Life at 33 1/3: The joys of summer, the pain of youth

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Beach Boys: All Summer Long (Capitol)

If nothing else, this is an excellent soundtrack to summer.  A quick glance at the sleeve should tell you that much.  At the time the Beach Boys were still pop music’s equivalent to silly college movies made in sunny California.  But the production mastery of Brian Wilson is already noticeable on several tracks. 

Thematically the songs are all about white middle-class boys trying to score with the sun tanned, bikini clad beauties  on the beach.  They got lots of spare time on their hands, so when they are not stalking the beaches they are driving up and down the Strip in their daddies’ cars, maybe succeeding in bringing a girl along to the drive-in.  Some fortunate guys have acquired Honda motorcycles, which is pretty cool.  Everything is not as easy and idyllic as it seems, though, as heavy clouds of sadness and longing are gathering above.  There’s much more to these songs than the lyrics would have you believe if you just read them from a page, isolated from the music.

Brian Wilson is only 22 years old but his musical paintings already show traces of both wisdom and nostalgia, that very Brian Wilsonish longing back to a mystified youthful innocence.  However, to write a nostalgic tribute to the rock’n’roll era in 1964 was a bit early, I mean it happened just a quarter of an hour or so ago, even if it had just been dwarfed by a quartet from Liverpool.

Wilson was up for that challenge, and the Beach Boys were among the very few that didn’t disappear in the undertow of the British Invasion.  On the contrary, they started to blossom.  The competition from The Beatles triggered the best in Wilson’s Beach Boys, and they were soon – for a period – to be the Beatles’ peers.

But not just yet.  For the time being they held the fort by writing and recording excellent and very American pop music while the rest of the country’s musicians were wondering what was going on.

The key track on “All Summer Long” is of course the huge hit “I Get Around”, a marvellous tribute to the freedom offered by the automobile.  Kids didn’t drive around in cars in Europe, but that song sure made us imagine how it would be like.  The American dream for kids.  In the trunk the album had that song’s merry cousin, “Little Honda”.  A wonderful little ditty.

Wilson also developed his self-therapeutic relations with loneliness and melancholy, often rewritten as heart bursting declarations of love for imaginary girls.  He who is not moved by “Wendy” has a heart made of leather.

The album contains a preliminary warning about the vulnerable themes that would characterize “Pet Sounds” in “We’ll Run Away”, a beautiful early draft of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”.  Apart from this the album contains a handful of well crafted pop songs about the tribulations of being a lonely West Coast kid in his late teens.  A little more sophisticated than what the group was doing the previous year, and more accessible for European youth who had only seen California on the TV.

The album’s weakest tracks are the earlier mentioned tributes to rock’n’roll; “Do You Remember”, the puny instrumental “Carl’s Big Chance” and the silly and strictly verbal “Our Favourite Recording Sessions” which must have been incredibly annoying when the album was played at parties.

“All Summer Long” is the start of the Beach Boys’ phase two.

Released: July 13, 1964

Contents: I Get Around/All Summer Long/Hushabye/ Little Honda/We’ll Run Away/Carl’s Big Chance/Wendy/Do You Remember?/Girls on the Beach/Drive-In/Our Favorite Recording Sessions/Don’t Back Down

Produced by: Brian Wilson

The Beach Boys:

Al Jardine – harmony and backing vocals; bass guitar; rhythm guitar

Mike Love – lead, harmony and backing vocals; hand claps

Brian Wilson – lead, harmony and backing vocals; piano, organ, keyboard, Baldwin harpsichord; marimba; bass guitar

Carl Wilson – harmony and backing vocals; lead guitar

Dennis Wilson – lead, harmony and backing vocals; drums

Additional musicians and production staff:

Hal Blaine – timbales

Chuck Britz – engineer

Steve Douglas – tenor saxophone

Jay Migliori – baritone saxophone

Ray Pohlman – bass guitar