Favorite Beach Boys Deep Cuts

The Beach Boys’ discography is so massive, yet so often overlooked. By 1969, the band had released an album entitled 20/20 to commemorate the release of their 20th album (including greatest hits packages; it was only their 15th studio album). In the early 2000s, when I was blossoming ever-so-gently into a raging Beach Boys fanatic, I devoured those twofer CDs like candy on Christmas morning (my family’s traditional meal–you only live once, or so I’ve been promised). It can be a daunting task to undertake the band’s catalog as one migrates from the casual, greatest hits fan into the abyss of gimme all your tracking sessions, Brian. As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, the band fell from the grace and favor of the record-buying (and listening) public at large, leaving so many gems buried.

With so many tunes to choose from, I developed a very basic criteria for what could be included on this list: you shouldn’t be able to find the song on  The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: 20 Good Vibrations or The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits, Vol. 2: 20 More Good Vibrations  or Pet Sounds. (There is one exception on this list…but this is my blog, I can break my own rules.) No “In My Room.” No “Warmth of the Sun.” No “I’m Waiting for the Day” (take six). While those songs may not be instantly recognizable to many, I consider that Beach Boys for babies, and I am the Nanny in the white-and-green striped tights with killer purple sneakers kicking you outta the nursery. Let’s go.

1. “The Lonely Sea,” Surfin’ USA, 1963

Watch Brian sing this track in a film you would only watch if you are an obsessive Beach Boys fan–Girls on the Beach. Not that I obsessively waited for this film to be on TV so I could record it or anything… 

Pet Sounds doesn’t exactly have the corner on soul-wrenching tunes in the Beach Boys’ catalog. Take this track from the Beach Boys’ second album as a case in point. Stunning. Haunting. Beautiful. Written and sung by a 20-year-old Brian Wilson. Yeah, he earned the right to stay in bed for three years.

2. “Cherry, Cherry Coupe,” Little Deuce Coupe, 1963 

Talk about a jam. Dennis is trying so hard on this song, and I love it. Most of my car knowledge comes from Beach Boys lyrics, but I have no idea what 80% of the lyrics of this song even mean. “The wildest short around is my cherry, cherry coupe.” What??? “Door handles are off, but you know I’ll never miss ’em/They open when I want with the cellunoid system.” (Yeah, Mike Love’s nasal tones call it a “cellunoid” system. I know.) Sounds awesome, but I really have no idea.

(Side note: Little Deuce Coupe, a collection of “hot rod” songs, is considered an early example of a concept album. But what is more amazing is that it was released a mere month after Surfer Girl. The band released three–!!!!!–albums in 1963 alone. Is it any wonder why Brian suffered a nervous breakdown?)

3. “Girls on the Beach,” All Summer Long, 1964 

I include this song as an example of how even early Beach Boys’ songs that dealt with “summer and fun and summer and summer and fun and cars” that weren’t particularly thought-provoking or inspiring were still harmonically breath-taking. Also, Dennis gets a little vocal solo, so there’s that.

4. “The Lord’s Prayer,” The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, 1964 

I first heard The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album by repeatedly checking out the cassette tape from the local library year-round. This track was tacked on the end of side two (I think), and I was so disappointed when I purchased the original album on vinyl and it wasn’t included. I was even more disappointed when it also was not to be found on Ultimate Christmas. It was originally found on the flip side of “Little Saint Nick.” What other band could so seamlessly pair a tune about Santa’s hot rod with such a heartfelt, gorgeous rendering of “The Lord’s Prayer”?

 5. “Good to My Baby,” Today!, 1965 

In a word: TUNE. On the surface, it’s just a good little rock ‘n’ roll song. Take away the vocals (as the above video does), and you can begin to appreciate the complexity of Brian’s music. So much of The Beach Boys’ music is like that: effortless on the surface, its sonic complexity easily overlooked. It’s how we separate the Mike Loves from the Brian Wilsons.

6. “Please Let Me Wonder,” Today!, 1965

Today! is such a great album. While the first side is full of upbeat, infectious rock ‘n’ roll numbers, “Please Let Me Wonder” opens the introspective second side. It’s one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, and it features one of Brian’s most beautiful, sweetest vocals.

7. “Kiss Me Baby,” Today!, 1965 

Kiss a little bit, fight a light, kiss a little bit, woah baby…

Oh my gosh, words can’t even do justice to the beauty of this song. Even Mike doesn’t mess it up. Enjoy the acapella version in the video posted above.

8. “Girl, Don’t Tell Me,” Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), 1965 

Dripping with the Beatles’ influence (most obviously “Ticket to Ride”), this is a great little tune, far superior to its A-Side (Ba-ba-ba-BARF-Barabra Ann…no, it’s a good song for what it is, really) and featuring a rare (at that time) lead vocal from Carl Wilson.

9. “Surf’s Up,” The SMiLE Sessions, 1967 

None of the versions of this song found on the five-disc SMiLE Sessions come close to the simple beauty of Brian’s television performance. The narrator of the program observed: “Here is a new song—too complex to get all of the first time around. It could come only out of the frontman that characterizes today’s pop music scene. Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys and one of today’s most important pop musicians, sings his own ‘Surf’s Up.'” He goes on to describe the song as “poetic, beautiful even in its obscurity…a symbol of change” in the world of pop music. Eyes closed, Brian’s heartfelt delivery is unparalleled. How different the world of pop music might have been had this song and the rest of SMiLE had seen the light of day.

10. “Let the Wind Blow,” Wild Honey, 1967 

“Let the Wind Blow” is a somber ballad comparing love to nature, with the singer urgently pleading that, as elements of nature, his love might be a part of his life forever.

11. “Busy Doin’ Nothin’,” Friends, 1968 

A chill song in which Brian sings directions to his house and describes what keeps him busy while he waits for you to finally show up (and wow, is he busy). Once you do finally arrive, you’ll find him “in my house somewhere, keepin’ busy.” Has to be in my top ten Beach Boys songs, ever. I’ve been singin’ it at least three times in a row every night before going to bed for the past few days.

12. “All I Wanna Do,” Sunflower, 1970

This is another chill song, and I have to award credit to Mike Love for not pulling deep bass or nasal tones and inducing vomit like he usually does. He actually sings, and his vocal tone suits the ambiance of the song. I always see Mike practicing meditation when I hear this song, though. I think there may be a clip of that in Endless Harmony or some other Beach Boys documentary. Oh well, I just have to close my eyes harder, I guess. (“Tony and I think that if you close your eyes you can see a place or something that’s happening. It’s like being blind but because you’re blind you can see more. Don’t you think it’s a spiritual kind of thing?” “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I closed my eyes. Didn’t see a thing.” Can’t stop, won’t stop.) Still, a good song.

13. “Forever,” Sunflower, 1970

So I’m going away, mmmm, but not forever…

Quite simply one of the most beautiful and romantic songs ever written. Some might even call it a “rock ‘n’ roll prayer.” I hope you’ve never had to listen to John Stamos sing this song; it’s a gross offense to sugar and spice and all things nice–especially a genuinely soulful singer, Dennis Wilson. It’s equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking to see how Brian watches the video montage of his younger brother with pride and sadness. Give that man a hug–or a kiss on the head like his little brother once did. 

14. “Feel Flows,” Surf’s Up, 1971

When Brian retreated into a cocoon of drugs and isolation, Carl stepped in and became the de facto leader. He was the beating heart of that band and, sadly, with his death, the Beach Boys became the fractured band we have today. “Feel Flows” (along with so many others of this period, including “Long Promised Road” also from Surf’s Up) is a fine example of Carl’s blossoming songwriting and production skills. It’s a jam.

15. “Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song),” Surf’s Up, 1971

Sounding more like The Beatles than The Beach Boys, Al (yep, little Al Jardine) woefully sings about job-hunting. But in a haunting, trippy way. But I’ll be coming home tonight/And everything will be alright/And we’ll be looking at tomorrow…You go, Al.

16. “‘Til I Die,” Surf’s Up, 1971

“I’m a cork on the ocean,” are the opening lines to “‘Til I Die,” which Mike Love once annoyingly described as “the last great Brian Wilson track.” (He probably also screamed that this song was NOT BEACH BOYS FUN! It’s a special brand of fun, you know.) That opening image perfectly encompasses Brian’s despair. It’s such a beautifully depressing song. “I’m a leaf on a windy day. Pretty soon I’ll be blown away,” Brian concedes. Yet, amazingly, he ultimately triumphed. What a guy.

Sometimes I just lay in bed and sing this song. That’s not a red flag or anything.

17. “I’ll Bet He’s Nice,” The Beach Boys’ Love You, 1977

Oh, this song. (Oh, this album.) All three brothers share the vocal responsibilities, with Brian and Dennis splitting each verse and Carl singing the bridge (oh-oh-oh man). The Moog synthesizer abounds amidst this aural paradise, lending it a quirky edge. Brian loves this song and so do I.

Well, that’s a good start. What’d I miss?

See you tomorrow, Hal!

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 9.30.05 PM

P.S. In the spirit of Christmas, let me implore you to be a Brian Wilson in a world full of Mike Loves.

P.S.S. The appropriate response when Mike Love asks if you like his beret or just opens his mouth in general:

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 9.33.48 PM

Advertisements

Seeing Brian Wilson Live

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a Brian Wilson concert. Not entirely by choice, mind you, as anyone who really knows me (and Brian Wilson) would know that this would never be my number one choice of how to spend an evening. Of course, I love Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, second probably only to The Beatles, but I am long over concert-going, and Brian Wilson has never been–and never will be–a performer.

Following our trend of going to events where we are the youngest people in attendance, we go to see Brian Wilson, seated amidst of white, gray, balding, and in denial. The orchestral versions of Beach Boys hits you could probably hear in an elevator provided the perfect backdrop for this scene. A white piano sat center-stage, ready for its maestro–and right on time, Brian stepped onto the stage, with considerable assistance from an aide.

Although our tickets read that the show was for Pet Sounds Live, the show opened with a mini-greatest hits set (“California Girls”, “Little Deuce Coupe,” etc.) with a handful of deep-enough cuts to keep die-hard fans appeased and generic fans befuddled. Then Brian abruptly announced that the band would be playing Pet Sounds in its entirety.

Pet Sounds is, of course, an incredible work of art. As the band said at the close of the show, they were incredibly honored to play such transcendently beautiful music and as an audience member, it was wonderful to hear, even if Brian’s own involvement was limited. He has a talented band that does justice to his musical genius, but he appears to sit at the piano just to have somewhere to sit, and when he does sing, it isn’t exactly singing. “Don’t talk,” he told us, talking more than singing. “Put that head on my shoulder.” Considering the emotional, physical, mental, and drug abuse this man has suffered for most of his adult life combined with his age, however, it is understandable that he would no longer resemble the beloved voice found on record.

At the conclusion of “God Only Knows,” the audience gave Brian a standing ovation. “Thank you. Thank you,” he repeated. “Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated.” So polite and eager to keep the setlist moving.

The final track is, of course, “Caroline, No.” “It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die,” Brian sang. (Or did he? Maybe it was his vocal counterpart–his son-in-law. I can’t remember.) And before we even hear the barks of Banana and Louie, Brian is again taken away.

Brian quit touring with the Beach Boys at the end of 1964 due to the strain and pressure it put on him and to devote his focus to writing, producing, and recording. Brian was never very comfortable on stage. “Something’s off. It’s being up there,” Brian confides to his brothers in Love and Mercy after speculating that maybe he’s just “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!”

(Need I remind you again that I am 1000% cuckoo for Love & Mercy? It is such a great movie, the best biopic, and all the awards to Paul Dano and John Cusack for such mesmerizing performances. So many good things in this film, including Paul Dano in white pants and Vans. Go ahead, drop another bobby pin. Oh yeah.)

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 7.06.45 PM

(If my husband is reading this, I have to defend myself. This is NOT the screen cap I said I needed to make a point in my post. This is what is referred to as aesthetically pleasing.)

“You don’t need me up there, looking like a jerk. I’ll be better back here at home, making music,” Brian pleads with Carl and Dennis. “I just wanna be home.” I get you, Brian. I get you.

And when we see Brian in the studio a few minutes later, starting work on Pet Sounds, we know he is right. Brian is an incredibly sensitive and vulnerable person, crushed by his father’s disapproval of the beginnings of “God Only Knows” in an earlier scene, yet he is so dynamic, articulate, and forceful (in a gentle way) about how he wants his music to sound.

“Brian, I think you might have screwed up here,” groovy Carol Kaye tells him at one point.

“Really? Let me see.”

“You’ve got Lyle playing in D and the rest of us are in A major.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“How does that work? Two bass lines in two different keys?”

“Well, it works in my head…I think it’s gonna work. Let’s try it.”

And when it does indeed work, Carol Kaye can’t help but smile. And Brian smiles, and it’s such a beautiful moment in the film. It really struck me the first time (out of 800) that I saw the film in theaters because it’s just a perfect encapsulation of who Brian is. He is the music, and he belongs at home or in the studio, creating music.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 7.04.59 PM

We came home from the concert and watched Love and Mercy the next day. And I was struck again by how much heart and soul Brian put into Pet Sounds, at how in his element he was in the studio, and I wondered again, what was it that broke Brian so? Was it the lukewarm reception to Pet Sounds (stateside, at least), the band’s reluctance to indulge SMiLE, the drugs, his father, mental illness, Satan in the form of Eugene Landy, or a combination of all of the above? I don’t know. But it is so sad to watch this once dynamic, creative individual be reduced to a position he always hated–being on stage, spending more time watching the crowd hopelessly and wiping his hand across his forehead than actually singing. Again, all of the abuse this man has endured has taken its toll; I’m not criticizing the quality of the performance, despite Brian’s limited involvement, I’m just wondering if this is the best place for Brian.

One of the things that comes out of Love and Mercy is the triumph of Brian’s spirit and his redemption in both his music and the escape from Dr. Landy. He falls in love again and returns to creating music. And while he has created some great music in the past twenty-odd years, I have to wonder if the time for Brian Wilson to be performing live has passed, not only for his discomfort but also his health. Can’t he just be home, creating music and spending time with his family?

When Brian re-appeared for the encore (my husband was skeptical that he would be physically able to), the final song the band performed was “Love and Mercy,” which is the signature Brian Wilson track. Created under the duress of Dr. Landy, Brian’s caring, sensitive spirit still shines through the music. “A lot of people out there hurtin’ and it really scares me,” he sings, and you know he means it. He is such a genuinely humble, supremely sensitive human being, and you can feel that in his music. I had to express gratitude for the kind, gentle soul of Brian Wilson that evening.

P.S.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 7.09.52 PM

“Who cares what Mike says?”

So many great lines in this movie.

P.S.S.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 7.11.13 PM

Yeah, I get you, Brian. 1000%.

P.S.S.S. Coming up next: Favorite Beach Boys deep cuts. Be thinking of your favorites! A happy side effect of seeing Brian Wilson live is the inability to listen to anything but Beach Boys music 24/7.

It’s a dog eat dog world, Sammy, and I’m wearing milk-bone underwear: An Anti-depressant Mixtape/Playlist

Blame it on the fact that I haven’t watched any Dark Shadows in months (yes, months) or the fact that I’m only up to my ideal weight if I were 11 feet tall or a complete lack of restful sleep or water retention, but all roads lead to acute depression and apathy. And while I (and you) may really just want to listen to Blue or “Waiting ‘Round to Die” on repeat, that’s not healthy behavior. (Not that I know anything about healthy behavior.) But you (and I) know that music can be a great mood alleviator, miracle aligner, what you will. So, gather ’round and have a listen to this group of songs all-but-guaranteed to pull you out of your funk. Save the marshmallows and chocolate for another day, my friend. (I know they’re the food group on the bottom of the food pyramid, but you need some balance in your life.)

1. ELO – “Mr. Blue Sky”  

Beatles influence (huh-huh-huh-huh): you’re doing it right.

Oh, to be a little Baby Groot and dance around the world without a care.

2. Crosby, Stills, & Nash – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” 

Opening track on your debut album: you’re doing it right.

Like, if the album ended after this song was over…I wouldn’t even be mad. I’d still snatch up every copy.

And as far as pet peeves go, number one behind all other drivers on the road would be individuals who choose to talk at any point during this song but especially the last ninety seconds or so. This is especially irksome when I have my headphones on. Like, why can’t you read my anti-social behavioral cues? Don’t interrupt my religious experience here. Oh va, oh va! Doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo/Doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo!!!!!!!!!

3. Harry Nilsson – “The Puppy Song” 

I don’t know, I just want to go outside and roll around with a dog.

And I’m not, even, like a dog person.

The power of music, man.

4. Ricky Nelson – “Raincoat in the River” 

Don’t act like you’re too cool to listen to Ricky Nelson ‘cos you MOST. DEFINITELY. ARE. NOT!! I SAID NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is a little-known gem (in my wobbly universe where I don’t have a very firm grasp on reality, anyway) hidden on the slightly forgettable Love and Kisses album. But boy oh boy, if this song does not give you the will to live, I don’t know what will. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP ASAP.

Oh, and remember how in my last post I talked about how you have to accept people for who they are and love them anyway? That’s what I have to remind my husband of when he finds me dancing to this song wearing my sleep mask before bedtime. Don’t forget I gave up the chance to marry Marlon Brando or Ricky Nelson in the next life to marry you! You have to love me just as I am!!

Now the rain’s been drippin’
Drip drop a drippin’
Every day you’ve been away
Now the rain is stoppin’
No more drip drip droppin’
You’re back to stay
That’s why I say… 
I’M GONNA THROW 
My raincoat in the river
GONNA TOSS 
My umbrella in the sea 
The sun’s gonna shine like never before
It ain’t gonna rain, gonna rain no more
Now my baby’s come back to me

I may or may not have a complete dance routine for this song. Ricky’s voice just moves me.

Also, I hope you deeply (DEEEEPLY) appreciate how the last photo in the above video shows Ricky’s best side. Er, I mean back side. All of Ricky’s sides are the best sides.

5. Bee Gees – “You Win Again”

“They’re back to win your hearts and your minds with their new single, ‘You Win Again.’ Ladies and gentlemen, welcome…The Bee Gees!” 

ALWAYS THE SAME.

(If you don’t understand that reference, you clearly haven’t watched In Our Own Time enough times/as many times as me. Get on task!)

Not only is this song totally awesome and life-affirming, but this whole era of Bee Gees just might feature all of my style goals in the form of Robin Gibb (who else?). Confidence personified.

Ok, I can’t watch any more Bee Gees videos tonight. It will lead me down the rabbit hole of total Bee Gees obsession, and it gets worse every time. It’s really something only a cancer survivor would understand.

OH GIRRRRRL 

Thank you for existing, Gibbs.

6. Pulp – “Disco 2000” 

I don’t know, I just think I could sing along to this song all day, every day and never, ever be sad.

Oh, what are you doin’ Sunday, baby? 
Would you like to come and meet me, maybe? 
You can even bring your baby! 
Ooh ooh oh oh ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh

Remember that scene in that one episode of Life on Mars (the original, superior UK version starring John Simm) where Sam, trapped in 1973, hears a snippet of this song on the radio in the Indian restaurant? No? I guess you haven’t watched that show as much as me either. Keep up, will ya?

7. The Style Council – “My Ever Changing Moods” 

The lyrics of this song are actually quite political and powerful, but what really makes this song an automatic anti-depressant for me is the flawless, tongue-in-cheek video featuring Paul Weller and Mick Talbot in a bike race. I can’t believe there are people on this planet who find it appalling and degrading to the song. How can you not adore this video? Paul Weller’s face with his mouth full of banana at 2:35? Please God, let me live again. It’s the best thing ever.

8. Wham! – “Last Christmas” 

This is another song where the video helps make it so inspiring. But there are also people who don’t like this song or video, and I am here to tell you that those people are wrong.

(Careless Whisper) Maybe next year… 

Gets me every time.

9. Hall & Oates – “Say It Isn’t So” 

Pretty sure this is the song I listened to repeatedly on the morning of my wedding. Does that mean anything, Dr. Crane?

The only downside to listening to this song is the moment when you realize you can’t dance as well as Daryl does with his own silhouette in this video. Life goals right there. You might get really discouraged and sad. Be careful.

Also, how scary is John when he creeps up behind Daryl and points as he sings “SAY”? Really scary and really, really creepy.

10. Peter Frampton – “Show Me the Way” 

Oh my gosh, if you are one of those people who thinks they’re too cool to listen to Peter Frampton, PLEASE GO AWAY. (Uhhhh, why does the above video have 2K THUMBS DOWN? Are you just jealous of PFramp’s awesome chest? Your internet privileges are hereby REVOKED so you can get some professional HELP!!!) But if you donated your copy of Frampton Comes Alive! to a used record store, THANK YOU because I probably bought it. (Nope, I still ain’t sayin’ how many copies I own.)

I just love it when this song comes on the radio. I just have to…wonder if I’m dreaming. I feel so unashamed. I can’t believe this is happening to me!

Ahhh, heaven. This must be what it is like.

11. The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday” 

What a great pop song.

I could recommend watching The Monkeys as an anti-depressant, but I have learned to accept that it is an acquired taste for some not-so-blessed individuals.

And I may be in the minority opinion here (don’t know, don’t care), but I really think Season 1 is a better, more entertaining television show than Season 2, where Micky plugged his hair into a socket and walks around wearing a psychedelic tablecloth for most of the season. But the music? Definitely superior, and this is a great example.

12. The Beatles – “She Loves You” 

This whole playlist could be Beatles songs. The sound of my beating heart. My will to live.

But I had to pick an early, frenzied Beatlemania song because there is so much energy and joy in those early songs. People who stick their nose up at pre-Rubber Soul Beatles just might actually be worse than the demonic souls who don’t even like the Beatles. Get HELP!!!!!

13. The Beach Boys – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” 

Any version will do, but I am personally endorsing the stereo mix found on the 30th anniversary box set. Why? Because we like you, and Brian sings the bridge, therefore resulting in minimal Mike Love.

Pure bliss.

HIDDEN TRACK: BJ Thomas – “As Long As We Got Each Other” 

Remember when CDs would have hidden tracks? That was super annoying. I’m glad it’s not a thing anymore. Not that I really know because I don’t buy that many CDs. Anyway…

I love having this song stuck in my head. Quality of life improved tenfold.

I know there are many more songs that could qualify for this playlist, but my sleep mask is calling to me…

852664894-brian_wilson_1968_laying_in_bed_with_smoke

10 Albums

As a quick footnote to my last post, I have recently been pondering at what point I should become concerned and/or seek medical attention (NOT from Dr. Julia Hoffman, of course) when I find myself resonating with sentiments expressed by David Collins? (He only tried to kill his father…twice? Has been possessed a handful of times, made friends with ghosts, been accused of being an insane liar…totally respectable!)

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 4.54.50 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-22 at 4.55.07 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-22 at 4.55.22 PM

(That point has passed. You went past go, Brittany, but you did not collect $200. )

Moving on…

I was recently “tagged” on social media to post about ten albums that have had an impact on me. This task was particular difficult for me because it’s easier for me to think of individual bands and musicians who had an impact on me, as I have this obsessive personality that requires me to listen to everything they ever recorded and consequently makes it hard to narrow down which album has had the most impact. But hey, let’s give it a whirl…

10. Graham Nash, Songs for Beginners (1971) 

gn_sfb

I am a simple man
And I play a simple tune
Wish that I could see you once again
Across the room
Like the first time

I’ve said it before, and I guess I’ll say it again: Graham Nash is undoubtedly my favorite member of CSN. Compare Nash’s first solo effort to those of the other members (which aren’t too shabby, don’t get me wrong–I love CSN), and you’ll hear why. The album is full of raw, emotional songs about Nash’s breakup with Joni Mitchell and fervent cries for political activism, but each song is so carefully crafted to pop/singer-songwriter perfection. I listened to this album a lot as a teenager–no regrets.

9. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)

pf_wyw

Remember when you were young? 
You shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond 
Now there’s a look in your eyes
Like black holes in the sky 
Shine on you crazy diamond 

As a teenager, I had a vague notion of Pink Floyd but didn’t really become interested (translation: obsessed! I can’t have interests like normal people, remember?) in the band until I discovered Syd Barrett and his music. “I’ve got a bike/You can ride it if you like/It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and/Things to make it look good/I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.” Ughh, love that stuff. Everything about that era of the band is so unique–the sounds, the lyrics, even the delivery of the lyrics…nothing like it in the world, methinks. Ice creeeeeam, tastes good in the afternoon! Ice creeeeeam, tastes good if you eat it soon!

But the fact of the matter is that the band endured and made more music without Syd Barrett than they did with him. The band could not have happened without Syd Barrett, but it also could not have lasted with him at the helm. Still, the band found ways to acknowledge his importance and pay tribute to him in some of their most famous works, Wish You Were Here included. (Even though Roger Waters has stated, in his usual stubborn way, that only one song off the album is really about Syd, but I find his influence permeates so much of the album, albeit if not always so forthrightly as “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”) During the recording of the album, a shaven, overweight Syd Barrett visited the studio, shocking his former bandmates and reducing them to tears. The emotional weight this album carries is palpable in its lyrics and music.

1965-Pink-Floyd-Sound-39-Stanhope-Gdns-Highgate-London

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here

When I bought the album on CD (that used to be a thing, you know), I specifically ordered a version that also included the early Pink Floyd singles–“Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play,” “Candy and a Currant Bun,” “Apples and Oranges”–as bonus tracks, making it the perfect CD for me, as it melded my favorite non-Syd Barrett Floyd album with some of my most favorite Syd Barrett songs.

8. Pulp, Different Class (1995) 

pulp_dc

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.

(Now I’m wondering why I didn’t re-create this album cover at my wedding? Uhh, because those are some ugly flowers, that’s why, the second voice in my head says.)

Oh, Jarvis.

What can I say? I spent a good portion of my life obsessed with and worshipping that guy. And for good reason.

Pulp spent a long time (what, fifteen years or something) in the music business without much to show for it. (And that would be because some of the early Pulp music is really, really not very good. Just trust me on this one.) With Different Class, Pulp’s recognition and success reached a whole new level. They had top ten hits, nationwide fame, and Jarvis Cocker–the guy who once fell out of a window trying to impress a girl with his Spider-man impression and spent months in a wheelchair as a consequence–was suddenly a sex symbol at 32.

Different Class is full of some of his best songwriting, dealing with themes of sex (Jarv’s fave), the class system, drugs…yet all set to a flagrantly POP beat. There’s the scathing, vengeful “I Spy” (in which Jarvis advises that you should take him “seriously, very seriously indeed ‘cos I’ve been sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks”), anthemic call to arms for all the mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits, the depressing come-down at “Bar Italia” “where other broken people go”, the infectious sing-a-long “Disco 2000” about the one that got away, and the ultimate ATTACK on the clash of the social classes “Common People” (really a shame how the video/single omits the final, most biting verse). And then there’s “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.”, “Live Bed Show,” “Underwear,” “Monday Morning,” “Pencil Skirt”….

It’s impossible to choose a best or even favorite track. This is the album that catapulted a mild interest in Jarvis Cocker to a full-blown obsession, kicking the door open for all the rest of “Britpop.” It would be years before any other musical genres would be allowed to enter the fortress.

7. Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957) 

sinatra_christmas

I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 
Those holiday J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 
Those happy J-I-N-G-L-E B-E-DOUBLE L-S 
I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 

If you’re surprised that there’s a Christmas album on this list, then you CLEARLY haven’t listened to this Christmas album. I listen to this album year-round. A song from this album made its way to my wedding reception playlist. It’s Sinatra. It’s perfect.

I first got into Sinatra after being assigned to read Gay Talese’s magnificent profile of Sinatra, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” during my next-to-final quarter of college (the first time around), and I thought, “Wow, he has to be the coolest guy, ever.” And guess what? He is. I just don’t wanna live in a world where there is no Frank Sinatra. In the words of Dean Martin, “This is Frank’s world, and we’re just living it.” Amen, brother.

6. The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow (1984) 

710b4ghtujl-_sl1425_

I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular

It was difficult to choose one Smiths album; truthfully, any of their albums could be inserted here. But I may or may not still be wearing an oversized, pit-stained Smiths t-shirt, an heirloom passed down from an older sister, with this album cover on it, so I’d say its impact is pretty obvious.

Morrissey has a lyric for every situation in my life:

Struggling with the state of yourself and your life? “Every day you must say, how do I feel about my shoes?”

Feel like your work is not meaningful or productive? “But sometimes I feel more fulfilled making Christmas cards with the mentally ill.” 

When someone finally asks your honest opinion of them? “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, since you ask: you are a flatulent pain in the arse!”

Have to deal with the consequences of telling someone your honest opinion of them? “Sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head.”

Feeling under the weather and someone asks you how you’re feeling? “Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.”

Just something I may or may not say every day: “Oh, I’m too tired/I’m so sick and tired/And I’m feeling very sick and ill today.” (I am a “delicate flower”!!!!)

Someone says “I love you”? “So…scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen. This means you really love me.”

Moving onto a new obsession and your previous obsession starts to feel left out? “I still love you, oh, I still love you/Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love.”

PMSing and carrying around some extra “water” weight? “You’re the one for me, fatty/ You’re the one I really, really love/And I will stay/Promise you’ll say/If I’m ever in your way/A-hey!”

And ad infinitum.

I mean, these lyrics just roll off the tongue. So good.

(I recently saw a headline about a study that concluded that “Smiths fans were neurotic.” Was such a study necessary? I mean, really????????)

If you want to have a fun game of charades sometime, try using Morrissey lyrics. “Punctured bicycle, on a hillside, desolate.” Ahhh, fun times.

5. Oasis, Definitely Maybe (1994) 

91s56p82m2l-_sl1500_

You’re the outcast, you’re the underclass
But you don’t care, because you’re living fast
You’re the uninvited guest who stays ’till the end
I know you’ve got a problem that the devil sends
You think they’re talking ’bout you but you don’t know who
I’ll be scraping your life from the sole of my shoe tonight

As a young child, my brother and I would go upstairs to my older sister’s lair and deface the posters of her musical heroes with sticky-tack: Morrissey’s nipple magically grew one very long hair and the Gallagher brothers’ noses always had dangling boogers. I had a strong aversion to the Gallaghers in particular because I knew one of them (who also thought he was John Lennon) had called George Harrison a “nipple” (“NIP-PLE”) and I got tricked into watching one of their concerts instead of getting to watch A Hard Day’s Night for the nth time because I was told John Lennon was in it. (He was–in photographic form at the conclusion of “Live Forever.”) So it was a long time before I sold my soul to this rock ‘n’ roll band.

But oh boy, when I did, there weren’t no turnin’ back. Noel Gallagher’s latest solo effort asks, “Who built the moon?” Uhhhh, you? Would follow that dude to the moon and back, no questions asked.

What a debut album–it kicks in with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and never, ever lets up. Soul sold.

4. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home (1965) 

71dhi4i0adl-_sl1500_

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

I cycled through many musical obsessions as a teenager, but I think perhaps my obsession with Bob Dylan lasted the longest and had the greatest impact, which is odd considering I probably listen him to the least out of any artist that appears on this list. I devoured all his albums, watched Dont Look Back more than was healthy, and wore sunglasses a lot. Yeah, not healthy behavior, but having a thorough knowledge of Dylan’s catalogue is something I consider worthy of being mentioned on my resume. Once, I had to explain to a dense individual how important Bob Dylan was to music. Like, they legitimately didn’t get it. It was sad. Don’t be that person.

Bringing It All Back Home is my favorite Dylan album, as it blends both acoustic and electric Dylan and contains some of my favorite Dylan tracks (which I did NOT play at my wedding reception!)–and Rick Nelson’s, too. I know, I have great taste.

3. The Jam, The Gift (1982) 

the_jam_-_the_gift_-_front_1354193112

Why are you frightened can’t you see that it’s you
That ain’t no ghost it’s a reflection of you
Why do you turn away an’ keep it out of sight
Oh don’t live up to your given roles
There’s more inside you that you won’t show

Paul Weller is the man who knocked down the walls built by Jarvis Cocker.

My first exposure to The Jam was the video for “Going Underground.” I thought, “Good song, lead singer is a bit odd-looking.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I feel like with each of my obsessions, it just got worse. Like, I spent A LOT of time obsessing about Paul Weller. Way more time than I spent obsessing about Jarvis Cocker, even. The only reason I don’t spend so much time doing it anymore is because…well, I found more fulfillment in my work and life, I guess. And I also sought medical attention. Only kidding, ha. Maybe I should have.

Anyway.

The Gift may not be my favorite Jam album (but it includes my favorite Jam song, bar none), yet it is their most musically diverse and adventurous. And it has so, so, so many good songs.

And it’s their last. Weller, at age 24, announced the dissolution of the band at the height of their fame. Guts, man.

Bring on The Style Council!

(Never forget the time I threatened to turn this blog into an analysis/discussion of Style Council videos.)

2. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (1966) 

pet-sounds

Sometimes I feel very sad
Sometimes I feel very sad
(Can’t find nothin’ I can put my heart and soul into)

I don’t even know what to say about this album. I love it so much. It is absolute perfection from start to finish. It’s a spiritual kind of thing, don’t you think? Yes, yes, it is. Yet there are still people who don’t “get” this album. Don’t be that person. Make the world a better place. Listen to Pet Sounds, preferably at least once a day. You just have to listen…listen.

1. The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965) 

original_450

Was she told when she was young
That pain would lead to pleasure?
Did she understand it when they said
That a man must break his back
To earn his day of leisure?
Will she still believe it when he’s dead?

Any Beatles album could hold the top spot on this list. As many musical obsessions have come and gone, The Beatles were the first and remain the most intense and innate part of my existence. The Beatles are the sound of my beating heart.

It’s odd (to me, anyway) to think of how this is the album that so influenced Brian Wilson to write Pet Sounds, yet he and I listened primarily to different versions. Brian was listening to the Capitol version, with a different track listing (including the false-start version of “I’m Looking Through You”), and I have always listened to the original UK version. (Capitol may have been onto something, actually: omitting “What Goes On” is downright inspired and inserting the folksy “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” blend in well with the musical landscape of the album.) Yet we both have the same intense love affair with the album. Revolver may have opened the doors for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Sgt. Pepper is certainly more advanced technology-wise, but neither has the heart of Rubber Soul. In fact, as much as I love each of their albums, I might go as far to argue that no other Beatles album has the heart that Rubber Soul does. The empathetic drumming Ringo lends to John in “In My Life”? Just…my heart.

I’ll stop now. I find it hard to express my feelings about this band of brothers for, like Cordelia, my love’s more richer than my tongue…

I know everyone stays up REALLY late at Collinwood, but it’s way past my bedtime…

P.S.

Because no one has found out that he’s a vampire from another century.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. HELP!

P.S., Happy Belated Birthday

No, dear faithful followers of The Hand of Count Petofi, The Count did not desert you, although The Count probably has had more desserts than necessary these past few months. And where have those past few (well…maybe more than few) months gone?  I’ve mourned the loss of Bowie and George Martin and Paul Dano’s first Oscar nomination and win (in a word: un·be·liev·a·ble) and fought to keep my head above water. There were so many times when I felt like I was drowning, but here I am — gasping — dying — but somehow still alive…

On Monday, Pet Sounds (aka the greatest rock album ever made, Mar!) turned 50. Instead of posting about it yesterday when the internet was inundated with (justifiably) laudatory and celebratory articles, I’m posting today because I believe it’s an album that should be celebrated (and by celebrated, I mean LISTENED TO) every single day, I’m still kind of drowning and trying to get my life together, and when have I ever been a timely person? I mean, one of my favorite actors has been dead for fifty–fifty–years this July. I’m not exactly hip or now, you know.

beach-boys-pet-sounds

Maybe the album’s only imperfection: its bizarre-o album cover. Thanks, The Suits at Capital. Branding! (Not to be confused with Brand-o.)

Pet Sounds is perhaps the only true perfect album. From boo buh bom pa to do da do do da do do da BOOM (2,3,4) buh DOOM to the howls of Banana and Louie, there is not a false note. Every song is beautiful, purposeful, and connected. There are no fillers. There are no clunkers. There is no “What Goes On” (the song that ruins Rubber Soul–an album I love dearly, dearly, dearly–for me every time). (Speaking of Rubber Soul, it’s interesting to think that the album that so inspired Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds wasn’t really Rubber Soul but instead Capital’s amalgamation of Rubber Soul and Help!, omitting the horrendous “What Goes On”, creating a distinctively folk feel. So maybe those Beatles weren’t so special after all. Yeah…maybe.) And every song is universal.

Pet Sounds is Brian Wilson’s creation, no doubt about it. He just had some other stuff inside of him besides surf and sun and surf and cars and surf and girls and surf that he just had to get out. The songs found on Pet Sounds are delicately beautiful and vulnerable, expressing the need for love and acceptance. Even the instrumental “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” evokes a wistfulness for escape into a haven of love and comfort–and not just because of the title but because of the meticulous arrangement of the instruments and their dynamics and interaction with each other. The group’s innovative cover of the folk song “Sloop John B” also recalls a similar desire with its plaintive refrain: “I feel so broke up, I wanna go home.” (And, perhaps, it nods to the counterculture: “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.” Talk about destroying your brain.)

It’s hard for me to separate Pet Sounds from the scenes focusing on its creation in Love and Mercy. It’s not that Paul Dano is so-gosh-darn-cute (which he is), it’s just that the movie did such an extraordinary job of re-creating Brian Wilson’s meticulous, relentless work ethic and the joy he felt being in the studio recording this album. It makes me a little teary-eyed every time I watch the scene as Brian Wilson (played to perfection by Paul Dano) listens to the musicians play “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”–with two bass players playing in two different keys–and it sounds just like it does in his head! He is so incandescently happy because he is at home in the recording studio, producing these introspective, sophisticated, and loving songs. I don’t think Brian Wilson worked harder or was ever happier than he was when working on Pet Sounds. He put his heart and soul into the album–and so is it any wonder that he was crushed when the world at large (and maybe a band member or two…okay, maybe just one) reacted lukewarmly to his magnum opus (not that he would ever call it a magnum opus or a masterpiece or anything like that because he is actually the most humble man in the world)?

photo_4-0

This is what The Beach Boys actually look like in my head. Love-less, peaceful, and in complete, perfect harmony. Who needs a little place like Kokomo? Not I, said the Count…

Brian Wilson said that with Pet Sounds, the group was trying to “bring love to the world through our harmonies.” There is so much love in this album. The world needs Pet Sounds now more than ever — if only people would listen, listen…

Which is exactly what you have to do with Pet Sounds. I’ve listened to this album so many times, and it never gets old. I never want to skip a track. I never want to turn it off after listening to “just the hits.” I love every song; I don’t know if I could pick a favorite. (Although Paul McCartney can. But what can’t Paul McCartney do?) They’re all just so gosh-darn-beautiful, I wanna cry

Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad, 2015)

After The Beatles, The Beach Boys were the first band I really loved. I bought records that I couldn’t really play, committed an A&E Biography of Brian Wilson to memory (still looking for a way to put this skill on a resume), and I may have even fashioned some Beach Boys puppets out of popsicle sticks. Okay, so maybe I was a little obsessed–crazy, even (popsicle sticks?!)–but my love for this band, including their introverted, slightly off-center leader, was so indelible that fifteen or so years later I approached Love and Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s biopic about Brian Wilson, with both excitement and trepidation–excitement because I love Brian Wilson and his story, trepidation because there is so much room for error.

Love and Mercy tells the story of Brian Wilson in two distinct periods of his life. His story is told by two different actors out of necessity. The Brian Wilson of the 1960s was a very different person from the Brian Wilson of the 1980s. It’s that simple. He was different, both physically and mentally. It would be impossible for a single actor to play both roles; it would be asking too much. It’s a miracle that Brian Wilson lived through the experiences. How can you ask one actor to do the same?

In the first narrative, Paul Dano plays Wilson in his mid-20s at the height of his musical powers creating Pet Sounds, “Good Vibrations,” and the ill-fated Smile album. The seeds of mental illness are evident, however, as Brian begins to suffer notably from auditory hallucinations and paranoia during this period. The later thread shows the progression and effects of this mental illness.

In the 1980s, Brian (now portrayed by John Cusack) has become a somnambulant and over-medicated prisoner of his controlling and manipulative doctor, Eugene Landy (played with terrifying ferocity by Paul Giamatti). When he meets his future wife, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), for the first time, he leaves her a note on the back of her business card: “Scared, Lonely, Frightened.” Each thread is equally compelling, even though I initially doubted that the 1980s story would be able to hold my attention the way the Pet Sounds sessions would. I was also uncertain that John Cusack could convincingly render Wilson.

My doubts were ill-placed. I was wrong. I feel like one of those freaks that booed Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965–and not even one of the freaks booing because the sound quality was poor, but one of those folk purists irate at Dylan for plugging in an electric guitar. Oh my gosh. Don’t be one of those freaks. The quality of Cusack’s performance is not poor; it is subtle and sensitive and maybe different from anything else he’s ever done before–I wouldn’t know, though, because I never made a popsicle puppet out of his head.

Brian (John Cusack) and Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) outside the Griffith Observatory.

Cusack undoubtedly has the more difficult role for one simple reason: there is virtually no music in the 1980s storyline, and if you want to know Brian Wilson, you have to listen to the music. Cusack instead has to communicate Wilson’s thoughts and feelings through his walk, his mannerisms, nervous ticks, and wooden speech. There is a single scene where Cusack’s Wilson sits at the piano and plays a song for Melinda, and for a brief moment, you catch a glimpse of the creative, trusting, sweet man that Wilson is or was or could be.

As impressive as Cusack’s depiction is, Paul Dano is, quite simply, amazing. A·maz·ing. AMAZING! Oh my gosh. I am ready to make a popsicle puppet out of this guy’s head. (I’m kidding. I think.) Dano physically bears a stronger resemblance to Wilson, and he even sings like Wilson in the film–so much so that it is often difficult to discern whether it’s actually Dano or Wilson singing. Music helps Dano’s characterization significantly. When Dano’s Wilson is in the studio, headphones on, singing with his brothers and cousin and bandmates, he just looks so happy and at ease. I felt tears welling up in my eyes because I know that’s who Brian Wilson is.

Brian (Paul Dano) plays “God Only Knows” for his cruel and abusive father, who tells him it sounds more like a suicide note than a love song.  

Dano’s skill is part of what makes the 1960s story so satisfying to watch, but it’s also the recreation of the period. The attention to detail in the film is extraordinary: the filmmakers faithfully replicated Beach Boys concert footage, the studio where Brian created Pet Sounds, and every piece of clothing, right down to Mike Love’s dumb fur hat.

There is little humor in the 1980s (mostly it derives from whatever Paul Giamatti is wearing), but the humor is abundant in the 1960s. Remember, Brian Wilson is actually a very funny person. While the rest of the band has been on tour in Japan, Brian has been at home in the studio, working tirelessly on Pet Sounds. When the band returns to the studio to record vocals, Mike Love pats cousin Brian’s belly and tells him he’s put on some weight. “You need to go on a fast with me sometime,” he tells Brian. “I’m eating as fast as I can,” Brian responds. Amen!

Humor also comes in the form of Mike Love’s existence. Concerned about the lyrics of “Hang on to Your Ego” (turned into “I Know There’s An Answer” on the released album because Love refused to sing the lyrics of “Ego”), Love whispers to Brian “Is this a druggie song?” The rest of the guys roll their eyes. (I imagine this happened a lot because Mike Love is really embarrassing. It’s kind of a mystery how and why they let him in the band.) Humor comes from one liners from brother Dennis (who looks less like Dennis but acts like Dennis so it’s OK). “Surfers don’t even like our music,” Brian insists in response to Mike Love’s claim that they should keep making music about surfing and cars and girls because that’s what their fans love and understand, not the radically different music and lyrics of Pet Sounds. “They don’t,” shrugs Dennis, with perfect timing. And a lot of humor comes from Brian Wilson’s two dogs, Banana and Louie, who are featured on Pet Sounds. They steal every scene they’re in, including one of my favorites.

With Pet Sounds having been completed and received lukewarmly by fans, Brian and the band are moving onto their next project. Brian has an idea for a song about the vibrations dogs pick up from people, but, as always, he’s struggling with lyrics. He calls Mike over to help. Brian sits at his piano, placed in a sandbox in the middle of his living room, and pounds out the rhythm. Mike suggests some lyrics, and they begin to put the two together. Banana barks (and maybe does something else). “Well, piss on you, Banana, I like it!” Mike scolds.

To some, the narratives of Love and Mercy may seem disjointed and unrelated. I disagree. Even though Brian Wilson was different in the 1960s than he was in the 1980s, there are striking similarities and parallels. In 1985, Brian Wilson is starving. “I’m hungry, Gene,” Brian tells his doctor. “You’re not hungry! You only think you are! Can’t you tell the difference?” Landy screams in response. Brian is starved of food, his family, his free will, his music, and love. He is the victim of Dr. Landy’s control and cruelty. In the 1960s, Brian Wilson is starving, too, even though he is saturated with food, drink, and drugs. He craves the approval of his brutal father, and he ultimately abandons Smile not just because he is taking way too many drugs (which he is) but because he is starved of the musical support and love of his bandmates. Even though he always brought so much love and happiness to others through his music, Brian Wilson himself was always looking for love.

Love and Mercy is a sensitive, factual film. Of course it doesn’t tell you everything about Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys. (To the reviewer complaining that the film doesn’t explain the presence of Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks: well, piss on you! Read a record label and figure it out for yourself. Actually, it’s pretty clear who Van Dyke Parks is in the film, so I don’t know what your hang up is.) It can’t, and it doesn’t need to. It just needs to offer you a representation of who Brian Wilson was and why he–and his music–matter. It does just that, with the finest acting and the best soundtrack. I can’t wait to see it again.

My only complaint? The actor who plays Al Jardine (who has NO speaking lines) is actually taller than Carl Wilson…
Uh, yeah. Right. Baby needs a step ladder to get up on that car.

My favorite Beach Boys album

There is a rule–somewhere–that at some point, as a serious student of pop music, you have to discover that the Beach Boys actually sang about more than just surf, girls, and cars. It’s a dumb rule. I don’t like it. It implies that their music about surf, girls, and cars was superficial, insignificant, and bereft of the craftsmanship and genius that just somehow magically manifest itself on an album like–oh, I don’t know–Pet Sounds. Sure, there were some duds on those early albums, but there were so many more beautiful and meticulously crafted songs: “Ballad of Ole’ Betsy,” a song about an aging car, often makes me teary-eyed, “Surfer Girl” is a timeless song of love, and who doesn’t identify with the introspective “In My Room”? The skill and depth of this band was always present; the images their name and a few dozen songs conjured just often overshadowed it.

The Beach Boys were my almost favorite band (there’s just no getting over them dang Beatles) in 7th grade. I was so enraptured with them that when I received a Beatles poster for my birthday (a really sweet shot from the ‘Mad Day Out’ sessions, by the way) amidst a pile of Beach Boys CDs and videos, I was almost disappointed. Almost. I learned the “more than surf etc.” secret very quickly. I mean, all I had to do was buy an album (Surfer Girl/Shut Down, Volume II was my first)–and there are so many great Beach Boys albums (including the new one). Pet Sounds is an undisputed masterpiece, Sunflower is so freaking smooth, Friends is Paul Weller’s favorite so it’s obviously really cool, Love You is gritty and wonderful, and I could probably even argue quite effectively that Little Deuce Coupe is the greatest concept album ever (it’s all about cars, man, and it’s awesome). There are days when I wonder if it’s even possible to have a favorite Beach Boys album.

But I think I have one.

During a hedonistic, Beach Boys-obssessed summer, I bought three Beach Boys albums on vinyl off eBay. They were cheap (reeeeeal cheap), I didn’t have them on CD, and I couldn’t wait until my birthday or Christmas. I also didn’t have a working record player. Well, the record player actually worked, but the speakers didn’t, so you couldn’t really listen to records. But I had figured out a way to hook up the record player to the tape player so that I could play the vinyl, push record on the tape machine, and have a tape copy of the album that I could listen to on my Walkman. I don’t think it was really that hard. I also don’t think I had any friends.

Anyway.

I had bought The Beach Boys ConcertThe Beach Boys Christmas Album, and Today!. These three albums are all very dear to my heart, but only one of them is still in the shrink-wrap–and it’s my favorite.

The Beach Boys, Today! (1965)

Today! reminds me of my favorite Dylan album, Bringing It All Back Home. The first side is full of that blistering electric guitar that the Devil gave to Bob Dylan, alienating all those hardcore folkies, while the second side is just a really skinny guy with some major fuzzy hair and an acoustic guitar, just like the folkies like ‘im. It’s the perfect marriage of the two sides of Dylan for me. Today! similarly is the perfect representation of the two sides of the Beach Boys.

Side one is upbeat, carefree, fun. It has nothing but hit singles about dancing, growing up (to be a man), being good to your baby, and getting help from some girl named Rhonda. It’s pretty awesome. You can’t go wrong playing side one over and over and over. I speak from experience. But side two is where it really starts happening. It’s so beautiful, I don’t know if I can write coherently about it. It opens with “Please Let Me Wonder,” one of the most tender and beautiful songs the band ever recorded. It makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. Beware: after hearing this song, you will never want to listen to any other song again because none of them will ever be as beautiful as this one. Never ever.

“I’m So Young” is a fantastic cover of the doo wop classic originally by the Students. It laments young love and not being able to get married, a topic Brian Wilson explored earlier on All Summer Long‘s “We’ll Run Away” and would visit again on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” I love how they make it their own (I didn’t realize it was a cover until I bothered to read the songwriting credits more closely–oops), fitting perfectly into the lush and pensive mood of the album’s second side, and how Dennis’s voice sticks out like a Beach Boy who surfs the last thirty seconds or so.

Remember how no other song could ever be as beautiful as “Please Let Me Wonder”? Well, “Kiss Me, Baby” actually comes very, very, very, very, very close. The musical and vocal arrangements of this song are absolutely astounding. I know everyone’s all about hating Mike Love and everything, but the contrast between his deep bass and Brian’s soaring falsetto makes this song: “Kiss a little bit, fight a little bit…” That’s the Beach Boys story right there.

If you wanted to draw a line from Today! to Pet Sounds, it’d be pretty easy. It’s called “She Knows Me Too Well.” You might even forget to draw the line and mistake it for a Pet Sounds outtake. And most people would stop talking about Today! right here. But there’s another track (actually two but one of them is an “interview” track–a common “filler” on early Beach Boys albums) that I think is just as beautiful and significant as the others. Dennis opened the album with “Do You Wanna Dance?”, and he closes it with his best vocal to date, “In the Back of My Mind.” Dennis was still a few years off from coming into his own as a songwriter, but all the potential is evident on this track. The vocal is incredibly raw and breathtaking. You just don’t want it to end.

But it does end. So you have to get up and move the needle back to the start. Or you have to push rewind. Or you have to create an iPod playlist and just have it on constant replay. It sounds great any way. It’s the perfect mixture of the fun and the melancholy, the catchy pop singles and gorgeous ballads. It’s my favorite Beach Boys album.