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Music Review: Beach Boys – L.A. (Light Album)

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L.A. (Light Album) was the Beach Boys final album release of the 1970s. Brian Wilson continued to withdraw from the world and so his contributions and participation to this album were minimal. Bruce Johnston returned to the Beach Boys and was given the lead producer credit along with James Williams Guercio and the Beach Boys as a group. Carl and Dennis Wilson also returned to the group on a full time basis and contributed heavily to this project. All this added up, not to a complete disaster, but to a very poor and misguided album.

The first three songs on L.A. (Light Album) are the strongest of the ten that were included. Producer Bruce Johnston may have realized this and decided to lead with the best.

“Good Timin” leads off with some of the best Beach Boys harmonies of the decade. It is one of only a few Beach Boys songs where the harmonies are on a par with some of their classic 60s material. "Lady Lynda” plays off a classical baroque musical theme. This Al Jardine written and sung song was a big hit in England. I saw the Beach Boys perform this song live in the early 1980s and it was a standout. The sound was filled out with backup singers with complimentary instrumentals added. I can still picture the song a quarter of a century later.

This live version was superior to the studio effort contained here but the roots of an excellent song are still present. “Full Sail” features a plaintive lead vocal by Carl Wilson. The harmonies are muted and subtle which allows Carl’s vocal to shine. This song is a good way to remember Carl Wilson.

“Angel Come Home” brings Dennis Wilson back to the Beach Boys fold. His now gruff voice had continued to deteriorate and he seems to be stretching just to complete the vocal. “Love Surrounds Me” was a track from Dennis Wilson’s never completed Bamboo album. His voice now sounds almost like Joe Cocker and is almost painful to listen too.

“Sumahama,” written and sung by Mike Love, is just infuriating. It is a nominee for one of the worst Beach Boys songs of all time and I’m not sure it is the worst song on the album.

Side two of the original L.A. (Light Album) makes the first side seem like a classic.

“Here Comes The Night” marks the Beach Boys entrance into the disco era. The song, which was originally released on the Wild Honey album, is re-structured with a heavy bass and up-tempo disco beat. The worst thing that happens is that the song is lengthened to just under 11 minutes. Listening to this song today just makes it all the worse. It goes to show that the only thing worse than a bad song is a miss-conceived and long bad song.

The album just limps home after the disco fiasco. “Baby Blue” is another song from Dennis Wilson’s Bamboo.”  Dennis’ vocal sounds slightly better but the song has an odd structure which makes it a difficult listen. “Goin’ South” is basically a Carl Wilson solo piece and might have been more appropriate for one of his solo releases.

The final song on the album is also its worst. The traditional song “Shortnin’ Bread” is just unlistenable. The saying always leave your audience wanting more does not apply in this case.

L.A. (Light Album) is an album with a lot of low points. Given today’s technology I would advise downloading the first three songs and avoiding the rest. Enough said.

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About David Bowling

  • Rick

    ” “Good Timin” leads off with some of the best Beach Boys harmonies of the decade. It is one of only a few Beach Boys songs where the
    harmonies are on a par with some of their classic 60s material.”

    Well, this is a recycled song from the so called “Guercio Sessions” (recorded at Jeff Guercio’s Caribou Ranch) back in 1974. Many of these recordings became a victim of the flames, since the Ranch (including the studio) burned down in late 1975(?). Anyway a version of “Good Timin'” without lead vocal survived on a backup tape that were stored at the Beach Boys own Brother Studios. Carl Wilson re-recorded his lead vocal for the Light Album. Anyway I agree that this song is the main reason to buy this album.

    BTW on the original version (from the unreleased 1977 Adult/Child album) of “Shortenin’ Bread” it was Dennis Wilson singing the bass harmony part and he did his job much better. I never understood why they used these worse alternate version on the Light Album.

  • Rick

    One correction regarding my last comment. The original version of “Shortenin’ Bread”…it was Brian singing the bass part (it’s Dennis on the Light Album version). And Carl’s lead vocal is much wilder on the original version.

  • Will

    I wouldn’t want anyone to follow the advice of this review and just download the first three tracks.

    As far as I’m concerned the best tracks by a LONG way on this record are the three Dennis ones- Love Surrounds Me, Baby Blue, and Angel Come Home, which Carl wrote and Dennis sang.

    The rest I can sorta take or leave- and the disco remake…should have been three minutes instead of 11!

  • katie albrecht

    i hear one of your song beachboys.

  • bobbybluz

    Caribou was still open as late as the Fall of 1978. I lived on the property next to it.