Best of the Late 60s Beach Boys
What Happened to the Beach Boys in the late 1960s?
The Beach Boys have had in interesting career to say the least. They have tasted immense success as well as deep disappointment. Haunted by their sun, surf and girls roots, everyone expected their next release to be as upbeat as the previous. For a while, that worked. Everyone loves a fun song, but as the group turned to more serious endeavors in an effort to stay relevant, they struggled. They had a few hits as music progress to a more psychedelic nature, but for the most part, as least commercially, they began to fade quickly.
The Beach Boys' heyday ran from 1962 through 1965. That period brought them tremendous success and catapulted them into global stardom. The 1970s were absolute brutal to the group, despite producing a few decent songs. As the 80s rolled around, the group began to embrace the fact that they would be mainly a nostalgia band and rode that wave all they way to the bank. While they did put out a couple of good songs in the 80s, most concert goers wanted to hear the car and surf stuff.
So what happened to the Beach Boys between 1966 and 1970? For many, these seem to be the lost years of the group, with little coming out of their studio that received significant airplay. First, there was the Pet Sounds album. While it underperformed commercially, it is now recognized as one of the most important albums produced in rock history. Anyone who has listened to music has heard of Pet Sounds. It also served as a point of demarcation as the band left the carefree sound of fun for good. It is after the Pet Sounds ran its course that leaves many wondering what the band did between then and 1970.
Frankly, if you are a fan of the Beach Boys' original sound, not much caught your ear. Here is a run down of the albums that the group produced during tumultuous late 1960s:
Smiley Smile, September, 1967
While you may have never hear of this album, you have heard its best track: “Good Vibrations.”
The record company wanted this to appear on the Pet Sounds album, but the group wanted to save it for the next LP. If you think “Sloop John B” sounds out of place on Pet Sounds, it is because it is. The band included it to give Pet Sounds at least one hit. It reached number 3 on the charts. That LP also produced one other top ten hit: “Wouldn't It Be Nice.”
Smiley Smile churned out one titanic hit: “Good Vibrations.” It was a huge and climbed to number one on charts around the world. It would also become their most commercially successful hit until “Kokomo” in the late 80s. The unexplainable “Heroes and Villains” also made the top ten, although it is hard to explain why. Other than “Good Vibrations,” most of Smiley Smile is a dud. If there is one other track to listen to it is the odd ball “Vegetables” that is rumored to have Paul McCartney providing the chewing of celery sound on the cut.
Wild Honey, December, 1967
This album produced two very listenable tracks, both top 40 hits: “Wild Honey,” and “Darlin'.” It is interesting to note that Carl Wilson sings lead on these songs and on the bulk of the record. Mike Love, who is the known lead sound of the Beach Boys, sings solo lead on none of the LP's tunes. That makes fit a wildly different and sometimes unrecognizable as a Beach Boys production.
Both “Wild Honey” and “Darlin'” are some of the best of the late 60s Beach Boys efforts. Both deserved their hit status, although “Wild Honey” should have make it into the top ten, instead peaking at number 31.
Friends, June, 1968
This is a largely forgettable album. The only single released from the LP was the 45 “Friends.” It failed to make the top 40, and for good reason. This record is no friend of hard core Beach Boy fans. It has several tracks that Dennis Wilson sings lead on. Despite all of the critical acclaim that Dennis's Pacific Ocean Blue has garnered, the boy could not sing. Whenever I hear him croon it makes me reach for a cough drop.
If you have to listen to anything from this effort, try “Transcendental Meditation,” It is just weird enough to make it interesting. After hearing it, just know that he album goes downhill from there. The year 1968 was a tough one for America. Apparently, it was for America's Band as well.
20/20, February, 1969
Despite the album being released in early 1969, it's best single “Do It Again” was released the previous summer. The song has a distinctive return to the surf sound that made the group famous without being overbearing. It gave fans hope that the Beach Boys had found themselves again and would be churning out more listenable stuff. Sadly, that was not the case. “Do It Again” did make it to number 20, and should have gone higher. It did become a number one hit in the UK. It's refreshing and the best song released by the Beach Boys post “Good Vibrations” until “Kokomo” hit the charts.
The band recorded a Phil Spector song called “I Can Hear Music” that features a clear and cutting lead from Carl Wilson. Despite it being a remake of a Ronettes hit, it made the charts topping out at number 24.
Though not being released until 1970, Al Jardine's voice makes an old standard recored by many called “Cotton Fields” a single that should have been a hit. Actually, it was, just not in the United States. Despite it distinct country music undertones, it is one of their best late 60s recordings.
“Break Away,” June, 1969
This is a song that, although being very good, had a weird beginning and release. Firstly, it was written by Brian Wilson with his estranged father Murry Wilson. Secondly, it was never released on an original album (it appeared on a 70s compilation album). It was put out strictly as a single and was the group's last record released by Capitol Records.
Despite its strange emergence, it is a great song that has some tight harmonies and excellent lead vocals. Why it charted at only number 63 is anyone's guess. It should have been a top ten hit.
It Wasn't All Bad
Four albums and one single are the contribution to the late 1960s by the Beach Boys. While not achieving the monstrous success they had enjoyed mid decade, they produced enough good music to keep their name in music scene news. It was an experimental time for music all around, and a lot of iffy music was made by a lot of bands during this period. How weird of a time was it? The B side of the single “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” is “Never Learn Not To Love,” a song penned by Charles Manson.
While not exactly what Beach Boys fans wanted, there is enough decent tape to put together listenable playlist of late 60s Beach Boys music. Here is what should be on yours:
Do It Again
I Can Hear Music
Bluebirds Over the Mountain
Vegetables (only included to make it an even ten tracks. It's the best of the worst)