B. Wilson, Jardine 4:12
Total length: 33:49

 

Schill Score:  5/10

 

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The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)

Pet Sounds is the 11th studio album by the American rock band the Beach Boys, released May 16, 1966 on Capitol Records. It initially met with a lukewarm critical and commercial response in the United States, peaking at number 10 on Billboard Top LPs chart, lower than the band’s preceding albums. In the United Kingdom, the album was favorably received by critics and peaked at number 2 in the UK Top 40 Albums Chart, remaining in the top ten for six months. Promoted there as “the most progressive pop album ever”, Pet Sounds attracted recognition for its ambitious recording and sophisticated music. It is considered to be among the most influential albums in music history.

The album was produced, arranged, and almost entirely composed by Brian Wilson with guest lyricist Tony Asher. It was recorded largely between January and April 1966, a year after Wilson quit touring with his bandmates. His goal was to create “the greatest rock album ever made”—a cohesive work with no filler tracks. It is sometimes considered a Wilson solo album and a refinement of the themes and ideas he introduced with The Beach Boys Today! (1965). Lead single “Caroline, No” was issued as his official solo debut. It was followed by two singles credited to the group: “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (backed with “God Only Knows”).

Wilson’s Wall of Sound-based orchestrations mixed conventional rock set-ups with elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, found sounds, and instruments never before associated with rock, such as bicycle bells, French horn, flutes, Electro-Theremin, string sections, and beverage cans. The album consists mainly of introspective songs like “I Know There’s an Answer”, a critique of LSD users, and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”, the first use of a theremin-like instrument on a rock record. Its unprecedented total production cost exceeded $70,000 (equivalent to $550,000 in 2019). In October, the leftover song “Good Vibrations” followed as a single and became a worldwide hit. In 1997, a “making-of” version of Pet Sounds was overseen by Wilson and released as The Pet Sounds Sessions, containing the album’s first true stereo mix.

Pet Sounds is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the field of music production, introducing non-standard harmonies and timbres and incorporating elements of pop, jazz, exotica, classical, and the avant-garde. The album could not be replicated live and was the first time a group departed from the usual small-ensemble electric rock band format for a whole LP. Combined with its innovative music, which was perceived as a wholly self-conscious artistic statement (or “concept”), the record furthered the cultural legitimization of popular music and was influential in the development of psychedelic music and progressive/art rock. Since 2003, Rolling Stone has consistently ranked Pet Sounds second on lists of the greatest albums of all time. In 2004, it was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It has been certified platinum by the RIAA, indicating over one million units sold.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, Mike Love Brian Wilson and Mike Love 2:25
2. “You Still Believe in Me” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 2:31
3. “That’s Not Me” Wilson, Asher Love with B. Wilson 2:28
4. “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 2:53
5. “I’m Waiting for the Day” Wilson, Love B. Wilson 3:05
6. “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” Wilson instrumental 2:18
7. “Sloop John B” traditional, arranged by Wilson B. Wilson and Love 2:58
Total length: 18:38

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. “God Only Knows” Wilson, Asher Carl Wilson with B. Wilson and Bruce Johnston 2:51
2. “I Know There’s an Answer” Wilson, Terry Sachen, Love Love and Al Jardine with B. Wilson 3:09
3. “Here Today” Wilson, Asher Love 2:54
4. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 3:12
5. “Pet Sounds” Wilson instrumental 2:22
6. “Caroline, No” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 2:51
Total length: 17:19

Review: The best Beach Boys album, and one of the best of the 1960s. The group here reached a whole new level in terms of both composition and production, layering tracks upon tracks of vocals and instruments to create a richly symphonic sound. Conventional keyboards and guitars were combined with exotic touches of orchestrated strings, bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Theremin, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans, barking dogs, and more. It wouldn’t have been a classic without great songs, and this has some of the group’s most stunning melodies, as well as lyrical themes which evoke both the intensity of newly born love affairs and the disappointment of failed romance (add in some general statements about loss of innocence and modern-day confusion as well). The spiritual quality of the material is enhanced by some of the most gorgeous upper-register male vocals (especially by Brian and Carl Wilson) ever heard on a rock record. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” “Caroline No,” and “Sloop John B” (the last of which wasn’t originally intended to go on the album) are the well-known hits, but equally worthy are such cuts as “You Still Believe in Me,” “Don’t Talk,” “I Know There’s an Answer,” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” It’s often said that this is more of a Brian Wilson album than a Beach Boys recording (session musicians played most of the parts), but it should be noted that the harmonies are pure Beach Boys (and some of their best). Massively influential upon its release (although it was a relatively low seller compared to their previous LPs), it immediately vaulted the band into the top level of rock innovators among the intelligentsia, especially in Britain, where it was a much bigger hit. — Richie Unterberger

Schill Score: 9/10

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The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today! (1965)

The Beach Boys Today! is the eighth studio album by the American rock band the Beach Boys, released on March 8, 1965. The album signaled a departure from their previous records with its orchestral approach, intimate subject matter, and abandonment of themes related to surfing, cars, or superficial love. It peaked at number four on US record charts during a 50-week chart stay and was preceded by the top 10 singles “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”, along with “Do You Wanna Dance?” which reached number 12. When issued in the UK one year later, Today! peaked at number six.

The album was produced, arranged, and largely written by Brian Wilson with additional lyrics by Mike Love. Shortly before recording began, the group completed their album All Summer Long (1964), intended to be their final statement on beach-themed music. In December 1964, Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown while on a flight, and resigned from touring with the group to focus solely on writing and producing. He began using marijuana, which he later said had profound effects on his musical conceptions.

Track Listing:

Side One

1. “Do You Wanna Dance?”
2. “Good to My Baby
3. “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister”
4. “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)”
5. “Help Me, Ronda”
6. “Dance, Dance, Dance”

Side Two

1. “Please Let Me Wonder”
2. “I’m So Young”
3. “Kiss Me, Baby”
4. “She Knows Me Too Well”
5. “In the Back of My Mind”
6. “Bull Session with the ‘Big Daddy'”

Review: Brian Wilson’s retirement from performing to concentrate on studio recording and production reaped immediate dividends with Today!, the first Beach Boys album that is strong almost from start to finish. “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Do You Wanna Dance” were upbeat hits with Spector-influenced arrangements, but Wilson began to deal with more sophisticated themes on another smash 45, “When I Grow Up,” on which these eternal teenagers looked forward to the advancing years with fear and uncertainty. Surf/hot rod/beach themes were permanently retired in favor of late-adolescent, early-adult romance on this album, which included such decent outings in this vein as “She Knows Me Too Well,” “Kiss Me Baby,” and “In the Back of My Mind.” The true gem is “Please Let Me Wonder,” one of the group’s most delicate mid-’60s works, with heartbreaking melodies and harmonies. Be aware that the version of “Help Me, Rhonda” found here is an inferior, earlier, and slower rendition; the familiar hit single take was included on their next album, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). [Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), a Capitol two-fer CD, combines this and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) onto one disc, adding alternate takes of “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “I’m So Young,” and “Let Him Run Wild,” as well as a previously unreleased studio version of “Graduation Day.” Most significantly, it also adds the non-LP single from late 1965, “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” which looked forward to Pet Sounds in its studio experimentation and lyrical themes.] —Richie Unterberger

Schill Score: 8.25/10

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