Not only does the collection have 30 great songs, but it also has invaluable information on each one: year of release, highest chart position, producer, songwriter, and the name of the lead singer, which helped me finally sort out once and for all who sounds like what. And all of that for $13.99 — now that's value.
No wonder the collection has spent a viagral 155 consecutive weeks on Billboard's album charts, including an uninterrupted run of two years in the Top 200 before shifting to the Pop Catalog chart, where it continues to loom as a Top Ten presence.
The surviving founding members of the Beach Boys — Al Jardine, Mike Love, and Brian Wilson — and Beach Boys member since 1965, Bruce Johnston, will appear together for the first time in 10 years on the rooftop of the landmark Capitol Records building in Hollywood on Tuesday, June 13, for a ceremony celebrating double-Platinum designation for domestic sales of more than two million units of Sounds Of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys.
The story of the Beach Boys is the story of the pursuit of paradise. The Beach Boy's immaculate blending of angelic voices provides the auditory and symbolic thrill of an earthly paradise. Historically, the New World was sold as an earthly paradise from the outset. America was a land where "God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state" (Roger Williams, 1644). America was a land of vast natural resources and uncountable acres of land free for the homesteading.
Prior to that, America was the home of Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth. Instead of Eternal Youth, Ponce de Leon found Florida, land of the Eternal Old, but that's another story. The hope of eternal youth persisted, just below the surface, until the frontiers of America had been exhausted — no magic fountain, not even boundless land. Even if America didn't hold the secret to eternal life, it didn't seem unreasonable that America could still yield paradise.
In the introduction to his great rock 'n' roll book Mystery Train, Greil Marcus addressed America's promise: "To be American is to feel the promise as a birth right, and to feel alone and haunted when the promise fails. No failure in America, whether of love or money, is ever simple; it is always a kind of betrayal, of a mass of shadowy, shared hopes."
The Beach Boys' success at promoting the themes of an American paradise and perpetual youth precluded them from growing up, lest America be forced to do so as well. For Brian, youth and paradise were primarily themes upon which to focus his songwriting. Dennis Wilson was fixated not with paradise, but with water, and it was water that eventually killed him.
Only Mike Love (the "oldest" Beach Boy in appearance, though not age) — bald at 25 — understood the nature of the Beach Boys appeal. His boyish personality and goofy onstage demeanor define the appeal of the Beach Boys for many people. The Beach Boys made a triumphant return to the stage (and through compilation albums) in the '70s with Mike Love out front, not fat, freaked-out Brian Wilson.
"Surfin Safari" was the Beach Boys first national hit, released in the fall of 1962. Mike Love was the tour guide with a broken-nosed twang that millions of flatlanders interpreted as a "California accent." Mike Love was the spokesman for the Southern California paradise from the get-go.
The very first verse evokes California as a paradise, the kind of place where guys get up early in the morning and are so happy they sing. Beautiful girls accompany them to their "job," which is surfing. They love this job so much that they do it for free — it is untainted by the stench of commerce (kind of like blogging). Also, in the Beach Boys' version, the occupation is open to everyone, "Let's go surfin' now, everyone is learning how, come on a safari with me." This does not correspond well to reality.
The social structure of surfing is built upon the concept that not everyone can do it. It is difficult. It is physically demanding. It requires more time than golf to master. It requires great patience. It requires the ability to swim very well and it requires an ocean. If these impediments weren't enough to prevent "everyone" from surfing, then the open hostility of the "locals" to invading flatlanders, would be. The turf wars of surfers have been as intense, if not as deadly, as those of street gangs.
Even on the Boys' first hit, symbolism and metaphor superceded reality. Surfing wasn't a reality for the vast majority, it was a symbol of a magical ever-youthful place. Surfing brought good health through exercise and sea air. It brought popularity through its mastery. It brought success with the opposite sex, who were driven to hormonal overdrive by the sea air, surfing prowess, and lots of skin.
These were things that anyone would wish for, and anyone could partake of these delights through the music of the Beach Boys and through the attitudes and dress of the beach. No real surfers would have spread the gospel with the evangelical zeal of the Beach Boys. No real surfer would want the competition for precious wave space.
The rest of "Surfin Safari" is a travelogue of choice surf locations and techniques: "They're anglin' in Laguna," "They're kicking out in Doheney too." These were codes to learn and use.
"What are the choice surf spots as delineated in 'Surfin Safari,' Poindexter?"
"Gee, I don't know, Miss Crabfish."
"Just as I suspected, you haven't done your homework."
"Don't Worry Baby" (1964) is where Brian established himself as a production, as well as songwriting, genius. He out-walls Phil Spector without the bombast, just plush layers of shag carpet vocal, chugging guitar and drums. Some say that this is where Brian began to let the dark side show, but the essence of the song isn't the foolhardy braggadocio that gets the singer's character in trouble, it's the encompassing and omniscient love with which his girlfriend comforts him.
When the girl tells him, "When you race today just take along my love with you," she means her love is something palpable that will protect him like a great pink airbag. This fits into the Beach Boys paradise theme: in paradise, love protects you from harm.
"Help Me Rhonda" (1965) is another plaintive song, but the music is so cheerful that the singer knows with certainty that Rhonda will indeed lend a hand, and probably a gland. The singer is cheerful because he believes he knows the answer before he asks the question, a question that confirms what is already known through eye contact, body language, and "vibrations," in this case "good."
We love to ask questions to which we already know the answers, and ask favors we know will be granted: these confirm our perception of ourselves as perceptive individuals.
"California Girls" (1965) is another production and melodic masterwork, with great good humor and a dose of ribaldry that even David Lee Roth could appreciate. Now the worldly sophisticates, the Boys detail the amenities of girls from the far corners of the USA. None compare to California girls.
Brian Wilson was insightful in his recognition of the power of environment to transform people. For example, many new arrivals to Southern California immediately a) get a tan, b) lighten their hair, and c) lose weight. The first two are functions of the beach and the weather, the 3rd a function of the "California lifestyle," which basically says that if you are going to go to the beach and engage in the year-round outdoor activities, you better not look like a big fat toad or you are not going to fit in, babe (unless you don't care — in which case, why move to Southern California in the first place? — it's expensive and crowded, so stay home).
Sure, the "East Coast girls are hip" and the southern girls have a beguiling way of speaking. Certainly, the Midwest girls have learned a few things watching the farm animals, and the northern girls, having nothing better to do and having extra padding, know how to keep a guy warm. But if you could move them all to Southern California you'd see a transformation! Darker, lighter, and tighter is the way it ought to be, the way it's got to be! The Beach Boys don't travel to the babes: the babes come to them. (David Lee Roth found this image hilarious: we'll transform this nation! In his version of the song, the vocals rise to a crescendo of hometown boosterism and visions of endless miles of streamlined, color-coordinated nymphets, forever young, forever nubile.)
Don't take the Boys wrong, though. They know that it's all a joke. You can hear them smiling as they sing. It's a nice fantasy though, like a Bud Light commercial.
By 1966, Brian figured he'd join the psychedelic generation where he could disguise his adult expressions in the jargon of peace, love, understanding, flowers, and "Good Vibrations." The story of the six months in the studio (studios — they recorded in four) and the fanatical perfectionism with which Brian attacked his "3 Minute Symphony" is well known. What isn't often discussed is the why.
Early in his career, Brian used the surf-youth culture as his theme upon which to make music that would be popularly successful and pleasing to himself. He felt restricted in the latter in order to maintain the former. The growing gap was driving him, quite literally, insane. To top it all off, the Beatles, his only real peers, had just released the baroquely ornate and rapturously received Sgt. Pepper album.
"I can top that. I can put together an even better album that will confirm once and for all that I am not only their equal, I am their superior. I have this handicap. I must remain a child. That's all they will accept from me, even my own brothers and cousin want children's stories. I'll show them. I can get hip to this psychedelic lingo. I've taken acid, too. My Mother used to always talk about vibrations — how dogs and animals could pick up on fear and stuff. Why not people too?"
Mike was into it. He was a psychedelic guy himself, always ready for something new. Anything to stay young and take his mind off of his hair, or vice versa.
The song took all Brian had. By the time he finished "Good Vibrations", he was drained emotionally, physically, mentally and artistically. The proposed album, Smile, fell apart. Brian destroyed the master tapes. "Good Vibrations" was great, but was it worth it? Probably not. It would have been preferable to have a sane Brian Wilson for the next 20 years.
That was basically it for Brian for almost 20 years as a functioning human being, although musically he had a brief, beautiful return to form with "Do It Again" and "I Can Hear Music" in '69, the latter exquisitely sung by Carl Wilson.
The '70s were relatively fallow, at least in terms of hits. The Beach Boys Love You was a sweet, painfully childish album. It bore no hits. It was as though Brian had rebelled against the pressure to make adolescent music by making blatantly childish music. And this was the highlight of the '70s.
The '80s were better — the Reagans had them to the Whitehouse. "Getcha Back" was catchy and broke the Top 30 in 1985. Things really picked up with "Kokomo" and Brian Wilson's first solo album, both in 1988. "Kokomo" was the Beach Boys' first #1 single since "Good Vibrations."
"Kokomo" revived the idea that paradise is a place that can be reached here on earth. Brian Wilson had lost his ability to write toward that paradise — he had lost his willingness to explore a myth in which he no longer believed.
"Kokomo" was written by the unlikely tetrad of Mike Love, Terry Melcher, John Phillips, and Scott Mackenzie with a Beach Boys-Turtles-Mamas and the Papas-"San Francisco, put some flowers in your hair"-type of sound. This hodgepodge, written for a numbskull movie, sounded more like the Beach Boys than the Brian Wilson album did.
First, it has Mike Love on lead vocals; second, it has Carl Wilson coming in with his falsetto "Ooh, I wanna take you down to Kokomo, we'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow, that's where we wanna go, way down in Kokomo." Third, it has a nonsensical but great sounding chorus, "Aruba, Jamaica, ooh, I wanna take you, to Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty momma," which is chronically adolescent, just like the Beach Boys. The thrill is there. Brian of '88 can't fight the Beach Boys of '64 and win.
There is also conceptual brilliance at work in "Kokomo" — it completes the Caribbean exploration that was begun with "Sloop John B." The Caribbean connection does many things: it allows the Beach Boys to extend the idea of paradise from Southern California to the Caribbean, a repository of many of the same pleasures as Southern California and a place to pick up new and enticing rhythms.
The Caribbean is another vision of Paradise — in some preferable to overcrowded, busy, expensive California. "Kokomo" updated the Beach Boys' appeal to a more exotic locale with sympathetic vibrations.
It has been very nice to see the revival of Brian Wilson, ironic yet fitting that he alone remains alive of three very talented brothers — Dennis drowned in 1983, Carl died of lung cancer in 1998 — brothers whose pursuit of musical Paradise will remain one of the 20th century's greatest musical legacies.