THE BEACH BOYS: ALL SUMMER LONG (1964)
1) I Get Around; 2) All Summer Long; 3) Hushabye; 4) Little Honda; 5) We'll Run Away; 6) Carl's Big Chance; 7) Wendy; 8) Do You Remember?; 9) Girls On The Beach; 10) Drive-In; 11) Our Favorite Recording Sessions; 12) Don't Back Down.
All comparisons between the Beach Boys' All Summer Long and the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, even if the two sound very little like each other, are still fully justified. Not simply because the two LPs were released on the market literally within days from each other, in July 1964, but also because they represent the two finest pop bands of the early «teenage Sixties» at the absolute peaks of their «pre-serious» days. Both records take the «innocent» teen pop song genre — in its Brit-pop and California-pop incarnation, respectively — as high as it could ever be taken. From here on, there are but two directions: (a) conservation and gradual stagnation or (b) self-upgrading to an advanced level. Fortunately for us, both bands took option (b).
In the field of consistency, All Summer Long still loses out to Hard Day's Night, being much further from perfection on a song-by-song basis. For one thing, the issue of explicit filler has not been overcome. There is another piece of useless studio chit-chat, and another equally useless guitar instrumental — made to look ever more embarrassing by being given such «honorary» titles as 'Our Favourite Recording Sessions' (just in case you ever had the stupidity to think that the band's favourite recording sessions actually were the ones where they got the recordings right, instead of sounding like a bunch of five-year old goofballs); and 'Carl's Big Chance' (this one invites about a million bad jokes, so I'll just leave it up to you).
For another, there is no denying that there is a gradual drop in quality as the record moves along — much of Side B (and let us not forget that the entire album is over in 25 minutes' time) is dominated by Mike Love, whose lyrical skills seem to become more and more annoying with each new album, so much so that even Brian only sees it fit to put them to inferior re-written melodies. (It remains to be ascertained how much the local drive-in theater owners' union surreptitiously paid Mr. Love for the line "don't sneak your buddies in the trunk 'cause they might get caught by the drive in" — in any case, he'd have to be pretty dumb not to try to cash in on that).
'Do You Remember?', a song twice unnecessary because of the melodically similar, but far superior 'Little Honda', becomes thrice unnecessary also due to lyrics that, in an inane manner, try to glorify the early pioneers of rock (let alone the fact that we still don't know what is "the all-time greatest song" that Chuck Berry is supposed to have written — 'Rock'n'Roll Music'? 'Johnny B. Goode'? 'Roll Over Beethoven'? Come on, Mike, you of all people should know that Chuck Berry's all-time greatest song, 'My Ding-A-Ling', had not even been conceived yet. And why are the boys upholding this with harmonies of "diddy-wah diddy-wah"? That's, uh, actually, like a Bo Diddley song, really).
Finally, as beautiful as 'Girls On The Beach' is on its own, there is no denying that it is merely a variation on 'Surfer Girl', with the exact same verse melody getting a different resolution. The fact that Brian, who is very rarely known for plagiarizing himself, still gave it the green light, can only mean that, once again, the potential perfection of All Summer Long was ruined by external circumstances — record company demands, touring, promotion, and Brian's conflict with his father, which culminated somewhere around that time as the growing artist finally mustered enough courage to fire the parent from his manager position. (Too bad he was never strong enough to try the same stuff on Mike — although in 1964, Mike was still a positive force within the band, and by 1967, when he became its sinking stone, it was too late to chip the stone away).
Still, even today, as you put on the record, and all these classic numbers on the first side swish by, one by one — you can't help being impressed. 'I Get Around', the big hit single and one of the greatest songs of its era, is the record's visiting card, of course. The band's first No. 1 hit on the charts (and, contrary to what we'd all think, the Beach Boys only scored a measly three No. 1's during their good days — the fourth one was 'Kokomo'... nice weather today, isn't it?), and the finest vocal-harmony present to the art of cruising around that there ever was, as all the "round round round round I get around"s interweaved with Brian's gradually rising and falling falsetto really create a head-spinning atmosphere — almost proto-psychedelic in its way.
But all the other highlights lag only slightly behind, by being less concentrated on breaking new ground and more concentrated on pure emotion. The title track is like a joyful sequel to the romantic preview of 'Keep An Eye On Summer'. 'Little Honda', turning from cars to bikes now, puts on lots of echo and overdubbing — maybe its basic melody is not that far removed from '409' or 'Shut Down', but now Brian has this whole thing quasi-symphonized, and suddenly even Mike's lead vocal sounds heroic/anthemic instead of simply coming across as a teenage wimpy nasal whine. 'Hushabye' features the most complex vocal harmonies on the album and is, in some ways, a fine preview of the many vocal wonders the band would give us in the 1966-71 period.
And then there's the fabulous opening bars of 'Wendy' — let's face it, for the first ten seconds, what with the gruff, ominous bass notes and the lonely, intriguing drum fill we do not even know what the heck we are listening to. Is it going to be a surf instrumental? An attempt at blues-pop? A Gregorian chant? Then the vocal harmonies kick in, but the mist never clears completely, as the song balances between a generally fun atmosphere and grief-stricken lyrics (and a pretty morose organ solo).
Finally, a brief plugin needs to be inserted for 'We'll Run Away', with proverbially naïve lyrics from Gary Usher — but leave it up to Brian to take all these Romeo-and-Juliet clichés and make them utterly believable through an incredibly gorgeous vocal delivery. Just the right tone, just the right modulation, just the right notes. So right, in fact, you can almost picture Mr. Wilson finishing the recording, taking off his headphones, leaving the studio, picking up the 15- or 16-year-old love of his life, eloping to the airport, and spending the rest of his life in total and utter happiness on a quiet, remote dairy farm somewhere in North Dakota. Who cares if he eventually wound up as a disillusioned, overweight, thoroughly unhappy nervous wreck? Actually, the song did reflect reality at the time — Brian would marry the 17-year old Marilyn Rutherford in December that same year, and they even managed to have a fifteen-year long family relationship, quite a long stretch for a rock star, by any accounts. So — fluffy idealism or gritty autobiography?
Overall, for a non-completist it would make terrific sense to combine the strong parts of All Summer Long with the bunch of classic numbers on Shut Down Vol. 2 — my dream album for the Beach Boys circa the first half of 1964 would look something like this: Side A: 1) I Get Around; 2) All Summer Long; 3) Hushabye; 4) Little Honda; 5) Don't Worry Baby; 6) Keep An Eye On Summer; Side B: 7) Fun, Fun, Fun; 8) Why Do Fools Fall In Love; 9) The Warmth Of The Sun; 10) We'll Run Away; 11) Don't Back Down; 12) Wendy. This sort of record would, IMHO, be capable of knocking the ground even from under Hard Day's Night's feet. As it is, just thank the inane people at Capitol records for being in the secret pay of Brian Epstein. Nevertheless, even with all the filler and haste, All Summer Long is as vertical a thumbs up as they come.
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