KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

THE BEACH BOYS Part 1 – Thoughts On An Artist

Back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s I used to listen to The Beach Boys all the time, and I considered myself a pretty big fan. However, I only owned two albums: 1979’s L.A. (Light Album) (which I will discuss in a later post) and the incredibly successful…and appropriately titled…compilation, Endless Summer (1974). I probably borrowed my brother’s 8-track tape for years before finally buying my own copy on cassette, and I never got tired of hearing songs like “Surfin’ Safari,” “Catch A Wave,” “Surfer Girl,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “In My Room,” “Don’t Worry Baby” & “The Warmth Of The Sun.” I could listen to this music all year long, but it took on special significance during those long, hot summers. This collection included 20 songs, all of them great, and I figured that was the extent of what I needed to hear. Then a few years later when I was in college, I bought the first newly released Beach Boys compilation of the CD era, Made In U.S.A. (1986), which included 9 songs from Endless Summer (one of these, “Be True To Your School,” appeared in an alternate version) and another 16 songs that were new to me (with the possible exception of “Good Vibrations,” which I probably knew better from a Sunkist soda commercial). Songs like “Heroes And Villains,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B.,” “God Only Knows” and “Caroline, No” really opened my eyes to a previously undiscovered world of Beach Boys music. I knew I would eventually dig deeper into their catalog, but for the next few years these few albums were the extent of my Beach Boys knowledge. Of the two new recordings included on Made In U.S.A., “Rock ‘N’ Roll To The Rescue” is pretty forgettable, but I have an affinity for their version of The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” which proved that their harmonies remained intact after all those years.

I had always assumed that Mike Love was the leader of the group, since he sang lead vocals on so many of their most recognizable songs, and was always front and center in any performance footage I came across. Of course, now it’s well known that Brian Wilson was the creative genius behind The Beach Boys, writing the songs, producing the records, providing those brilliant falsetto vocals and basically conducting symphonies with the human voice, but I wouldn’t discover any of this until 1990 (which I will explain below). He was fortunate to have some great singers to work with, including his cousin Mike Love, his brother Carl Wilson and school friend Al Jardine. His other brother, Dennis Wilson, played drums (at least in concert…most recordings featured studio musicians), but was integral to their early success in that he was the only member of the group who surfed, providing them with subject matter for so many hit singles. He would also prove to be a gifted songwriter and emotive vocalist later in their career. Other notable members were guitarist/vocalist David Marks (who appeared on several early albums when Al Jardine temporarily left he group) and Bruce Johnston (who’s been with the group since the mid-‘60s).

In 1990 their first 16 albums were released as 2-fers (2 LPs on 1 CD) on 8 separate CDs, along with the long-awaited CD release of the legendary Pet Sounds. Naturally I bought them all, and at 24 years old I finally started learning more about the albums, the songs, the group and their history (thanks to some very informative liner notes by Beach Boys historian David Leaf). Songs like “Farmer’s Daughter,” “The Surfer Moon,” “She Knows Me Too Well” and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” joined their more well-known songs to become new favorites, and after listening to these albums numerous times throughout the early-‘90s I felt like I really knew their music. During this time I discovered that they were primarily a singles band, and most of their albums were hit-and-miss affairs, combining instantly memorable classics with obvious filler. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, but unlike most successful bands from this era, The Beach Boys don’t have a series of must-hear, start-to-finish albums. At least, that’s been my opinion for many years, and I’m hoping to find a few surprises over the next couple of months as I spend time with their catalog.

As if owning all of their ‘60s albums wasn’t enough, in 2000 ten albums released between 1970 & 1985 were reissued in a new set of 2-fers (along with one live album). I probably only listened to each CD a few times back then, so now I can finally give them the attention they deserve. This was not a particularly noteworthy era of their career, at least commercially speaking, as Brian Wilson struggled with substance abuse & mental issues that created an on/off commitment to the group. This led not only to several lineup changes, but also shone a light on the talents of other band members (especially Carl). Other than the aforementioned L.A. (Light Album), which included a minor hit (and personal favorite) in “Good Timin’,” I had never heard any of this music, so naturally I bought them all. That’s what completists like me do, although I still don’t own later releases Still Cruisin’, Summer In Paradise or Stars And Stripes Vol. 1. If anyone out there thinks these are in any way essential, please let me know. Otherwise I won’t be discussing them. I will, however, revisit and discuss the Good Vibrations box set, the Endless Harmony soundtrack, the Hawthorne, CA rarities collection and a live album recorded in 1980, so I should have a pretty complete picture of the Beach Boys’ output by the time I’m done. Although I own most of their albums as part of those 2-fer CDs, I will be listening to…and discussing…each album individually.

Earlier this year, the surviving band members reunited for a tour and a new album (That’s Why God Made The Radio), which I really enjoyed after several listens, although I’m curious to see how it holds up against the rest of their catalog. I also recently bought a copy of the SMiLE Sessions 2-CD set, the most fully realized version of the most famous “lost album” of all time, SMiLE. I haven’t been in a Beach Boys frame of mind in several years, so I’m excited about revisiting this music for a couple of reasons: (a) to spend some time with so many songs I know by heart but haven’t heard in years and (b) to finally get to know the deeper cuts and lesser-known albums. I probably know a larger percentage of their music than any of the artists I’ve previously covered here, so there may not be as much of a learning curve for me as there was for, say, Joni Mitchell or David Bowie. I still expect to uncover some great music that I might have previously dismissed, and I hope during this series some of you (especially those who think of them as merely a nostalgia act singing about surfing, cars and California girls) will gain a new appreciation for their artistry. I also hope to hear from the obsessive fans who already know every note the band recorded, as your insight can be very helpful. Whoever you are, though, I hope you enjoy reading my comments and checking out the song samples I’ll provide with each post.

My first question for you is: Which version of “Be True To Your School” do you prefer, the album version (which also appeared on Endless Summer) or the single version (which includes actual cheerleaders, and has appeared on numerous compilations)? I’ve always been partial to the album version. Here are samples of each to help you make up your mind.

Album Version:

Single Version:

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29 comments on “THE BEACH BOYS Part 1 – Thoughts On An Artist

  1. Dennis Drake
    August 12, 2012

    I’m glad to see you’re covering this band-they have a great history and have made some incredible music. I had the privilege of being on tour with them in the 70/s.
    Thanks, Dennis Drake

    Like

    • Hi Dennis. I had no idea you toured with The Beach Boys. In what capacity? I hope you’ll share some stories when I get to that era of their career. Thanks.
      Rich

      Like

  2. Christopher Boyle
    August 12, 2012

    I’d love to hear your take on a comparison of Pet Sounds and it’s influence on Sgt. Pepper. I love Pet Sounds for the sheer creativity in the arrangements.

    Like

    • Hi Chris. I’m pretty sure I’ll be referencing the mutual influence between the Beatles and Beach Boys during the mid-60s, but for the most part I’ll be focusing on the brilliant songs and arrangements Brian Wilson was writing for The Beach Boys at that time. If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear your take on those records when I get to them. Thanks.
      Rich

      Like

  3. Alan Kennedy
    August 13, 2012

    Rich – I’ve been a huge fan forever, as you know – they are as deserving as anyone of your careful scrutiny! As for “Be True to Your School”, I’m with you that the album version is better – I always found the cheerleaders a little bit cheesy and unnecessary. I’m glad you mentioned “She Knows Me To Well” – I find that casual fans don’t know this one, and it wasn’t a single, but it’s up there with his best. Every time I hear it I wonder a 22 year-old man could write something like this. And so many chords! You may be interested to know that, according to Wikipedia, Brian’s lead vocal is a rare occasion where a BB lead vocal isn’t double-tracked. Looking forward to more of your posts.

    Like

    • Alan, I’m happy to hear that you agree with me about the album version of “Be True To Your School.” It’s hard to imagine the single version being more successful, but apparently that was the case. Maybe I’m biased because I grew up listening to the album version on “Endless Summer.” I’m also glad you’re a fan of “She Knows Me Too Well.” I think if it was included on “Pet Sounds” it might’ve been more highly regarded, so I guess it was just slightly ahead of its time. I also should have included “Please Let Me Wonder” on my list of lesser-know BB songs I love.

      Can you elaborate on the last part of your previous comment? Are you saying that they never double-tracked Brian’s lead vocals? I know Mike Love’s vocals were often doubled, but if I understood what you wrote, Brian’s voice was so strong that only a single track was needed. That’s not surprising. During their golden era his voice was breathtakingly good.

      Like

  4. philliphelbig
    August 14, 2012

    First, send me an email if you see this. Every few weeks I notice a problem with ALL WordPress blogs: my comments don’t appear (and there is nothing in them which would trigger moderation when normally they are not moderated) and when I repost I get a “duplicate comment” message.

    I own no Beach Boys albums. I know about 20 of their songs from radio, television etc. 9 days ago, my wife and I made a three-hour (each way) trip to see them in Stuttgart. They played all the songs I knew and as many that I didn’t (about 40 altogether). The surf tunes are fun and the more serious stuff is good but, as you say, there is some filler.

    All in all, a good, no-frills concert with good sound and a good band. There were 14 or 15 musicians altogether. 5 guitars?!

    They are on my list of “artists to investigate”, along with about 100 others. I’m looking forward to your posts as a guide on where to start, if not where to stop!

    It’s amazing that David Marks still looks essentially the same after 50 years!
    …….

    Like

    • philliphelbig
      August 14, 2012

      OK, they are getting through now. I’m pretty sure this is a WordPress bug.

      Like

  5. Hi Phillip. Your messages were received, so it probably is just an issue with WordPress. Perhaps other bloggers have different security settings when it comes to comments. I hope you resolve that issue soon.

    I’m glad you got to see The Beach Boys recently. I haven’t seen this tour, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews. Based on recent PBS special that included lots of footage from this tour, they sound great. Regarding the number of musicians, they probably need everyone to replicate all the sounds from the original records, which often included numerous studio musicians (although 5 guitars just might be overkill). The only thing you really missed was the angelic voice of the late Carl Wilson. Mike Love & Brian Wilson tend to get the attention when it comes to lead vocals, but Carl sang “God Only Knows” and so many other great songs and he’s sorely missed. He even made “Kokomo” enjoyable for me. I saw them twice, in 1983 & 1984, and both shows were a lot of fun (especially the first one, because Dennis Wilson was still with them). I totally agree with you about David Marks. Same exact face as 1962. Guess he’s taken care of himself all this time.

    I’m curious…who are some of your artists to investigate? I always have a list and I love getting into artists I’ve previously missed, although since I started this blog my focus has been on re-investigating artists that are already in my collection. Still, my curiosity is always there and I’m constantly checking out new (to me) music.

    Thanks for checking in. Always good to hear from you.

    Best…
    Rich

    Like

  6. philliphelbig
    August 15, 2012

    Most of the artists on my list come from things I found in magazines, such as Mojo and the German magazine eclipsed, which has an emphasis on progressive/classic/art/hard rock, including many new bands. Back in the day, this type of music was popular, but these days, it is mostly under the radar.

    Like

    • I’ve been a Mojo reader for years, and I’m constantly discovering artists based on their articles. A few years ago it was Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, two artists I was aware of but hadn’t heard their music. I’m also a huge prog/classic/art-rock fan, and I’m pleased that after years of those genres being vilified, they’re starting to be accepted again. Have you read the British music magazine Classic Rock or its offshoot progressive magazine, simply called Prog? If you want to add more artists to your list, you should check them out. Keep me posted on which newly-discovered artists you like.

      Like

      • philliphelbig
        August 16, 2012

        I don’t subscribe to either of the other two, but have bought the occasional issue. eclipsed covers essentially the same ground, but with more information on concerts which are near where I live (near Frankfurt am Main in Germany). I want to make an electronic version of my list anyway; when I do, I’ll post it here as well.

        For those who can read German: http://www.eclipsed.de/

        Like

      • Too bad I don’t read German, but that site (and magazine) looks great. I may have to use Google translator so I can read some of those articles. Thanks for letting me know about that.

        Like

  7. Jon Lyness
    August 16, 2012

    Hey Rich, wow, this new series of yours is perfect timing for me. I saw the Beach Boys reunion tour at the Beacon Theater in May & was completely blown away, and I’ve been on an all-BBs kick since then, starting to dive into some of the albums I know nothing about (I’m most of the way through the Sunflower/Surf’s Up 2-fer CD right now). I’ve always liked their early-to-mid-60s hits, and in more recent years I’ve discovered and loved Pet Sounds and Smile… but right now I’m quite fascinated by the late-60s/early-70s era where they seemed to evolve into a completely different band, and I do want to know more about all the other albums I’m missing. Looking forward to your reviews!

    Like

    • Hi Jon. I’m glad the timing is working out for this series, and I’m really happy to hear that you got to see them recently. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this tour (I only saw highlights of one show on PBS). Not only is it great that the surviving members were able to bury the hatchet & put the tour (and album) together, but from what I’ve heard they’re not simply doing the hits and they’ve been featuring a lot of lesser-known but equally valid deep cuts in their set.

      I got to see them twice, in ’83 & ’84. Dennis was still alive at that first show, and it was a party atmosphere from start to finish. They were still good in ’84 but it wasn’t the same. I’m just glad I got to see (and hear) the amazing voice of Carl Wilson.

      I’m looking forward to chatting about their catalog with you. It’ll be especially fun when we get to the era when the hits dried up, Brian lost touch and everyone was contributing songs.

      Thanks for checking in.

      Rich

      Like

  8. Jon Lyness
    August 17, 2012

    You know, the deep cuts really impressed me in concert. Songs like Add Some Music To Your Day (a real showstopper, with the guys clustered around Brian at the piano), Cotton Fields and Disney Girls really jumped out, though of course I loved the big hits as well. Some terrific setlists on this tour… you can tell a lot of planning went into the shows.

    Also, I never knew there were two versions of Be True to Your School. I’ll go against the grain… I actually much prefer the single version. (Go figure!) There’s a drive and tension to the single version that I don’t hear in the album version, and I love the stinging guitar solo on the single. The album version sounds a bit lazier by comparison, with Four-Freshmen-style harmonies that seem to slow things down a bit. (And I don’t even have a problem with the cheerleader vocals, gimmicky though they are… but in fairness, that could be my bias as well since that’s the version I know.)

    Like

    • Hi Jon. I knew there were people out there who preferred the single version of “Be True To Your School,” including David Leaf (who wrote the liner notes to all of the 2-fer reissues), so I’m not surprised to hear that you’re one of them. Perhaps without the cheerleaders I might like it better, but their inclusion turns it into a novelty song for me. Also, the album version (which appeared on the “Endless Summer” compilation) is the one I grew up with, so I’ll always be partial to it.

      One of the things I need to do before I complete my reappraisal of The Beach Boys’ catalog is to play my Four Freshmen compilation CD again. It’s been years since I listened to it, and this will be the perfect time to get reacquainted with their music. I remember thinking that their harmonies were great but that The Beach Boys took them to another level. I also thought the music was a little white-bread, but maybe my tastes have changed over the years.

      Also, I wanted to thank you again for your recommendation of the John Hammond album “Wicked Grin” during my Tom Waits series. I’ve listened to it a few times and I love it. I was pleased to see that not only did it include all Tom Waits songs, but that Waits performed on nearly every song and produced the album. It should almost be considered an official part of the Waits discography.

      Rich

      Like

  9. Alan Kennedy
    August 17, 2012

    Rich – First of all, I totally agree that “Please Let Me Wonder” is up there with Brian’s early pop masterpieces like “She Knows Me Too Well”. Also, I agree with Jon who said “Add Some Muisc” was a highlight of the curent live tour. I saw it in NYC as you know, and it was indeed. As for Wikipedia’s claim that the BB’s usually double-track their lead vocals – I have no first-hand knowledge of that, I’m just repeating their claim (but it sounds right to me). I’ve often wondered if I should know some of the group’s late ’60s and 70s albums like “Holland “, “Sunflower” or “Friends” better – so now I’m relying on you to tell me what you think! Also, Dennis Wilson’s solo album “Pacific Ocean Blue” seems to be highly rated by some people – I don’t know that at all. Will you talking about that? Do you know it?

    Like

    • Alan, based on what I’ve been reading in the CD liner notes, The Beach Boys often did double-track their vocals, but not as a studio trick. They would sing those amazing harmonies and then sing them again, recording both performances on top of each other. I don’t think it was meant to cover up any shortcomings, since I don’t think they had any. Just find the YouTube clip of them performing the Four Freshmen song “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring” to prove how incredible they were.

      Based on my recollection of their ’70s albums, none of them are essential, but there are wonderful songs & performances on each of them. I’m really looking forward to getting into them in a couple of weeks. I love Dennis Wilson’s “Pacific Ocean Blue” but I won’t be covering it here. I’m just going to revisit albums recorded by The Beach Boys. Perhaps I’ll do one of my B-Sides The Point posts on that album in the future. I think it would be worth talking about.

      Thanks for sharing your input. That’s what makes this so much fun.
      Rich

      Like

  10. Kevin
    October 30, 2012

    I really like the Album version of Be True to your School. The song as a whole sounds fuller to my ears. A thicker less tinny sound. The vocal (both lead and harmony) are better in my opinion. And I hate the Honeys with their cheering. I could never understand why David Leaf and others considered the single version better. If I didn’t know better I would have thought the album version was the second attempt here. Glad to hear there are others who feel that way about this song.

    Like

    • Hi Kevin. Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad to find another Beach Boys fan who feels the same way I do about those two versions of “Be True To Your School.” The cheering part during the single version always bugs me, but who knows if I would’ve preferred that version had it been the first one I heard. I’m glad the compilers of Endless Summer chose the album version instead.

      Like

  11. DanicaPiche
    July 6, 2015

    Excellent article, Rich! Endless Summer is a favorite of mine. When I bought it (at an actual music store) my friend urged me to get a compilation hits CD instead. But I wanted Endless Summer. The store clerk pointed out that it was an important album. I agreed. I have so many favorite songs that it’s impossible to choose: California Girls, I Get Around, Surfin’ USA, Little Deuce Coupe, Help Me Rhonda….

    Like

    • Thanks, Danica. You realize that Endless Summer is a hits compilation, right? So in the end your friend’s recommendation still applied. For years those songs were the only Beach Boys I knew, and every one of them is an absolute gem. When I delved further into their discography, I was amazed at how many great songs were left off that collection. It’s hard to believe that for many years The Beach Boys were not taken seriously. I’m glad that’s changed and they’re rightfully regarded as one of the most important bands of all time.

      Hope you’re having a fun fun fun day.
      Rich

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phillip Helbig
        July 7, 2015

        Yes, Endless Summer is a compilation, but there are 2 or 3 discs, so it’s bigger than most and has all the famous songs. Rich thinks, however, that there are more good songs which are not on it. (There are two different recent greatest-hits compilations, one with 2 and one with 3 discs. Not sure which Endless Summer is.)

        “She makes the Indy 500 look like a Roman chariot race now.” 🙂

        I recently bought some early Dylan albums. I had one on vinyl (inherited from my parents; I don’t think they actually listened to it much) already which I bought again on CD (Freewheeling). I had had Another Side for a long time (one of the first CDs I bought, back in 1986) and Blonde on Blonde for a while. Of course, I had heard a few songs over the years. Not all the songs on the CDs I recently bought are good, but there are some real gems on there which are not on any “greatest hits” and also which I had never heard.

        It’s probably a mistake to think “I know the hits; the other stuff can’t be as good”. Sometimes this is true, sometimes it is not.

        By coincidence, I recently bought an Uncut special on Dylan and also saw him in concert. I don’t think I’ll become a huge fan, and probably won’t like even all the albums which most people agree are good, but I’m sure that there is some more good stuff waiting for me.

        Rich, will you ever do a post revisiting Dylan’s catalogue?

        And, with a new Maiden album on the horizon (a double-CD studio album, about 90 minutes overall, some songs reaching the 20-minute mark), it’s time for you to revisit Maiden’s catalogue.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Phillip, Endless Summer was a 2-LP set but I think the total running time was only about 60 minutes so it’s relatively short compared to other compilations that followed during the CD era. As good as it is, there are at least a couple dozen songs which weren’t included that are every bit as essential. There have been several comprehensive anthologies in recent years that do a better job of giving a complete overview of their catalog, but as a snapshot of a particular era, it’s hard to beat Endless Summer.

        I’m enough of a Dylan fan to own his entire catalog but I don’t know every album from top-to-bottom. Last year I replaced my original CD pressings with the Complete Albums Collection box set, which I got for an incredible price from Amazon UK. Even though I already had just about all of that music in my collection, it was nice to have remastered versions of many of those records…and there’s also a 2-disc set of rarities that’s exclusive to the box. I’ve considered doing a Dylan blog series but it’s an overwhelming task. Perhaps one day I’ll do separate series on “Dylan In The ’60s,” “Dylan In The ’70s,” etc. At least I’ve got the best-sounding versions to listen to if/when I tackle that project.

        I promise you that an Iron Maiden series will happen. The blog will continue to be on hiatus for the next couple of months as I work through selling my house, relocating and getting settled. Once that happens, I look forward to returning to KamerTunesBlog on a regular basis and Maiden is at or near the top of my list of priorities. Stay tuned…and thanks for the continued interest. I assume you’re familiar with Mike Ladano’s (aka LeBrain) blog, right? In case you missed it, he did a 45-part series of Maiden reviews. Here’s a link to the first post in that series:
        http://mikeladano.com/2012/09/25/review-iron-maiden-the-soundhouse-tapes/

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        July 7, 2015

        What? I did not know this! Too funny! I wonder whether the music store clerk was aware…we had this whole discussion. I’ll have to explore further. It’s a little mystifying that they weren’t taken seriously earlier on. Maybe that was due to their subject matters and overall themes?

        Thank you, I’m pickin’ up good vibrations :).

        Like

      • How old was the music store clerk who steered you towards Endless Summer? It’s possible that youngsters may not be as familiar with the catalog & various compilations as some of us old-time fans. At least you got a great collection of songs. It was my gateway into their discography and it still holds up on its own.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. DanicaPiche
    July 8, 2015

    I’d guess early 20s. Yes, it’s a great collection of songs and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for an introduction to The Beach Boys.

    Like

    • I’ll give an early-20s record store clerk the benefit of the doubt and just be glad that he/she was familiar enough with the Beach Boys to recommend such a good record. Glad you feel the same way about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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