The Beach Boys
Released 1970 on Music For Pleasure
Reviewed by flashbackcaruso, 30/09/2015ce
1. How She Boogalooed It 1:56
2. Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) 2:53
3. Car Crazy Cutie 2:47
4. We'll Run Away 2:02
5. Misirlou 2:03
6. Whistle In 1:04
1. Summertime Blues 2:09
2. Anna Lee The Healer 1:51
3. Boogie Woodie 1:56
4. Tell Me Why 1:46
5. Louie Louie 2:17
6. Good To My Baby 2:16
When a major band finally gets round to releasing an eponymous album more than two decades into their career, the implication is that it is meant as a definitive statement. Sadly, The Beach Boys' self-titled 1985 LP was anything but. With only a couple of genuinely good songs, and horribly sterile production by Steve Levine, it's probably my least favourite album by probably my all-time favourite band. There had however already been an LP bearing that same (lack of a) title, released back in June 1970 on the prolific budget label Music For Pleasure*. It is also far from definitive - in fact on first appearance it appears to be remarkably slapdash - but it is also hugely enjoyable, not least for its utterly bizarre tracklisting which provides a series of seemingly unconnected snapshots of the more Unsung parts of The Beach Boys back catalogue.
For years I've been baffled by the choice of songs on this compilation. These budget releases are notable for their apparent randomness, as if somebody had already invented a prototype of the iPad Shuffle, loaded in an artist's entire back catalogue, and then selected the first 12 songs that happened to come up. But even using this method you'd expect at least one big hit to turn up for inclusion. This album seems to have somehow missed them all. But a closer look reveals that the track-listing does not contain more than one song from any particular album, which suggests there must have been some sort of method to the madness. In fact every studio album is represented from 'Surfin' Safari' (1962) to 'Friends' (1968), with the exception of the 1964 Christmas Album and 1965's 'Summer Days (& Summer Nights!!), and it seems that the compiler has always gone for the deepest cut on each record. This means that more often than not the track in question is mere filler, but it ends up serving the useful purpose of demonstrating how vital The Beach Boys could be, even when desperately trying to fulfil the yearly quota of albums demanded by a hungry record company. And, as if to demonstrate the sheer daftness of such a compilation, the whole thing kicks off with one of their most gloriously dumb recordings.
I can't imagine 'How She Boogalooed It' was ever designed as an opening track. Written by the whole band apart from Brian and Dennis, it made an enjoyably goofy penultimate song on 1967's Wild Honey. But it really hits the ground running, with the singing coming in a split second before the music, all the rhythm in the guitars (like most of the songs on Wild Honey there's no conventional drumkit in evidence) and a fantastically snotty lead vocal from Carl. It also features my favourite ever spelling out of a lyric (well, it's a close tie with The Rutles' 'Cheese & Onions'). 'S-O-C-K-I-T to me', indeed. Genius! What makes it even better as an opening track is the slight mastering fault at the beginning which causes the first few seconds to rise very slightly in pitch, as if somebody at MFP realised the tape was playing a fraction too slow and quickly corrected it before anyone noticed.
But then we have incongruity upon incongruity, as the very sudden ending of 'How She Boogalooed It' gives way to the funereal organ intro of 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder' from Pet Sounds (1966). How can this even be the same band? Obviously there is no filler on that particular album (although it's somewhat surprising that the compiler didn't go for one of the instrumentals), but I suppose when looking for the deepest cut it seems apt to go for the song where Brian seems to be singing from the bottom of a (metaphorical) well of despair. This spine-tinglingly beautiful song sounds even more jaw-dropping after that opening burst of frivolity, but things fall a bit flat with the next selection, the naggingly annoying 'Car Crazie Cutie' from the 1963 car-themed concept album Little Deuce Coupe. 'We'll Run Away' from All Summer Long (1964) is far more affecting, a plaintive Brian-sung ballad on the theme of young love, one he'd return to regularly, not least on the magnificent 'Wouldn't It Be Nice'. One reason why there is a fair amount of filler on the early Beach Boys albums is that the band would often be granted one day in the studio to record the bulk of the material, and if Brian hadn't come up with enough new songs they'd have to resort to cover versions or hastily contrived instrumentals. 1963's Surfin' USA features no less than five examples of the latter, but they get away with it because the instrumental was one of the trademarks of the surfing group, and thus they somehow manage to prove their surf band credentials while in reality winging it. King of the surf instrumental was of course Dick Dale, and they selected two of his tunes for this album - 'Let's Go Trippin'' (which they would revisit with an absolutely blistering reverb-laden version on their first live album) and the track picked for this compilation, the legendary 'Misirlou'. While nowhere near as incendiary as the original (guaranteed cultural ubiquity by its later use in Pulp Fiction), it's a real treat to have it turn up here, and Carl acquits himself well with the trembling lead guitar. Side 1 closes with a choice from Smiley Smile, one of the more bizarre entries in any band's back catalogue. Aside from the perfectly-formed 45rpm versions of 'Heroes & Villains' and 'Good Vibrations', this was an album of drooling weirdness created by the group while they were stoned and giggling and seemingly past caring after the collapse of the grand Smile project. With such riches to choose from it's perhaps unsurprising that the compiler went for the least consequential track of all, the spooky 'Whistle In' which originally served as little more than a one-minute coda to Smiley Smile, and works well enough closing side 1 of this similarly oddball collection.
Side 2 kicks off with one of my favourite tracks from debut album 'Surfin' Safari', a cover of the Eddie Cochran classic 'Summertime Blues'. David Marks and Carl Wilson, then aged 14 and 15 respectively, were just the right ages to convincingly sell this saga of teenage frustration with their twin lead vocals, and Mike Love is tellingly convincing as the deeper voice of authority. And then suddenly they all grow up and become mellow 20-somethings with the gentle post-Maharishi vibes of 'Anna Lee, The Healer' from Friends (1968). There are no duds on that album, a short but perfectly formed collection that combines meditative harmonies with leftfield arrangements. And then we bounce back to 1963 to the album 'Surfer Girl' and the enjoyable daft closing track 'Boogie Woodie', a piano-led instrumental that is supposedly a rock'n'roll arrangement of 'The Flight Of The Bumblebee'. Again, the sheer bizarreness of this juxtaposition keeps the listener from getting complacent. And just as we're getting used to these sudden changes in mood, the album lurches rudely into a very sloppy cover of The Beatles' 'Tell Me Why' from the much-maligned Beach Boys' Party! album (1965). At this point the mystery really deepens as to why the same year's superlative Summer Days (& Summer Nights!!) album was sidelined, but the Beach Boys are clearly enjoying covering this song, and the mood is infectious enough. And as if side 2 hasn't already been cover-heavy enough, next comes the most covered song of all time. Yes, from 1964's hugely enjoyable Shut Down Volume 2 comes the Beach Boys' very own version of 'Louie Louie'. It's about as good as most versions of this song, and is therefore very good indeed. Finally, from the Today! album (1965), we at last get another original composition, the excellent 'Good To My Baby', which works pretty well as a closing song, with its trademark Brian Wilson twisty turny melody providing nicely contrasting alternating lead vocals for the composer himself and his alleged arch nemesis Mike Love.
I love compilations like this. It may be that the intention was to deliberately create a collection of lowlights akin to the infamous bootleg Elvis's Greatest Shit, but instead its very jarringness only serves to revive the taste buds of a long-term fan who might have become jaded by one too many hearings of 'Good Vibrations'. This album got issued in a number of different sleeve designs depending on which European territory you happen to inhabit. Perhaps my favourite is the version which saw it pressed onto sides 2 and 3 of a double album, with sides 1 and 4 taken up by the complete Today! album. Not only is this double vinyl housed in a gorgeous gatefold sleeve adorned with two full-size live photographs of the band tuning up and playing in an austere-looking hall somewhere in Europe, but the combined packaging of an original album and a compilation means that you get the song 'Good To My Baby' twice! But that's what can happen when a record company throws things together without much thought. Luckily, enough of it sticks to make this album worth seeking out in some form or other.
* Music For Pleasure was a budget label set up by EMI in the late 1960s. The Beach Boys, being EMI artists outside of the USA, ended up being 'honoured' with several releases on this label. As well as the above self-titled compilation they were also subject to dreadful repackagings of a couple of their classic albums: All Summer Long and Today! (retitled Do You Wanna Dance?), both housed in cheap and tacky sleeve designs and re-channelled into fake stereo. Pet Sounds & Smiley Smile both also got the MFP treatment in Australia, in better-than-usual sleeves for this label, and retitled 'The Fabulous Beach Boys' and 'The Beach Boys' respectively. EMI also had another budget label, Starline, that issued 'Bug-In!', a similar compilation to the one reviewed here and boasting a great cheap and exciting sleeve design. The Starline compilation most likely to be in a Head Heritager's record collection would by Pink Floyd's classic Relics album.