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Top 5 Sub-Par Beach Boys Tracks That Are Still Better Than Any Song by Wolf Parade

By David Ritter | 3 July 2008

“I Do” (unreleased, first appeared on Surfer Girl/Shut Down Vol. 2; 2001)

This is the jewel in the crown of early (i.e. pre- Today!) unreleased Beach Boys tracks. It helps that most of the competition is alternate takes and German versions, but this track is a monster on its own merits. It’s a transitional song, with surf guitar and racing eight-note pound giving way, just slightly, to the hand percussion and orchestral touches that will characterize Wilson’s later productions. The ultra-tight arrangement—it takes exactly twenty seconds to get from the first note to the chorus—and the Be-My-Baby chorus make this one of his most direct Spector bites, but Wilson’s zeal (in the early years anyway) for wound-up vigour and his indomitable ear for melody make this every bit as good as the middle Beach Boy singles of the day, placing it somewhere above “Shut Down” and “409” but below “Surfer Girl” and “I Get Around” in the hierarchy of awesomeness in early Beach Boy singles oddly approximated by their chart position (until you get to “Don’t Worry Baby,” but I digress).

This is not the concentrated America of “Fun, Fun, Fun” or the sublime loneliness of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” but no matter how far below Wilson’s best this may remain, at least I don’t have to listen to Krug emoting all over his lunchy chimes, which are actually just a symbol for god masturbating himself in the spiritual abyss of the wild or some shit.

“Salt Lake City” (Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!; 1965)

There is a brief moment right before Tony Asher shows up where a strange contrast reigns: Wilson’s arrangements get really intense, but Mike Love’s lyrics remain as dim-witted as ever. Sometimes Love’s American idiocy is oddly appropriate (“California Girls”); “Salt Lake City” is not one of those times. Pay close attention to the saxophones at 1:17 (it took a session excerpt on the rarities set Hawthorne, CA for me to notice this)—one sax plays the riff and the second one joins in unison for the repeat. Same notes but the extra sax adds the subtlest momentum into the organ bridge. Touches of genius like this are becoming second nature to Wilson, but the lyrical premise remains so dumb-ass that this can’t really be considered a great song.

Let’s give Love some credit in spite of his incalculable failures: at least dude knew he was writing schlock for the kids. I’m not saying “Kokomo” reads better than “Kissing the Beehive,” but one of these songs knows exactly how good it is.

“Soulful Old Man Sunshine” (unreleased, first appeared on The Endless Harmony Soundtrack; 1998)

What kept Beach Boy die-hards going for so many years was the occasional flash of brilliance that Wilson would push through the haze of his decades-long battle with his demons. “Soulful Old Man Sunshine” contains one of the most massive Beach Boy group vocal moments in the catalogue (0:02-0:12), followed by “ba das” bobbing and weaving headlong into the verse. The song itself is far too slight (“mornin’ and evenin’ / my love is weavin’ / a magical thread of joy that joins our hearts together”) to fulfill all this promise; it’s not a return to form, but enough to keep us coming back.

Doesn’t one of the beards in Wolf Parade play the laptop? I like that part in “Bang Your Drum” where he runs MS Project in Windows Vista Business Edition.

“Break Away” (single; 1969)

“Break Away” is the last major Beach Boy song to have production credited to Brian Wilson until 15 Big Ones and the “Brian is Back” campaign. Typical of much of Wilson’s late ’60s/‘70s work, it’s a slight tune with misguided lyrics and an unbelievable vocal arrangement. Released in part to fulfill a contractual obligation with Capitol Records before the boys moved to Warner Brothers and their own Brother Records, “Break Away” is a rush of enthusiasm for freedom and a new day. Carl Wilson had gradually become Brian’s go-to lead vocalist, turning in stunning performances of comparatively shitty tunes on album after album. Wait ‘till the outro breakdown hits, redeeming the fromage and lame hooks of the main song with horns, castanets, and several layers of overlapping group vox. With the later Wilson recordings, I’ll take what I can get.

What I won’t take is some hyper-emo plaid shirt telling me his heart is on fire. Spare me the confessions of a skinny miles-end digestion system and just pound the Pepto.

“Disney Girls (1957)” (Surf’s Up; 1971)

Slowly but surely, every Beach Boy had his day. One by one, Carl, Dennis, Al, and even Mike Love took turns writing and producing, with mixed results and often a few solid triumphs. This is Bruce Johnston’s big day out, a saccharine walk down memory lane set to slowly rolling piano and gently wah-wah’d guitar chords. It’s a strangely fogey composition for Johnston, only 29 at the time. But hey, if you’re going to go sentimental, go all the way: “Country shade and lemonade, guess I’m slowin’ down / it’s a turn-back world with a local girl in a smaller town.” Set in a lazy 6/8, the tune is surprisingly strong, and it’s helped along by a generous dose of the boys in the background. Before Johnston hit the big time with “I Write the Songs,” there was “Disney Girls (1957),” a solid album track by the fourth best Beach Boy by overall talent.

If Laptop, the fourth best float in the parade by overall talent, were to write track eight of the next Wolf Parade record, I’m betting it would be about as preposterous as his beard. (Is he the one with the beard? Wait, I don’t care.)