Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thoughts on The Beach Boys' 50th Anniversary Tour and Their Upcoming Album

The Beach Boys, arguably one of America's quintessential bands if not "the" quintessential American band, kicked off their 50th Anniversary Reunion tour in Tucson, Arizona a few days ago while also unveiling their new single, "That's Why God Made the Radio". I am a huge fan of The Beach Boys, and of course I am going to see them when they come to my state. This is actually the first time I'll be seeing the band live, because I wasn't too crazy about seeing them in the past. Now, Brian Wilson is back and the line-up consists of Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, who left the band after Little Deuce Coupe. It's all original members, which makes me happy. The thing is, I wonder what it would've been like to see Carl and Dennis Wilson. Too bad I wasn't in the 1960s or 1970s.

Upon reading their set-list, hearing the new single, and reading Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine's comments on the upcoming album That's Why God Made The Radio (which hits stores on June 5th), I am now very excited for the tour and the new album. The single? "That's Why God Made the Radio" ties the surfing sound of the early 1960s to the beautiful sound that dominated the likes of Pet Sounds. The singing is good and the playing is great. They still have it in them. It feels like "California Girls", while also having a Pet Sounds vibe to it with a dash of Sunflower and their Brother years songs. Bruce Johnston stated that the album reminds him of Sunflower, while Al Jardine said it was like Pet Sounds. I am glad to hear this, because I was afraid that their new studio album would just be another tired surf rock revival record. It's nice to see the band looking back on an era that is criminally overlooked.

What era is that, you might ask? The post-Pet Sounds era, when The Beach Boys had moved away from the surf pop sound and ventured into baroque pop and experimental territories. The intended follow-up to Pet Sounds, SMiLE, was an ambitious and highly creative masterpiece that was unfortunately shelved for many reasons. It signaled a strange era for the band, an era that I consider their best.

It was a somewhat misguided era, but one that gave us some of their greatest music. The album we got instead of SMiLE, titled Smiley Smile, was a strange album that alienated critics and music listeners in the late summer of 1967. The band was perceived as uncool and square, but in Europe, the album was another huge success. It was followed by albums that showed that the band was capable of trying different things, and by that point, being relevant in the states wasn't an option. Creativity was an option. If you've never heard the album Sunflower, you don't know what you are missing.

Sunflower (1970)
In the mid-1970s, the band began to slip back into the retro surf sound. Nostalgia made them a hit, and their concerts were huge. The success of the pre-1966 era songs compilation Endless Summer also helped, but the band resorted to subpar studio albums (minus 1977's Love You) that the public avoided. Afterwards, they have been perceived as that surf band, and success of the pop radio-friendly "Kokomo" pretty much cemented this belief into music listeners. Now that they are going back to the sound of the mid 1960s and the early 1970s, I am hopeful that this tour and album will lead people to seek out the albums they missed out on back then. A very good album like Friends was a huge flop in 1968, ditto Sunflower in 1970.

Last but not least, the set list. It consists of the hits, you know... "Surfin' Safari", "Surfin' USA", "Kokomo", "California Girls", "I Get Around"... What are they mixed with? Let's see... "Cottonfields". You know, the single from 1970? You may not know, but it was a country rock take on the Leadbelly classic that was a huge hit in Europe but a flop in the States, one after a string of many. What else? "This Whole World" and "Forever", two classics from Sunflower, one of their finest albums that was unfortunately a huge flop in the states but a success in Europe.  "Disney Girls (1957)" from Surf's Up, also nice. "All This Is That" from Carl and the Passions - "So Tough", "Sail On Sailor" from Holland... Wonderful! In addition to that, great songs from the early-to-mid 1960s that you might not find on a "Best of" set such as "Please Let Me Wonder", "The Little Girl I Once Knew", "Little Honda", "Then I Kissed Her" and so on... Also, they will play "That's Why God Made the Radio".

It's a great set list. It's one that gives casual fans what they want to hear (the surf stuff, "Kokomo") and songs that fans like me want to hear. I couldn't be any happier. I mean, I wasn't expecting them to do something like "'Til I Die" or... Say... "Solar System" or even something like "It's About Time" or "Bluebirds Over the Mountain". I am just glad that they are playing at least one selection from each of the post-1966 albums, except Wild Honey and Friends. Not sure why they couldn't have added the title tracks from those two albums, or something like "Darlin'". Those two albums are great. SMiLE tracks? They're playing "Heroes and Villains" of course, but nothing like "Surf's Up" or "Wonderful", but let's face it, the SMiLE tracks probably can't be performed live without an orchestra or something. Still, it's a great, diverse set list.

The Beach Boys are back, and they mean business this time. The new album will mix the surf sound with the artistic sound that defines their greatest albums and the tour set-list dives into albums that people haven't heard of or probably forgot. Also, don't forget that the first ever release of The Beach Boys' version of SMiLE was a success, and will probably get listeners interested in a great amount of music that was missed. This will be a fine summer for The Beach Boys.

Are you a fan of The Beach Boys? What are your thoughts on this band? Are you familiar with the post-1966 output? Or are you more of a casual fan who enjoys the surf stuff? Sound off!

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