The Beach Boys – Endless Summer

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

This is pretty much where it all started for me . . . sort of. As a young child, I grew up listening to the Latin American records that my parents played, and I don’t even know what they were – cumbia, certainly, some of it, and I assume compilations of the biggest hits of the year, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell you. At some point, I found their copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and that was the first record I remember listening to on my own, over and over. And then, by the third grade, I came into possession of a Jan and Dean compilation album released by Exact Productions in 1980 – Surf City. Somehow I understood that Brian Wilson had written some of these songs, and somehow I knew that he was one of the Beach Boys. I played this tape until it almost wore out; I adored it. I saved it into adulthood, though now it is lost. And while I obviously was a big Jan and Dean fan, it was the Beach Boys that became my first true rock n’ roll love – how this grew out of an obsession with a Jan and Dean cassette, I can’t explain. They were also my first concert, if you’re willing to stretch definitions. My recollection is stumbling across the Beach Boys playing live – I already recognized the songs – while my parents and I were at Chicago Fest (a precursor to Taste of Chicago), also in the the very early ‘80s. I persuaded my parents to stay for a few minutes so I could listen. I remember they played Del Shannon’s “Runaway” – a song I was already familiar with; clearly my musical self-education was moving apace, and I am very impressed with eight year old me – but having no concept of a cover version, I came away confused about how they could play someone else’s song.

What I Think of This Album

This album has the essential early radio hits as well as “Good Vibrations,” running through the classic Beach Boys period ending in about 1966 (with nothing from Pet Sounds, though). This is pretty bare-bones as compilations go – no liner notes, no lyrics, no credits, nothing. But of course, the music is divine. The melodies are lifelong memorable, the harmonies are heavenly, and the evocation of surf, sand, sun, and cars is light and fun. The depiction of women, of course, is immature and insultingly reductive. Songs like “California Girls” and “The Girls on the Beach” do not hold up well, lyrically. The rest, though, is amazing. But to simply attribute the appeal of the remaining songs to nostalgia or worse, to dismiss them as fluff, is wrong wrong wrong.

The ballads – “The Warmth of the Sun,” “In My Room,” “Don’t Worry, Baby,” “Let Him Run Wild” – are where Wilson shows off his blossoming arranging skills and hints at his more adventurous work with melody on Pet Sounds and Smile. Similarly, “Catch a Wave” has a wonderful vocal arrangement, and robust instrumentation, including harp, organ, keyboard, and cymbal washes that sound like waves. “Wendy” has a fantastic drum track and features a melody with unexpected twists and turns, as well as a unique organ solo. “California Girls” on its musical merits is an astonishing piece. Beyond this, “Surfin’ Safari” has a Chuck Berry guitar solo, and the chorus is cleverly comprised of two interwoven vocal parts. “Surfin’ USA” is, of course, literally a Chuck Berry song (“Sweet Little Sixteen”) but Wilson adds the “inside outside USA” (whatever that means) countermelody and of course, there are the harmonies. “Fun, Fun, Fun” has another Berry-inspired opening riff, and throws in an organ solo, with a solid beat underneath it all, and a great falsetto over the outro (though its the album version and not the single).

The naivete and bewildering enthusiasm of “Be True to Your School” (the album version here, again) always makes me laugh (apparently the melody comes from “On, Wisconsin!” but I can’t comment on this). The harmonies and melody of “I Get Around” make the song a personal favorite, as well as the quick little bass solo. “Girls on the Beach” has its issues, but the harmony arrangement is spectacular and unusual. The version of “Help Me, Ronda” is the slower one (which you can normally distinguish by its spelling of “Ronda”), but so be it; Al Jardine sings the slightly gritty lead – the volume fading is one of my favorite things ever.

And I haven’t even gotten to “All Summer Long” or “You’re So Good to Me.” Nor have I mentioned “Good Vibrations,” which could take up a page all by itself. This song is a jaw-dropping achievement that you could listen to a hundred times and notice new things with every spin. The electro-theremin! The cellos! The drop out leaving the organ, maracas, and single-note harmonica! It was the most expensive single ever recorded at the time, consisting of musical sections recorded at different times with different musicians and then all spliced together. It’s worth buying this album for alone. Really, it’s almost embarrassing that anyone ever tried to write a song after “Good Vibrations” was released.

Finally, it would be a crime to not point out that acclaimed session musicians The Wrecking Crew, with Carol Kaye on bass, Hal Blaine on drums, and guitarist Glenn Campbell, play on several of these tracks. This album is a must-own, no doubt about it (and over 3 million purchasers in the US agree).

The Best Thing About This Album

This is an incredibly difficult choice, but for the personal reason that it represents maybe the first song that changed my life, I am going to go with “I Get Around.”

Release Date

June, 1974

The Cover Art

This is a truly ugly cover (and also does not depict the band’s clean cut ‘60s appearance, but rather its more hirsute ‘70s form, which is inconsistent with the dates of the material).

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