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I’ve been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys and their upcoming new album and world tour by listing my top 50 songs. Here’s part three, a mix of sweet little gems, tracks from SMiLE and their first (but certainly not last) dip into the world of nostalgia.
A world away from pretty much any other Beach Boys song, Cuddle Up is a gorgeous lullaby by Dennis, with the help of Daryl Dragon from Captain And Tenille. Another highlight from those adventurous early 70s days when the band were really stretching themselves under the leadership of the younger Wilsons, it’s always been one of my favourites from Carl And The Passions-So Tough. Breathtaking and heartbreaking.
29 – Time To Get Alone
With a similar sentiment (ie, alone with someone rather than actually alone) to Cuddle Up, this slightly earlier tune is by Brian and is much closer to the usual Beach Boys sound. Lushly produced and featuring wonderful backing vocals is another of his deceptively simple and sweet songs from the calm after the SMiLE storm. It’s hard to believe that the writer of this could have been anything other than blissfully happy at the time.
28 – Do It Again
The first burst of nostalgia by the Beach Boys was a big success. After having moved away from the blueprint with Pet Sounds and subsequent experiments, Mike reined things back in with this deliberately familiar-sounding song. It’s all about recapturing the glory days and it works very well, so there was no surprise that the reformed Boys have re-recorded it for their new album, and that’s the clip I’ve used below.
27 – The Trader
Carl Wilson’s solo albums have always been a source of disappointment to me. Neither of them are particularly bad (they’re no Looking Back With Love), but they are sadly lacking in sparkle, which is such a shame when he was capable of writing songs like this. An intelligently-written historical song about the early days of America, it’s pure Carl and shows that he was capable of so much more than he ended up delivering on his own.
26 – Wild Honey
Here’s another great Carl vocal. After the thud of the underwhelming Smiley Smile album, the Beach Boys roared back to life (if not the top of the charts) with Wild Honey, a blue-eyed soul record full of vigour and energy. The title track exemplified that as much as anything else, showing that while the days of teenage symphonies to God might have been behind him, there was still a promising future ahead of them. I’ve actually used a live version with Blondie Chaplin on vocals here, partly because it shows what a great live rock band they were in the early 70s, and also for the baffling clip of Elton John and John & Yoko at the start.
25 – Good Timin’
One of the last great Beach Boys songs, Good Timin’ was released on L.A. (Light Album) in 1979 and gave them a reasonable Top 40 hit. It had actually been started five years earlier, perhaps showing how much the band were struggling to come up with decent new material by then, but Brian and Carl came up with a classic here that still sounded fresh when the former played it in solo concerts more than twenty years later.
24 – Wind Chimes
This is one of those SMiLE songs that exists in a few different formats, even though it was one of them that was actually finished before the project was scrapped. It’s a beautiful song that sounds haunting and at times incredibly sad, almost like a cry for help from a man who was losing himself at a time when the world was expecting so much from him. And when the backing vocals and horns come in, that’s magic that is.
23 – Kiss Me Baby
Here’s one of my favourite Brian productions, a real stepping stone in between the surf days and Pet Sounds and featuring some of the most gorgeous vocals on any Beach Boys song. Lyrically it’s also a step towards the more mature themes that would follow and the use of backing vocals is stunning. To demonstrate, I’ve used the vocals-only version of the track below.
22 – Let Him Run Wild
This is a curious one because it’s one of my favourite Brian vocals from the days when he had a lovely falsetto, before his lifestyle tore his vocal chords to shreds. However, he doesn’t actually like it, and re-recorded it for his Imagination album in 1998, though that version was both a bit pointless and not half as good as the original.
21 – Cabinessence
After SMiLE was abandoned and the Beach Boys suffered a dip in their popularity, they found that the easiest way to get some interest in their new albums was to include some music from it. It was also a way to have Brian ‘involved’ at times when he was barely functioning. Cabinessence was one of those that came out on the 20/20 album and was clearly a stunning piece of work. When Brian brought out his own version of SMiLE and again when the original sessions were finally released, we got to hear it in its full glory in the midst of the proper album.
The second part of my epic Beach Boys celebration countdown, here's ten more classic songs, with lots of lesser-known gems from Brian Wilson's contributions to the band in the 70s and a big shout-out to Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin.