Part Two: The Carl Years (1967-1975)
Wild Honey – 1967
The second album released by the Beach Boys in 1967, Wild Honey was a world away from the first. Where Smiley Smile had been a stillborn version of the planned masterpiece Smile, pulled from the fragments of Brian Wilson’s meltdown, Wild Honey saw the rise of his brother Carl towards taking the position of the group’s de facto leader. This is very much a stripped-down Beach Boys sound, with the band playing their own instruments rather than using Brian’s session musicians, and leans towards soul music more than lush, orchestral teenage symphonies to God. Carl’s strong lead vocals on Wild Honey, I was Made To Love Her and the classic Darlin’ show how far he had come in just two years since his first real lead on Girl Don’t Tell Me.
Friends – 1968
Brian was well enough and confident enough to contribute a lot more on Friends, resulting in a shift back towards a more mellow sound. The fact that Mike Love was absent for much of the recording process was also a bonus as it helped the Wilson brothers (yes, and the other two as well) craft an album that was worlds away from the surf/cars/girls routine he had been so desperate to protect a few years earlier. The downside was that he came back a convert to transcendental meditation, and would inflict TM songs (and a disastrous tour with the Maharishi) upon the group. But still, Friends is a nice little album with the first signs of Dennis as a flowering songwriter.
20/20 – 1969
A real hodgepodge of an album, 20/20’s tracks may have been drawn from all kinds of sources, but it somehow ended up working out quite well. Brian’s particiption was limited to older material (including two Smile relics in Our Prayer and Cabinessence, plus tracks that had been recorded earlier (Do It Again and Time To Get Alone) and a worryingly prophetic song called I Went To Sleep. It was all great stuff, but the standout tune came from Carl Wilson’s cover of I Can Hear Music, featuring gorgeous, soaring vocals and production that Brian would have been proud of. Dennis provided some more quality with Be With Me, All I Want To Do and the Charles Manson-inspired Never Learn Not To Love. Seriously.
Live In London – 1970
Recorded at Finsbury Park in December 1968, this live album finds them very much in flux between their glory days and their future. Obviously Brian wasn’t there (he hadn’t toured with the group for years). Still, it’s a far better live album than their first effort, helped by the lack of screaming girls and cheesy cover versions, and it’s the only chance to hear the likes of God Only Knows, Good Vibrations and California Girls live from the Beach Boys around the time of their release.
Sunflower – 1970
One of the original titles for this album was The Fading Rock Group Revival, which would have been quite prophetic, as Sunflower turned out to be one of the Beach Boys’ most enduring albums. Possibly one of the most collaborative recording processes of their career, pretty much every member of the band delivered the goods this time, with even Bruce Johnston pulling out a couple of decent tracks in Deirdre and Tears In The Morning. Overall, the material was strong, the production was lovely and, best of all, Sunflower gave us the Dennis Wilson classic Forever.
Surf’s Up – 1971
Unfortunately, while the Beach Boys were making consistently good music at this stage in their careers, it seemed like the public weren’t interested, seeing them as either relics of the 60s or wishing that they’d go back to singing about surfer girls. In an attempt to steer them in a cooler direction, new manager Jack Rieley put his faith in Brian, Carl and Dennis rather than Mike, Al and Bruce, with the latter three tasked with trying to play catch-up. Unfortunately, this resulted in Mike’s Student Demonstration Time, while Rieley took his participation too far on A Day In The Life Of A Tree. Still, Surf’s Up finally delivered the title track from the Smile sessions and Brian’s beautifully haunting ‘Til I Die.
Carl And The Passions ‘So Tough’ – 1972
The weird album title probably didn’t help this one go on to sell a load of records, but reflected Carl’s dominance of the group now that Jack Rieley was calling the shots. Bringing in South Africans Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar was Carl’s idea and really helped bring the group on further (or take them further away from the beaches, if you see things that way). With Bruce having either left or been kicked out, Mike and Al’s faction was outnumbered, leaving Carl And The Passions sounding very little like the Beach Boys of the 60s, and sounding more like a 70s rock album. Cuddle Up by Dennis and Marcella by Carl show how much promise this line-up had.
Holland – 1973
The last stand of the Carl/Dennis/Jack Rieley era saw the Boys decamp from California to Holland, recording studio and all. The idea was to get Brian away from the problems at home and get him inspired to create again. Unfortunately, it took a lot of effort to get him there and his creative energies were mostly spent on the insane Mount Vernon And Fairway fairy-tale, which was tagged on as an EP. Still, there’s lots of great songs on here, even with Mike and Al’s dubious California Saga in the middle. Sail On, Sailor, Steamboat, The Trader, Leaving This Town and Only With You are all well worth the price of entry.
The Beach Boys In Concert – 1973
The best Beach Boys live album by a country mile, this captures them at their post-Smile artistic peak and certainly their live peak. With Blondie and Ricky on-board, they were a proper rock band on the tours documented here, and the 20 tracks on In Concert run the gamut between the older hits and the more recent songs like The Trader and Marcella. Carl stands in for Brian on vocals on songs like Caroline, No and Surfer Girl, a duet with Al on Don’t Worry Baby is another highlight. Unfortunately, despite good sales for this, their album sales were still terrible, and when an oldies collection called Endless Summer came out a year later and shot up the charts, the fate of the group was sealed. Soon, Mike would be in charge and the music would take a turn for the worse.