Holland... On reflection
10 Underrated Beach Boys LPs: Holland
Published on June 18th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
We finish our look at ten underrated Beach Boys albums with an excuse to blather on about their 1973 album Holland. If you would like to catch up with the previous nine, rummage through this handy bundle of links…
Click here to read part 1: Surfer Girl – here to read part 2: All Summer Long – here to read part 3: Today! – here to read part 4: Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) – here to read part 5: Smiley Smile – here to read part 6: Wild Honey – here to read part 7: Friends – here to read part 8: Sunflower – here to read part 9: Surf’s Up – and here to read our somewhat hallucinatory review of the recently issued version of SMiLE
10. Holland (1973)
The Beach Boys’ 19th studio album was recorded in Baambrugge, Netherlands at the behest of the group’s manager Jack Rieley, who felt that the change of scenery would get the creative juices flowing and maybe even help to alleviate the depression that had enveloped Brian Wilson.
The third part of a trilogy (along with Sunflower and Surf’s Up) that constitutes the band’s ‘white soul’ period of the early ’70s, Holland gets underway with a song that wasn’t even going to be on the record until Reprise Records rejected it on the basis that it didn’t contain a potential hit single. In “Sail On, Sailor”, Brian (along with Rieley, Van Dyke Parks, Tandyn Almer and Ray Kennedy, it has to be said) did not just come up with the goods, but furthermore one of his very greatest songs.
“Sail On, Sailor” boasts some of the most supernaturally elating harmonies ever committed to record, tremendous lyrics courtesy presumably of Parks (“I work the seaways, the gale-swept seaways / Past shipwrecked daughters of wicked waters / Uninspired, drenched and tired / Wail on, wail on, sailor”) and a very accomplished lead vocal by new addition Blondie Chaplin, who along with fellow South African Ricky Fataar had joined the group for the previous year’s Carl and the Passions – “So Tough”. Chaplin’s soulful tones fits seamlessly into the Beach Boys set-up, and indeed into this immediate environment of a country-ish swagger that leads into a euphoric, harmony-drenched chorus, while the deceptively complex punctuation of the middle eight betrays Brian’s presence at the wheel. What a start.
The ensuing “Steamboat” lives up to the high standard already set, conjuring with its sleepily isolated feel an atmosphere that could well trick you into thinking you were actually on a steamboat making its way back to a Dutch harbour. Written by Dennis and Rieley but with Carl on lead vocal, “Steamboat” flaunts some ridiculously pleasing barbershop-baritone do do dos and at its apex (the “we’ll get your steamboat going” section) vaguely echoes “Till I Die” from Surf’s Up. That big, echo-y guitar solo seems to ring out to sea, casting forth its light to guide wearily travellers safely back to port. It’s magical, basically.
We then have a suite of songs borne out of homesickness, the first of which, “California Saga/Big Sur”, showcases Mike Love at his best both in terms of writing and singing. A light, loved-up country-pop paean to home, Love sings sweetly and understatedly about adding himself to his home state’s “lengthy list of lovers”, stately backing hums and chirruping harmonica sealing the deal with the kind of casual ingeniousness that characterised this freakishly talented group of musicians.
“California/The Beaks of Eagles” does not fare quite so well, a solemn recitation of Robinson Jeffers’s titular poem tugging at the cringe-strings and thusly tarnishing the mysterious musical cavern it pours forth from. Mercifully, the the light is let in by a wonderfully optimistic chorus, the warmth of which radiates into “California Saga/California”, a jaunty, Al-penned ode that flies in the face of “Don’t Go Near the Water”, and reconciles with “Cool, Cool Water” with its exhortation of “get yourself in that water!”. The eloquently descriptive lyrics feel like they’re telling the locals about home with a glint in their eye and a wistful gaze into the distance, and it’s so supremely catchy that they’re probably looking for flights as I write this (er…even if the timing doesn’t quite work out…).
Carl’s “The Trader” feels a bit like a more R&B “Long Promised Road”, notable for all of the following: an utterance of “hi” by his young (obviously) son at the beginning, the candidate for most brilliantly enunciated phrase in popular music history that is “signed sin-ce-re-ly”, and suddenly turning into a whole other song roughly halfway through. (You might say he traded one song for the other.) Glorious it all is too, soft, shimmering and awed soul in a way that belies a quite superb set of lyrics about an imperialist trader writing to the folks back home about this rather spiffing new place to live he’s found.
“Leaving This Town” sounds straight from the off like a classic soul standard – in fact it could very conceivably be a lost Stevie Wonder classic had it not been written by Fataar and Chaplin along with Carl and Mike. The 5.52 running time may not be wholly necessary but Chaplin’s impassioned croon is absolutely delicious. Let’s face it, you’d have to be a pretty special singer if you manage to waltz your way into the greatest group of pop vocalists in history and get entrusted with fronting two songs on one album, one of which is the opening track and probably the best-known Holland number by a fair distance.
Dennis and Mike co-write “Only With You” is a tender, blissed-out love song sung by Carl, a slow, stately march bearing such sweetly simple sentiments as “All I wanna do is spend my life with you”, before the oddly inquisitive-sounding “Funky Pretty”, seemingly something of a group effort, paves the way subtly and gently psychedelically into Brian’s profoundly peculiar children’s tale “Mt. Vernon and Fairway Theme”, should you choose take advantage of its presence as an extra added EP.
Overall, Holland does not quite match the sheer splendour of Sunflower and Surf’s Up, but it remains an album that any band would rightly be very proud of, and one that keeps coming back to visit you at regular intervals.
That’s Why God Made the Radio is out now on Capitol. For more information, please visit thebeachboys.com