I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say most of us have grown up with The Beach Boys. When you were a kid you’d hear them on the radio, your mom or dad bopping along to every bah-bah-bah of “Barbara Ann”. Their carefree, sunny hits probably introduced you to surfing and fast cars, and who knows, maybe even girls. As far as American childhood music goes, they’re as essential as The Beatles and Disney songs.
But really, how far have you ventured into their music? You’ve heard the hits. You’re older, maybe you’ve checked out Pet Sounds. You see there’s a new movie out on the bandleader. So what’s next? Here are a few underappreciated songs in The Beach Boys’ back catalog, all worthy of your time. Share them with your parents or the biggest of music nerds – you’re bound to get a reaction.
This was the first solid studio album by The Beach Boys. Early in their careers, Capitol Records had them making 3-4 albums a year, exchanging quality for quantity. That isn’t the case here. Side A kicks off with a rousing cover of “Do You Wanna Dance?” and has an early version of the hit “Help Me, Rhonda”. Side B features ballad after beautiful ballad, including “Please Let Me Wonder”. It was Brian Wilson’s most sentimental song to date, and signaled a shift in his writing. He began writing deeply personal lyrics, exposing his anxieties and frustrations. It was a big creative leap forward, and foreshadowed the kind of vulnerable, gentle ballads that filled 1966’s Pet Sounds.
Smiley Smile (1967)
After Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys tried to go bigger, better and bolder with an album called SMiLE. They aborted it after much frustration. The released follow-up was the endearingly-low maintenance Smiley Smile. It does include the immaculately produced singles “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains”, but beyond that, is filled with little odes to wind chimes, going bald, and “Vegetables”. The latter is a catchy, bouncing chant of a song reminiscent of Harry Nilsson. An earlier version even featured Paul McCartney chomping on celery as percussion. Singer Brian Wilson was going through serious health phase, apparently, and even opened a short-lived health foods store in 1969. The song is a re-recorded holdover from the SMiLE sessions.
Wild Honey (1967)
Considered by many to be The Beach Boys’ blue-eyed soul album. It contains “Darlin’”, the last big hit of their golden period, a Stevie Wonder cover and another holdover from SMiLE. Their famous harmonies are less abundant here and the production is a bit muddy. Though initially received as an inconsequential release, it’s a welcoming counterbalance to their more overproduced work. A personal standout is “Aren’t You Glad”. It features the kind of lilting, upbeat horns popularized at the time by groups like The Turtles. It’s a jaunty, feel-good slice of summer pop, minus the usual traits of The Beach Boys’ famous summer sound.
This is my personal favorite post-Pet Sounds album. It’s a shame it coincided with their descent into irrelevancy by the public; it’s not an album to ignore. It brings the welcoming sounds of Wild Honey, but also displays maturity and contentment. Check out the band members with their children on the cover for proof. Now, maybe you don’t want babies on the cover of a rock & roll album, but with songs like “Slip on Through” and “All I Wanna Do”, I’m not complaining. “Slip” is the opening soul thumper, with vocals by Dennis Wilson. “All I Wanna Do” is a hazy, blissful tune that predates today’s dream pop genre. It’s followed by “Forever”, another Dennis Wilson track. Sunflower was a breakout album for the band’s drummer, and “Forever” is its heavenly, heartfelt centerpiece. In a fair world, the song would’ve been on a million mixtapes and wrote its way onto a few wedding vows. It’s simply an honest, wounded-voiced call to love. For more of the sort, I highly recommend Dennis’ 1977 solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue.
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