THE BEACH BOYS: LITTLE DEUCE COUPE (1963)
1) Little Deuce Coupe; 2) Ballad Of Ole' Betsy; 3) Be True To Your School; 4) Car Crazy Cutie; 5) Cherry, Cherry Coupe; 6) 409; 7) Shut Down; 8) Spirit Of America; 9) Our Car Club; 10) No-Go Showboat; 11) A Young Man Is Gone; 12) Custom Machine.
Capitol Records and the Beach Boys have a long, complex story of Money vs. Art relationship, and this is where it all begins. Some people have jokingly called Little Deuce Coupe the first concept album, since all of its songs are about cars — but then you could take every second blues album ever recorded before white people started appropriating the genre and claim that all of them were concept albums about getting laid (or not getting laid). Besides, one usually expects that the person behind the concept album should be the artist, not the record label.
Anyway, seeing as how Brian's «car songs» were getting the band as much fame and the label as much money as his «surf songs», the idea to put out a «car album» was probably inevitable. Unfortunately, due to the mad rush (I mean, what if Jan and Dean should get there first?), Brian was not given time to write enough material, meaning that four of the songs had to be recycled from the band's previous albums — and, of the rest, not everything could boast proper quality control on the level of Brian's finest contributions for Surfer Girl.
With disc jockey and big car fan Roger Christian and cousin Mike handling most of the lyrics, it is hardly surprising that Little Deuce Coupe is one of the silliest-sounding Beach Boys records ever — from the primitive teenage-jingoistic 'Be True To Your School', as flat-foot as any cheerleader anthem, to a whole series of girls/cars analogies that are sometimes unaware of their own double entendres ("A-ridin' the clutch", eh? "She likes to take 'em clean and gap the plugs" — that one's for you, Dennis).
This does not mean that the entire stock is worthless: 'Cherry, Cherry Coupe' and 'No-Go Showboat' are both a great showcase for the band's ever-solidifying harmonies; the late James Dean tribute 'A Young Man Is Gone' is its first serious try at going a cappella, and, although the lyrics are utterly lame, the sentiment is quite genuine; and Brian's vocals on the sentimental 'Ballad Of Ole' Betsy' are so gorgeously done that the feelings are almost believable — except, of course, that the historical Brian Wilson, in comparison with the lyrics, was produced ten years after «Betsy», but that's exactly how a great artist is born: fakin' it and loving every minute.
Since I am not more of a car fan than I am a surf one, there is little else to say. The record came out barely one month after Surfer Girl, still managed to sell plenty, gave the guys their third Top 10 hit (the cheerleading nonsense, of course, rather than the much more tasteful 'Cherry, Cherry Coupe', for instance), and satisfied Capitol Records for long enough to be able to come up with a proper follow-up to Surfer Girl in due time. That's all, folks.
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