Friday, October 30, 2009

The Beach Boys Top 25 Best Most-Overlooked Singles

This is a list of the twenty-five best most-overlooked singles by The Beach Boys. It is a critical analysis and review based on the recognition of these comparatively unsuccessful singles and how they stand up next to more-successful singles (i.e. "Good Vibrations", "California Girls", "Surfin' USA" and "God Only Knows"). It is also in relation to how they have been represented on the very many compilation albums over the years such as 2003's Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys and 2006's The Warmth of the Sun and of course 1974's Endless Summer and 1975's Spirit of America (all of which have been Top-40 albums and have gone multi-platinum). Some of these singles end up on a few compilations - while though through no fault of their own - the very many tend to be under-exposured and languish in obscurity. This list discusses these songs and reviews their merits and place in the Beach Boy singles universe.

Since first-names only are usually used, the glossary of band members is:
Alan Jardine, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson.

Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin: Band members from 1971-1973.
Van Dyke Parks: Brian's collaborator on Smile and the song "Surf's Up".
Murry Wilson: Co-author of "Break Away" and band manager from 1961-1964 (he was also Mike's uncle and the father of Brian, Carl and Dennis).


























#1
Surf's Up
b/w Don't Go Near The Water
Brother/Reprise 1058
November, 1971
Highest US Chart Position: None











Generally regarded as a modern pop symphony, the title-track to the bands' 1971 album was (along with "Heroes & Villains) originally to be the centerpiece of the bands unreleased 1967 Smile album. Van Dyke Parks' impressionistic lyrics alluding to theater-of-life as such are wholly brilliant and are married beautifully to Brian's music. Indeed this was the perhaps the singularly most rewarding of their collaborative endeavors. The primary backing track (or in this case piano and Brian's vocals) was recorded in 1966 while the rest of the track was put together with loving care and attention in 1971. Which includes the absolutely beautiful end-refrain vocal-tag "Child is the father of the man/A children's song - have you listened as they play?". There is a version of Brian playing and singing this song solo (from 1966) on the Good Vibrations box Set - which is well-worth hearing. It was rather ambitiously released as a single in the US and did not chart. Just as "Good Vibrations" has been acknowledged as such - this too should be recognized as the classic single that it is.



#2
Caroline, No
b/w Summer Means New Love
Capitol 5610
March 7, 1966
Highest US Chart Position: 32








"Caroline, No" is perhaps the lone single release that completely summarizes the entire theme of what Pet Sounds was about: Love, disillusionment, followed by sadness and resignation. Childhood into adulthood. Lyrically it's a sort of "The Little Girl I Once Knew" after the breakup. The song is a perfect piece of Baroque pop with a harpsichord being the main instrument, accompanied by bass, guitar, vibraphone, flutes and saxes. Brian is the only vocalist on the track and so the song was released as a Brian Wilson solo single and later appeared on Pet Sounds. It was his only solo single as a Beach Boy. Although the song charted in the Top-40 it was only at a disappointing #32. While the song is generally recognized as being wonderful, it seems to be passed over way too-often on important Beach Boys compilations (i.e. namely the Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys and The Warmth of the Sun compilations). Meanwhile the comparatively average non-charting B-Side "You're So Good To Me" is on a baffling amount of compilations.




#3
Add Some Music To Your Day
b/w Susie Cincinnati
Brother/Reprise 0894
February 23, 1970
Highest US Chart Position: 64











"Add Some Music To Your Day" is perhaps the most puzzling failures of all the underachieving The Beach Boys singles. This sincere slice of folksy Sunshine Pop and Caucasian gospel features each band member individually, very effectively, taking on various verses. The lyrics deal with the joys and love of the tangible nature of music. Consider the lyrics: "The world could come together as one/if everybody under the Sun...add some music to your day". Despite it's seemingly simple sentiment the song is handled expertly and the lyrics are never heavy-handed or preachy. Knowing the breakdown he was then-having and hearing Brian wearily sing "when day is over/I close my tired eyes" to which the band then sings "music is in my soul" is really a poignant moment indeed. This song is perhaps a bit too-overlooked as a great Beach Boys single. It charted at a lowly number 64 and was only issued as a single in the US. It was one of many, many highlights on the pretty-much-perfect Sunflower album.



#4
The Little Girl I Once Knew
b/w There's No Other (Like My Baby)
Capitol 5540
November 8, 1965
Highest US Chart Position: 20













This song in particular has had something of a new lease on life amongst Beach Boy fans and rightfully so. It is basically a creative bridge between 1965's Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) and 1966's Pet Sounds. Released shortly after (an in support of) the release of the "live"-in-the-studio album Beach Boys' Party!, "The Little Girl I Once Knew" charted relatively low for the band at #20. This was largely due to the creative use of silence after the verses which confounded radio program directors and DJs (who didn't care for any dead-air). The song features great chord changes and chiming guitar parts as well as the creative vocal arrangements and perfect vocal parts that was de rigueur for the band. The song is similar in many ways to "California Girls" which it also was the follow-up single to. The organ-part, the lighter-than-air bounce and the overall sunshine-and-blue-skies sound that also emanates from "California Girls" is also very much present on "The Little Girl I Once Knew". And considering that the two songs sound great played back-to-back it's a mystery why they're never sequenced as such on greatest hits compilations. In fact "The Little Girl I Once Knew" charted higher than several other songs yet remained off of the bands near-perfect multi-platinum Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys album. It first appeared on the the 1968 Best of The Beach Boys Vol. 3 album and the 1975 platinum double-album Spirit of America. It's also a bonus track on the wonderful Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) twofer reissue CD.




#5
Cool, Cool Water
b/w Forever
Brother/Reprise 0998
March 01, 1971
Highest US Chart Position: None




Some lyrics:

In an ocean or in a glass
Cool water is such a gas


The absolutely divine "Cool Cool Water" surely earned it's right as a single for it's quality than for it's commercial appeal. It's perhaps one of the bands flat-out most amazing moments. The song started life as part of the Elements suite on the Smile album but ended up on the wonderful Sunflower album. The song contains some beautiful vocals from the band especially from Brian and Mike. It didn't make the charts but the band perform it on The Mike Douglas Show. The single edit did however appear on The Warmth Of The Sun compilation.




#6
Wendy
Four By The Beach Boys EP
September 21, 1964
Capitol 5267
Highest US Chart Position: 44











The dramatic "Wendy" (as with "Little Honda) was on the great All Summer Long album and was on the A-Side of the Four By The Beach Boys EP. However it was never a stand-alone single...until it was released as such in Germany in 1967. But the band did play it on The Ed Sullivan Show and it did actually chart at number 44. But as is always the case with this band, for every average "Barbara Ann" goes a far-superior "Wendy" seemingly all but ignored. Surf-angst at it's finest. Listen closely for the cough in the bridge.




#7
Break Away
b/w Celebrate The News
Capitol 2530
June 16, 1969
Highest US Chart Position: 63





The final Beach Boys single to be released in the 1960's "Break Away" sounds like a hit through and through. Brian co-wrote this song with his father Murray (who chose the alias of "Reggie Dunbar") at a time when his involvement with the band was comparatively infrequent, the song is successful on it's own ambitious terms. A great melody, complex vocal parts, interesting percussion and a nice arrangement largely went unnoticed to an indifferent record buying public in the Summer of 1969.
As per usual for the band at this time the song was a top-ten hit everywhere but the US.




#8
Friends
b/w Little Bird
Capitol 2160
April 8, 1968
Highest US Chart Position: 47





A Waltz in 3/4 time with ascending vocals, vibraphone, harmonica(s) and harpsichord - "Friends" is perhaps Sunshine Pop at it's purest. In fact, one could also make a case that Brain Wilson single-handedly invented Sunshine Pop. A simple-sounding song with such a unique melody (and a waltz no less) was never going to be a huge hit and so this quality single languished at number 47. A great vocal performance by the band with a nice lead vocal by Carl. A classy single to be sure.




#9
Little Honda
Four By The Beach Boys EP
Capitol 5267
September 21, 1964
Highest US Chart Position: 65







Although it was issued on the near-perfect All Summer Long album and also on the popular Four By The Beach Boys EP (their only EP in the US) "Little Honda" was never released as a stand-alone single in the US. Seeing as it so obviously would have been a huge hits, it's a bit of a mystery as to why it never was a single (in the US, at least). However it did chart as one via airplay from being on the A-Side of the EP reaching #65 (hence it's place on this list). Producer and Beach Boy associate Gary Usher recorded it with studio group The Hondells, who had a top-ten hit with it. Producer Andy Paley (of The Paley Brothers) claims it to be his all-time-favorite rock and roll record and indie patron saints Yo La Tengo have covered it. These accolades aside it is still an urgent and exciting two-minutes of 1960's rock. Dig that humming back round vocal track!




#10
Wild Honey
b/w Wind Chimes
Capitol 2028
October 23, 1967
Highest US Chart Position: 31




Although this song was a Top 40 hit it still gets overlooked in the grand-scheme of Beach Boys hit singles. The third in a trilogy to employ a Theremin (the others being "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" and "Good Vibrations") "Wild Honey" finds the band simplifying their approach and emptying out their arrangements. A warm slice of psychedelic blue-eyed soul with spare percussion, very loose vocals from
Carl and a nice groovy little organ solo from Brian.



#11
Slip On Through
b/w This Whole World
Brother/Reprise 0929
June 29, 1970
Highest US Chart Position: None





With a groove unique to a Beach Boys record, Dennis' "Slip On Through" is Sunshine Pop with Latin-flavored funk-layered verses. The spare percussion and the bands' vocals excellently supportive the song and it's light lust-ridden lyrics. Unfortunately, this fine mid-tempo rocker was Dennis' only single for the Beach Boys. Which is a shame as Dennis has an expressive voice and sings with confidence on this track, and could have sang lead on several other potential hit singles.
This was one of the four singles culled from the excellent Sunflower album (three of which did not chart). This is also one of the singles that inexplicably failed to chart.



#12
Gettin' Hungry (Credited to Brian & Mike)
b/w Devoted To You
Brother 1002
August 28, 1967
Highest US Chart Position: None




From the very unique Smiley Smile album, the "Gettin' Hungry" single was credited to "Brian & Mike". It was the first Beach Boys-related single not to chart since the Kenny & The Cadets' "Barbie" single in 1962. The song is sparsely arranged with organ, vocals and percussion. It's a fine song and an unusual pick for a single with it's slow verses and fast choruses and is a total retreat from a "Heroes & Villains" or a "Good Vibrations" in it's emptiness. However it's still progressive, slightly odd and easily enjoyable too just as those singles were. This still hasn't helped it's cause in earning it's spot on any of the several Beach Boys compilations in existence.









#13
Long Promised Road
b/w Deidre
Brother/Reprise 1015
May 24, 1971
Highest US Chart Position: None

b/w 'Til I Die
Brother/Reprise 1047
October
Highest US Chart Position: 89






In a long and storied career full of forgotten masterpieces, Carl Wilson's songwriting debut "Long Promised Road" is perhaps one of The Beach Boys unjustly forgotten songs. With a direct melody, an impassioned guitar solo and with such inspiring and empowered lyrics as "Throw off all these shackles that are binding me down" it is easily one of the bands most powerful songs. As this list will indicate there were many, many creative high points from in the 69-73 period that were unjustly ignored because of the bands association with early 60's pop/rock. As this song will clearly indicate the band never stopped growing and changing. This song was issued in May of 1971 and did not chart. After the Surf's Up album was released in August the single was issued yet again in October. This time it reached a lowly number 89.



#14
Bluebirds Over The Mountain
b/w Never Learn Not To Love
Capitol 11572
December 2, 1968
Highest US Chart Position: 61




Originally recorded by Ersel Hickey, this song was recorded, then abandoned by Bruce as solo single and later resuscitated by Carl and Bruce for the 20/20 album. The chorus has Bruce and Carl on lead vocals with verses sung by Mike. The song itself is a nice healthy slice of groovy late 60's California Sunshine Pop with an uncharacteristically wailing guitar solo courtesy of Ed Carter. The single (one of five from 20/20) rather unfairly slumped at a mere 61. It has made very few appearances on any of the very many Beach Boys compilations. The 1983 Beach Boys Rarities album contained a very interesting Dutch single mix.




#15
Cottonfields
b/w The Nearest Faraway Place
Capitol 2765
April 20, 1970
Highest US Chart Position: 103








The band's production of their cover of the Leadbelly blues song "Cottonfields" is among one of the band's finest of the time. However, a far lesser version - produced by Brian - had originally appeared on the band's 20/20 album. The re-recorded single version was imaginatively arranged and produced by Al Jardine, who also handled lead vocals on it as well. Given it's country-vibe it's strange that the song hit #1 on the charts in Australia, South Africa, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands and #2 in the UK, yet only managed to get to #103 in the US. The song was also rightfully added to the front of the Sunflower album in the UK. Time has been kind to this single and yet it goes ignored by compilers when it comes time to appear on the many important Beach Boys compilations. A great stereo single version did appear on the 2001 Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace Of A Musical Legacy compilation album. In fact this seems to be the best available version of the song.



#16
Honkin' Down The Highway
b/w Solar System
Brother/Reprise 1389
May 30, 1977
Highest US Chart Position: None





The lone-single released from 1977's wonderfully quirky The Beach Boys Love You album, "Honkin' Down The Highway" near-perfectly encapsulates what Brain Wilson did in the early days of The Beach Boys: unexpectedly musically progressive and sophisticated yet simultaneously at times lyrically banal yet catchy and expressive. Alan Jardine sings the lead, perhaps his greatest lead vocal since "Help Me Rhonda" or perhaps "Cottenfields". Bare-bone drums, celeste, Moog synth, piano and harpsichord are the primary instruments on this goofy, blissed-out non-charting single. This single is a personal favorite of mine as is the wonderful The Beach Boys Love You album. The song has subsequently made just one appearance (on 2000's The Greatest Hits, Vol. 3: Best of the Brother Years compilation).




#17
California Saga: California
b/w Funky Pretty
Brother/Reprise 1156
April 16, 1973
Highest US Chart Position: 84





With the cheery opening line "On my way to Sunny Californ-i-a" sung by Brian, lyrics by Alan about California and all it's majesty and sung by Mike, this single seemingly should have been far more successful. The album version of the song rounds-out the ambitious three-song cycle "California Saga" suite on 1973's Holland. The remixed single version is perhaps a bit more effective as it pushes the sweeter parts (i.e. vocals, harmonica and banjo) up-front. The song deserved a better fate than eighty-four on the charts.




#18
It's A Beautiful Day
b/w Sumahama
Caribou Records 9031
September, 1979
Highest US Chart Position: 45





With lead vocals shared evenly by Al, Carl and Mike, the sunshine-filled "It's A Beautiful Day" is basically a blissed-out celebration of late 70's Southern California with nice post-Chuck Berry guitar parts from Carl. The song makes a strong case that perhaps the Beach Boys may have invented Yacht Rock as it simultaneously sounds like Chicago, The Doobie Brothers and others of that brethren.

The song was first released as the single to the soundtrack to the 1979 Neil Israel (Bachelor Party, Moving Violations, Police Academy) comedy Americathon. The song hasn't made an appearance on a single Beach Boys album since it surfaced on the amazing 1981 double-album Ten Years Of Harmony compilation. Which is unfortunate as the band hadn't sounded quite this lively and energetic since the mid 60's. It is perhaps their singularly most unfairly (and puzzlingly) obscure singles and deserves much wider currency.

Sample lyrics:

In goodtimes, sunshine, you'll feel alright
We'll maybe even do an afternoon delight
You're sure to get as high as the clouds above

OOOOOOOOOOOh
Living down in L.A.
Such a Beautiful Day




#19
Marcella
b/w Hold On Dear Brother
Brother/Reprise 1101
June 26, 1972
Highest US Chart Position: 101




From 1972's Carl And The Passions – "So Tough" album, the very groovy "Marcella" is a classic 1970's Beach Boys song. Plain and simple. Many of the early Beach Boys hallmarks are present: multi-part vocals, a catchy chorus and with lyrics about a girl. In fact the song alludes to a prostitute that Brian had...befriended around this time. It was a live-staple of the period and surprisingly didn't get any higher than #110 on the charts.




#20
Don't Go Near The Water
b/w Student Demonstration Time
Stateside SS 2194
November 8, 1971
Highest UK Chart Position: None



Okay, so this was only issued as a single in the UK (and as a B-Side to "Surf's Up" in the US) but did nothing anywhere. This surprisingly effective ecological song by Alan Jardine and Mike Love is yet further evidence that The Beach Boys were basically gothic nature boys at heart. It features a Moog synthesizer that plays the basic melody of the song, nice vocal parts and wah-wah guitar throughout. The songs' coda - with it's beautiful soaring vocals and a plaintive banjo and harmonica - is especially exceptional. It's a shame not more people got to hear this song at the time of it's release.




#21
Tears In The Morning
b/w It's About Time
Brother/Reprise 0957
October 12, 1970
Highest US Chart Position: None







Bruce Johnston's "Tears In The Morning" is lyrically successful yet ham-fisted in it's vocally melodramatic approach. However, musically it's something of an easy-listening mini-masterpiece. With horns, accordion and vibraphone in the mix it remains even-keeled and never succumbs to the over-indulgence that such an arrangement might suggest. It never charted in the US or the UK but it became a substantial hit in the Netherlands. It would be nice to see this compiled properly with other quality non-charting singles.




#22
You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone
b/w Cuddle Up
Brother/Reprise 1091
May 15, 1972
Highest US Chart Position: None





"You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone" from 1972's Carl And The Passions – "So Tough" album, is a gritty - for The Beach Boys that is - mid-tempo rocker sung by Carl. With an unusual rhythm, prominently breezy violin, banjo and piano the single didn't bother the charts at all. Which is a shame as it would have shown how far the band had come since the mid 60's.




#23
Susie Cincinnati
b/w Everyone's In Love With You
Brother/Reprise 1375
November 8, 1976
Highest US Chart Position: None




Al Jardine's groovy "Susie Cincinnati" - replete with car-engine revving noises, funky organ, handclaps, loose vocals and occasionally booming low-end bass sounds - has something of a reputation as a redheaded stepchild. Having been released as a B-Side to two singles ("Add Some Music to Your Day" in 1970 and "Child of Winter" in 1974, respectively) it finally earned it's own spot on an album - albeit in a slightly remixed form - on the maddeningly half-baked 15 Big Ones album. And alas as a non-charting US single with "Everyone's In Love With You" taking residence on it's B-Side. However even here "Susie Cincinnati" is sometimes erroneously credited as the B-Side. All in all it probably would have fit in quite nicely on Sunflower.





#24
Goin' On
b/w Endless Harmony
Caribou 9032
March 11, 1980
Highest US Chart Position: 83




"Goin' On" was the first single released on the last album issued during Dennis Wilson's lifetime (Keepin' The Summer Alive). It has something of a casual MOR adult-contemporary feel as the instruments give way to the modern Doo-Wop vocals. However the band hadn't sounded so good vocally in some time and sound as creative as ever as the track is very strong. Although a meandering saxophone solo is present for a few bars in the bridge - other than that, the song is great. Brian is heard all over the song and Carl and Mike deliver their parts perfectly. It's a great song surrounded by some less than great album tracks. It reached number 83 on the US charts. Yacht Rock at it's finest.




#25
Here Comes The Night
b/w Baby Blue
Caribou 9026/9028
February 19, 1979
Highest US Chart Position: 44





Perhaps one of the more controversial singles at the time of it's release, one can only wonder now what all the fuss was really about. Seeing that every other artist and their mother released at least one discofied single around this time, it's not so surprising that The Beach Boys did as well. In fact, the combination works almost too well as the the superior production (by Bruce) does not at all sound like a band not used to releasing disco records. The song itself - from their 1979 L.A. (Light Album) - is a remake of a song off of their 1967 Wild Honey album. This version, sung with pathos by Carl, features monkey noises, vocal gymnastic that only The Beach Boys could muster and bongos galore. It also clocks-in at a full eleven-minutes. There was also a single edit of 4:30 released, but the full-length album version is the one that needs to be experienced. The fact that the band famously nearly got booed off-stage for performing it at Radio City Music Hall didn't stop it from charting at number 44 and earned the band their only Dance Music/Club Music Play chart placing (where they peaked at number 48).



2 comments:

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Lucy

    http://forextradin-g.net

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post, I'm a big fan of the extended Here Comes The Night myself. Guess the world just wasn´t ready for a "grown-up" BB.

    George

    http://obscurealbums.com

    ReplyDelete