The Beach Boys: Surf’s Up

Throughout my music collecting years, I (for some reason) have striven to collect catalogs – not the mere pittance offered by greatest hits – not the piece-mail approach held-out by lowly compilations either.

Perhaps I want to witness human evolution, or in the off chance that a brief flicker from the past could illuminate one’s present effort, nod in silent recognition of a gesture.

Or maybe I just want to have everything. Whatever.

Sadly (in a way), there are a handful of artists whose ostensible greatest-hits span only a fraction of their career, far out numbering actual studio releases and overshadowing masterpieces, manifestos, and mishaps on the record store shelves.

The Beach Boys are often represented solely through these collections. The vast majority of listeners have heard their early surf-centric blockbusters, but what about the remainder of their catalog?

The titans of California pop have been playing together since 1961, 51 years of music, 30 full-lenght albums. And yet, most people find only anthologies in their personal collection, compendiums of 15-20 songs spanning the first tenth of a startlingly productive career, Surfing Safari to Pet Sounds and nothing more, save the rogue Kokomo reference.

To truly witness the maturation of the band one must push beyond Sloop John B, to the post-Pet Sound years.

A previous iteration of the PaisleyBlog briefly peeked at 1967’s Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, and someday we will track down their earliest work, but today we remember 1971:

Surf’s Up is a bipolar manifestation of the inner workings of a band splitting in two. One camp, made up of Wilson brothers (Carl, Dennis, & Brian), wanted to push deeper into musical experimentation, the other group (Mike Love, Al Jardine, & Bruce Johnston), preferred a more mainstream approach, a return to the formula.

It is through this chaotic lens that an emblematic pairing of Don’t Go Near the Water and Student Demonstration Time seem to represent Love & Jardine coyly thumbing their nose at the new direction, trash-talking that “our water’s going bad”, either a sly reference to turning away from beach-oriented hits or a sad commentary on pollution.

Surf’s Up, benefits from a stunning version of the album’s title track. Completed from Brian Wilson‘s shelved Smile tapes, it’s a haunting ending to an LP whose erstwhile star is Bruce Johnston‘s brilliant Disney Girls (1957).

Overall, Surf’s Up is a magnificent snap-shot of early 70s Beach Boys.

In a way, the album offers us a compelling case study, critical for understanding that multiple contradictory trajectories will rip a once solid band into pieces, yet, at the same time, perhaps induce six talented individuals to produce some unbelievable music.

Six talented individuals producing sounds that are, not only fully capable of bringing sunshine to our ears, but are also a very good reason to collect more than just “greatest” hits.

Thats all for today. And now you know.

[itunes id=”16053208″].

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