first you bought Pet Sounds, because everyone says it’s one of the greatest records ever made; you dug it and maybe you picked up a copy of Today! and Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) because they were precursors to Pet Sounds. Maybe you owned a Beach Boys greatest-hits album and you were amazed how cutting-edge “Good Vibrations” actually was (when you were a child, you just thought of it as the Sunkist song). There also was this strange song entitled “Heroes and Villains” and maybe a friend told you both those singles were part of this aborted masterpiece entitled, SMiLE. A few months later, you’re completely SMiLE obsessed and you own expensive bootlegs, Domenic Priore’s Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE! , the Good Vibrations box set (just to get the clean SMiLE songs on Disk #2) and you make SMiLE mix-tape after SMiLE mix-tape. You discuss it with your music-geek friends—the ones in the know—like it was the JFK conspiracy; you try to convert the clueless—the ones who think you’re weird for listening to an oldie surfing act—by pushing SMiLE mix-tapes on them. You purchase Smiley Smile out of morbid curiosity and curse the Beach Boys for being morons! Then what? Is the California dream over?

There’s not much more you can do with SMiLE and after awhile, you find yourself listening to Smiley Smile increasingly…and hell, you begin to like the quirky little record. And you begin to really dig the follow-up album, Wild Honey (which is on the same disk, thanks to Capitol’s two-for-one Beach Boy CDs). You’re surprised to learn Brian Wilson composed all but two songs on Wild Honey and seven of the eleven songs on the album feature his vocals prominently. Wasn’t an essential component to the Beach Boys myth that Brian Wilson retreated to a coma-like state after the SMiLE sessions? Didn’t the other Beach Boys build a studio outside his bedroom, but to little creative reward? Didn’t the brothers take production control and began a string of uneven records, until they finally became a nostalgic act in the mid-1970s? With 1969’s 20/20, Brian’s role in the band did drop considerably and it would remain so for the remainder of that era—Dennis and Carl taking over in his absence. However, the popular belief that Brian fell into his notorious inactivity immediately after SMiLE is indeed an oversimplification and unfair to the great body of work Brian composed and/or contributed to circa 1967-1968. Likewise, the general consensus that the subsequent records produced by Dennis and Carl aren’t worthwhile listening is unjust. In this reviewer’s opinion, every Beach Boys album from Today! (1965) to Surf’s Up (1971) is a solid effort. It’s not until 1973’s Holland that the term “uneven” can be fairly used. In an attempt to educate music lovers on the merits of the Beach Boys 1967-1971 catalogue, an examination of each album from that period is below.

Smiley Smile (1967)

It’s easy to loathe Smiley Smile when thinking of it merely as a SMiLE substitute, but really: Who gives a shit that SMiLE wasn’t released in 1967 and the Beatles grabbed all the glory with Sgt. Pepper? That’s the past, man. We live in the present and if anything, history has been kinder to Brian Wilson’s aborted masterpiece than to Paul McCartney’s dated masterpiece. Practically everyone today considers Revolver and Rubber Soul better albums than Pepper; and you’ll have trouble finding a poll that places Pepper before Pet Sounds. And whether it’s from bootlegs, the Internet, or the Good Vibrations box set, SMiLE is far from being a “lost” album anymore. If anything, things worked out better for SMiLE this way; it has a mystique it would have never received if released back in 1967, plus we have a massive amount of SMiLE music thanks to alternate versions. Sometimes I feel a little bit SMiLE; other times I feel a little bit Smiley Smile. And it’s bitchin’ that I have such an option! (SMiLE fanatics will note the Domenic Priore speak.)

Do you dig low-fi electronica, indie-kids? Well, the Beach Boys did it first and on Smiley Smile. Actually not until Ween’s The POD and Pure Guava would a stranger, more eccentric collection of drug-induced songs be heard. With the exception of the ambitious singles “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains,” Smiley Smile is also an exercise in pre-punk minimalism. “Vegetables” finds scaled-down harmonies (by Beach Boys standards) backed solely by a thumping bass; occasionally there’s a jug blow and the sound of Beach Boys chomping their vegetables, drinking their juice; when a fuller production (from the SMiLE version) with strings and keys pop in at the end, it’s immersed in an echo that causes it to sound like a dreamlike coda. On the haunting “Wind Chimes” and “Wonderful” Carl Wilson sings in a vulnerable whisper while a lone organ vibrates softly—a sparse piano chord or sound effect adding a resounding dissonance, though the tracks remain pleasing to the ear. The “tingling” fade of “Wind Chimes” is especially nice, with “Gregorian chant”-like harmonies floating away on a gentle spiritual breeze. Exotic percussion and abrupt instrument changes color humorous tracks like “She’s Goin’ Bald” and “Getting Hungry” with a tense—albeit cheeky—sensuality. These stripped down, intimate recordings embrace the listener with a drugged out sincerity; a feat never accomplished by the more pretentious and heavy-handed psychedelia of that era. It is for this reason Smiley Smile flows so well with the more experimental pop of today; the album is a timeless oddity.

Wild Honey (1967)

Recorded and released a few months after Smiley Smile, Wild Honey was a rebirth for the band; after being sufficiently bugged-out by the SMiLE debacle, Brian Wilson and the other Beach Boys decided to avoid the pitfalls of high-art and make a simple, R&B based record. Unlike their super productions of the mid-1960s, the Beach Boys were playing most of the instruments in the studio and the recording process was becoming more a team effort; though, at this point, Brian was still the creative leader of the band. Bob Dylan is often credited for launching the 1968 �return to roots’ movement; his stark John Wesley Harding record signaling a shift away from big, experimental productions; the Beatles following suit with the “Lady Madonna” single and rock & roll driven White Album. But as often was the case during the 1960s, Brian Wilson was the man who was truly ahead of the flock.

Despite being largely unsung (though it’s a favorite with die-hard fans), Wild Honey is a tighter, stronger set than Smiley Smile; focusing simply on catchy hooks, snappy melodies and a straight-up boogie-woogie feel that grows more infectious with each listen. Wild Honey is sometimes referred to as the Beach Boys’ “soul album;” the band jamming simply yet passionately with guitar, bass, drums, piano and one hell of a phat organ. Even when there is an occasional weird piece of instrumentation, it never comes at the expense of the overall groove. On the title-cut, a Theremin rings over hopping piano chords, but here it is used for a funky effect, not for the trippy Sci-Fi-isms of “Good Vibrations”. I swear, using a Theremin in a danceable manner has to be one of the cooler accomplishments of 20th Century music; imagine the G-funk synth lines of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and you’ll be close to the sound the Beach Boys were hitting at in 1967. The Beach Boys—the quintessential white band—even do a decent version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her” on the album. Now how many honkies have done a Stevie Wonder song justice? The Red Hot Chili Peppers never did.

Whereas they sounded stoned out of their minds on Smiley Smile, throughout Wild Honey the band sounds refreshed and sharp, moreover they sound like they’re having a blast. This includes Brian Wilson who, even though he was suffering a mental breakdown and was spending most of his time in his bedroom, managed to still come up with melodic gems and sing his Californian heart out (the home studio adjacent to his bedroom paying off for Wild Honey and its follow-up, Friends). One of the best jams on the album—and yes, it is a jam!—is the bouncy “Here Comes The Night” in which Brian and the boys sing a jiving chorus that is far rawer than any of their past melodies, though equally as memorable. “Let The Wind Blow” is a moody ballad that swirls and throbs with a subtle psychedelia more hinted at than indulged in; proof of a growing sophistication that improves upon the Smiley Smile formula. In a beehive of swarming, rock n’ roll goodness, the most rousing moment on Wild Honey is the track “Darlin’”, which charges forth with a mini-super production of layered horns and vocal harmonies (the track is still scaled down by usual Beach Boys’ standards). If on Pet Sounds Brian Wilson displayed how the studio could be effectively utilized for self-expression, on Wild Honey he showed how an artist could transcend by dropping pretenses and embracing music in its most primal and purest form. However, Brian hadn’t totally abandoned studio-experimentation in the late 1960s; in fact, one of these experiments managed to combine the rawness of Wild Honey with the atmospheric depth of Pet Sounds….

Included on the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey two-for-one is the bonus track “Can’t Wait Too Long”, which was another lost masterpiece of Brian’s recorded in separate sections between SMiLE and Friends. My bet is that bands like Stereolab and Radiohead have heard this groundbreaking production, for many of their soundscapes echo the sublime sonics and instrumentation of “Can’t Wait Too Long”. This song is easily one of Brian Wilson’s greatest achievements as a songwriter and producer; in five minutes and thirty-five seconds it does for his musical legacy what the entire White Album does for the Beatles. “Can’t Wait Too Long”, with its trancelike repetition and ultra-modern ambiance, is another piece that sounds right at home in the 21st Century.

Friends (1968)

Guess what is Brian Wilson’s favorite Beach Boys album? Today? Pet Sounds? Nope. Brian: “[Friends] seems to fit the way I live better. It’s simple, and I can hear it anytime without having to get into a mood. Pet Sounds carries a lot more emotion, at least for me…Pet Sounds is by far my very best album. Still, though my favorite is Friends.” Cynics may call Friends “easy listening”, but what’s really wrong with listening that’s easy? As long as it’s individualistic and inventive, a tranquil musical experience is fine by this cat—and Friends is definitely individualistic and inventive. Considering the turbulent year it was released—1968—one can criticize the Beach Boys for not being confrontational with the time period, but it would be a bias, “hipper than thou” damnation; after all, every personal experience is different and the Beach Boys—especially Brian Wilson—were being honest in their sensibilities. Each individual—if truly an individual—is going to reflect their reality in their own unique way. Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach were just as significant in their romanticism and optimism as artists like Lou Reed and John Lennon were in their timely satire and negation. And partially because Brian’s creative trip was so personalized, his work is a timeless expression of the human experience, rather than a once fashionable movement frozen in time.

In 1968, after the cathartic deconstruction of their signature sound on Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, Brian and the boys were ready to sound like Beach Boys again. This didn’t mean a regression to “fun in the sun” songs, but a return to complex harmonies and clean, layered production (though they preserved the warmth of those stripped-back, 1967 records). This is apparent right from the album’s beginning; the opening title-tack (the simple “Meant Four You” prologue aside) is a melodically rich waltz with carefully arranged vocals and instrumentation; the climbing choral tag after the chorus complemented by a bass harmonica is the sort of inspirational moment one would expect from the man who produced Pet Sounds. Evoking a similar past standard is the semi-instrumental, “Passing By”, in which Brian Wilson produces an enchanting piece of music akin to Pet Sounds’ “Let’s Go Away For Awhile”. With wistful vocals (sans lyrics), a skating rink organ and a buzzing bass harmonica, “Passing By” is a fine example of Brian’s ability to “saturate the tape with music” (as quoted by SMiLE lyricist, Van Dyke Parks). Another instrumental on the album, “Diamond Head”, takes the psychedelic Hawaiian music first explored on “Do You Like Worms” (from SMiLE), then again with “Little Pad” (from Smiley Smile) to a higher, more sophisticated level. A must-hear for fans of exotica, “Diamond Head” begins with crashing reverb effects and leads into soothing, pictorial music, with ukulele, steel guitar, exotic percussion, ocean waves and tropical insect sound effects. The dueling, reverb drenched guitar break is subtly wonderful in its dexterity (note: for the more complicated music tracks like “Diamond Head” and “Busy Doin’ Nothin’”, Brian used studio-musicians like he did in his mid-1960s heyday). “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” is another sophisticated and serene track, with a bossa-nova beat, flamenco guitar and an engaging bass clarinet motif. Throughout the song, Brian sings cleverly penned, autobiographical lyrics about mundane chores and his growing agoraphobia. “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” aptly conveyed Brian’s state-of-mind and sadly it indicated a gradual retreat from song writing and production (as did another song Brian composed and produced at the time, 20/20’s “I Went To Sleep”).

In many ways, Friends is a signature Brian Wilson album, not unlike Pet Sounds in its melodic richness and revealing lyrics. Although, whereas Pet Sounds pointed to a horizon filled with musical possibilities, Friends forewarned a decline in Brian’s output; and appropriately, it contained the first two songs Dennis Wilson composed and produced: the whimsical “Little Bird” and fragile “Be Still”. Dennis, with his heartrending baritone and emerging talent, was the best Beach Boy to fill Brian’s shoes and he would begin to on the next album.

20/20 (1969)

The last Beach Boys album of the 1960s, 20/20, was another turning point for the band—issuing in a more democratic approach to their record making—every Beach Boy getting an opportunity to shine. Succumbing to emotional strife, Brian’s contribution was much scarcer than usual; only being found in previously recorded, unreleased material (e.g. “I Went To Sleep”; “Time To Get Alone”) and one new song: the album’s opener and only hit single, “Do It Again” (peaking at #20 on the U.S. Billboard chart). Co-written by Mike Love, “Do It Again” recalls the surfing minded, “fun in the sun” Beach Boys; however, with sharper harmonies and an edgier production. Brian took especial pride in the echo-delayed drums in the beginning of the song, which do sound quite modern for 1969 (oddly enough, the fade-out of this nostalgic number features a bit from the SMiLE “woodshop” sessions). In the broader context of 20/20, “Do It Again” doesn’t come off as an artistic retreat, but merely a singular nod to the past; it starts off 20/20 in the same manner “Back In The U.S.S.R” (also an ode to the “fun in the sun” Beach Boys) starts off The White Album. There’s another parallel between the records; like The White Album summed-up every style of music the Beatles had previously recorded, 20/20 works as a definitive summary of the 1960s Beach Boys: from their rock n’ roll roots (“Do It Again”, “All I Want To Do”), to their mid-1960s, Phil Spector influenced productions (“I Can Hear Music”, “Be With Me”), to their SMiLE-era psychedelia (“Never Learn Not To Love”, “Cabinessence”).

With a clear deficiency in Brian Wilson’s work effect, the other members soldiered on surprisingly well—producing a very satisfying and unusually diverse record. When the raw, Dennis Wilson produced rocker, “All I Want To Do” (sung by Mike Love), leads into Bruce Johnston’s elevator-friendly instrumental, “The Nearest Faraway Place” the effect is enjoyably schizophrenic. One of the more notable aspects of 20/20 is the emergence of Dennis Wilson as producer/composer. Brian Wilson referred to Dennis’s “Be With Me” as “a ballad with punch” and it certainly is. The sweeping orchestra arrangement, which throbs and bursts at various points of the song, exhibited Dennis’s ability to create just as dynamic a production as his older brother; the song’s ending is eerie and lingering, with the delay effect on the strings and vocals growing louder as the rest of the music fades out. Even eerier is the fade-in of another Dennis Wilson production on the album, “Never Learn Not To Love”, which opens with a menacing reverse cymbal rising from a silent abyss. One of the Beach Boys most cryptic songs, “Never Learn Not To Love” is a dark and spellbinding ballad with a chilling back-story; the track was originally entitled “Cease To Exist” and was co-written by Charles Manson, who was Dennis’s buddy for a brief, orgy-filled period.

Though Brian Wilson was scarcely involved in the making of 20/20, he still scored some of its finest moments, one of which was the production of the Al Jardine sung “Cotton Fields” (a Leadbelly folk classic); Brian’s understated production has more character than the Al Jardine produced single-version and evokes the American Gothic soundscape from SMiLE. Speaking of which, 20/20 concludes with a little ditty entitled “Cabinessence”, which is anything but a little ditty. “Cabinessence” is a song well known to SMiLE fanatics; its inclusion (along with “Our Prayer”) on 20/20 marked the first official Beach Boys release of a full-length SMiLE recording. With pictographic music and lyrics (ingenious wordplay courtesy of Van Dyke Parks), “Cabinessence” transports the listener from the pioneer days to the birth of the industrial age; a monstrous fuzz bass and swirling vocals conjuring “the iron horse” during the chorus; most powerful is the song’s ending, which deals with the Grand Coolie railroad workers and features the controversial line “over and over, the crow cries uncover the cornfields”; as this is sung, we hear soaring, high-pitched vocals representing the transcending spirit of a Chinese laborer, who stares at this crow flying overhead; a plucking banjo and throbbing fuzz bass sound incredibly sitar-like and the Western landscape collides euphorically with the Eastern mind. SMiLE expert, Domenic Priore wrote the following about this perfect moment in pop music:

The power of the �Cabinessence’ fade may not be as shocking or direct as the orchestral buildups in �River Deep, Mountain High’ or � A Day in the Life’ but its strength is more deeply-rooted, more clearly defined, being built layer upon layer, and ending up with a whirlwind of bass and rotating harmonies that is more powerful in the end result.

It’s because “Cabinessence” and its fade are so powerful that it works outside SMiLE and makes for a stirring climax to 20/20. If anything, removed from a similarly produced SMiLE track listing, “Cabinessence” has more distinction. And thematically it gels well with the rest of 20/20. From the teenaged populated beaches of “Do It Again” to the rustic landscapes of “Cotton Fields”, 20/20 is as a musical exploration of America and a fitting home for one of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Park’s masterful American Gothic creations.

Released shortly after 20/20 was a standout Beach Boys single, “Breakaway” (included as a bonus track on the Friends/20/20 two-for-one). Co-written by his father Murry, “Breakaway” was hoped to be a triumphant return-to-form for Brian Wilson, as both a composer and producer. Though this hope seemed justified by the high quality of this production, “Breakaway” failed to chart high. Despite it being a commercial bomb, “Breakaway” remains a stunning piece of pop, equipped with inspirational lyrics, moving vocals and a lush backdrop of soul music.

Sunflower (1970)

The Beach Boys entered the 1970s with Sunflower; easily the band’s most melodic and accomplished record since Pet Sounds. Dennis Wilson continued to flourish as a songwriter and producer with the almost painfully beautiful “Forever”; as well as the lively soul tracks “Slip On Through” and “It’s About Time”. Funny, that this quintessential white band performed R&B material better than many of the “hipper” acts of the day. Perhaps this was because there was little to no hard rock pretension with this band; when they did a soul number, they treated it like a Motown production with emphasis on melody and groove. Man, just listen to that “I’m singing in my heart” part of “It’s About Time” with the funky wah-wah and percussion action! Dennis was one Beach Boy who most certainly got his swerve on. The build-up finale of “It’s About Time” is truly dynamic with a rocking guitar blazing through the mix; proving that when hard rock is usually restrained, it has far more impact when its finally released—like a tiger leaping into a go-go bar!

And you have to love Brian Wilson. Even when he was in a �hiding underneath a bed whenever Paul McCartney showed up’ state, he still managed to step into that studio adjacent to his bedroom and crank out a winning production like Sunflower’s “This Whole World”. As he had done with “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations”, Brian makes great use of Carl Wilson’s pristine and emotional voice while intertwining backup harmonies and a subtly evolving musical floor push forward, causing “This Whole World” to feel epic even though it clocks in under two minutes. Sunflower also features two of Brian’s best collaborations with Mike Love: “Add Some Music To Your Day” and “All I Wanna Do” (not to be confused with 20/20’s “All I Want To Do”). Continuing with the subtle advancement of “This Whole World” and Brian’s interest in American culture, “Add Some Music To Your Day” is a lovely pop hymn in which Wilson and Love sing of the ubiquitous and vital role music has in the community—from the “Sunday morning gospel” to a dentist’s office. Showcasing uncharacteristically tender vocals from Mike Love, “All I Wanna Do” is a rapturous love song, gliding across a deserted beach at sunset like the most wistful of phantoms. Everything in “All I Wanna Do” sounds drenched in reverb—a thundering distorted bass as its bottom—making for a remarkably modern sounding track. Overall, Sunflower’s production sounds closer to 1980s college rock than it does to early 1970s pop; and it proves that even during a less productive period, Brian Wilson got his vanguard on.

Sunflower concludes with “Cool, Cool Water”; a song connected to the SMiLE project (with the exception of Friends, every final track on a Beach Boys album from this period is SMiLE related). “Cool, Cool Water” is comprised of three sections: the first was recorded in 1967—shortly after SMiLE was shelved—and is melodically reflective of “I Love To Say Dada” (from the SMiLE sessions). The second part is often referred to as the “water chant” and it was also rooted in the SMiLE sessions (many believing it to be part of “The Elements” suite). The third part is a bubbly reprise of the first part and it was recorded at the tail end of the Sunflower sessions. As a whole entity, “Cool, Cool Water” is an impressive harmonic odyssey, ending Sunflower on a refreshing and lightly Zen note.

Surf’s Up (1971)

Following too close in Brian’s footsteps, Dennis Wilson’s creative sprint—running through 20/20 and Sunflower—came to an abrupt halt in 1971 (and it remained halted until his acclaimed and very rare 1977 solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue). Fortunately for the Beach Boys, Carl Wilson’s talented genes kicked in and the youngest Wilson brother spearheaded what would turn out to be one of the band’s darkest and most idiosyncratic records: Surf’s Up.

The album begins with Mike Love and Al Jardine’s “Don’t Go Near The Water”; a song that sets a fittingly ironic tone for Surf’s Up. The Beach Boys telling us not to “go near the water”?! And to think, on the last song from the pervious album, they urged us to get “in that cool, cool water” (an irony that is emphasized on the two-for-one CD, since “Cool, Cool Water” runs right into “Don’t Go Near The Water”). Ecological concerns run throughout Surf’s Up; perhaps most poignantly and strangely with “A Day In The Life Of A Tree”, which is sung through a dying tree’s point-of-view. Even stranger is the fact that the Beach Boys’ manager, Jack Rieley, played the part of the ill-fated tree. “A Day In The Life Of A Tree” is one of the few Brian Wilson contributions on Surf’s Up, yet one of the many songs featuring lyrics co-written by Jack Rieley. Part of a wider Rieley campaign to make the Beach Boys more relevant in the early 1970s, the former deejay turned manager assisted the band in writing some of their best lyrics since Van Dyke Parks was on the payroll. This lyrical upgrade was especially apparent on two Carl Wilson compositions: “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows”. But more noteworthy than their hopeful, poetic lyrics, these two tracks displayed that Carl was able to compose and produce material as strong as his older brothers. Musically, “Long Promised Road” is a righteous “’pioneer’-type song” (as Brian would later label it) with cutting-edge synthesizer work and a dynamic chorus that makes one wonder how many times Brian Eno and U2 listened to this very modern rocker. Also ahead of its time, Carl’s “Feel Flows” sounds like contemporary electronica (note: William Orbit bit its ending for the fade-out of “Swim” on Ray Of Light). One of the best songs in the Beach Boys catalogue, “Feel Flows” is built around a mesmerizing keyboard line that moves with the precision of a computer, but also with the nuance of rain striking the earth. Midway through the song is a gorgeous jazz-like passage in which a distorted guitar, fluttering flute and a futuristic synthesizer perform a euphoric dance with one another. “Feel Flows” is exquisite, impressionistic pop and it’s as significant as anything from Pet Sounds or SMiLE. In similar company is Brian Wilson’s mini melancholy masterpiece, “’Till I Die”. It’s hard not to imagine a vast infinite sea—blackened by the night—when listening to Brian’s only full-fledged production on Surf’s Up. Blanketed in a cathedral-like organ, brooding harmonies and confessional lyrics, “’Till I Die” is Brian’s dark lullaby of the soul.

Then there’s the title-cut….

Resurrected for the album’s finale, “Surf’s Up” is only seconded to “Heroes and Villains” when it comes to SMiLE notoriety. Carl Wilson—with help from an initially reluctant Brian Wilson—did a magnificent job in tying scattered recordings together into a single, cohesive statement and perhaps we’re given the “Surf’s Up” Brian attended for us to hear all along. During the song’s first movement, Carl sings over an opulent musical backdrop, which Brian produced in 1966 (the fact that it blends so well with the rest of this 1971 album is testimony to how progressive many of the SMiLE recordings were); the track’s second movement makes use of a demo Brian also recorded in 1966, as does the song’s fade, enhanced by moog bass, cello and accompanying vocals recorded in 1971. Its title being quite deceptive, “Surf’s Up” can be described as an apocalyptic piano ballad with foreboding orchestration and arguably Van Dyke Parks’ most brilliant, pun-filled lyrics. Brian’s somber utterance of “surf’s up…aboard a tidal wave” belongs to a man tragically awash by a reality too crushing for his childlike spirit. “Surf’s Up” is a perfect conclusion to this 1971 album; arguably the song is more suitable here than on SMiLE; its cry of “columnated ruins domino” (i.e. everything—empires and institutions included—must eventually tumble) falls in line with other apprehensive moments on the record: Bruce Johnson pines for the simpler days of his youth in “Disney Girls (1957)”; Mike Love—the lead vocalist for most of the band’s surfing hits—is forced to tell us “Don’t Go Near The Water” because the ocean is polluted by man. Like the crestfallen Native American warrior on the album’s cover—shaded in a blue overcast—Surf’s Up is a lament from a band who can never return home.

Bleakness aside, there is some light cutting through the darkness and not just in Carl Wilson’s life affirming tracks “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows”. After the “dim last toasting” and “choke of grief,” “Surf’s Up” ends with the hopeful declaration that “the children know the way” and the repeating chant, “child is father of the man.” The last line being taken from William Wordsworth’s My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold in which the poet refuses to lose his faith and joy in existence—the child remaining alive until he dies.

By: Edwin C. Faust
Published on: 2003-09-22
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