Nightman Listens To: The Beach Boys – Surfin Safari!

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Greetings, Glancers! Glutton for punishment as I am, it’s time to undertake another massive undertaking by listening to all thirty (count ’em) studio albums by The Beach Boys. Unless I become their biggest fan, this journey isn’t going to cover EPs, Live albums, or compilations. As alluded to in my announcement post, I’ve known The Beach Boys for as long as I can remember. Their songs are everywhere and eternal. I remember one of my last days in P7, my teacher decided to just let us mess about all day while he played Beach Boys songs, and he would occasionally quiz us on the band, presumably to mock us young’uns and our love for the Nirvana and the Rave. I knew quite a few of the songs, so he was impressed.

We start, in a shocking twist, with their first album from way back in 1962. When I first started listening to The Beatles, I never realised that The Beach Boys actually got their first records out before The Fab Four. I’ve no idea if any of these early albums are any good, but that’s what I’m here to find out. In terms of the band’s history and how they developed as a band, I don’t know all that much. I know they started out with the three Wilson brothers and two others, I know they started out as a surfer band and eventually experimented more though I don’t know how their sound changed. I know Pet Sounds is considered their best, I know Brian Wilson went a bit wrong for a while… but that’s about it. I know most of their singles and I’ve probably heard other album tracks. There’s a couple I recognise here, but lets just get on with it.

Surfin’ Safari‘ opens the album and pretty quickly gives away that familiar sound you think of when someone mentions the band – harmonies, warmth, guitar tone, clambering bass. I guess the first thing to say is that the production is a little flat – you can tell this was a first album, and you can tell it was made before the significant advances which would come over the next five years. The backing vocals are deeper than what I would expect – maybe the US wasn’t quite prepared for singers who weren’t big burly men in suites or cowboys with low down croons. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, various rhymes about surfing. Even here, the first song on their first album, the band have captured the ability to write a catchy melody – while the vocals leave something to be desired at times, and the playing is fine, it’s those melodies and harmonies which catch the attention.

County Fair’ opens with a similar rhythm and pace. The lead vocals are still a little off, but this one is quirkier due to the entertaining spoken word parts which come off as charming rather than corny. The lyrics are stronger here, actually telling a simple story with clear language instead of the random surf repetitions of the first song. Melodically, very similar to the first.

Ten Little Indians‘ seems misjudged to the modern listener. I guess we can forgive it because it was a less enlightened time. It’s based on the nursery rhyme – adding contemporary music to old poems and rhymes is something I don’t mind, but it rarely works. This song is as simple as they come, and again it’s almost the same rhythm and melodies as the others. Still enjoyable.

Chug A Lug‘ opens in a very similar fashion to I Get Around. It’s funny that the band are name-checking themselves and it’s not very serious. It’s still flat production wise but very catchy. It has a nifty organ and guitar solo piece, but then it’s hurt by a hand-clapping section – always a no for me.

Little Girl‘ has more of a 1950s vibe. That’s because this is a cover. I don’t think I’m familiar with any other version. It breaks up the familiar rhythm and melody style of the album, while retaining the Beach Boys sound. It goes without saying that all these songs are very short.

409‘ starts with some engine revving. I’m assuming a 409 is a car or a road or something. I wouldn’t go as far as comparing The Beach Boys with chavs, but liking cars is something both have in common. US Muscle Cars or Hot Rods or whatever they’re talking about are more interesting to me than what the British chav raves about. But yeah, I don’t care about cars. The giddy up giddy up stuff is funny enough, but it gets repetitive quickly. Luckily it’s short so doesn’t get annoying.

Surfin‘ starts with the deeper vocals again, before bringing in the lighter harmonies and leads. It’s another which has either nonsense or simple lyrics about surfing. All I know about surfing is from Big Wednesday and Baywatch. And that 80s Popeye spin off with his kids.

Head You Win-Tales I Lose‘ goes for a different direction – a percussive intro. The familiar stuff joins quickly and it’s the same uppy downy melodies as most of the other songs, with the same rhythm. With these songs alone you could write your own authentic Beach Boys song by this point and no-one would know any better. I like the chorus – the high vocal/deep vocal accompanied by the double guitar chords.

Summertime Blues‘ is another cover, obviously. It’s mostly similar to the original, though with added sweetness and harmonies. A bit too soft for my tastes compared to the original.

‘Cuckoo Clock‘ is another which reminds me of 50s rock, that swaying between minor and major. Good cuckoos, but the verse vocals aren’t great. More silly lyrics, but it is still pulled off with an innocence or charm or some nameless quality. Good that the style is slightly different from most of the other songs, again retaining the core song.

Moon Dawg‘ has a drum intro which reminded me, of all things, of Mastodon. I’ve no idea what a Moon Dawg is – Sixties slang or some such. I’m going to take it literally and imagine it is a dog made out of Moon chunks, its eyes as craters and its tongue a barren airless void. This is gonna be an instrumental, is it? Well, we have some ahhs and oohs and barks. I’ve said it before, but unless an instrumental is a masterpiece I probably won’t care for it. This isn’t a masterpiece.

The Shift‘ closes the album and returns to the standard rhythm and melody. It sounds a bit pervy, lyrically. Not much to say about it – there’s a solo in there which isn’t all that different from the others on the album, it moves swiftly, it’s not as catchy as others.

That’s kind of what I expected from a Beach Boys albums – short catchy songs with that trademark sound. It’s lacking in big hits, it doesn’t vary much, but it retains a summery feeling and is easy listening. Nothing challenging here, but good signs from a band just starting out and new to the musical world. I wouldn’t lift anything off this onto my personal playlist, but I wouldn’t be averse to hearing any of it again.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Surfin Safari!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: N/A

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