Search This Blog

Loading...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Beach Boys: All Summer Long


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.


Check "All Summer Long" (CD) on Amazon
Check "All Summer Long" (MP3) on Amazon

10 comments:

  1. And now the classics really start rolling in! With only a few minor speed bumps along the way (and one big one--or should I say 15, har har) I love pretty much everything from here through Love You to some degree or another.

    Do you plan on tackling any of their box-sets & outtake collections and things? There's some really great and fascinating stuff on those though it is a lot of material to go through. I'm really looking forward to that Smile box set which is coming out soon (the current release date is set for October), which will include at long last the official completed version of the album; or rather *a* completed version since who knows how what we're going to get would have compared to what would have come out in '67. The big question remains: will it be as good as Brian's solo version or any of the fan-reconstructed versions? I sure as heck hope so!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for these new Beach Boys reviews. Fair and balanced. As for 'We'll Run Away' - that is absolutely gorgeous. As for The Beach Boys and Brian, they had Capitol, Beatles had EMI. Enough said. Think of several of the butchered Capitol Beatles albums also running to less than 30 minutes in length and I believe the problem was less with The Beach Boys and more with Capitol Records utter stupidity.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ken: I'm not sure yet. Obviously, I still have plenty of time to decide. Some outtake collections, definitely. As for the Smile box set, I am not holding out particularly great hopes here. The album's time is long gone, anyway.

    Adrian: Yes, of course, Brian is not to be blamed for the butchered records.

    ReplyDelete
  4. George, have you been acquainted with Brian Wilson's "Smart Girls"? Brian Wilson trying to write a hip-hop song sounds predictably horrible, but at least it's INTERESTINGLY horrible (as opposed to pretty much every rap record of the last ten years...)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz0SnpN_O00

    ReplyDelete
  5. http://starling.rinet.ru/music/beach.htm#Insanity

    Of course, since then George has officialy apologised for his many negative remarks against hip-hop and admits to currently regarding 50 Cent as one of the greatest artists humanity has ever produced.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Obviously George has come to that conclusion. After all, 50 Cent is an intelligent, resonant songwriter, blending a diverse assortment of musical arrangements with intelligent lyrics about the heartbreaking reality of ghetto life.

    When he says lines like "I get money, money I got. I get money, money I got," you can just hear the struggle of the impoverished black youth of a nation echoing in his heavenly voice.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Cardiac 50 Cent ArrestAugust 10, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    Shouldn't it be like "impoverished Afro-American youth" to meet the modern tolerance standard ? But, you've got it damn right. 50 cunt is proudly stands next to Martin Luther King, as a logical development. He is still even got those chains of struggle around his neck.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Dean "None Winter Short" LaCapraraNovember 11, 2011 at 12:45 AM

    Their best effort on vinyl until the next real studio album came out about 1/2 year later. Mostly killer/little filler. "Wendy" is awesome perfection, "I Get Around" frigging genius personified, "Little Honda" excitement galore...
    Unfortunately, have always felt two songs have been overrated from this era. "Don't Worry Baby" thankfully ain't here (B-side of superior "IGA," their monster hit of this period); "Don't Back Down" is another hack-job. That's not saying I hate these tunes, but rarely care for either.
    As part of 1990 2-fer series, a great piece of work. Had the vinyl from some non-English label in the Nineties and already had most of the tracks somewhere in my collection!

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is definitely more like it. You can tell Brian is spending more time working over the songs: the melodies are much more fleshed out. The arrangements are much more diverse and interesting.

    The bass thud that opens the record signals immediate excitement. "I Get Around" has to be one of the coolest, most exciting rockers the band ever performed. The way it alternates the bass and handclap driven verses with the moody organ work is innovative and strange and the harmonies completely thrilling.

    "All Summer Long" is interesting because the melody is solid and the xylophone driven arrangement unique for the time. The lyrics aren't too bad here but still pretty eh. "Hushabye" has a nice vocal melody and beautiful harmonies. One of Brian's all time best vocal harmony arrangements.

    Another great, thrilling rocker comes your way with "Little Honda." The fuzz bass, staccato guitar stabs and great singing from Mike makes this a thrilling rocker. The minimal arrangement here is pretty great.

    "We'll Run Away" gets by on Brian's great singing and that church sized organ sound. Where did that come from? It sounds like a sermon and that's weird and cool. "Carl's Big Chance" is no better or worse than their earlier surf rockers and "Wendy" is a weird, unpredictable fast ballad with that incredible introduction (nobody pulled that kind of off putting stuff back then but Brian) with all kinds of neat twists (the moody organ solo being great).

    Seven good to amazing songs in a row is a pretty good standard for early Beach Boys. "Do You Remember?" is a bit of a "shit eating grin" in its stupidity but I like the speed, the melody and the arrangements. Not as incredible as the first seven but its fine.

    "Girls on the Beach" is a great song but it is "Surfer Girl Volume 2." It is basically just a more fully arranged version of that song with several different melody variations.

    "Drive-In" is a lot like "Do You Remember?" and it has the same advantages and disadvantages: cool speed, decent melodies, good arrangements (and an interesting pause in the middle) that is slightly sabotaged by dumber than usual lyrics. Not a highlight but not worthless.

    Speaking of worthless, "Out Favorite Recording Sessions" isn't worth mentioning beyond that. "Don't Back Down" is a solid way to end the album. Good drive, good harmonies and lots of weird, cool key changes.

    If side two had kept up the same quality as side one, this could have been a perfect album. The slight let down on side two (and it is slight. I think the music is pretty strong, if not as instantly memorable while the lyrics are just dumber than usual) brings it down a little but not as much as the let down on "Shut Down Volume 2."

    Maybe they should have mixed the song's up better? Taken the slightly inferior songs and alternating them with the better songs instead of placing them all at the end. Oh well, the damn album is over in less time than a "Simpsons" episode and the level of filler is at an all time low. Great things are obviously on the horizon for these guys.

    Sessions; 12) Don't Back Down.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sparing a moment and giving Mike his props for his verse of "Hushabye". It sounds really sweet and heartfelt. In fact, for me he stole the song from Brian in that moment. Lovely stuff.

    Not often I could say I prefer a Mike vocal part to a Brian.

    ReplyDelete