Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
The first album by The Beach Boys, Surfin’ Safari (1962), is typical of albums from that era in that it features a few hit recordings and a significant amount of filler. This album stands apart from many others, though, due to two things: those unique vocal harmonies (already fully developed) and the fact that 9 of the 12 songs were co-written by Brian Wilson (with either Mike Love or lyricist Gary Usher) instead of padding out the album with cover songs. I (along with millions of other fans) was already familiar with “Surfin’ Safari,” their first national hit. It’s instantly catchy; a perfect introduction to their sound, and I still love hearing it after all these years. I also knew the minor hit “409,” their first song about cars (a subject they would cover many times in the next couple of years) and the re-recording of their regional hit single that got them signed to Capitol Records, “Surfin’.” Both songs are typical of early Beach Boys, with insanely catchy melodies and great vocal performances. “Ten Little Indians” is their fun take on a children’s nursery rhyme, but it doesn’t stand up to repeated listening. The most pleasant surprise here was “Little Girl (You’re My Miss America),” with lead vocals by drummer Dennis Wilson in the style of teen idols like Ricky Nelson & Frankie Avalon. It’s got a doo-wop feel and I love the “Blue eyes, blond hair, lips like a movie star” section. “Cuckoo Clock” is silly but it’s nice to hear Brian singing in a lower register than the falsetto vocals he would soon become known for. The remainder of the album is certainly enjoyable, but the songs themselves are nothing special. Considering that they were all between the ages of 14 (David Marks) and 21 (Brian & Mike) when it was recorded, this album is a pretty significant achievement, yet they were just getting started.
Less than six months later they returned with Surfin’ USA (1963). It’s a slightly stronger album than the debut, with Mike singing lead on 4 songs and Brian on 3 (whereas Mike dominated the lead vocals on the previous album), but it also includes 5 instrumentals which makes me think that lyrical inspiration was a little hard to come by. “Surfin’ USA” remains one of their most famous songs, reaching #3 on the Pop chart. Even though it’s basically a re-write of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” (with that early rock ‘n roll legend getting full songwriting credit), there’s no mistaking that this was a signature Beach Boys song. “Shut Down” was another successful single. I’ve never been a car buff so the lingo never made sense to me (I still don’t know what “the 413’s really diggin’ in” means), but it’s so upbeat and catchy that the lyrical content doesn’t really matter. My favorite song on the album, though, is “Farmer’s Daughter.” It has a simple structure but Brian’s falsetto shines and the harmonies are incredibly tight.
[The Beach Boys – “Farmer’s Daughter”]
“Lonely Sea” is Brian’s first melancholy ballad, something he would perfect on future albums. Even though he would do better than this one, it’s still haunting and gorgeous, and I really like the spoken word middle section (“this pain in my heart…”). Carl plays a fine guitar lead on their cover of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” (made famous in the 1994 film Pulp Fiction), which is a nice tribute but not as good as the original. “Lana” is a fun, bouncy tune featuring Brian’s falsetto. It’s not great but it’s still enjoyable, and has a good vocal arrangement. “Finders Keepers” closes the album with a chorus reminiscent of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. It’s a minor song but it has a cool arrangement with several rhythmic shifts. All in all it’s a pretty good album with a few all-time classics, but they were about to shift things into a higher gear.
Of their first six albums that I’ve revisited this past week, Surfer Girl (1963) is by far my favorite. The fact that they opened the album with the slow, mellow and gorgeous “Surfer Girl” shows that they weren’t afraid to break some rules (usually the first song on an album was an upbeat number), and it paid off with another Top 10 hit. “Catch A Wave” is amazingly catchy (no pun intended). This was always my favorite Beach Boys song growing up when I was listening to the Endless Summer compilation. To me, it’s the ultimate surf party song, and I still get excited when I hear it. I love the organ and guitar solos with accompanying handclaps. “The Surfer Moon” is one of the true undiscovered gems in their catalog. It features their first string arrangement (which reminds me of a slowed down version of the ‘50s standard, “Mister Sandman”), a lovely melody and a phenomenal vocal from Brian (especially his falsetto in the bridge).
[The Beach Boys – “The Surfer Moon”]
“Hawaii” is another song that should’ve been a hit, or at least better exposed. It instantly gets in your brain and you can’t help but smile. I especially like the juxtaposition of Mike’s low and Brian’s high vocals. “Your Summer Dream” is another one of my favorites here. It’s similar to “The Surfer Moon” but has a jazzier feel. The highlight of the album, and one of the greatest songs Brian ever wrote (with Gary Usher), is “In My Room.” It’s truly a work of genius, both melancholy and uplifting, and the arrangement was completely original. I don’t think Brian’s non-falsetto voice ever sounded so utterly beautiful. “Little Deuce Coupe” was another big hit. It’s a great bragging song (even though they sing “Well I’m not braggin’ babe, so don’t put me down”) with more car lingo that continues to stump me (“She’s got a competition clutch with the four on the floor…”). Of the remaining songs on Surfer Girl, “South Bay Surfer” is a minor tune but very catchy, set to the melody of Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks At Home” (aka “Swanee River”). “Surfers Rule,” with Dennis on lead vocals, has a Four Seasons vibe, and lyrically they challenge (or possibly pay tribute to) their vocal group rivals (“Four Seasons, you better believe it”) in the outro. I love the percussive rhythm throughout “Our Car Club,” as well as the “us against them” gang attitude in the lyrics. This might be one of the most consistently satisfying albums in their catalog, although I won’t be able to confirm that until I work my way through the entire discography.
Little Deuce Coupe (1963) was the final album to feature David Marks, as Al Jardine had rejoined the group on tour earlier in the year. It’s a sort-of concept album, gathering together songs about cars (with one exception), including four that were previously released. Of the eight new songs, which were all recorded in one day, there are a few highlights. “Ballad Of Ole’ Betsy” is a pretty ballad, and I like how the lyrics could also be about a woman (except for the “she may be rusted iron” part). “Be True To Your School” is the one non-car song here. As I stated in my previous post, this is the version I prefer. The single version that includes actual cheerleaders just sounds too gimmicky to me. “Spirit Of America” is another song that should be more well-known. I like the slightly muted production and Brian’s falsetto, of course. It’s a nice tribute to Craig Breedlove, who set the land speed record with his vehicle of the same name earlier that year.
[The Beach Boys – “Spirit Of America”]
Another highlight is the a capella “A Young Man Is Gone,” where they use the melody of the Four Freshmen song “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring” and change the lyrics to pay tribute to the recently-departed actor James Dean. What a stunning vocal arrangement. “Cherry Cherry Coupe” is a nice tune with a driving beat, but the chorus is the strongest part of the song. The rest of the album features pleasant but minor songs, yet the combination of those strong new songs and a few older tunes (“Little Deuce Coupe,” “409” and “Shut Down” among them) makes this a very enjoyable collection.
Shut Down Volume 2 (1964) is notable for being the first Beach Boys album to be released after The Beatles arrived in America, but the competition between them hadn’t started yet and Brian and the boys continued to deliver the hits as well as some of the most beautiful songs they would ever record. “Fun, Fun, Fun” is simply one of the great ‘60s rock ‘n roll singles, featuring killer lead guitar from Carl and a memorable organ solo. This is always a highlight of their concerts. “Don’t Worry Baby” is one of their best love songs, and Brian’s vocals are both breathtaking and heartbreaking. The musical structure is simple, with the harmonies carrying the song. Brian has claimed that this was written about his car (she’s telling him not to worry), but if that’s the case I don’t want to know about the “when she makes love to me” section. Then there’s “The Warmth Of The Sun,” without a doubt one of their all-time best songs. Brian wrote it the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and shortly after a relationship ended, yet the melancholy feel never becomes maudlin, and instead acts like an inspirational hymn. The arrangement points to soft rock acts of the ‘70s (you can decide if that’s a good thing…I think it is).
[The Beach Boys – “The Warmth Of The Sun”]
There are a few too many throwaway tracks, like “In The Parking Lot” (although the vocals in the intro and outro are fantastic), “Pom Pom Play Girl” (Brian sounds like Mike on this one) and the short drum solo, “Denny’s Drums.” However, they redeem themselves somewhat with the straight-ahead cover of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and the lovely ballad, “Keep An Eye On Summer.” The album as a whole might be a bit spotty, but those highlights are so good that I’ll keep coming back to it. They also showcase Brian’s growing prowess with songwriting, production and vocal arrangement.
In the wake of Beatlemania, The Beach Boys released All Summer Long (1964), proving to everyone that America’s favorite band could still deliver the goods. In fact, the album starts off with their first #1 record, “I Get Around,” another classic with Mike & Brian doing what they do best, and a great start-stop rhythm. “All Summer Long” follows, and it’s another instant classic. This one always makes me a little sad, as it reminds me of the end of summer, right before school starts. George Lucas used it at the end of his film American Graffiti, and the compilers of The Beach Boys’ Endless Summer compilation did the same. It’s a perfect “last song.” “Wendy” begins with an offbeat, sparse intro before drums and guitar scratches lead into the song, which is one of their best. “Girls On The Beach” is another longtime favorite, with the lead vocals shared by the group in harmony (with Brian’s falsetto leading the way). There are some amazing key changes/modulations throughout, and the best part just might be Dennis singing, “The sun in her hair, the warmth of the air.” The album closes with a song I’ve loved for a long time, “Don’t Back Down.” It’s another of their tough guy bragging songs, this time about surfers not backing down from a killer wave. It has a wonderful melody and great falsetto vocals. My only complaint is that it’s a little too short, and I wish the fade-out lasted a bit longer.
[The Beach Boys – “Don’t Back Down”]
In between the songs I already mentioned, all of which I’ve loved for years, I found a few others that caught my ear this past week. “Hushabye” is a cover of an earlier hit by The Mystics. It’s a very simple song with a muted production that emphasizes the incredible vocals. “Little Honda” sounds like a throwback to their first couple of albums, and I was surprised that they never released it as a single. “Do You Remember?” finds them standing up for early rock n’ roll pioneers (who preceded them by less than a decade). The song itself is pretty derivative but their vocal performance won me over. As usual, the rest of the album consisted of minor songs, but that’s hardly a complaint. After Surfer Girl, this is probably my second favorite out of this batch of releases.
It’s hard to believe that all six of these albums were released within 21 months, between October 1962 and July 1964. That kind of recording schedule was par for the course back then, but very few artists were as consistent as The Beach Boys right out of the starting gate. It’s a pretty impressive feat made even more so when you consider that most of the records were written, produced and arranged by one man: Brian Wilson. Sure, he had some songwriting collaborators and early production assistance, but when you compare The Beach Boys to The Beatles, for example, the Fab Four had two main songwriters and an accomplished producer who helped shape their sound. Brian just had Brian, which explains his eventual nervous breakdown and retirement from touring, but that also led to some of the most innovative recordings in history. Another thing I love about these records is the innocence in the songs and the performances. They were like teenagers dreaming of magical, undiscovered worlds outside their bedrooms. Within a couple of years their sound would become more sophisticated and they would never sound quite the same again. It’s going to be a lot of fun listening to (and writing about) the next set of albums and hearing them evolve into the group that would soon record the legendary Pet Sounds.
[Note: I’ve included more song samples and YouTube clips in this post than I usually do, but I also covered more territory (six albums) here. I hope you enjoy the songs I’ve chosen. In most cases I opted for slightly more obscure songs since I imagine that most people already know the big hits by heart. Please let me know if you agree with this approach. I want to thank all the people who posted songs and videos to YouTube, since their work allows me to highlight the music I’m writing about.]
Thank you Rich, I enjoyed every word of this. I think I’ll definitely want to add a few of these early albums to my collection, mostly to seek out some of the lesser-known tracks you highlight. I grew up listening to doo-wop and the like on WCBS-FM, so I’m thinking I probably have a higher-than-average tolerance for the corny early stuff. Plus, I have to admit that I really like Mike Love’s voice a whole lot (despite his various shortcomings as a person…), and he really sounds great on lead vocals on some of these early tracks. Looking forward to more installments!
Hi Jon. Sorry for the delayed response time, but (fittingly) I was at the beach for a few days, and needless to say a lot of the songs I wrote about in this post were floating through my head while I was there. If you end up getting any of these early albums, I’d love to hear your thoughts. None of them are perfect albums but, as I pointed out, in my opinion “Surfer Girl” is the strongest one. I also agree that Mike’s voice is great, although in a different way than Brian’s or Carl’s voice. He’s always been the perfect front man for The Beach Boys, never more so than on those early tracks, as you pointed out.
I really enjoy reading your blog… so well written. Your analysis and musical knowledge are just amazing.
Thanks, Rob. I really appreciate that. Perhaps next time we get together with John, I can share this music information with him and watch his eyes roll back into his head. Should make for a fun afternoon or evening.
For a long time I tended to think of these early albums as somewhat interchangeable but, as you pointed out, there’s actually a lot of musical growth from record to record. Lyrically, I like that they were documenting everyday parts of early 1960’s teenage life, not just cars and girls but amusement parks, drive-in movies, and even root beer.
Rich, what do you think of tracks like “Our Favorite Recording Sessions”? I’m sure a lot of people hate them but I find them kind of charming. They could be looked on as filler but I think they were another way to make the albums something special for the fans.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the next chapter. And don’t feel bad about not getting some of the car lingo. It goes over my head too.
Hi Glenn. I just got back from a few days at the beach (perfect timing, right?) and was pleased to read your comments. Until this past week, even though I knew a pretty good percentage of the songs on these albums, I also thought that they were interchangeable but was happy to discover that they progressed pretty quickly, and that there were a couple of very strong albums during that time. You made a great point about them “documenting everyday parts of early 1960’s teenage life.” A lot of people think they just focused on surfing and cars, and I probably even generalized about that in my post, but there’s a reason why they were the most popular band in America at that time, especially among youngsters.
Regarding tracks like “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” and “‘Cassius’ Love vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson,” I tend to think of them as cute but insignificant album filler. I definitely understand what they were going for, and I’m sure it was a lot of fun for their fans at the time, but as “songs” they don’t hold up to repeated listens. I’m an “album” guy so I rarely skip individual songs, but I could see myself hitting the “skip” button when getting to these tracks in the future. I’m glad you pointed them out though, since I lumped them in with the filler I discussed in this post and there are probably fans who would enjoy them more than I do.
Glad to know I’m not the only one scratching his head at some of those car-song lyrics. Still, it never took away from my enjoyment of those songs.
As always, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Hearing from fellow fans is the main reason I’m writing this blog.
Great, great job of encapulating thier first few albums Rich. Nice going. I agree with almost everything you say here. The only thing I’d quibble with that you say is “Brian just had Brian, which explains his eventual nervous breakdown and retirement from touring.” Brian actually suffered from schizophrenia and has been admirably candid about this for decades. It’s not that he was “sensitive” or “on drugs” or “abused by his dad” – although all of those descriptions fit him, but they also fit his brothers. His mental illness was, I believe (and so does he) the underlying cause of his struggles over the years. Getting back to the music: you say “Fun, Fun, Fun” is simply one of the great ‘60s rock ‘n roll singles” – so true. I always sort of saw it like this: they did “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and the like, playing around with that whole Chuck Berry- meets-barbershop-quartet sound, and then eventually perfected it with the definitive one, “Fun Fun Fun”. I love how Mike crams so many lyrics into each measure – I consider that to be one of his key/signature contributions to the groups’ sound (e.g. “she makes the Indy 500 look like a Roman chariot race now…”) You mention “Wendy” – did you know the trivia fact that during the keyboard solo in that song you can hear someone (Brian?) cough, quite clearly? Re: “In My Room”, there’s a David Croby quote that I love. “Everybody by that time had figured out who was writing and arranging it all. When I heard it [“In My Room”] I thought “I give up — I can’t do that — I’ll never be able to do that.” Keep up the good work, Rich, very enjoyable posts!
Hi Alan. Sorry if I skimmed over, or made light of, Brian’s schizophrenia with my comment. I think I was just trying to point out that the stress of being the main creative force in the band was one of the major contributing factors to his withdrawal from touring and eventually from writing songs and producing the records. It certainly wasn’t the cause of his mental illness. I’m glad you went into a little more detail on this, and hopefully my readers will appreciate that insight.
I had forgotten about the “cough” you mention on “Wendy” until I re-read the liner notes last week. I’m guessing Brian was well aware of this, and must have chosen to keep it in the final mix for some reason.
That’s a great quote by David Crosby, who’s a pretty amazing songwriter himself, about “In My Room.” I’m not sure if you’re a Crosby (or Byrds, CSN, CSNY) fan, but that’s certainly high praise. It’s amazing when you think about how much creativity was in the air back then, and how much each artist was spurred on by the accomplishments of others.
I’m glad you’re enjoying these posts. I just got back from a few days at the beach, where unsurprisingly I had Beach Boys tunes swirling around in my head the entire time. In the next several days, I’ll be playing and replaying the rest of their pre-“Pet Sounds” output (including the Christmas album, which should be interesting to listen to in August), and hopefully I’ll find some time to share my thoughts on those albums by early next week. I look forward to speaking about some of this in person soon as well.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
The Beach Boys have more compilation albums than regular albums, and more compilation albums than Uriah Heep, which both mean “a lot”. Having always been aware of them, but having no albums (mainly because I used to listen only to serious music like J.S. Bach or Pink Floyd) and having recently seen them on tour, I decided I needed a compilation first. When buying some nappies today, in the next aisle were various CDs. For a drugstore, they have quite an interesting assortment on offer, including the new Rush CD, for example, and also the latest Beach Boys studio album. But also various compilations. Since it cost only 6.66, I went for Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys which appears to contain the tracks “everyone knows”. Certainly I knew all but one or two, and there are probably only a handful of tracks that a non-expert like me would recognize but which are not on this compilation (a single CD with 30 songs!). This is probably the best place to start for someone who wants to buy 1, or his first, Beach Boys CD.
Send me an email if you see several similar/identical comments.
OK, no need, they are getting through now. One has appeared in the blog. How many did you see?
Thanks for the recommendation of that Beach Boys compilation. Although I’m certainly not the target customer, I’m sure some people reading these posts/comments won’t want to buy all the individual albums I’m writing about but might be inspired to pick up a compilation. The fact that this one has 30 songs and covers a larger portion of their career than any collection I’ve heard, it seems like a great purchase. Much as I love “Endless Summer,” it doesn’t show the full scope of their greatness.
As for your comment, it only appeared once here, so no issues on my end.
My wife got me the “Sounds of Summer” compilation after the May BBs concert. I’m typically not a ‘greatest hits’ buyer either… as Rich says, greatest-hits albums tend not to show the full range of what a band can do, plus by cherrypicking out the hits you can overplay them and make the regular albums seem less appealing. But I have to say, “Sounds of Summer” is just a damn fun listen, and I’ve played it a lot. I know 90% of the BBs greatest hits from a lifetime of radio, but they sound infinitely better with the nice crisp remastering, and with the 30 songs on 1 CD it’s a great value. For anyone who just wants to dip their toes in the water (so to speak…) and try a compilation, I’d second the recommendation.
Thanks for your endorsement of that compilation, Jon. It’s hard to dispute the track listing for anyone who wants the hits and a little more. Of course, if I compiled a BB compilation, it would probably fill up 2 CDs and still leave off some good songs. I wonder if there’s anything like that out there, or if the choice is between single CD compilations and box sets.
Regarding the remastering, that would be the main reason for me to check out “Sounds Of Summer,” as the bulk of my BB collection comes from the 2-on-1 CDs from 1990 and 2000 (all of which sound very good, but could probably use some more punch). Later this year, many of their early albums are being reissued in mono & stereo, so if I’m ever going to sonically upgrade my collection, those might be the discs for me. I’ll be keeping an eye open for reviews of those releases.
“I wonder if there’s anything like that out there, or if the choice is between single CD compilations and box sets.”
Indeed there is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Platinum_Collection_%28Sounds_of_Summer_Edition%29
This was also on display in the drugstore, but I opted for 30 songs on one disk rather than 60 on 3.
According to this discography page, there are three new compilations from 2012. I haven’t seen them yet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beach_Boys_discography
Phillip, thanks for looking into this and sharing that information. I think that 3-disc set is a little too sprawling even for fans who want to explore their music beyond a single disc collection. It could’ve been tightened up into a better 2-disc set. It looks like the track listing for the upcoming “50 Big Ones” compilation is excellent. Even though it’s not in chronological order, I think it will be an excellent listen.
Stumbled on your blog and read it with interest. I am, in fact, a car guy and all the words of “409” and “Shut Down” make sense to me now, but I remember being five or six when they first came out and not having any idea what they were singing about. I still remember singing “I got the big slip daddy!” instead of the correct “I’ve got the Pink Slip, Daddy” (referring to the fact that street racers would sometimes race for the ownership of the other guy’s car– and if you won, you got his “pink Slip” (or the car title…) so showing that you had your pink slip with you meant that you were truly serious.)
A “413” is the top Dodge street motor from 1962, just as the 409 was the hottest Chevy engine from that year. Both were eclipsed by 1965 by respectively, the Dodge 426 Hemi and the Chevy 427 Big Block… And surely you know what a “pressure plate burnin’ “means… or probably don’t care.
I am 51, and these songs came out when I was a small boy. I lived the car culture of these years, and still have my hot rods from my youth, all pre-1966 muscle cars (Including the T-bird that daddy took away in Fun Fun Fun). I used to sit on the lawn and watch the neighborhood boys wrench their 1950s and early 60s Chevys, waiting for the day I could own one too. To say that the Beach Boys were critical to my youth would be an understatement.
Kind regards, Bill Henderson
Wow, Bill, thanks so much for sharing that information. I figured if I enjoyed their music without understanding a lot of the lingo, people who lived that lifestyle must have been blown away by all those references in Beach Boys songs. It’s nice to hear that you haven’t outgrown your passion for the hot rods of your youth. Do you still love their music as much as you did back then? Although you’re a few years older than me, we both grew up with The Beach Boys’ music and I still get the same excitement listening to them as I did when I was a kid. The only difference now is that I know so much more of their music than I did then (and by the end of this series, after revisiting their entire catalog, I’ll know the music better than ever).
By the way, I don’t know what a “pressure plate burnin'” means, so feel free to enlighten me (and probably some of my readers as well).
Thanks again for stopping by and commenting. It’s much appreciated.
I had collected all the Beach Boys original albums in Vinyl, then the reissues, the the CDs — etc… I probably have everything ever released along with some rather poor quality bootlegs as well I picked up along the way. I have seen them live probably 10 times, including on the beach in Atlantic City around 1984 once in about 1987 where my employer hired them for a private party of about 300 people!
A “Pressure Plate” is part of the clutch assembly of a car, so that when you rev the engine up and drop the clutch to engage the tires violently, the spinning engine “burns” the clutch disc against the pressure plate that is desperately trying to press it against the flywheel, as the clutch struggles to catch up and transfer the power of the engine to the back wheels. It sounds exciting, but it is rather destructive and not something one wants to do too often. But it sure sounds macho.
Many other hot rod terms are used in the songs, let me know if there are any that catch your ear. In the meantime, let “those dual quads ring” (translation: the engine’s intake manifold has two four barrel carburetors mounted on it, something that was common on race car engines before the advent of fuel injection. It is rather excessive for street use, but when the engine is “floored” the amount of air that is being sucked in through all eight ports into the engine makes a ringing sound that means excessive POWER to all who have heard it.)
Are you “walking the clutch” yet?
Hi Bill. Thanks for continuing to enlighten me on all those hot rod terms…even though sometimes your explanations have me scratching my head as well. I’m definitely not a “car guy,” and as someone who’s only ever driven automatics, all the talk of “clutch” goes right over my head (or right under my left foot, I suppose).
I also saw The Beach Boys in concert in ’84. They were pretty good, but the show I saw the previous year (when Dennis was still with them) was so much better. I’ve also seen Brian live several times, including his first “Pet Sounds” tour and the “SMiLE” show at Carnegie Hall. As excellent as those shows were, it’s still not the same without the other Beach Boys. Even this current tour, which has been getting nothing but rave reviews, can’t be the same without Carl’s wonderful voice. Still, I’m thrilled that a new generation is getting exposed to this music, and any footage I’ve seen so far has been excellent.
Feel free to explain “walking the clutch” when you have a moment. Thanks again.
Ha ha! I was lucky enough to see Dennis once, and Carl most every other time. If you have read any of the Beach Boys biographies, it will tell you that Roger Christian, a friend of Brian’s who was really into cars, “helped” write all the car song lyrics. I would suspect that that should be translated into “Roger Christian wrote the lyrics”, as I am sure Brian had no idea of these technical things either. If I remember, some of the others (probably Mike) were annoyed that Brian kept finding new songwriting friends (also like Van Dyke Parks) to write with, eschewing the other boys in the band.
“walking the clutch” simply means to let the clutch out slowly so that the car starts moving without a lurch or great drama. It is probably the tamest thing in any of these songs.
Speaking of Van Dyke, have you heard “Orange Crate Art”, the album released about 10 years ago between Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks? Very nice.
Thanks for your continued input, Bill. Until I re-read the liner notes from the 2-fer CDs recently, I was unaware of Roger Christian’s input. It certainly makes sense that the other ‘Boys would’ve been upset that Brian turned to outside lyric writers, but at least we now know that Mike was contributing lyrics as well. In fact, when I was listening to their Christmas album (which I wrote about in my latest post), I couldn’t help thinking that Mike wrote a lot of the words for “Little Saint Nick.” On the CD, all the originals were credited solely to Brian, but in checking online, Mike did receive some writing credit later on.
I have heard “Orange Crate Art” and I remember liking it a lot, although it’s been years since I played it. I was a big fan of Brian’s first solo album, and that collaboration with VDP is probably my favorite of all his subsequent releases. In this series I will only be revisiting Beach Boys albums, but perhaps down the road I’ll do a similar series on Brian’s solo work.
I met Van Dyke backstage after the “SMiLE” show at Carnegie Hall. It was just a quick hello, but it was nice to meet such a legendary music figure.
Bill, thanks for explaining the “pink slip” line in Little Deuce Coupe! I have always wondered about that. I actually really like that their car songs have all this weird slang in them that goes over my head… the songs themselves are so straightforward, it’s nice that they give my imagination a spin trying to suss out the meanings.
Rich et al, here’s a link to a really fun Van Dyke Parks interview. I thought this was quite charming.
(I’ve heard some songs from Orange Crate Art on Youtube and really liked them. On the list!)
Thanks for linking to that Van Dyke Parks interview, Jon. He’s an interesting character, and I love his motto: “the older I get, the better I was.” Very clever.
I also enjoy the fact that a lot of the lingo The Beach Boys used in those early car songs went over my head (and continues to do so, even though Bill has unlocked some of those mysteries in his comments above). The same holds true for their surfing songs. “Shooting the pier”? “Walking the nose”? Even the places they mention in “Surfin’ U.S.A.” always sounded so exotic to me, being a lifelong New Yorker: San Onofre, Redondo Beach, La Jolla.
The bottom line, though, is that they wrote so many amazingly catchy songs and delivered them with one-of-a-kind harmonies, so they could’ve been singing gibberish and I still would have loved them.
Same here, Rich. (And you can cut and paste that last paragraph when you get to reviewing Smile!) 🙂
Glad you agree with that last sentiment. I won’t be writing about “SMiLE,” of course, but “SMiLE Sessions,” which is the best version that’s readily available. A friend of mine claims to have a tape copy of the finished version of the album that Brian presented to Capitol before deciding to scrap the album completely, and apparently that version is significantly better than anything that’s been officially released. Although I believe him, I’ll stick with my “SMiLE Sessions” CD and if I ever hear the other version, I’ll comment about it here.
I’ll offer a few lines of translation, for the fun of it… this may be far more detail than anyone wants to read, but I need a break from work…..
Just a little deuce coupe with a flat head mill….
A 1932 Ford two-door is known as a “deuce coupe” among hot rodders. It was the first Ford to be sold with a V-8 engine, so it was a natural choice for the very early hot rodders. Then it just became “the” traditional car to make a hot rod out of, until they were all used up. Now they make Fiberglas replicas for people who want to relive the past. (http://www.superiorglassworks.com/1932-Ford-Kit-Car.html)
Here is the actual car from the cover of the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” album cover. It was a famous show car in 1961-1963.
By the way, here is what an unmodified “Deuce Coupe” looked like when Ford made it in 1932. Almost unrecognizable from the one on the cover of the Little Deuce Coupe Album
A “Flat head mill” refers to the type of engine. Without getting too complicated and technical, the earliest V-8 engines (and up until 1954 or so in Fords) had their valves for breathing air and gasoline built into the engine’s mechanicals. They looked like this (http://www.google.com/imgres?um=1&hl=en&safe=off&sa=N&biw=1270&bih=628&tbm=isch&tbnid=EpKb9GZBLrPAlM:&imgrefurl=http://www.streetrodderweb.com/tech/0904sr_ford_flathead_engine/photo_03.html&imgurl=http://image.streetrodderweb.com/f/17719767/0904sr_04_z%252Bford_flathead_engine%252Bcarbs.jpg&w=640&h=480&ei=Qq8_UNTxEobo8gSK24CQAw&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=437&sig=117263551721011275058&page=1&tbnh=127&tbnw=169&start=0&ndsp=21&ved=1t:429,r:4,s:0,i:102&tx=71&ty=76 ).
as you can see the top of the engine’s “head” is flat. Newer engines from about 1955 to present have an OHV or “overhead valve” design that makes for better breathing. (http://www.novak-adapt.com/images/pics/engines/ford_302_boss.jpg) Notice the heads are not flat anymore, as all the engine’s breathing apparatus is on the outside now. You can’t burn gasoline to make power without a large amount of oxygen. The early flathead engines were limited in the amount of oxygen that could get down inside them for combustion. Therefore see below…
But she’ll walk a Thunderbird like (she’s) standin still
Clearly, they are saying their car with its old-fashioned but hot rodded engine is faster than a brand new Thunderbird. Bragging.
She’s ported and relieved and she’s stroked and bored.
“Ported and Relieved” means that the engine builder spent a lot of time with a grinder making the combustion chambers inside the engine larger,so the engines can ingest more air to burn more gasoline to therefore make more power.
“Stroked and Bored” means that the the displacement of the engine has been made larger by using larger pistons (“boring” the engine out to make it larger: turning a Ford 260 cubic inch engine into a 302, for example) “Stroking” the engine means that the internals of the engine have been changed (different crankshaft if you want to know) so that these pistons now travel a greater distance, again adding cubic inches and gaining power. Say, turning a Ford 302 into a 351) More than you wanted to know right?
Shell do a hundred and forty with the top end floored
She’s my little deuce coupe
You don’t know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don’t know what I got)
She’s got a competition clutch with the four on the floor
A Competition Clutch requires a strong leg because it has greater spring pressure to ensure that “your pressure plate burnin'” is kept to a minimum.
And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar
Lake pipes are “open side exhaust pipes” and they are named such because back in the 30s and 40s when the only place to race a car was on the dry lakes in California, people would install these on their cars to avoid using mufflers which restrict engine breathing (everything is about air, actually!) Lake pipes on a street car were generally not legal because of noise laws, but many people mounted “dummy” lake pipes just for show in the 1950s and early 1960s. Lake Pipes often have caps over the end that says to the viewer “I could open these up and make my car noisy and faster if I wanted to…” Here is a picture of a car with Lake Pipes: <http://www.flickr.com/photos/motorgraphex/74044445/>
And if that aint enough to make you flip your lid
There’s one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy
We already explained this one… racing for “pink slips” means that the winner of the race gets the car title of the loser. Kind of like Russian Roulette for racers. Showing the other guy that you “have your Pink Slip with you” means that you are deadly serious about racing and winning, and is a macho scare tactic.
And comin off the line when the light turns green
Well she blows em outta the water like you never seen
I get pushed out of shape and it’s hard to steer
When I get rubber in all four gears
“Get Rubber in all four gears” means that the car is so powerful that not only can you screech the tires from a dead stop, but as you shift into each new gear the tires screech because there is so much power on tap.
This is probably far more than anyone wanted to know… but that’s the beautiful thinh about blogs…. if you didn’t care you would have stopped reading by now.
Best, Bill Henderson
Bill, thanks again for sharing all this information. I’m sure some of my readers will be very interested in everything you’ve been contributing. At times I almost know what you’re talking about (haha). FYI, some of the links you provided weren’t working properly, so I attempted to fix them. Please click all of the links to make sure I did that correctly.
“A 1932 Ford two-door is known as a “deuce coupe” among hot rodders.”
Of course, this is the same deuce as “cut loose like a deuce” in the Springsteen song “Blinded by the light” (probably more famous in the cover version by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band).
1932 sounds so old, but for the Beach Boys this wasn’t any older than a car from the early 1980s is to us now. Did more change between 1932 and 1962 (30 years) or between 1962 and now (50 years)? Makes me feel old.
Phillip, thanks for pointing out that additional deuce coupe reference. Much as I love the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band version of that song (which was my first exposure to it when I was 10), I much prefer the original Springsteen recording..
Also, excellent point about the vintage of the cars they were singing about back then. I wonder why no one’s writing songs about cars from the early ’80s. Umm, maybe because they couldn’t compare to those old classics. I know nothing about cars, but I do know that those early ones (through the ’60s, I suppose) were just cooler looking than anything since.
A thirty year old car in 1962 was ancient. Besides the fact that they were not made to last thirty years, so much technology changed in that period that a 1932 car bore no resemblance to anything made in 1962. They blew tires, couldn’t go faster than 50 MPH without straining and shaking apart. Engines needed to be completely rebuilt after 50,000 at best. Lubricants were of prehistoric quality. The brakes were mechanical (not hydraulic) and were quite literally, unsafe at any speed greater than 35 MPH. (Henry Ford disagreed: he was terribly afraid of hydraulic brakes, and touted the cable-pulling system that attached the car brake pedal to the four weeks as “The safety of steel from pedal to wheel”. Cars from 1932 had to be able to handle rutted dirt roads, as less than half of the roads in the USA were paved at that time, something that most people do not know.
Moreover, car body styles changed radically every three years, and driving an “old looking car” was far more taboo than it is today when you almost can’t tell how old a car is unless it has faded paint.
Conversely, Cars made in 1982 are not uncommon on the road today. They travel effortlessly at high speeds, use modern tires and brakes, engines are meant to last for far more than 100,000 miles. I personally own and regularly drive three cars that were made between 1957 and 1966. While they are not as dependable or comfortable as new ones, they can keep up with today’s traffic. The advances in handling and braking in the past 15 years has been huge. Driving the 1957 T-Bird (“Fun Fun Fun”) feels like a farm implement, compared to the cars made today.
Rich: The link to show an original unmodified 1932 ford would better be:
The final link, to show lake pipes is wrong- use this instead:
OK– that’s enough from me.
Glad to contribute, Bill
Thanks Bill. I made the necessary changes to your previous comment. Nice to see that someone else has been enjoying your car-related comments, and relating them back to music. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. The main reason for me doing this blog (other than to finally get to know a lot of the CDs & LPs that have been sitting on my shelves, barely played for years) is to start conversations about all this great music. Mission accomplished.
Bill, I found this all really interesting. Thanks for sharing. To be honest, knowing nothing at all about vintage cars, I always figured the “little deuce coupe” to be a then-contemporary car. Maybe this is a dumb question, but any thoughts on why an ‘ancient’ 1932 car would be the subject of a 1963 racing song?
Jon- Cars from the 30s were dirt-cheap for boys to buy in the 50s and early 60s. Nobody wanted them. They couldn’t keep up with traffic, had bad brakes and were uncomfortable to drive. Therefore, they were available in “stock” form for as little as $25 or $50. This was something a boy could afford, then would take an engine out of a later model car and make other modifications to make the car fast and “cool” as he could afford it, one piece at a time.
The whole car culture of California, past WWII was based on hopping up these cars of the 1930s. There is still a contingent of (mostly very old men these days) that doesn’t consider a car a real hot rod unless it is from pre-1942.
The song “Hot Rod Lincoln” originally from 1955 (and later in both 1960 and 1972) was about a Ford Model A (1929-1931) that had a V12 Lincoln motor transplanted into it. This is another song that is just FULL of insider jargon that would require a translation for most people to have any idea what they are talking about.
Hope that helps!
Thanks again, Bill. That information is fascinating and enlightening. And thanks to Jon for asking that question. Believe it or not, this adds to my enjoyment of the Beach Boys’ music.
I hope you both have a great Labor Day weekend.
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