10 Underrated Beach Boys LPs: Wild Honey
Published on June 16th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Last October, Rocksucker embarked upon a series of articles entitled Ten Underappreciated Beach Boys LPs in order to celebrate the release of The SMiLE Sessions – well, we got halfway through, took a few months off, and now we’re back with the rest of ’em in order to mark the recent release of the brand new Beach Boys studio album That’s Why God Made the Radio. First up (or sixth, depending on how you look at it), it’s 1967’s relatively low-key Wild Honey…
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 – and here to read our somewhat hallucinatory review of the recently-issued version of SMiLE
6. Wild Honey (1967)
The Beach Boys’ 13th studio album was the first since 1963’s Surfin’ USA not to give sole production credit to Brian Wilson, still shaken no doubt by the whole SMiLE experience, although along with Mike Love he is credited as handling the brunt of the songwriting, while it has been said that he did in fact take on the lion’s share of production duties.
One of the most notable facets of Wild Honey is the emergence of Carl Wilson as a raspingly fantastic R&B singer, a role he assumes straight from the off on the frankly awesome title track – “she’s my girl!” he borderline screams as the others rally behind him with such elatingly sweet doo-wop backing vocals as “sweet, sweet! Honey bee!”, all precipitated of course by that instantly recognisable high-pitched noise whirring up and down the octaves like no-one’s business. It’s strikingly back-to-basics stuff after the paranoid otherworldliness of Smiley Smile, but at the same time it’s not The Beach Boys reverting to any kind of default approach of yore.
“Aren’t You Glad” is an almost impossibly warm and cosy trot that kicks off with a suitably intimate Mike vocal, hands over to Brian for a straddling-a-fine-line-between-cutesy-and-impassioned delivery of “I’ve got a heart that just won’t stop beating for you” and then sees Carl tackle the titular breakout with gusto. It’s rare for one song – let alone one so unassuming – to showcase three different singers at their best, but that is the achievement of “Aren’t You Glad” within just two minutes and sixteen seconds of sheer, life-affirming gorgeousness.
We are then treated to another cracking Carl lead vocal on a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her”, which mirrors the original’s repetitiveness but shaves thirty seconds off its running time and brings extra added backing croons of “heeey heeey, yes I was made to love her!” to the table with effortless brilliance. The ensuing “Country Air” entails a group lead vocal (harmonised, naturally) apart from the simultaneous whistle and hum section that represents the more untroubled side of a song that goes from light and breezy to dark and wintry – and back again – absolutely seamlessly. So seamlessly in fact that you may not immediately appreciate just how masterfully composed and structured it all is.
The playful “A Thing or Two” plays host to another round of Mike/Carl/Brian turn-taking, this time with Brian handling the funky chorus – well, the words ‘stoned boogie’ come to mind – leaving Mike and Carl to juxtapose their different singing styles to wonderfully contrasting effect elsewhere. Oh, those magical harmonies on the words “keep ooooon telling”! Most bands would be so chuffed to have unearthed such a great sound that they’d base a whole song around it. Not The Beach Boys – they just had too many great ideas not to deploy it once and then move on to the next one.
“Darlin'” is a genuinely perfect song from start to finish. Seriously, there’s nothing about this song that isn’t perfect, from Carl’s ecstatic lead vocal to the most dreamy combination of chord changes and harmonies imaginable – hey, thats The Beach Boys for ya – and, for the train-spotters amongst, an “oh oh oh oh” bit that would later be echoed somewhere within Sunflower‘s “Add Some Music”. “Darlin'” is so great it even manages to rhyme “every night” with “doggone out of sight” without feeling naff for even a second, which is pretty darn commendable. And all within two minutes and twelve seconds! They just don’t make ’em like etc etc. (In fact, there isn’t a song that’s three minutes or over on the whole album.)
“I’d Love Just Once to See You” is ostensibly one of Brian’s silly little songs, like “I’m Bugged At My Old Man” or “Vegetables”, but those playfully driving 7th chords of the verse lead into a twinkly sort of chorus splendour that’s easy to overlook in this low-key environment. Ending cheekily with an expressed desire to witness the object of this song in the buff, “I’d Love Just Once to See You” finds Brian in remarkably light-hearted mood given how fresh the collapse of SMiLE – not to mention his contributory breakdown – must have been in his mind.
As if their own stab at writing an “I Was Made to Love Her”, “Here Comes the Night” is at once very funky in its vocal emphasis (“HOLD me, SQUEEZE me, TELL me I’m doing al-RIGHT!”) and just a little bit menacing of overall mood, recycling that old Beach Boys trick of guiding a simple, fairly formulaic verse into a fabulously, deceptively sophisticated chorus. Meanwhile, “Let the Wind Blow” is both a third round of Mike/Brian/Carl lead-switching and an exquisite little tune, as wintry as the minor-key part of “Country Air” and in its own quiet way as heartfelt as “Darlin'”.
Featuring Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine amongst its songwriting credits, “How She Boogalooed It” is nothing spectacular but remains a very enjoyable, handclappy acoustic rocker nevertheless. Carl’s enraptured delivery of the words “out of sight dancing” is, well, ace, while a silly organ, shuffly shaker and switchy guitar riff all contribute to a deal that is resoundingly sealed by “come on, sock it to me! S-O-C-K-I-T to me!”. You may even find yourself reaching for the nearest sock.
Finally we have “Mama Says”, an a capella rendition of the “eat a lot, sleep a lot, brush ’em like crazy, run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy” refrain from “Vegetables” delivered in a variety of different rhythms, paces and syncopations. It’s basically showing off but you’re glad of it because it’s quietly awe-inspiring, and caps its closing address of “boooooooyyyyyyy!” with a close-to-the-mic intonation of “POOF!” that would later be echoed in Sunflower track “At My Window”.
As Steve Mason of The Beta Band sang on their song “Round the Bend”: “I listened to the Beach Boys just a minute ago / Wild Honey / It’s not their best album but it’s still pretty good / They’ve got some funny little love songs on there / But it’s not mainly a Brian Wilson production / So it’s probably not as good as something like Pet Sounds”. No, it’s not The Beach Boys at their absolute very best, but it is an eminently loveable document of a band still sounding fantastic in second or third gear – a bit like The White Album in that respect, but far more concise and without the elevatingly grand likes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun”.
All in all, though, Wild Honey is a ruddy marvellous way to spend 23 minutes and 58 seconds of your life, and a clear indicator of the white soul perfection The Beach Boys would later reach on their early ’70s albums.
That’s Why God Made the Radio is out now on Capitol. For more information, please visit thebeachboys.com