Soundchecks Music Reviews

An American Band

103 minutes (15) 2007

Liberation DVD LIB6046

The Beach Boys

review by Andrew Darlington

I saw The Beach Boys live at the Leeds Odeon, late 1966, topping a bill over Lulu. She drops an earring in mid-Shout, turns her back on the audience and stoops to retrieve it, gifting the first four rows a revealing flash of her knickers - a memory I carry with me today as she's doing Shout yet again on TOTP2. I miss the last train home and wind up crashing overnight with an Irish immigrant worker with a mangy kitten that craps all over the carpet at 2:17 AM, while the shimmering chimes of Good Vibrations still ring like the lure of endless tomorrows in my head...

Good Vibrations later became a single for Psychic TV, and the Leeds Odeon is now a Primark... I tried losing my cherry to the blissful harmonies of Pet Sounds (God Only Knows, Caroline No) which I judged the perfect seduction atmospherics. She later confessed she'd quite enjoyed the fumbled sex but found the music 'distracting'. There used to be a covers-band called Tony Rivers & The Castaways whose set consisted entirely of xerox Beach Boys, they did a pretty tidy Sloop John B the night we got off with some convent girls and managed to kiss them off at the gates while Nuns hovered in the background like predatory penguins. I first heard Don't Worry Baby on a big chrome Rockolla jukebox in an expresso bar on a rain-stopped-play Blackpool coach trip... The first motorbike I ever owned - a Honda 205cc, was a choice directly influenced by the Beach Boys track Little Honda, a piece of catchy product-placement that earned the group a set of freebie mini-mokes from a grateful Honda corps... There's a story about Jan & Dean snarled up on the 97th abysmal take of an aborted next single, and 'taking five' Jan Berry strolls into the adjoining studio where his old friends are cutting their Beach Boys Party album, he grabs lead vocals on a raggedy one-take jam around the Regents' Barbara Ann, then goes back for more attempts at their own record. Barbara Ann goes #1 worldwide - and later even turns up as a chocolate biscuit TV-ad. But whatever happened to that Jan & Dean 45 rpm..?

In 1965 the Beach Boys turn in a sloppy performance of Dance Dance Dance on a monochrome Ready Steady Go show (now available as part of a Dave Clark owned DVD series), with its irresistible punch-line - "after six hours of school, I've had enough for today/ I hit the radio dial and turn it up all the way" - which still has the contagious power to ignite the drabness with its undiluted adolescent energy-charge... the balding Beach Boy caricatures who played the first 'Live Aid', complete with their Ronald Reagan presidential endorsement as a star-spangled 'all-American band', does such flashbacks a disservice, even though their then-current single of John Philips' exquisite California Dreamin' (embroidered by Roger McGuin's spacily fragmented Byrds' 12-string) was still capable of raising the hairs along the back neckline of your T-shirt...

Each new Beach Boys 'greatest hits' album is a re-shuffle of your own personal history. These are some of mine. The Beach Boys weren't the first surf band, but they did lift surf-music out of cultdom and take its appeal to landlocked teens in the mid-west, in New York, and even as far away as Hull. And although they matured their themes into other areas, the beach continuity stayed there through to Do It Again, Surfs Up or Don't Go Near The Water. Influences? Brian suggests Chuck Berry, and the Four Freshmen, diametrically opposed artists who nevertheless demonstrably fuel what followed, Surfin' USA lifts its tune intact from Chuck's Sweet Little Sixteen, and Fun Fun Fun opens with a perfectly Berry-esque guitar run. While Please Let Me Wonder and In My Room tie it all in with immaculate freshmen-pure harmonies. In fact the voices weave so beautifully you almost miss the lyric-point of In My Room which is as introspective-dark as anything the Smiths ever did.

You know the songs - all the above, plus Be True To Your School, Help Me Rhonda, California Girls (a TV show sketch interrupted by surfer comedy from Bob Hope and George Burns), the later Rock & Roll Music, and more. This time around there's a wealth of rare promo-TV clips too, salvaged interviews, and even previously-unseen studio footage - including Brian singing Surfs Up alone with just his piano... I paid �100 for tickets to see Brian's solo-tour 'Smile' in Manchester - some 40 years after that original Leeds Odeon memory, and instead - on the evening, wound up in A&E for peritonitis and a gall-bladder extraction. I still have the unused tickets... The interviews on this DVD tactfully skirt around the psychological damage inflicted on the young Wilson brothers by father Murray, and fall short of the later tragedies that affected the group. But above and beyond it all, the music remains superb. All you have to do is add your own memories...

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press