Track-by-Track – The Beach Boys/Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)

The Beach Boys/Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) (Capitol-1965)

  1. The Girl from New York City – Drop the needle on the groove and wait. A wailing sax? Goofy Mike Love bass vocals? Although the ensuing song ends up being pretty catchy, this is not a promising way to start the album.
  2. Amusement Parks USA – It’s perfectly valid for a band to take a step back and return to an earlier, simpler sound, but after the brilliant Today! this throwback to almost a Surfing’ Safari sensibility (carnival noises just like “County Fair”) sounds downright infantile.
  3. Then I Kissed Her – After two not-so-great opening tracks, resorting to a serviceable but unremarkable Phil Spector cover for track three sort of confirms the listener’s worst fears about this album. On the plus side, Al sings lead.
  4. Salt Lake City – There is some clever arrangement going on here, but this is still a silly song about . . . . uh, yeah, how groovy Salt Lake City is.
  5. Girl Don’t Tell Me – Then the album takes a surprising turn. This Beatlesque number is literally my favorite Beach Boys song and has been for decades. I’m a big fan of Beach Boys harmonies, yet there are zero harmonies here. Just a double-tracked solo lead vocal. For some reason little brother Carl had never sung lead before this, and it turns out he has an even better set of pipes than Brian. The band, who rarely contributed much of anything to backing tracks at this point, actually played all the instrument here, including a celeste. This sweet song about knowing a summer romance is likely to end is about as honest as it gets. It’s a touching song to begin with, but Carl’s vocal delivery is what takes it to a very special place.
  6. Help Me Rhonda – This leaner, meaner version of “Help Me Rhonda,” which became the Beach Boys’ second number one, has all the right stuff. Al sings a memorable lead, and Brian adds a distinctive falsetto harmony to this version that is really the “point after touchdown” here.
  7. California Girls – And then another one of the Beach Boys’ most beloved tunes with its bompa-bompa beat and “ooh-ah” harmonies. This one hit #3.
  8. Let Him Run Wild – You see, the first four cuts on this album weren’t great, but the next four are a downright classic patch of wonderfulness that’s hard to beat. If someone were to ask “Why do you like the Beach Boys anyways?” this song is a pretty good answer. Something about the opening line “when I watched you walk with him, tears filled my eyes” over a vibraphone or something followed by a reverb-drenched little guitar motif really does it for me. If anyone says “I’m not that into the Beach Boys,” the first few seconds of this song (as well as the rest of it) are an easy rebuttal. By the way, I think this song is about Brian, Dennis, and Carl’s sad Murry’s extramarital affairs.
  9. You’re So Good to Me – This self-loather is kind of like a sequel to “She Knows Me Too Well.” Brian does this sort of thing very well.
  10. Summer Means New Love – This is the sort of Hollywood-inspired instrumental music father Murry adored. It turns out Brian was pretty hip to it too.
  11. I’m Bugged at My Old Man – Considering how uninspired sounding the first few tracks are, this album becomes oddly personal. This may be an attempt at humor, but considering how abusive the elder Wilson was, this piano-and-voice only number has a strange rawness about it.
  12. And Your Dreams Come True – Some pretty harmonies close out the album.

At this point Brian certainly didn’t have another Today! in him and must have decided to tread water, but he did have about half of another great album in him. In much the same way that “Don’t Worry Baby” and “The Warmth of the Sun” seem like they should be on a better album, a good portion of this album does not belong on the same album as “Amusement Parks USA” and “Salt Lake City.” Oddly this one isn’t front-loaded though. There isn’t a good song until track five, and then there are a solid five or so good songs in a row.

“Gee,” you must be saying, “I hope the Beach Boys follow this one up with an album that sounds like that Sublime acoustic album with a bunch of overdubbed fake party noises.”

You may be in luck. Stay tuned to gabemusic.org.

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