Part Three: The Mike Years (1976-1996)
15 Big Ones – 1976
After the commercial disaster of Holland and the roaring success of 60s hits collection Endless Summer, the powerbase in the Beach Boys shifted away from the Wilson brothers and towards Mike Love. Out went manager Jack Rieley as well as South African duo Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar and ‘back’ came Brian Wilson in a blaze of publicity, whether he was really ready for it or not. An ‘oldies’ album was planned to cash in on the nostalgia factor, much to the distaste of Carl and Dennis, and the end result was a mishmash compromise, apparently produced by Brian for the first time in ten years but a world away from Pet Sounds. Some of it has some charm, notably the last three tracks Back Home, In The Still Of The Night and Just Once In My Life, but overall it is a mess compared to the early 70s albums.
Love You – 1977
When the more cynical members of the Beach Boys brought their golden goose back and waited for him to lay a golden egg, you can’t imagine they were expecting him to produce Love You. The first real Brian Wilson production since Pet Sounds, it shows what a different place he was in ten years on, both musically and mentally. He wrote all of the songs, mostly on his own and replaced session musicians with Moog synthesizers to create an album that doesn’t sound like any other Beach Boy release and undid all of the commercial success they had achieved with Endless Summer and (to a lesser extent) 15 Big Ones. However, no matter how strange some of the songs are and how wrecked Brian’s voice had become by this stage, Love You is still the last really good Beach Boys album.
M.I.U. Album – 1978
The Beach Boys were in a mess after Love You. Dennis had released his masterpiece solo debut Pacific Ocean Blue, Brian had retreated back into drug abuse and seclusion, while a proposed Christmas album had been rejected by the record label. Mike decided that they should record a new album at the Maharishi International University, which neither Dennis or Carl agreed with, so neither of them showed up. The resulting album unleashed horrors like Hey Little Tomboy (the creepiest song ever recorded), Match Point Of Our Love (because love is like tennis, you see) and Belles Of Paris. My Diane and Sweet Sunday Kind Of Love are both nice enough and feature rare participation by the Wilson brothers, but most of the rest is mediocre at best.
L.A. (Light Album) – 1979
By now, any pretence that Brian was a fully-functioning member of the band had been pretty much dropped, and once again he was effectively replaced in the band by Bruce Johnston, who co-produced this patchy release. There’s actually some really good stuff on Light Album, not least Good Timin’, a Brian-Carl written song that is up there with the very best Beach Boys material, but dated back four years. Two Dennis songs from his aborted Bambu project were also added, and his increased involvement (as well as that of Carl) makes this a step-up from the M.I.U. Album. Even Al’s schmaltzy Lady Lynda has its charms, though the same can’t be said of Mike’s Japanese-themed Sumahama, while Bruce’s disco version of Here Comes The Night has to be heard to be believed.
Keepin’ The Summer Alive – 1980
The album cover, showing the band playing in a summery glass dome, surrounded by icy wastelands pretty sums up where the Beach Boys were going into the 80s. The decision to stop trying to sound relevant and head towards nostalgiaville had left them irrelevant and ignored and this album certainly didn’t help. With Brian and Dennis both too wrecked to really take part (Dennis can be heard on only one song), Keepin’ The Summer Alive is a pretty woeful collection of songs, with a tired and cynical cover of Chuck Berry’s School Days probably the lowest point. That a terrible song left over from 1969 (When Girls Get Together) was included shows how slim the pickings were.
The Beach Boys – 1985
Considering that this was the first album released after the death of Dennis Wilson and that Brian was under the wing of Eugene Landy (who got himself three co-writer credits), this self-titled release wasn’t actually as bad as it could have been. The production (by Culture Club producer Steve Levine) is very 80s, but Carl’s vocals salvage quite a few songs, like It’s Gettin’ Late, Maybe I Don’t Know, I Do Love You and the lovely Where I Belong. Brian’s songs are mostly pretty poor and the cliched ‘comeback single’ Getcha Back has typically unpleasant Mike Love lyrics, but The Beach Boys isn’t really that bad. It’s just not that good either.
Still Cruisin’ – 1989
Sometimes, you can feel like Mike Love gets the raw end of the deal from Beach Boys fans, always being characterised as greedy, cynical and untalented. But then you listen to Still Cruisin’. In 1988, the song Kokomo (from the film Cocktail) became the group’s first US #1 since Good Vibrations 22 years earlier, despite being a cheesy retread of old ground (and despite having no input whatsoever from Brian Wilson). So, out came a new Beach Boys album. Kind of. A bunch of terrible new material followed by some classic hits that had appeared in recent movies, Still Cruisin’ reached its nadir with a version of Wipe Out featuring The Fat Boys. Who? Apparently it was meant to be Run DMC until Mike did a deal with The Fat Boys instead.
Summer In Paradise – 1992
And here we have it. The Worst Beach Boys Album Of All Time. Brian was not involved at all, while both Carl and Al were only given the odd vocal duty, making this effectively a Mike solo album. Indeed, he sings on all but three of the 12 tracks and they are almost all horrific, making it difficult to pick out the worst tracks. Summer Of Love is particularly awful, not least because it was written to be a duet with Bart Simpson, but then wasn’t. The lowest point comes at the end with a pointless remake of the beautiful Dennis song Forever, featuring sitcom actor John Stamos on vocals. This was the last proper Beach Boys album, which is quite sad really, because they couldn’t sink any lower.
Stars And Stripes Vol.1 – 1996
The last actual Beach Boys album was this, though it barely counts as it is more like a tribute album featuring the Beach Boys than anything else. Quite why they decided to get country musicians to re-record their old hits is unclear, as is why mostly fairly obscure ‘stars’ were roped in (geddit?) to perform, as is why songs like Long Tall Texan (a cover version from the first live Beach Boys album) were included. But, it’s not without its positives. It saw the return of a healthy-again Brian to the fold, and versions of The Warmth Of The Sun by Willie Nelson and Caroline, No by Timothy B Schmidt were beautiful. However, it’s still a fairly pointless album, and nobody really mourned the lack of a Volume 2. Soon after this, the death of Carl Wilson finally tore the group apart.