Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Beach Boys: 1970

After a seven year, VERY lucrative and successful association with CAPITOL RECORDS, THE BEACH BOYS found themselves without a record label ... and not in very high demand. The general feeling was that their time had passed and America didn't want to hear songs about cars and surfing anymore. Coupled with the fact that the industry felt THE BEACH BOYS were nothing without their leader BRIAN WILSON ... and Brian was completely burnt out at the time and nowhere near as involved in their career as he once was as their guiding light ... most labels felt it was just too great a risk to sign the band. Were it not for the fact that MO OSTIN, head of WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS was a HUGE Beach Boys fan, there is no telling how long they might have drifted without a recording contract. He signed them to Warners' subsidiary REPRISE RECORDS and then promptly rejected the first album they submitted! Originally titled ADD SOME MUSIC, Warner Brothers felt the material was weak and lacked a hit single ... and sent the Boys back to the drawing board. After a few new songs were added (and a few others dropped) they once again rejected the new LP, now called SUN FLOWER (two words). Renaming the LP SUNFLOWER (one word), and doing some final tweaking and fine-tuning, the album was finally released in August of 1970. Today, it is considered by many to be their finest group effort, with some folks ranking it ahead of PET SOUNDS in total musical content ... but, at the time, it went virtually unnoticed, peaking at #151 on the Billboard Album Chart ... and lasting on that chart for only four weeks. In fact, it was the worst chart-showing for a new BEACH BOYS album ever to that point. When ADD SOME MUSIC TO YOUR DAY was released as the LP's first single, it didn't make much of an impression either, peaking at #64 on Billboard's Singles Chart. (It did go to #49 in Cash Box and to #39 here in Chicago ... but, by and large, it was ignored by radio.) Today, it's a regular part of BRIAN WILSON's Concert Performance and, lyrically, he says, is one of the best songs he's ever written. The song describes just how many different ways music comes into our lives during the course of a normal day ... and, had THE BEACH BOYS not fallen so out of favor with the tastes of their musical audience, should have been a much bigger hit than it was.

By all appearances, REPRISE RECORDS was right ... there was NO hit single material on the SUNFLOWER album. After ADD SOME MUSIC TO YOUR DAY failed to make the Top 40, they released the BRUCE JOHNSTON-penned track TEARS IN THE MORNING backed with IT'S ABOUT TIME, a DENNIS WILSON tune. This time, NEITHER song charted. The next release was SLIP ON THROUGH (another one of Dennis' tunes) coupled with THIS WHOLE WORLD, a VERY catchy BRIAN WILSON track that gets you singing along instantly and captures the very essence of BEACH BOYS music ... and still comes in at under two minutes! The result was yet another non-chart single. Finally, they released COOL COOL WATER (a track originally started during the SMILE sessions) backed with DENNIS WILSON's beautiful ballad FOREVER ... and, again, THE BEACH BOYS were "shut down" on the charts. Despite critical acclaim, SUNFLOWER was, by all accounts, a clunker ... too bad, because some great, outstanding BEACH BOYS music was overlooked by the public.

A few years ago, my son Steven, who was "encouraged" to listen to Beach Boys music from birth, asked me what my favorite all-time BB song was. I had never really thought about it in the many years that I was a BB fan / listener. All their songs then started running through my head, and finally I told him that I would have to give him my answer the following day. What to choose? Sail On Sailor, which isn't typical BB at all, but one of their finest, Pet Sounds' God Only Knows, showcasing Carl's exquisite vocals, Dance Dance Dance ... a terrific representation of traditional BB music. It was so hard to come up with a favorite, but I finally chose This Whole World (Steven's reply ..."whaaaaat"?). This Whole World, from The Boys' superb Sunflower album, is a 2 minute wonder of Brian Wilson at his masterful best. With a perfect lead vocal from Carl, the lyrics aren't really deep or meaningful, just very personal. With that first lyrical line, "late at night I think about the love of this whole world ... lots of different people everywhere ..." simple, but profound. Have a listen to what's happening in the background. This was the Phil Spector influence of which Brian was so enamored. Very spiritual in sound and content, this was also a tip of the hat to Mike Love, who had taken up Transcendental Meditation ... listen for the TM "ommm" chant in the background.

Probably the least talented member of THE BEACH BOYS (both musically and vocally) was drummer DENNIS WILSON. (BRIAN WILSON was using studio musicians on drums on even their earliest recordings. In fact, it was only at his mother's insistence that Dennis was allowed to be in the band.) DENNIS was, however, the heart, soul and inspiration for the band. It was Dennis, the only REAL surfer amongst themselves, who first suggested to brother BRIAN that he write a song about the latest California craze ... and, in 1962, the hit single SURFIN' launched the career of America's Band. Dennis was, undeniably, the sex symbol of the group. He had the classic California surfer / beach bum look. And, in 1970, he wrote what would become one of the prettiest ballads THE BEACH BOYS ever recorded. Despite this fact, FOREVER never even hit the charts. The song was given new life in the late '80's when FULL HOUSE TV-heart-throb JOHN STAMOS began performing the song on the television series. (He even sang it at his own wedding!) In fact, in 1993, a new version of the song was released on THE BEACH BOYS' album SUMMER IN PARADISE, featuring STAMOS on lead vocals ... and, once again, it failed to chart. (Stamos had been performing on and off with THE BEACH BOYS for quite a few years by this point ... he even appeared in their KOKOMO video.) It's said that during the time of BRIAN's mental and physical collapse, while under round-the-clock medical care, DENNIS was feeding his brother drugs on the sly in exchange for songwriting tips and ideas. Whether or not this is true, Dennis suddenly moved to the forefront as one of the band's leading songwriters. (He wrote or shared songwriting credit on four songs on SUNFLOWER alone.) He was also encouraged enough to try his hand at acting (anybody remember that God Only Knows How AWFUL film fiasco TWO LANE BLACKTOP, co-starring JAMES TAYLOR?) and even released a critically acclaimed solo album, PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE, recently released as a deluxe edition 2-CD set. It was almost enough to make you forgive and forget the time he spent hanging out with THE MANSON FAMILY in the late '60's. (not) Conflicts with the other members of the band and recurring bouts with drug and alcohol abuse caused Dennis to be removed from the lineup on several occassions ... but, returning with broken-heart in hand and begging for forgiveness, he was generally reinstated a short time later. (In fact, when Dennis broke his hand ... some say intentionally ... in 1972, it paved the way for BLONDIE CHAPLIN and RICKY FATAAR ... formerly of THE FLAME ... to join the touring and recording band ... we'll be featuring one of their greatest BEACH BOYS contributions later this week in FORGOTTEN HITS.) Tragically, years later, DENNIS WILSON, once again ousted from the band he helped to build, drowned while heavily intoxicated on December 28, 1983.