In the Wilderness: The Beach Boys, 1972-1977

In the Wilderness

In the Wilderness is a feature in which a group of Strange Currencies contributors examine an overlooked period of an artist’s career. While originally intended as a podcast, “social distancing” has necessitated a different approach. For the time being, In the Wilderness has taken shape in the form of a “Slack chat.”

For this installment of In the Wilderness, I am joined again by my friends, Tim Ryan Nelson and Glenn Krake. Last time, we discussed The Beach Boys’ “post-SMiLE” era, from 1967-1971. This time, we’ll be examining the next six years of the band’s career – an era that was just as tumultuous as the previous chapter.

In our Slack chat, Tim, Glenn, and I discussed how The Beach Boys underwent a series of lineup changes during these years, while they continued the “democratic” approach of their more recent work. Just as the case had been before, this approach led to albums with wide stylistic variety, and a great degree of varying quality.

The albums that The Beach Boys released during this period found the group torn between competing impulses. On one hand, they saw great opportunity to remain commercially viable by revisiting the sounds of their youth, following the massive success of their 1974 hits compilation, Endless Summer. On the other hand, the band’s creative forces – particularly the Wilson brothers – hoped to find their group evolving with the changing musical landscape of the seventies. This would ultimately push several of the band’s members to begin pursuing solo projects. We’ll cover Dennis Wilson’s first solo record, 1977’s Pacific Ocean Blue, in this article. Here are some of our thoughts:


Carl and the Passions “So Tough”, LP (1972)

MR: Okay, let’s start with So Tough.

TRN: You mean The Beach Boys’ Carl and the Passions “So Tough”? It is not bad. I’ll just say it.

MR: It’s not bad, but it’s just kind of…there.

GK: I don’t know why it gets a bad rep. I dig it.

TRN: It’s pretty good. “Here She Comes” is incredible. Both of the Blondie Chaplin/Ricky Fataar songs are solid. Blondie also plays that badass bass line on “Here She Comes.”

GK: That’s one of the reasons I like it. Blondie and Ricky bring in sort that funky swamp rock, The Band vibe. Dude. That bass line.

MR: Listening to “Here She Comes” now. That’s a pretty decent track, I’ll admit. You nailed it, Glenn. I keep thinking this album sounds like post-peak The Band.

TRN: I’m not very familiar with The Band, but I will say the Blondie/Ricky songs don’t sound like Beach Boys songs.

GK: Let’s be honest, though. Not many of these albums contain many “Beach Boys Songs”… whatever that means. That’s sort of the point of all this, I think. There’s a lot of departure from expectations in this era.

TRN: But there are certain basic elements that Beach Boys songs seem to retain most of the time even in this era, like their particular type of vocal arrangements. The Beach Boys harmonies aren’t really represented in the Blondie songs. I’m still trying to take these albums in with as little context as possible…. not comparing them to previous albums, so I can come to an objective conclusion. This one has a couple weak spots but is pretty solid. The gospel song is a little weird, but not bad.

MR: Are you sure the gospel one isn’t bad, Tim?

GK: No. That one is trash.

TRN: It’s kind of bad, yeah.

MR: I’ve got about four tracks on this one that I like. Blondie wrote two of them, so that’s something. Glenn, I kind of trashed this album last time we were at Music Millennium together, but it’s not awful.

GK: I sort of see this album as everyone pitching in their flavor. You get two songs from Blondie and Ricky. Brian and Carl put together a couple choice tunes. Dennis and Daryl Dragon deliver two solid ballads. Then Mike and Al crap out that trash song, but “All This Is That” is actually a pretty good one.

MR: But that’s part of what makes it sit weird for me. Why do we even need a Blondie, Ricky, and Daryl, let alone their songs?

TRN: I agree that they aren’t needed, but I think they were the only thing holding the band together at that point, in a way. Like without them, you would have had maybe two more 20/20s instead of a handful of interesting songs mixed in with some maybe not ideal Beach Boys stuff.

GK: This seems like the democratic “White Album” where everyone sort of does their own thing.

MR: Be careful there, Glenn.

GK: I just mean in that it’s not exactly a cohesive band putting together songs rather than the individuals contributing their own take.

MR: Blondie seems to contribute something worthwhile, as I mentioned before, but I don’t need those other dudes on my Beach Boys album.

GK: I can see that take, but I just dig Blondie’s vibe. I think he tugs them out of that “square” fifties direction and gives them a bit more adventurous funk leanings. It seems like at this point, Dennis is building confidence and if it takes someone like Daryl coming in and helping him get his legs, then so be it.

TRN: I’d agree that he was a good influence. The Dennis songs kind of stand out on this one. He started to evolve beyond songs about doin’ it on this album. I think it always helps creativity to have other creative people around. It becomes like a competition. The competition between actual Beach Boys at that point may have gotten stale.

MR: I guess, but it’s like the later seasons of a TV show, where they just start adding a bunch of characters that you don’t care about. It used to be good – and you’d rather there was more of it than have a bunch of people whose earlier work you appreciated go unemployed – but it just seems a bit off.

TRN: Hey, I loved cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch, and I loved Poochie the Rockin’ Dog.

MR: “Note: Poochie died on the way back to his home planet.”

TRN: In this case, the new guys actually bring some good stuff to the table.

GK: Don’t knock jumping the shark. If we can get through an album with Mike only infecting two tracks, then I’m satisfied.

MR: I’m gonna say it, but I’m not a big fan of the Dennis songs here. He may have moved beyond his “doin’ it” phase, but I don’t see a whole lot of value in these two. Especially “Make it Good.”

GK: SHUT YOUR MOUTH.

TRN: I like them. I like how at this point he isn’t even trying to make songs that sound like Brian’s songs. They have a bit of a Bruce Johnston vibe, though, I’ll say that. The arrangements are impressive.

GK: I think that’s one thing I’ve really taken from this whole wilderness era is how much I appreciate Dennis. I love the vulnerability in Dennis’ vocal in “Make it Good.”

TRN: All my Wikipedia reading today may have mythologized Dennis a bit too much though. His arc is really interesting (the Manson stuff). Kevin Love’s dad beat the shit out of him once. Dude was traumatized.

GK: Seriously. Traumatized.

MR: I appreciate his story, and I think he wrote some good tracks before and after this. I just don’t care too much for the ones on this album.

TRN: Why must you choose to have such a wrong opinion?

MR: Hey, you got to be the dissenter last time. Remember “Take Good Care of Your Feet”?

TRN: You mean the best Beach Boys song ever? That’s a correct opinion. My final word on this album is that it’s pretty good, but not as repeatedly listenable as Holland.

GK: My final word on this album is that I would much rather repeatedly listen to this album than Holland

TRN: Another wrong opinion.

GK: Holland‘s not awful, but I don’t dislike much on this album. Seriously. I just think as a whole this album is underrated.

MR: I don’t actively dislike anything on this album, aside from the gospel one. I just don’t find myself reaching for it unless I’m doing a full Beach Boys “relisten.” Let’s move on to Holland.

Holland, LP (1973)

GK: Can we get a little historical context before we dive into Holland?

TRN: Holland has the shortest Wikipedia page out of all the albums we’ve talked about. There’s barely any context. Somehow it was Bruce’s idea to record in Europe, even though he was out of the band already. He wanted to record in France, but they ended up in the Netherlands.

GK: Didn’t they like set up a recording studio in their Air BnB or something?

MR: Yeah, it was all done in a temp studio.

TRN: According to Al it was in a garage next to a cow pasture. They had to Uber there every day.

MR: Which was tough, because the Uber app didn’t work well with the early-70s iPhone.

TRN: Exactly. Bad reception. No wifi.

MR: Not in the Netherlands. Plus all the cancer-causing windmills.

GK: I will say, I love “Sail on Sailor.”

TRN: Yeah, that one’s great. Blondie vocal, but no writing credit for him on that one.

GK: Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

MR: Great track. Lyrics by Van Dyke Parks, right?

TRN: Van Dyke and Jack Rieley both have credits, and a couple other people I don’t recognize, and Brian.

GK: I think Van Dyke Parks helped compose it. Jack Rieley and Ray Kennedy are credited with lyrics.

MR: Damn, it was focus-grouped.

TRN: I’m pretty neutral on “Steamboat,” but it has the Dennis vibe that I do like.

MR: It’s such a “draggy” second track. Might have worked better elsewhere.

TRN: Yeah it does drag in that spot. I actually really like the “California Saga.”

GK: This album does have the distinction of having the best Mike Love track.

TRN: “Big Sur”?

GK: Yup. I dig “Big Sur.” The rest of the California Saga is trash. I can’t get past “The Beaks of Eagles” and I think I just can’t forgive Al by the time the third section comes around.

TRN: Nah, I like the third one. It is very old school Beach Boys, which is kinda nice. I like the whole saga.

MR: The second part of the saga isn’t that bad. The spoken word thing is dorky, but they’d done way worse. I won’t lie, the Mike section is actually the best part. Pains me to say it. Have you guys ever heard the earlier version of “Big Sur”?

TRN: When was that recorded? It sounds way more…. flower power, I guess?

MR: I think around the time of Sunflower. It was from a rejected album called Landlocked.

GK: Yikes. Sounds more like Mike. Who fixed the final version we have on Holland?

TRN: Interesting. The production sounds like The Byrds or something.

MR: There’s a musical complexity that has Brian’s fingerprints all over it.

GK: Totally.

MR: Which leads me to believe that Brian probably wrote the music and that Mike was just the lyricist.

GK: Wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe in the next Mike Love lawsuit, we can find out more in discovery.

TRN: Skipping around this album just now, maybe I do like So Tough more. Side two is a little less compelling than side one.

MR: Hold on there a sec. “The Trader” is great.

GK: I like “The Trader.” Carl is a treasure.

TRN: “The Trader” is good, but it comes to a stop at around 2:30… then starts again and goes for another 2:30. That’s just too long.

MR: The second half is the best part!!!!!!!!

TRN: This might be another example of a song sort of washing over me without grabbing my attention. I’m pretty neutral on it.

GK: The synth-y bass kind of bugs me.

MR: Hmm. They were just getting started with synth bass. I will agree with Tim that the rest of the second half is kind of lackluster.

TRN: The Blondie/Ricky song isn’t as good as the ones on So Tough.

MR: Yeah, “Leaving This Town” is boring.

GK: Agreed. I don’t mind “Funky Pretty.”

TRN: It’s kind of goofy.

MR: They were just getting started with “kind of goofy.” It’s not that bad. The lyrics are definitely dumb, but that’s probably true on more Beach Boys songs than it isn’t.

GK: I can see the “goofy” on the lyrics. I hadn’t ever paid much attention to them. I like the melody with all those sevenths.

TRN: That’s too music theory for me.

GK: I think this one is an example of how the synth bass works. If you’re going to use synth bass, go for it.

MR: Oh, they will…

TRN: Yeah, I like the synth bass here. I might have to retract my opinion of your opinion from earlier, Glenn. I only had time to listen to most of these albums like twice, so my opinions aren’t fully formed and are pretty pliable.

GK: Well, thank you, good sir. Vindicated.

MR: Good. Now you’re both wrong.

GK: I think I prefer to listen to So Tough. I wouldn’t be surprised if you came back and asked me in a couple years if I wouldn’t back down on that position. “Sail on Sailor,” “Big Sur,” and “The Trader” are all pretty good. Maybe those three are better than any single track on So Tough, but I think the success rate is higher across the board on So Tough for my money.

MR: I’m definitely going with Holland. Two songs that I really really like, and nothing that I dislike. Way better success rate, for me.

TRN: The strength of “Here She Comes” really elevates So Tough for me. That’s part of it. It’s a tough call.

GK: Oh yeah. “Here She Comes.” Nevermind. So Tough for the win.

TRN: There are just some boring spots on Holland, and I don’t know if I’m ever bored with anything on So Tough.

GK: Excellent assessment.

Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale), EP (1973)

MR: Alright, we’ve gotta talk about Mount Vernon and Fairway now.

GK: Must we, though?

MR: Yep.

TRN: It’s pretty dumb.

GK: It’s ugly dumb.

MR: It seems like this is probably where Brian’s heart was during these sessions…which is kind of sad.

TRN: Jack even fucks up the narration at some point, and they were just like, “leave it in.”

MR: Have you heard the version without the narration?

GK: No! This has promise.

TRN: Oh, it’s got a little melodic part instead. I like that a little better.

MR: Keep in mind, this was a year before Autobahn, so it predates most any “electronic” pop music.

GK: Wow. Throwing out Autobahn in the same sentence with Mt. Vernon?! Mind blown. I’m gonna have to re-listen and re-evaluate. The non-narrated version, of course.

TRN: Okay, so Mt. Vernon with no narration is good actually. Why did he choose to fuck it up so bad with the narration?

GK: MUCH better.

MR: I won’t say that it totally redeems the Mount Vernon project, but it casts it in a more positive light when you just hear it as a piece of music.

Endless Summer, compilation (1974)

MR: So, we need to cover Endless Summer in here somewhere. Not the music on it, but its impact on their trajectory.

TRN: Yeah, Endless Summer sold really well and made them popular again apparently.

MR: It tapped into a big nostalgia trend that was brewing at that time (American GraffitiHappy Days).

TRN: Oh, that makes sense.

MR: They – Mike, I assume – really tried to latch on to fifties nostalgia, and distance themselves from the sixties era that they had been such an integral part of.

TRN: Mike was dumb. Probably even dumber now.

GK: Can we all agree Mike is the villain in this whole wilderness story?

MR: Yes.

TRN: Oh yeah.

GK: Although, I will add, Love You and Adult/Child had me thinking about Murry [Brian’s father] and the damage he must have done. There were some serious trauma issues that felt just palpable in those two albums.

MR: Murry is the villain up until about 1965. Then Mike. Eugene Landy [Brian’s psychotherapist] took over for a while, but Mike reclaimed it.

GK: Right, but I think the reverberations of Murry’s damage were ringing through in those man-child albums.

15 Big Ones, LP (1976)

MR: Alright. Here’s the one I’m dreading. 15 Big Ones.

GK: Noooooooooooo.

TRN: My first thought: they are not all, in fact, “big ones.” Quite a few small ones, actually.

MR: Are there any big ones?

TRN: I like the originals okay. I think most of the covers are bad.

GK: “Had to Phone Ya” is medium. Definitely nothing big.

MR: I guess we should note that this was the first new music that they released after Endless Summer sold a billion copies.

TRN: Right, they were all freaked out about being popular again, and their producer just left, along with Blondie and Ricky.

MR: Yep, and leaning heavily into the nostalgia thing.

GK: Feels like a cash grab. All those covers trying to tap into that nostalgia market.

TRN: Brian was producer and he was the one who wanted them to do covers.

MR: Feels like Mike’s idea. I does seem like Mike sings lead on a very high percentage of these songs.

GK: Totally feels like Mike’s idea. It’s got his grubby fingerprints all over it.

TRN: Yeah, it was basically Brian though. Carl and Dennis were not into the idea.

MR: Tim, keep your “facts” out of this.

TRN: Well actually, it was Mike’s brother who got Brian back into the fold.

GK: Wait. This isn’t the whole “Brian’s Back” era, is it?

TRN: Yeah, this is “Brian’s Back.” The video of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi arresting Brian for “failure to surf” was part of the “Brian’s Back” marketing.

GK: Didn’t I read somewhere that all these covers were just “loosening up” Brian and getting him comfortable back in the studio?

TRN: That was what Carl and Dennis wanted. They wanted them to be warmup songs for Brian, and they didn’t want them to appear on the actual album. I want to say something about Al Jardine.

MR: Please do. We haven’t yet.

TRN: Somehow, I think I was never actually sure what his voice sounded like. Over the course of this project, a lot of songs that I thought were Al leads were actually Brian. I think I just assumed that since Al was tiny that he must sing all the high parts. He sings a couple songs on this album pretty much by himself, and he just doesn’t sound anything like I thought he did. He basically sounds like Mike. But that said, “TM Song” is hilarious and great.

GK: Uggg. “TM Song”!? Please don’t pick that one for our playlist.

TRN: The little skit at the beginning is great.

MR: Any salvageable tracks from this album?

GK: “Had to Phone Ya” is the only decent piece here. Isn’t that a Brian original?

TRN: There are some co-credits, but yeah. “Had to Phone Ya” is interesting. It was an American Spring song [Brian’s wife’s band]. They also did the original recording of “Good Time,” which would end up on Love You.

MR: The American Spring version of “Had to Phone Ya” is definitely better. That album [Spring] isn’t bad.

TRN: I actually kind of like the “Blueberry Hill” cover. I like the little sax intro and the minimalist approach to the first verse. I like how quiet it starts, and then it goes into Phil Spector mode when the instruments really kick in. And it has that slower pace. I like it.

MR: It’s a lot better than the “Rock and Roll Music” cover. That’s the low point for me.

TRN: “Rock and Roll Music” is a garbage cover. I had to pull up The Beatles’ version to cleanse my palate.

MR: I had to grind up a 45 of the Chuck Berry version and snort it to cleanse my palate. “Just Once In My Life” is the clear “highlight” for me. First, I think it’s the best song on the album. Second, it’s the last one, so, you know…

TRN: Apparently, Brian had kind of a scratchy voice for this album. The Wiki says he had laryngitis, and there’s a quote from him saying that he didn’t use his real voice on that album; he was using an “assumed voice,” which is just kind of hilarious.

GK: Laryngitis!? And they were dragging him out of bed!? That’s messed up. I just get sad when I think about Carl and Dennis encouraging Brian along by warming up with all these Wall of Sound covers, and then I can just see Brian getting exhausted and saying, “I’m done.” and Mike going, “Welp, we’ve got enough to work with here.” [starts counting his money]

TRN: According to the Wiki, Brian was literally the one who said “we’ve got enough.” Carl and Dennis were really unhappy with how unfinished the album was, in their words. Here’s a good quote:

Carl was disappointed with the record, while Dennis was “heartbroken,” explaining: “People have waited all this time, anticipating a new Beach Boys album, and I hated to give them this. It was a great mistake to put Brian in full control. He was always the absolute producer, but little did he know that in his absence, people grew up, people became as sensitive as the next guy. Why do I relinquish my rights as an artist? The whole process was a little bruising.” 

MR: This album is dismal, and yet, they would do even worse. A lot worse. I think it’s time to move on from all these “Big Ones.”

Love You, LP (1977)

TRN: I have often erroneously referred to Love You as “the worst Beach Boys album.” That was before we started this project and I got to hear so many bad Beach Boys albums.

GK: Oh, come on. I like Love You.

MR: Very erroneous. I unironically love most of Love You. I can absolutely understand why it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I think it is a legitimately awesome album.

GK: Agree. It’s earnest and quirky.

TRN: I still think it’s kind of bad, but at this point I have some Stockholm syndrome with it. I’ve listened to it so many times that I think I actually genuinely like it now. I still think most of side one is technically bad, but I like it.

GK: I’m always torn because I don’t really classify it as a Beach Boys album. I see it more as a Brian solo therapy album.

TRN: Yeah, it’s definitely a Brian album with all the other guys’ voices.

MR: It’s easily the most “Brian” album since SMiLE collapsed.

TRN: Okay, but that first song…. “HEY!”

MR: “HEY!” Great opening.

TRN: It’s really not. It’s a very bad opening. I feel like there are a bunch of “HEYS,” but I think there’s just one. Feels like a hundred.

MR: That ridiculous instrumentation? How can you not smile when you hear it?

TRN: I guess I do, but my initial reaction was a cringe.

GK: Seriously. The opening totally sets the tone.

TRN: It doesn’t though. I think the whole tone of the album is different by the end. It has a weirdly drifting tone. The first couple tracks make it sound like a party album, but by the end it’s actually a lot more contemplative.

GK: Maybe I should say it introduces the off-kilter quirkiness.

MR: Yeah, that “tone” is a badass synth-pop album, decades ahead of its time. Only Brian could write a song like “Roller Skating Child” and get away with it.

TRN: “Roller Skating Child” is one of Brian’s weird “creepy” songs of the period.

GK: Super weird.

MR: Yeah, there’s a worse one coming up.

TRN: Yeah there is. This one is even weirder if you go by the Wiki, which says it was inspired by his daughters ice skating.

GK: Creepy.

MR: You and your “facts” again, Tim.

TRN: Anyway, not a big fan of “Mona.” Just very repetitive.

GK: Repetitive in all the right ways.

MR: Exactly, which is why it works so well. He’s trying to get this girl, and the insistence of the melody matches his persistence.

TRN: It has no beginning or ending.

GK: That’s why they invented this thing called the fade out.

MR: He just wants to get back to “doin’ it.” Plus, that bizarre Spector reference right at the end. It’s such a pure Brian moment, but filtered through Dennis.

GK: Dennis was channeling Brian on that one.

MR: I adore that song. One of my favorites.

TRN: I still gotta give it a meh.

GK: Ummmm. “Johnny Carson”?

MR: Not my favorite on the album, but it fits into the whole, Brian doing/talking about mundane stuff again.

TRN: “Johnny Carson” is one of the dumbest songs I’ve ever heard in my life, but I have to respect that he wrote it in twenty minutes after someone didn’t believe he could write a song about Johnny Carson right then and there.

MR: “don’t YOU think HE’S such A natural GUUUUUUYYYYYYYY”

TRN: Oh man, those lyrics – like a kid wrote them, but to a more extreme degree than earlier Brian songs.

GK: That’s the mundanity that’s so charming.

MR: It’s like “Busy Doin’ Nothin’,” but instead of writing a letter, he just lying in bed watching Carson.

GK: Remember, Brian was in a pretty bad place at this point in time.

TRN: I mean, Landy was threatening him with a baseball bat during these sessions, I think.

GK: I just listen to this album (“Johnny Carson” and “Solar System” especially), and I imagine Landy standing there pushing a mic into Brian’s face saying, “Anything! Just write about anything!”

TRN: He would apparently not let Brian eat until he had been productive.

MR: Yeah, I don’t like to think about these songs being written in that context, but it should be considered. It’d be much nicer to just pretend that these were the latest musings by a troubled genius, not forced from him by a guy who makes Mike Love look good by comparison.

GK: I mean, I get the idea of music as therapy and all that, but when you then see it get turned around and marketed… Ok. I’m up for pretending.

TRN: “Good Time” is the best song on the album, but it was written in 1970, and the vocal was recorded in 1972. That’s another song I thought was an Al vocal.

GK: “Good Time” isn’t Al?

TRN: No, it’s Brian, but it was recorded when his voice was better.

MR: Yeah, Tim. I know you’re a fan of that one. You love “Honkin’ Down the Highway” too, right?

TRN: Anyway, back to “Good Time.” It’s also another one from the American Spring record.

MR: How can you not love the line, “honkin’ down the gosh darn hiiiiii-way”?

GK: So corny. I love it. That bass synth is great.

TRN: “Honkin’” is a stupid song, but like I said before about the entire album: I still like it (for unclear reasons). There’s a great quote from [Roger McGuinn] about “Ding Dang”:

“Brian parked in the driveway and approached the house. I opened the front door and invited him in. “I just wanted to see you,” he said. “Do you have any speed?” “Why yes,” I replied. “Are you sure you should be taking it?” He said, “I’m running away from Dr. Landy, so it’s OK,” with a half smile from the side of his mouth. I gave him two Biphetamine 20s and a glass of water and he gulped them down like someone gasping for fresh air after having been submerged for a long time. We had a beer and played pool for a while and then Brian found his way to the music room. He had seated himself at my upright piano and was playing a tune. “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh nothing. Just something I came up with now,” he replied. I said, “It sounds great! Do you want to write some words?” “OK,” he replied. We played the tune for an hour or so but the only lyrics we had were: “I love a girl and I love her madly / I treat her so fine but she treats me so badly,” et cetera. After about five or six hours of this, I got tired and went to bed. When I awoke the next morning, Brian was still at the piano playing the same verse over and over.”

GK: Yet another reminder of how much Brian needed help. He’s going through some serious mental health issues here.

MR: That’s the real tragedy of his story. Even when he was willing to get help, none of his friends/family were willing/able to help him.

GK: And he’s surrounded by the ghost of Murry, and some stellar figures like Mike Love and Eugene Landy just grubbing for money.

MR: The people closest to him were either also fucked up (Dennis) or using his talent for their own gain (Mike, Landy).

TRN: Carl was key to saving him from Landy years later, I think.

GK: A song like “Solar System” reminds how quirky and beautifully innocent Brian is deep down.

MR: Yeah, that one is really endearing, but it definitely fits that “childlike” descriptor.

GK: He’s fawning over this scientific topic like the “Double Rainbow” guy. Just enamored.

TRN: I love “Solar System.” Maybe my second favorite on the album. Side two is good.

MR: How about the stretch of three “serious” songs: “The Night Was So Young”/”I’ll Bet He’s Nice”/”Let’s Put Our Hearts Together.”

GK: “The Night Was So Young” is pretty good. Those vocal harmonies.

TRN: Yeah, I like that one a lot too. I like the whole little trilogy.

MR: “The Night Was So Young” is my favorite on the album. It’s gorgeous. I really enjoy Dennis’ voice in “I’ll Bet He’s Nice,” and how Brian’s voice takes it over, and then Dennis takes it back.

TRN: Same, and I actually like the synth bass a lot too.

GK: Yeah. This is the synth bass done right. Is there something concrete tying this together as a trio?

TRN: I don’t think so. They just kind of flow together.

MR: Not necessarily. It’s just that they’re a little more “mature” than the other tracks.

TRN: I like the “pretty darlin” outro.

MR: Carl has a great vocal in the bridge of “I’ll Bet He’s Nice.” Great work by all three Wilsons. And no Mike to be found.

TRN: Solid work. Mike barely appears on side two.

GK: That’s why I like them so much. I couldn’t put my finger on it until now.

TRN: Marilyn Wilson makes a cameo on “Let’s Put Our Hearts Together.” Her voice works really well here.

MR: Yeah, I really like it. Her voice doesn’t sound “good” on this song. She could sing pretty well. This is just a weird song for her, but it works.

GK: Listening to this trio again now, I think it’s the highlight of this album.

MR: Yeah, this trio is great. I would be okay with The Beach Boys just ending here.

GK: I feel like it is the end.

TRN: Like, dying?

MR: No. Just retiring. Brian can sleep. Dennis can do it. Carl can… be Carl?

GK: I mean, even here it’s Brian solo. Calling it a “Beach Boys” album is just trying to cash in on the “Brian’s Back” marketing.

MR: Yeah, but you could argue the same about Pet Sounds. The other guys didn’t do shit there other than sing.

GK: They should all just go solo from here. Call this a Brian solo. Get him the help he needs. Let Dennis do his solo work and get him the help he needs. Let Mike play the county fair circuit.

MR: And let Carl… be Carl.

GK: And let Carl… be Carl.

TRN: So anyway, “I Wanna Pick You Up” is creepy kind of. 

GK: Yeah. Creepy.

MR: Yeah, kind of. Which is a shame, because it’s nice musically.

TRN: I mean, one line about patting a baby on the butt is one thing, but there’s like a whole part that focuses on that.

MR: It’s like in this weird stop-time mode too. It’s just not okay…

TRN: The whole thing kind of sounds less like he’s talking about an actual baby, and more like he’s describing an elaborate roleplay scenario. Very fetishy (“tickle your feet”).

MR: It’s for anyone who didn’t think “When A Man Needs a Woman” was creepy enough.

TRN: Yeah, it’s very much along those same lines – like a spiritual sequel to that song. “When a Man Loves a Baby.”

GK: “When a Man Loves to Take Good Care of Your Feet.”

MR: Mike’s back on “Airplane.” I don’t hate the song.

GK: No thank you. Pass. It’s forgettable.

MR: Forgettable can be good. See previous song.

GK: Except the previous song is creepy and hard to forget.

MR: Exactly. It would’ve been better if it was forgettable.

TRN: I like “Airplane.” This is an album I often listen to on planes, so it’s kind of like the theme song to the flight when it comes on. “Hey, I’m in an airplane.” I like the “can’t wait (can’t wait) to see (her face)” part.

MR: “Love is a Woman” is alright. Not great, but okay.

GK: Speaking of creepy and better if it was forgettable. “Tease her and please her”!? No thank you. “She fell for all my tricks”!? Gross. The bass synth here is too carnival calliope-ey for me. Enhances the creep-factor.

TRN: It’s a little slimy, but I like it. We have to mention that SNL performance here. He was looking pretty bad.

MR: Yeah, it was very disconcerting.

TRN: I don’t think he was wearing a bathrobe, but I’m picturing him in one as I think back on it. His eyes were so dead at the end of that clip.

GK: EYES SO DEAD. Yes.

MR: And then he just gets up and starts walking.

TRN: Yeah, forgot about that. I kind of love his vocal delivery on the album version though. He sounds a lot like Dennis, meaning his voice sounds kind of worn out and awful, but I still like it.

MR: So final assessment on Love You?

GK: If it’s a Beach Boys album, it’s the last great Beach Boys album.

TRN: You know how some things are “not half bad?” This album is almost exactly “half bad,” but I still love the whole thing somehow.

MR: Yeah, I love it. Glenn has the word “great” in his. He wins.

TRN: It’s half great.

Adult Child, unreleased LP (1985 bootleg)

MR: Okay, Adult/Child.

GK: Feels like it’s a continuation of Love You. I think it’s just more Love You, but unfinished and raw. Like maybe in an alternate reality, it could have been another SMiLE.

MR: I want to agree with you on the “raw” part, Glenn, but then I hear that full orchestral arrangement and realize that there was a lot of effort put into this.

TRN: I like it. Reprise rejected it because it wasn’t “commercially viable,” but I think it was fully produced. It just didn’t have an obvious single.

GK: I like the orchestral pieces. I think if his vision could have been played out more fully on the rest of the album, it could have been more cohesive and less raw in those parts. I feel like Brian had a vision for what this could have been or should have been and if he was more well, or had the help he needed, maybe he could have seen that through.

TRN: For some reason, I love the way Carl sings the word “liiiife” on the first track. It sounds like his tongue is hanging out when he sings it.

MR: I like “Life,” but man, the album gets uncomfortable really quick after that.

TRN: As creepy as it is, “Hey Little Tomboy” could have been a single; if people didn’t pay attention to the lyrics.

MR: That song is way beyond the barely-acceptable “Roller Skating Child.”

GK: Yeah. “Hey Little Tomboy” is a little off the rails.

TRN: But like it’s catchy, or whatever. Like I said, you have to kind of overlook the lyrics and subject matter.

MR: They dodged a bullet by having the album rejected, and then put it on the next album!!! I mean, what’s the deal with the pig noise thing? Is it a play on the “lipstick on a pig” saying? That’s…not okay.

TRN: Must be, yeah.

TRN: “Deep Purple” is kind of lame. “H.E.L.P.” is great though. It’s from the Sunflower years, and basically a commercial for Brian’s health food store. He gives the address and phone number at the end and says to “come to the Radiant Radish.”

GK: I don’t know about “great.” I can get behind the health food store commercial. As long as Brian is in his bathrobe.

MR: It’s got some novelty appeal. I like the descending melody/harmony thing that serves as the chorus. What is “H.E.L.P.” then?

TRN: I’m not sure. I’m not clear on what the acronym is. Maybe the song is about a fictional health food store, but then throws the actual plug in at the end, because the address mentioned in the song is different from the actual address which he says at the end.

GK: So, apparently “H.E.L.P.” is “Healthy, Ethical, Legal, Parent Approval.” Like something from a wellness class poster.

MR: I like “It’s Over Now,” “Still I Dream of It,” and “Life is For the Living,” but don’t feel like I need much else here.

TRN: I like “It’s Over Now,” especially the first half of the verse; like that one first line, and the way everything stops before the second line comes in.

GK: I love “It’s Over Now.” I also dig “Still I Dream of It.”

TRN: Yeah, I like that one.

GK: It feels like “Life is For the Living,” “It’s Over Now,” and “Still I Dream of It” are like the Smiley Smile tracks that Brian had come the closest to reaching his vision. Then the rest is a hodge-podge of unfinished stuff, and if Brian was in a better place, maybe he could have focused and put it together like he did with the ultimate SMiLE archival release

MR: Sure, but with Brian operating at a severely diminished level. Maybe if he brought Van Dyke into it.

TRN: I don’t know if it could have been SMiLE. It could have been Love You. There are definitely hodge-podge elements. I think all the covers are kind of useless.

MR: “Games Two Can Play” has to be a Friends-era recording, right?

TRN: Sunflower era, but definitely in the “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” vein.

MR: Brian’s obsession with “Shortnin’ Bread” is one of his more bizarre episodes.

GK: Bizarre. For sure.

TRN: Apparently “Shortnin’ Bread” is the inspiration for “Ding Dang” too, which he was also obsessed with.

MR: Again, they had dodged a bullet by not having it released, and then put it out on L.A. (Light Album).

GK: Just shows what happens when you let Mike Love make decisions. That’s such a Mike Love move. “Brian wrote this quirky one. Let’s USE IT!”

TK: I like this album overall, but there are some skippable tracks for sure.

MR: Yeah, it’s alright. I like the more produced stuff, and would be curious to see if he could’ve made a good full-length album in that mode.

GK: When you hear the anecdotes of him wanting to write a song that Frank Sinatra might use, you remember that there are a lot of not-so-well-intentioned voices whispering in his ear and it makes you wonder.

Pacific Ocean Blue, LP (1977)

MR: Okay, let’s talk Pacific Ocean Blue.

TRN: It’s pretty good, honestly.

GK: I L.O.V.E. Pacific Ocean Blue. I LOVE IT.

MR: I set my expectations a bit too high for it. There was a lot of “lost classic” talk about it for years, but when it finally come out, I remember being pretty underwhelmed by it. There are moments that I really like.

TRN: I can see that. I had very low expectations for it, so it was a pleasant surprise for me.

GK: That’s my one big take away from this whole endeavor is how much I love Dennis.

TRN: Yeah, I’m a Dennis fan now for sure.

MR: What are the highlights from this one?

TRN: I like “River Song,” “Moonshine,” and there’s a bonus instrumental track called “Mexico” that I like.

GK: So many highlights. “River” is fantastic. “Moonshine,” “Dreamer,” “Thoughts of You,” “Time,” “Pacific Ocean Blues.” Seriously. Everything. Except “What’s Wrong.” That’s the bunt.

TRN: What’s interesting about this album to me is that it’s fully removed from The Beach Boys. At some point, Dennis found his own unique voice, and this shows it. “What’s Wrong” is a little Beach Boys-y, though, yeah.

MR: I feel like there’s a sleazy 70s L.A. vibe about the album that kind of rubs me the wrong way.

TRN: There’s a bit of a sleazy L.A. vibe sure, but I think it reminds me of Warren Zevon or Gerry Rafferty, both of whom I like.

GK: Well, I love L.A., so….

MR: It’s super druggy, but not the fun kind of druggy.

GK: It’s druggy and earnest and sad and beautiful and honest and pleading.

TRN: Yeah, there’s a sincerity to it.

MR: Yeah, it’s all of those things. It adds up to something that I mostly like, but don’t love.

GK: We finally get to see Dennis in what is maybe the closest to a supportive creative environment (minus the drugs, maybe?). Gregg Jakobson seems to have been a big help giving Dennis an avenue to show what he has.

TRN: Yeah, Dennis did tend to have writing buddies for his songs. Who was the other guy, Daryl Dragon? I think Dennis needed some support like that from people outside the family. I don’t know if the other guys were as good for him.

GK: All this garbage from Murry et. al about Dennis being the untalented one… that just stings. Not that he had a chip on his shoulder or anything, because he was too cool for that. But…

MR: I’ve never cared for “Friday Night.” That song kind of pulls some of the surrounding material down for me. It “looms large” in my remembrance of the album.

GK: Yeah, that one doesn’t quite fit. Those are the two less-than-stellar tracks for me. “What’s Wrong” and “Friday Night.”

TRN: I don’t mind it really.

GK: But then “Dreamer.” Bass harmonica! That’s Dennis!

MR: I don’t love that one either. Bass harmonica aside… But there’s some real good stuff here.

GK: “Dreamer” is very “The Band.” Makes you wonder if Dennis had more of that influence than just Blondie/Ricky.

TRN: Mike Love does make an appearance on this album too, by the way. Just as a writing credit. I don’t think he sings. He co-wrote “Pacific Ocean Blues.” The music was submitted by Dennis for 15 Big Ones, but turned down.

GK: Idiots. It’s too good for Mike Love’s Beach Boys. I love the way he articulates “Pa-ci-fic-O-cean-Blue.” The cadence is off-kilter and funky and wonderful. Dennis’s piano playing on “Thoughts of You” is tender in the non-icky “I Wanna Pick You Up” way.

MR: I got this album in my late-20s. For some reason, it’s an album that I always thought I would like more when I got older. I’ll have to give it some more time to grow on me.

TRN: Did you listen to it this week, or are you just going off your old memory?

MR: Just once this week. I planned to give it a few more spins, but Fiona Apple wouldn’t let me.

TRN: I didn’t spend a lot of time with this Dennis album, so I have more of a general sense of having liked it than many specific thoughts about it. 

MR: Really though, this is a pretty decent album. I want to emphasize that I do enjoy it. Keep in mind that I was conditioned by four very powerful words before hearing it: “lost Beach Boys masterpiece.” It couldn’t live up to that, but it’s good.

TRN: Oh sure.

GK: Understood. It’s not a Beach Boys masterpiece. It’s a Dennis Wilson masterpiece. Much like Love You is a Brian Wilson masterpiece; not a Beach Boys masterpiece.

MR: Still won’t get me to agree to that Love You is a Brian Wilson album.

TRN: Glenn, did you listen to all the tracks on the Spotify version? The Bambu Sessions?

GK: I did. Quite a bit. The Bambu Sessions are beautiful as well.

TRN: There’s a “Piano Variations on Thoughts of You” near the bottom. Weirdly there’s a version of “Holy Man” with lyrics sung by the drummer of the Foo Fighters, who has a very Dennis Wilson-style voice.

GK: I think of The Bambu Sessions as the next in the progression of Dennis albums. Almost like the Adult/Child to Pacific Ocean Blue‘s Love YouThe Bambu Sessions are sad too because it’s the unravelling of Dennis. His voice is deteriorating. “It’s Not Too Late” is so sad and beautiful. It’s super Tom Waits-y. But more raw and authentic than Waits’ caricature.

TRN: Dennis’ last few years were sad in general.


MR: Okay, let’s wrap this thing up, shall we? What are your favorite/least favorite albums from this era?

TRN: I guess my favorites are So Tough, Love You and Pacific Ocean Blue. Although I do like Adult/Child. Least favorite is 15 Big Ones, for sure.

MR: Just one, Tim. You’ve got to commit.

TRN: Oh, just one? Love You, as much as I hate it.

MR: Eh, there’s not really a rule. I was just curious as to which one would be the pick if you only had one.

GK: Worst: 15 Big Ones. No question. Best Brian album: Love You. Best Dennis album: Pacific Ocean Blue. Most underrated: So Tough. Can I do that?

MR: No.

TRN: There are no rules, but you can’t do that.

GK: Ok, fine. Pacific Ocean Blue.

MR: 15 Big Ones is obviously the worst. It’s legitimately bad. Love You is definitely my favorite.

TRN: Almost a consensus.

GK: I suppose I can ‘consensus’ that one, because I do love Love You. I just love Pacific Ocean Blue that much.

MR: Final thoughts on this era before we do a playlist?

TRN: It had its ups and downs. Some high highs and low lows.

MR: I feel like that quote should be on the eventual box set that spans this era, Tim.

TRN: No one would buy it though.

MR: Not with that quote on it.

GK: What I like about this era is that everyone gets their moment to shine. I obviously love the Dennis moments, Brian has a masterpiece here, we get funky with some Blondie, and Carl’s passions come out at times.

MR: I find this era – 15 Big Ones aside – to be surprisingly consistent. I feel like the one we covered last time had much higher highs, but its relative lows made it much more jarring (and fascinating). This one – despite the band turmoil – is relatively smooth sailing.

TRN: Yeah, I guess this era felt a little more stable.

GK: Maybe more consistent as far as success/output. NOT stable as far as mental health goes.

MR: Yeah, definitely. I feel like that’s the toughest part in writing about the Beach Boys. You’re dealing with an artist with serious psychological “complexities,” but he’s also an absolute genius. It’s easy to lean into the story too much, but ignoring it is also irresponsible – especially during the Love You Adult/Child era.


TRN: Let’s do the playlist.

MR: Tim, I’ll give you the first pick. Don’t make me regret it.

GK: Don’t screw it up, Tim. How many do we get?

MR: Five each. I’ll point out that there are 15 “Big Ones.”

TRN: “Good Time”

GK: I gotta make sure I take care of Dennis. So… “Dreamer.”

MR: “The Night Was So Young.” Round two:

TRN: “Here She Comes”

GK: “Mona”  

MR: “The Trader.” Round three:

TRN: “Solar System”

GK: “Marcella”

MR: “Sail on Sailor.” Round four:

TRN: “Big Sur”

GK: “I’ll Bet He’s Nice”

MR: “Let Us Go On This Way.” (HEY!!!!!!) Last round:

TRN: Okay, we have to have at least one “big one” on this list, so “TM Song.”

GK: NOOOOOOOOOO.

MR: That’s literally the worst one.

TRN: It’s good.

MR: No.

TRN: I only like good songs.

GK: THE. LITERAL. WORST.

TRN: It’s like forty seconds long.

GK: “River Song.” or “Thoughts of You.” I CAN’T DECIDE!

TRN: “River Song”

GK: Okay.

MR: “Honkin’ Down the Gosh Darn Hiiiiiii-way”

TRN: Ugh. Worse song than “TM Song.”

GK: Had to be done.

MR: I had to counter “TM Song” with something awesome.

TRN: Fair.

Authors

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

  • Glenn Krake is the associate editor of Strange Currencies Music and a co-host of the nearly flawless podcast of the same name. He counts among his proudest achievements taking his daughter to her first concert: Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds in its entirety on its 50th anniversary (as a way of making amends for his own pitiable first concert: The Osmonds at the county fair).

  • Tim Ryan Nelson is a procrastinator and agitator who sometimes appears on the “Strange Currencies Podcast” to tell Glenn why he is wrong. Tim refused to participate in ranking the Beatles’ songs for Strange Currencies Music but was eager to rank their albums, if only to ensure that Revolver didn’t win. His favorite music is anything unpopular and annoying. He also likes kittens.

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