Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Beach Boys: 1977 - 1980

In 1979, THE BEACH BOYS switched labels to CARIBOU RECORDS. Their first single for the new label was the BRUCE JOHNSTON-produced disco-remake of the WILD HONEY track HERE COMES THE NIGHT. It just missed The Top 40, peaking at #44 and THE BEACH BOYS were critically panned for jumping on the disco bandwagon. (There was, after all, a time when THE BEACH BOYS were considered music trendsetters rather than trend-followers.) Their next Caribou release, GOOD TIMIN', snuck up to #33, and features some of the best harmonies the band ever did. The follow-up single, IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY (released as a single-only at the end of 1979) could not follow up the Top 40 success of GOOD TIMIN' ... IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY never made the charts at all. Recorded for the soundtrack of the movie AMERICATHON, this track was written by MIKE LOVE and AL JARDINE and produced by BRUCE JOHNSTON. Once again, it was beginning to look as if THE BEACH BOYS were not going to succeed without BRIAN's involvement. Too bad, because this really is a pretty good song.

Next came GOIN' ON. At least this follow-up single charted ... but only at an embarrassingly low #83. The harmonies were back ... and sounding strong ... but this one just never caught on with the record-buying public. Yielding to heavy pressure from CBS record label to record something listener / buyer-friendly to counteract the disappointing sales of their LA (Light Album), the Beach Boys headed back to the studio in late 1979, resulting in the release of Keepin' The Summer Alive in March of 1980. Brian was recruited from his bed, contributing and holding an interest for about three days. The first single from this mediocre, archive-raided album, Goin' On was a jewel of a throwback to an earlier Beach Boys sound, with lead vocals rotated between Mike, Brian and Carl, and arranged by Bruce. The vocals and maturing lyrics are the standout of this cut. Keepin' The Summer Alive was another commercial bomb, compounded by the failure of Brian, Dennis or Carl to tour with the Beach Boys. Brian went back to bed, Dennis was heavy into the LA drug scene, and Carl was on a solo tour to promote his own album, Carl Wilson.

CARL WILSON was becoming more and more discouraged by the band's lack of success. They seemed perfectly content to play songs that were nearly 20 years old rather than move forward musically and, for a brief period, he quit the band, stating that when the rest of the guys were willing to start rehearsing again, they should give him a call. (In the summer of 1980, I was fortunate enough to see CARL WILSON as the opening act for the MICHAEL McDONALD-led DOOBIE BROTHERS and he only performed ONE Beach Boys song during his entire set: GOD ONLY KNOWS.) After a couple of unsuccessful solo albums, he returned to THE BEACH BOYS and teamed with RANDY BACHMAN ... former GUESS WHO guitarist (and BURTON CUMMINGS collaborator) ... and leader of '70's rock giants BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE ... to write a few songs. LIVIN' WITH A HEARTACHE was as good as anything else out on the radio at the time and yet it, too, failed to chart. Amazingly, CAPITOL RECORDS was able to trounce the momentum of THE BEACH BOYS yet again when they dipped into the archives and released THE BEACH BOYS MEDLEY in 1981, cashing in on the STARS ON 45 Medley-craze that was all over the radio at the time. THE BEACH BOYS MEDLEY (featuring pieces of songs recorded between 1963-1966) went all the way to #8 on the Cash Box Chart ... their first Top Ten Record since the CHUCK BERRY-remake ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC (a #5 hit in 1976.) Once again, their past had gotten the better of them, and soon THE BEACH BOYS were lip-synching these 15 year old recordings on SOLID GOLD! THE BEACH BOYS seemed to be forever competing with their past.