Corny fool that I am, today the hot weather’s driven me to put on a forthcoming Beach Boys comp. “Compiled and sequenced by Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love and Brian Wilson,” claims the press release, and while I’m morbidly suspicious of anything sanctioned by Love, this is a cracking selection.
It’s not, for a change, the usual surf standards with a couple of “Pet Sounds”/”Smile”-era cuts for the “connoisseurs”. In fact, I don’t think there are any “Pet Sounds” tracks on here at all. Instead, it plots an alternative course through one of pop’s greatest back catalogues, chucking in a few new stereo mixes as a sop to completists.
There are a lot of my favourite Beach Boys songs here, with plenty of stuff from “Surf’s Up” including Brian’s existential masterpiece, “Till I Die”. The best songs of other bandmembers are showcased, like Bruce Johnston’s tremulous “Disney Girls” – I can’t think of a better use of schmaltz in the canon than this one – and Dennis Wilson’s gorgeous (if implausible) “Forever”. No room, mercifully, for Mike Love’s “Student Demonstration Time”.
What I think is most interesting here, though, is the focus on the 1965 tracks which paved the way for “Pet Sounds”. I always think “Today” and “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” get something of a bum deal from history, maybe because they’re not perceived as weird enough by people who fetishise Brian Wilson as a mad genius, maybe because there’s an assumption that The Beach Boys were merely a singles band before “Pet Sounds”.
But “Kiss Me, Baby”, “Please Let Me Wonder” and “Let Him Run Wild” would all fit perfectly onto “Pet Sounds”; the classic Brian trick of combining adolescent romantic angst with rapturous orchestrations, of playing out tiny personal epiphanies on a symphonic scale, was already fully functioning. And “The Little Girl I Once Knew” is a great, genuinely odd single, still ignored by oldies radio programmers thanks to the caesuras that Brian built into the score, giant anxious pauses that derail the song’s momentum, but simultaneously give it more emotional heft.
The whole album feels like a compilation burned by your Wilson-bore mate rather than officially-authorised product. Although who’s actually going to bother buying it is another matter entirely. Just get the original albums, I’d say.