Dennis Wilson dove off his boat December 28, 1983, and drowned. It is not known if this was an accident or a suicide. Whatever the reason for his death, the Beach Boys lost a founding member and a voice that was crucial to their sound.
The Beach Boys released no studio albums between 1980-1985. Mike Love, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, and occasionally Brian Wilson, continued to criss-cross the country and the world as a top level concert attraction. They surrounded themselves with an array of backing singers and instrumentalists so they could produce their traditional sound live. The Beach Boys had gradually stopped performing most of their post 1960s material and were now basically a nostalgia act.
1985 finally found the Beach Boys back in the studio. The result of this was the self-titled album The Beach Boys. If there was any fairness to life they would have created a classic equal to their 1960s material. Life, however, is not fair so they had to settle for what I would rate as an above average album and certainly their best in a decade.
The Beach Boys hired an outside producer for this album. Steve Levine’s claim to fame was as the producer of Culture Club, which meant a lot more in 1985 than it does today. Levine was able to produce a clear and crisp sound which featured some of the best Beach Boys harmonies in years. Levine’s main problem was his constant use of synthesizers with bass and drums that many times did not mesh with some of the catchiest tunes that the Beach Boys had created in years.
The Beach Boys starts well with the Mike Love-Terry Melcher song, “Getcha Back.” There are some wonderful textured harmonies backing Mike Love’s strong vocal. All this plus an interesting melody make this song very listenable.
“It’s Getting Late” by Carl Wilson features Carl Wilson’s clear vocal that would have been better if not for the persistent percussion and a staccato bass line.
Brian Wilson co-wrote four songs contained on The Beach Boys. Three of the songs list Eugene Landy with a writing credit. He was the controversial psychiatrist who attended Brian Wilson for years and gradually took over control of his life. Seeing his name in the writing credits still sends a chill up my spine. On the other hand, the four Brian Wilson songs are some of his best constructed songs in a long while.
“Crack At Your Love” features the best Brian Wilson vocal of the decade. At least for a short time, the gruff nature of his vocals is gone and is replaced by his former sweet high sound. “I’m So Lonely” featured a unique opening saxophone instrumental.
“California Calling” was the only song Brian Wilson did not write with Landy. Here he uses Al Jardine as his co-author and the results are spectacular. “California Calling” features excellent lead vocals by Jardine and Love, stellar traditional Beach Boys harmonies, and an up-beat tempo that all coalesce into a 1960s style classic. Interestingly this was the only track on the album on which Brian Wilson arranged the vocals.
“Passing Friend” contains a Carl Wilson vocal that was wasted. Steve Levine’s use of programmed percussion has become an annoyance by this point in the album. This is made all the more disappointing as great drummer Graham Bond played on a couple of tracks, so he must have been available.
“She Believes In Love” is the prerequisite Bruce Johnston pop song. It is a far cry from the brilliance of his “Disney Girls” and is average at best. The Stevie Wonder song, “I Do Love You,” is an odd choice and not handled well. The group tries to be Stevie Wonder rather than the Beach Boys.
The Beach Boys is the group’s best album in ten plus years and their last viable studio album. It features some very good tracks and hints at just how good the Beach Boys were at their best.