Ten Underappreciated Beach Boys LPs: Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)
Published on December 2nd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
In celebration of the long overdue release of The SMiLE Sessions, Rocksucker presents part four of our look at ten great Beach Boys albums that don’t quite get the recognition we feel they deserve outside of the group’s admittedly sizeable fan base. This time round, it’s 1965’s divisive Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)…
4. Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) (1965)
The Beach Boys’ ninth studio album and their second in 1965 alone, this swift follow-up to the coming-of-age majesty of Today! was supposedly borne out of pressure upon Brian Wilson – not least from Mike Love – to inject some youthful ‘summer fun’ back into his songs. Pet Sounds would follow, and with it a more or less total jettisoning of the ‘formula’, but on Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) there is a difficult hodgepodge of approaches.
While this abundance of cooks comes close to spoiling the broth, there is more than enough magic on display to at the very least render Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) a fascinating insight into the creative tensions simmering within the Beach Boys camp by this stage. There are some missteps along the way – a regression from the virtually flawless Today!, whose second side laid the foundations for Pet Sounds and subsequently SMiLE – but then it also flaunts one of the greatest midsections in popular music history. More on that later.
Love-led opener “The Girl from New York City” represents an effective compromise between the opposing forces at play, its catchy chorus packing a punchy key shift that belies the shallow lyrical content. Somehow, it at once manages to conjure both the open waves and an amused detachment from it all, largely by dint of a comical baritone backing vocal at the start of each verse and some tremendous falsetto “whoo!”ing in the chorus.
“Amusement Parks U.S.A.” is understandably a cause for some opprobrium, its circus-like organ parts, sinister cackles and eerie theme park chatter (“Hurry, hurry, hurry!”) pointing more towards Smiley Smile’s more jarring moments than to the lush splendour of the following year’s Pet Sounds. Happily, it’s just fun enough to sit comfortably enough alongside the twisted surf-rock of “Little Honda”, “Drive-In” and “Don’t Back Down”, all from the previous year’s All Summer Long album.
Aside from switching sex, the Al Jardine-sang cover of “Then He Kissed Me” (cunningly retitled here to “Then I Kissed Her”) by The Crystals adds very little of note to the Phil Spector-produced original. Whereas The Beach Boys made “Do You Wanna Dance?” their own on Today!, “Then I Kissed Her” passes pleasantly yet rather tamely, with such scant authority stamped on it that you wonder why they bothered. Perhaps they were throwing Jardine a bone; but then, the fact that he sings lead on “Help Me, Rhonda” calls this idle theory into question.
“Girl Don’t Tell Me”
“Salt Lake City” boasts a gorgeous breakdown in its chorus but little else, while the Carl-sang “Girl Don’t Tell Me” veers so closely to “Ticket to Ride” in its chorus phrasing and jangly Rickenbacker guitar that it borders on farce. It’s no surprise then to find that Brian wrote it for The Beatles – or at least claimed to have done – and it’s interesting to learn that it was the other year covered by The Shins, given that the verse of the song practically gifted James Mercer and co. with a musical blueprint.
Enter a one-two-three hit comparable to any other you may care to mention; not just within The Beach Boys’ catalogue, but altogether. “Help Me, Rhonda” had of course featured on Today! but it is reprised here with slicker production, the odd extra harmony (most notably Brian’s falsetto atop the previously shouty line “Help me, Rhonda, yeah!” Gone is the peculiar raising and lowering of the mix featured at the end of the original and, while spruced-up re-workings of already great songs can feel annoyingly unnecessary, “Help Me, Rhonda” is too much fun to ever outstay its welcome. It’s a rare song that feels entirely welcome on back-to-back studio albums, so we might as well celebrate the fact.
“California Girls” then swaggers in, knowing its own brilliance, knowing you know it. Whereas the first half of Today! showcased songs whose verses were largely functional segues into more remarkable feats of song-craft, that of “California Girls” is absolutely vital to the whole, setting that hazy summer swing in motion and registering every bit as memorably as the song’s majestically winding chorus, itself a trick honed on Today!.
The inclusion of these truly great singles gives the album a badly needed lift, yet they are somehow trumped by the utterly astonishing “Let Him Run Wild”. It may not be a Christmas song, but its wintry trot feels reflectively festive until it gives way to the mother of all choruses. “Let him run!” yelps a falsetto Brian over the top of the kind of laid-back euphoria that later inhabited the chorus of Smiley Smile’s “Getting’ Hungry”, before shifting into a diminished chord so perfectly placed that it elevates the accompanying brass riff from merely sassy to sounding like the beginning and the end of the universe itself. (Brian would later repeat this trick on the line “You never need to doubt it” from “God Only Knows”.)
“Let Him Run Wild”
I might as well get this out there: nothing, repeat NOTHING, has ever sounded so heavenly-beyond-the-realms-of-even-music, to my ears at least, as the post-chorus call-and-response of “Guess you know I (waited for you, girl)”. It’s so beguilingly transcendent (yes, I said it) that it almost defies logical explanation. Maybe it’s a well-chosen vocal harmony, or an effect on the vocals, or the feel-good factor lingering from such a monumental chorus. Whatever it is, it’s proof positive of music’s ability to make something so subtle sound so vast, and it’s as close as any pop song has come to revealing the meaning of life.
At this juncture, it certainly merits mention that “Help Me, Rhonda”, “California Girls” and “Let Him Run Wild” each veers uncomfortably close to male chauvinism in their respective lyrics, but it could be argued that this is a reflection of the Beach Boys’ rock star status and the concomitant female attention. (Extrapolating this logic might also lead one to equate the exclamation marks after Summer Nights with a spot of ‘nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more, sir!’) Basically, these songs are so great that Rocksucker wants to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Given the thankless task of following this gargantuan midsection, the gleefully stomping “You’re So Good to Me” does not fare badly at all. As with “California Girls”, its verse is intrinsic to the lasting impression of the whole, and the unashamedly over-the-top delivery of “And I loooove it, looooove it!” is an album highlight. “Summer Means New Love” is a deliciously swaying instrumental number that acts as a forebear to such moments on Pet Sounds, while “I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man” will pall for some but is an enjoyable piano romp by an Elvis-impersonating Brian, again hinting at the difficult eccentricities of Smiley Smile. How funny its list of grievances is, though, depends entirely on how much of it is true. Certainly, the notion of autobiography casts an unsettling light on this apparently frivolous ditty.
The album draws to a close with the a cappella lullaby of “And Your Dream Comes True”, which reimagines at least one well-known nursery rhyme in its woozy harmonies before lulling itself, and the album, into sleep. All in all, Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) is an inconsistent collection of which the high points are truly great and the low points ranging from merely good to just-about-passing-muster. As long as it sits side-by-side with its more eminent siblings, that’ll do for us.
“You’re So Good to Me”