The Prop's Essential Beach Boys
Now that's odd -- the Dayglo is curiously empty tonight, just one or two punters who look like they've been here at least a couple of days. Sleep it off boys ...
Never mind, here he is, The Prop himself, with perhaps the least popular songlist ever, the world's least trendy DJ. It's no secret that he is a long standing Beach Boys fan. Seen as proof of some kind of retardation by his friends, nevertheless he sticks to his guns on this one and swears history will vindicate this long time obsession. Up he comes, giving what looks like the finger to all those aesthetes and know-it-alls who have always despised the Greatest American Pop Band ...EVER! Ladies and Gentlemen ... The Proprietor!
The first track off the astonishing album Holland. This was the record that catapulted me into a lifelong love affair with this great band. I heard it by accident, I think. The rather beautiful cover piqued my curiosity, so I put it on. This was at the nadir of their popularity, they were about the least cool band in the world at the time, and had yet to find their niche as All-American nostalgia blah blah Good Time Band. Holland was recorded in Europe, and from beginning to end is a masterpiece (except perhaps for some parts of California Saga, which has a hint of cheese on the nose. And Brian's very weird, but kinda sweet, drugged out kid's story Mt Vernon & Fairway on a bonus EP). I still think Holland is one of the greatest albums of all time. They were strongly augmented at the time by Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, and their song Leaving this Town is as good a BBs song as any. Trader is a curiosity -- post colonial politics... who would expect to find that from America's greatest ever pop band? And there is another glorious Dennis Wilson ecstatic hymn to love -- Only with You.
So then I began to go backwards in the Beach Boys Catalogue, and what a wonderful way to go. The previous album Carl and the Passions -- So Tough seemed immediately to me another overlooked masterwork. In the troubled absence of Brian Wilson, his brother Carl (he of the sweetest of all the Beach Boys' voices) stepped up to the plate, and this album was very much driven by him. Brian did at least collaborate on a couple of excellent songs You Need a Mess of Help and He Come Down, but it is the work of other Beach Boys that so surprise here. Two songs from new B Bs -- Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin (both South Africans), Hold On Dear Brother and Here She Comes areterrific and feel fresh, innovative but rootsy. But the quiet knockouts on this record are, from all people, Dennis, the raging party boy -- nobody writes or performs tender love songs like him: Cuddle Up.
Next album back may be the best of all, albeit patchy; Surf's Up. Carl emerges as hero here, and I love his strange, haunting and atmospheric Feel Flows and Long Promised Road. And I have an affection too for Bruce Johnston's Disney Girls, a weird bit of sugar candy nostalgia for a fictional America that really only existed on things like The Patty Page Show. But all hail Brian, who finally emerged from his sand pit to produce a suite of three extraordinary songs that complete the album - A Day in the Life of a Tree, Til I Die, and the best of all - Surf's Up. This is the song I often say is the best song of all time. It is really a mini symphony in three parts. Beautiful and apocalyptic.
Amazingly, all three of these brilliant albums were commercial flops.
The previous record was a much more mixed affair, Sunflower -- the low points being two awful tracks by Bruce Johnston, and Mike Love's lyrics for an otherwise fantastic and strange song by Brian Cool Cool Water ("...cool water is such a gas" - please...). But there are some pleasures here nevertheless -- Dennis' throwaway rocker Got to Know the Woman and marvellous Slip on Through and Forever - Dennis overwhelmingly in love yet again. But the pick is probably Add Some Music -- not for the rather obvious lyrics (Mike?) but for its gorgeous cascading harmonies. Another commercial flop, natch.
Smiley Smile is an odd thing indeed. Here be odd vestiges of the mythical lost album “Smile', largely destroyed by Brian in a dark dark moment - Wind Chimes, Vegetables, Fall Breaks into Winter, and so on. But really interesting for all that, and lovely moments -- Brian's largely accapella With Me Tonight for instance. And at the beginning of Side Two a song from a year or so back Good Vibrations, undoubtedly their best single, or anyone else's come to that. An amazing pop song, and one that absolutely defined my summer of that year. Even now it takes me straight to the beach at Kaiteriteri: bikinis, board shorts, beer, sun and another time altogether.
Friends and 20/20 are normally lumped together now, and are very peculiar mix ups of all kinds of BBs bits and pieces, and certainly reflect a group somewhat lost -- without Brian. And this in large part explains why no one much was listening any more by the time they reached their zenith with Holland, Carl & the Passions, and Surf's Up. Still there are lovely things to be found amongst the rubble -- Be Still (Dennis) Meant for You (Mike and Brian) Our Prayer (Brian) and Al's reworking of Cotton Fields. But above all there is the timeless pop classic ‘ Do It Again ‘. Try NOT to dance to this. One of rock's greatest moments.
I am quite fond of yet another obscure and forgotten Beach Boys album Wild Honey. This was much more a rock album, and straight up fun. The title track for instance. There's a rip-snorter version of Stevie Wonder's “ I was Made to Love Her “. And then there is Darlin', a terrific pop song if ever there was one.
I know that Pet Sounds is supposed to be Brian's grand opus, and all that, and it's everyone's favourite album from The Beach Boys. It's not mine. I find it a bit overworked, overproduced, overdone. And while there are some good songs on here, they are usually better in later, stripped back versions. I once heard Carl sing God Only Knows with just Brian on piano, and it was lovely. Same with Caroline No -- the simpler the better. Anyway, I'm not choosing any of them, but a really early one, that I play on the uke. It's Brian in confessional mode, taking refuge from the appalling Murray Wilson.
Simply peerless. Much covered, much loved. And the best, and most incongruous, intro to any song ever. The Beatles must have loved this song too, otherwise there'd never have been Back in the USSR. This may be heresy, but I have always liked David Lee Roth's version. He added a wild hedonism that the Beach Boys never intended.
Sale of Liquor License Ref: OF129
Licence No. 67/OFF/30/2022
Expires 24th August 2025