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Book Review: The Beach Boys FAQ by Jon Stebbins

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The FAQ series of books from the Hal Leonard Publishing imprint offer a unique slant on the rock biography genre. By taking established artists such as The Beatles and Neil Young, and providing little-known facts, the FAQ books are able to add something constructive to our understanding of these artists, rather than simply repeating tried and true stories.

With The Beach Boys, this is a particularly effective approach. As much of a “genius” as Brian Wilson was, we have heard the stories endlessly. Yes, his father was abusive; yes, there was a sandbox underneath his piano; yes, Smile was an aborted masterpiece for decades. Blah, blah, blah. Author Jon Stebbins does repeat these tales — I guess no Beach Boys book is complete without them — but he adds a great deal more to the typical narrative.

My favorite chapter is “Sail On Sailor” which discusses in depth the albums made during the “lean” years. This would be the post-Smile period, from late 1967 to 1973. Albums that were consigned to the cut-out bin almost immediately upon release are finally given their due here, and it is a welcome reassessment. I must admit to a (former) willingness to go along with the crowd in regards to records such as Friends and Carl And The Passions Present “So Tough,” but The Beach Boys FAQ has convinced me to go back and listen with a more open mind to these efforts.

Stebbins has found a number of other intriguing avenues to explore besides the “forgotten” works of the group. The chapter titled “Rhonda, Wendy, Caroline…Who Were Those California Girls?” is pretty self-explanatory. Then there are “No Go Showboat: The Beach Boys’ Image Problems,” and “The Fun Of Hating Mike Love.” Again these are self-explanatory titles, but the subject matter is not something generally found in other Beach Boys biographies. “The Fun Of Hating Mike Love,” in particular, is hilarious and deadly accurate.

As expected, there are whole chapters devoted to Pet Sounds and Smile, and the book even includes a press release about the release of the original Smile which was issued in March 2011. The Beach Boys FAQ contains a great deal of trivia, such as chapters about their most important live dates, solo albums, and their appearances in TV and film. This is not necessarily the most exhaustive Beach Boys book one will find out there, but it does contain a great deal of information that is not normally present in such accounts. As such, the Beach Boys FAQ is a welcome addition to the canon.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Nice review Greg. I still think those albums like Carl And The Passions…So Tough are going to be as bad as you remember them though.

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    Thanks Glen, looking forward to your Neil Young FAQ.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/gordon-hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Floating somewhere in the rarified air of my top 5 BB songs is the Brian Wilson submission “Marcella” on Carl and the Passions (okay, so the rest of the album is pretty much non-Brian filler). But there was always something to recommend the ‘lean-years’ ’67 to ’73 albums, especially since many of the songs on the shelved Smile were sprinkled throughout — from melodic gems like “Wonderful” and “Cabinessence” to such elegiac masterworks as “Surf’s Up.” Carl Wilson really shined in this era — listen to the hit “Darlin’ on the loosey-goosey Wild Honey — and even Dennis settled down enough to bring his songwriting talents to the fore in preparation for his fine solo album. In any case, the real nadir came about 1978 on, starting with the M.I.U. Album, on the heels of the last great Beach Boys album, 1977’s Love You a rough-around-the-edges reward driven by a returned but still rough-around-the-edges Brian, pop smarts still intact.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    “Darlin'” is indeed one of the lost gems Gordon.

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com Bill Sherman

    Pet Sounds aside, all of the earlier BBoys albums had their share of crap tracks (what about those interview filler cuts?), and I find that each of the Brother albums up to M.I.U. have their pleasurable moments. I’m a big fan of the Sunflower/Surf’s Up elpees (kindly re-released by Capitol as a single CD), in particular.

  • Greg Barbrick

    I’m with you Bill on the Sunflower/Surf’s Up set. That version of “Surf’s Up” alone is amazing, and there are some other greats as well.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/gordon-hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    “Til I Die,” the Brian-centric the track right before “Surf’s Up,” is a harrowing piece of music too, too. As for the comic bits like “Bull Session with the ‘Big Daddy’” and “’Cassius’ Love Vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson,” at least they were put at the end of the albums (if I’m remembering right), if you wanted to end the LP early.