Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

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Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Flex » 06 Apr 2012, 7:08pm

(Introductory post:

Starting on my blawg today, I'll be reviewing Beach Boys singles and albums. I'll include links and the text of the review here. Go to the actual posts for release info, cover art, and sample tracks.

Pt. 1: Surfin'
GARAGE ROCK BABY! Before the Beach Boys became the sweet-sounding pop act most people think of them as, they were a genuine rough-around-the-edges Garage band. While some of the harmonies on “Surfin’” are still distinctly that Beach Boys sound, there’s really only hints of the kind of signature sounds which Brian and the gang would quickly develop.

The b-side, “Luau” is even less distinctly Beach Boys-ish. It’s, well, a classic garage take on a luau song. You can imagine this single coming from some no-name band from the era and getting a re-release on Sundazed or whatever as a little forgotten Garage-Surf gem.

Both songs are pretty cool little tunes, and serve as interesting historical footnotes of what the Beach Boys were doing before signing to Capitol Records. According to the liner notes of the Surfin’ Safari/Surfin’ U.S.A. reissue, the version of “Surfin’” that appears on Surfin’ Safari is a different “recording” than the single. Something about getting squirrely with some manipulations to the song while transferring it to a new tape, but it’s the same actual performance. In any case, here are the original master takes of both sides of this single:
Full post:

More up when I get to it.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Wolter » 06 Apr 2012, 9:31pm

Oh, this thread will be fun.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by JennyB » 07 Apr 2012, 4:08pm

We want Kokomo! We want Kokomo! :shifty: :twitch:
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Wolter » 07 Apr 2012, 4:18pm

No One On Earth wrote:We want Kokomo! We want Kokomo! :shifty: :twitch:
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Rat Patrol » 07 Apr 2012, 9:41pm

I can't wait until the installment about The Fat Boys. Or that Full House episode where Michelle learned a very valuable lesson about Paul McCartney being a fucking no-talent cocksucker.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Flex » 08 Apr 2012, 8:18pm

Haha, I bet you thought I'd blow this off after the first entry. I suspect I'll get through at least two albums before I lose interest!

Here's the entry for Pt. 2: Surfin' Safari:
Aaaaaand the Beach Boys arrive. While the last single was all well and good - indeed, I find it right in the my wheelhouse in terms of the kinds of quasi-primitive old rock and roll I like to dig up - this is a tremendous step forward. Whereas the Boys’ first stab at a single seemed like a rough draft of an A and B side, this is a fully realized entity. Better arrangements, better musicianship, and a more definitive worldview.

And what’s that worldview? Well, the A-side is a rallying cry for surfing - nothing which should be surprising for anyone who was familiar with their first single. But the lyrics are sharper, the chorus is better, and the musicianship is - if not particularly more complex - certainly more self-assured and catchy. There’s a real craftsmanship here which wasn’t present on “Surfin’” and pretty much any band would kill to have something like this as their debut single on a major label. And the results spoke for themselves. “Surfin’ Safari” topped out at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

But, for me, it’s the flip side (which also charted, hitting #76) which really starts to lay the groundwork for what the Beach Boys could be. In retrospect, the Beach Boys sound is even more fully realized on this cut than the A-side of the single. But, even more importantly, “409” isn’t about surfing.

The Beach Boys and surfing are pretty inextricably linked in the American imagination, and for good reason. But the Beach Boys aren’t - and never really were - a Surf band. Sure, there are some roots there (we’ll look at that a bit more on their debut), but the Beach Boys were about constructing their own Mythic Kingdom of Sunny America. Most people say California, because hey surfing, but I think that misreads the Everywhere, U.S.A. quality that Brian, et al. were really looking to find. Sure, surfing is a topic they sing about. But they’re not really singing about surfing (as many have pointed out, there was only one guy in the band who actually surfed), they’re singing about a particular kind of aspirational version of the American Life. Even if we don’t all have an ocean in our backyard, we can all relate to the themes of love, longing and freedom that were the Beach Boys stock and trade. For a few years, this stuff was explored in classic Teen-Age themes like surfing, cars and girls. And then it would be mostly girls.* Because, hey, that’s America.
The full deal:
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Wolter » 08 Apr 2012, 11:29pm

Good read, Flex. And a spot-on analysis of Beach Boys themes.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Marky Dread » 09 Apr 2012, 7:06pm

Wolter wrote:Oh, this thread will be fun fun fun.
Fixed that for you. ;)
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Marky Dread » 10 Apr 2012, 1:04am

Flex wrote:Haha, I bet you thought I'd blow this off after the first entry. I suspect I'll get through at least two albums before I lose interest!

Here's the entry for Pt. 2: Surfin' Safari:
Aaaaaand the Beach Boys arrive. While the last single was all well and good - indeed, I find it right in the my wheelhouse in terms of the kinds of quasi-primitive old rock and roll I like to dig up - this is a tremendous step forward. Whereas the Boys’ first stab at a single seemed like a rough draft of an A and B side, this is a fully realized entity. Better arrangements, better musicianship, and a more definitive worldview.

And what’s that worldview? Well, the A-side is a rallying cry for surfing - nothing which should be surprising for anyone who was familiar with their first single. But the lyrics are sharper, the chorus is better, and the musicianship is - if not particularly more complex - certainly more self-assured and catchy. There’s a real craftsmanship here which wasn’t present on “Surfin’” and pretty much any band would kill to have something like this as their debut single on a major label. And the results spoke for themselves. “Surfin’ Safari” topped out at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

But, for me, it’s the flip side (which also charted, hitting #76) which really starts to lay the groundwork for what the Beach Boys could be. In retrospect, the Beach Boys sound is even more fully realized on this cut than the A-side of the single. But, even more importantly, “409” isn’t about surfing.

The Beach Boys and surfing are pretty inextricably linked in the American imagination, and for good reason. But the Beach Boys aren’t - and never really were - a Surf band. Sure, there are some roots there (we’ll look at that a bit more on their debut), but the Beach Boys were about constructing their own Mythic Kingdom of Sunny America. Most people say California, because hey surfing, but I think that misreads the Everywhere, U.S.A. quality that Brian, et al. were really looking to find. Sure, surfing is a topic they sing about. But they’re not really singing about surfing (as many have pointed out, there was only one guy in the band who actually surfed), they’re singing about a particular kind of aspirational version of the American Life. Even if we don’t all have an ocean in our backyard, we can all relate to the themes of love, longing and freedom that were the Beach Boys stock and trade. For a few years, this stuff was explored in classic Teen-Age themes like surfing, cars and girls. And then it would be mostly girls.* Because, hey, that’s America.
The full deal:
Never heard "409" before and it's really cool. Good work Flex enjoying this so far. :approve:
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Wolter » 10 Apr 2012, 1:38am

Really never heard 409? It's an oldies station staple over here.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Marky Dread » 10 Apr 2012, 4:32am

Wolter wrote:Really never heard 409? It's an oldies station staple over here.
Nope other than "Pet Sounds" and a greatest hits comp I know nothing. Oh and that Brian Wilson Smile single that came out a couple of years back.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Heston » 10 Apr 2012, 5:50am

Wolter wrote:Really never heard 409? It's an oldies station staple over here.

Like Kokomo, I'd never heard of it before seeing it mentioned here.

I heard Lady Lynda the other day whilst listening to every single from 1979. Nice song.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Wolter » 10 Apr 2012, 9:14am

Heston wrote:
Wolter wrote:Really never heard 409? It's an oldies station staple over here.

Like Kokomo, I'd never heard of it before seeing it mentioned here.

I heard Lady Lynda the other day whilst listening to every single from 1979. Nice song.
Unlike Kokomo, it's a fucking awesome song.
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Flex » 10 Apr 2012, 7:13pm

I, too, am a bit surprised at the lack of recognition from the U.K. contingent on "409", since it usually pops up on the Beach Boys comps I'm familiar with. But hey, at least you guys hung in with the Beach Boys while they were still putting out great music in the 70s and the U.S. pretty much stopped paying attention.

Anyways, hot off the presses is my write-up for Surfin' Safari (album):
Like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys debut sometimes seems to get a bit lost in the shuffle when folks discuss the band. As with the others listed, this is because the debuts - while good - tend to seem a rather slight compared to what would come later. For the Beach Boys, the difference from first to second LP is less drastic than Dylan and the others, but also probably even more drastic once you stretch your timeframe to, say, a five year time-frame. This has the effect of making Surfin’ Safari seem both less of a curio than the debuts from those other folks (it’s hard to argue that Surfin’ U.S.A. eclipses Surfin’ Safari in any real sense, while that argument has been made for the Beatles, Stones and Dylan when discussing each of their first two albums), and has it coming off as a bit of a slighter effort in comparison to their catalog as a whole (again, the debuts from all those folks come off fairly well compared to their respective high water marks. But playing Surfin’ Safari next to Pet Sounds can be almost startling). And there’s some truth to this quasi-dismissal of this first Beach Boys LP, but Surfin’ Safari is still a pretty good album with some great cuts on it.

Also, for the record, I grew up in a household that always loved us some early Beach Boys albums, so the idea that these albums were considered less impressive than what would come later is an opinion I’ve engaged with only later in my life.

I will say that, in the grand scheme of Beach Boys albums, out of their “good” stuff, I’d rank this one on the low end of that scale. There are a few reasons for this: 1) the covers of “Summertime Blues” and “Moon Dawg” - while perfectly competently executed - smack of “oh shit, we gotta fill this album out” filler; 2) a few of the songs, including the second single drawn from this album, come off as a bit novelty-ish; 3) the album doesn’t say “Produced by Brian Wilson” on it. Now, by all accounts Brian was still pretty heavily involved in the production of the album, but to my ears there’s still a noticeable improvement on that end from the first to second LPs when Brian formally takes charge.

So, how do the songs work out? The lead-off track, Surfin’ Safari, I covered on the entry for the single release. Suffice to say, it’s a classic Beach Boys song. County Fair and Ten Little Indians I’m not so hot on. I’ll cover those more in an upcoming entry for the single, but they both feel - even for early Beach Boys - a bit dated and not fully realized. I think, more than anything else, having those two tracks as the second and third songs on the album is what drags the LP down a bit. Start off with a stone cold classic like “Surfin’ Safari” and then slap on two of the sillier songs on the album, the first of which doesn’t even feel fully developed? Eh.

Picks up after that, though. Chug-A-Lug, which Brian Wilson has said he thought should have been the follow up single to Surfin’ Safari/409, is great. The lyrics are pure Teen-Age Dream stuff, but where the cheesy Americana doesn’t quite hang together on the previous two songs, it’s delightful here. The more fully formed arrangements and vocal harmonies probably help. Also, there’s a killer guitar bit about halfway through the song. Really nice stuff. Little Girl (You’re My Miss America) is a Herb Alpert penned song and was probably recorded to flesh out an album that, by all accounts, was scrapped together pretty quickly. That said, it features a Dennis Wilson lead vocal and I am a complete sucker for Dennis lead vocals. He’ll be chronically underutilized with the band up until his death. 409 closes out the A-side of the album and, given how I raved about it on my post about its single release, it’s probably about my favorite song on the album.

The B side of the album opens up with Surfin’ (read about my thoughts on the song on my post about the Beach Boys debut single here), which is a fine track but already feels a bit behind the curve of what the Beach Boys were cutting for this album. Heads You Win - Tails I Lose follows, and it’s another I rate highly. Again, great little song that feels pretty fully realized. A single of Chug-A-Lug b/w Heads You Win would have slayed, I think. Summertime Blues is good - hell, it’s such a great song it’d be tough to mess up too badly* - but, as mentioned, it definitely feels like a recording for the sake of having a recording to finish the album. Cuckoo Clock has some good vocal work, but falls into the same trap as “County Fair” and “Ten Little Indians” (to be clear: I enjoy all three of those songs, but when I read folks complain about about how the Boys are still a bit undercooked at this point, I listen to those cuts and think I see their point). Moon Dawg falls into the same category as “Summetime Blues” for me and The Shift is a fine closer for the album, if a bit forgettable in the long run (for example: I just re-listened to the album in preparation for this post and anything interesting I had to say about the song has already escaped me).

Overall, I rate Surfin’ Safari a fine first full-length for a band when the music industry was still mostly about slapping together a hit single or two and then padding out around those. The Beach Boys would steadily improve from here, but the early stuff is still fun and by no means without merit. Of course, the crazy thing of it all is that the best danged song from the recording sessions, Land Ahoy, which offers up a vocal and lyrical sophistication which would be a harbinger of things to come, would be left on the cutting room floor until the CD reissue of the album. And for your listening pleasure, here it is:
Full article, track, formatting and whatnot:
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Re: Flex's Takes: The Beach Boys

Post by Flex » 12 Apr 2012, 1:20pm

And here's my write-up for the Ten Little Indians/County Fair single:
The second single off the Surfin’ Safari album and the follow up to the single of same name. As I mentioned in my review of the album, I’m not quite so keen on these two songs. They’re not bad, but I don’t really consider them as strong as some of the other material from that album and they just seem a bit odd as choices for a single.

The issue is, with both songs, there’s just an element in each which i don’t care for and which brings down the quality of the songs for me. In Ten Little Indians, an otherwise nice, propulsive little number, the “Indian chanting” kinda drives me up the wall a little. I can’t even totally place my finger on why that is - it does feel hopelessly dated but I don’t think that really explains it - but to me it just comes off as a little tired and slapped-together. Like they couldn’t figure out some actual words so decided to just say “screw it, we’ll make Indian noises.” The percussion is great on this song, tho. Gotta point that out.

The same sort of problem occurs with County Fair, a song which I otherwise prefer to the A side of this single. Again, maybe it’s not fair of me, but hearing those spoken word bits instead of an chorus gives a feel of “we couldn’t come up with something in time.” Which is a shame, because “County Fair” has a terrific melody (one which would be recycled for “I Do”) and the verses are catchy and fun. It’s a good song, but the spoken word stuff means it doesn’t hold up as well upon repeated listens.

Again, these aren’t bad songs. I enjoy them, I don’t skip ‘em or anything. But, given the pretty consistent high quality of the Beach Boys singles output even from this early part of their career, this sticks out as the least worthy of their singles for a long stretch. Given that it was their lowest charting single until 1968, folks at the time must have been of a similar opinion.

But, in any case, here are the songs:
Cover, release info, and the tracks:
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