I have always thought that the Beach Boys albums, Today and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!), should have been released in reverse order. Beach Boys Today! is a much more mature album and sets the foundation for Pet Sounds while Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) is in many ways a follow up to All Summer Long.
Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) is Brain Wilson’s swan song to his early Beach Boy roots. While he continued to experiment and develop the Beach Boy sound the songs are simpler for the most part and the themes of love, having fun, and girls are elementary.
The foundations of Summer Days are two of the best loved Beach Boys hit singles. “California Girls,” with its almost classical introduction before it hits its stride as a mid-tempo pure pop song is two and a half minutes of pure joy. Mike Love’s lead vocal is not as nasal as usual and perfectly leads the listener along on this ode to girls everywhere. “California Girls” remains one of the quintessential Beach Boys songs.
“Help Me Rhonda” with a lead vocal by Al Jardine, is a simpler song but would give the Beach Boys the second number one single of their career. This song made its first appearance on Beach Boys Today! as “Help Me Ronda”. The transformation is remarkable as the sound is crisper and the songs vocals are now completely layered. It provides a good example of how a song could evolve when Brian Wilson concentrated on it.
“The Girl From New York City,” "Amusement Parks USA” and “Salt Lake City” are all similar up-tempo rockers with typical layered harmonies. While there is nothing extraordinary about any of them, they do provide a pleasant base upon which the album is built. “The Girl from New York City” is an answer song to the Ad-Libs hit “The Boy From New York City.” “Amusement Parks USA” takes an all American summer past time and turns it into a rousing tribute. “Salt Lake City” is just as the title implies. It is a song about a city.
Other songs of note include “Girl Don’t Tell Me” with the first lead vocal by Carl Wilson which is remarkable given the number of songs that the Beach Boys had produced up to this point. “Then I Kissed Her” is a stripped down tribute to Phil Specter and his wall of sound that exerted such influence upon Brian Wilson. “I’m Bugged At My Old Man” may seem like a goofy throw-away song but given the relationship between Brian Wilson and his father there is some bite in this satire.
“Summer Means New Love” is an unusual instrumental for the group. It is far from their surf roots. It has a symphonic feel that plays on a simple theme yet is layered with varied instrumental sounds. It is a delicate and beautiful creation.
Summer Days concludes with the beautiful a Capella song “And Your Dream Comes True.” The Beach Boys voices always sounded so pure when they were presented without instrumental backing. This wistful ballad is a fitting conclusion to the simple and in many ways spectacular early Beach Boys career.
Summer Days (And Summer Nights!) is not the masterful album of Beach Boys Today, Pet Sounds, or even All Summer Long. What it remains is a pleasurable listening experience. Sometimes that is more than enough.