10 Underrated Beach Boys LPs: Friends
Published on June 16th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
To mark the release of their brand new studio album That’s Why God Made the Radio, Rocksucker continues to round up the ten Beach Boys albums we feel to be criminally overlooked by the world at large with an overview of why we’ve got so much gosh darn time for 1968 LP Friends…
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 – and here to read our somewhat hallucinatory review of the recently issued version of SMiLE
7. Friends (1968)
The Beach Boys’ 14th studio LP was the first to feature “significant songwriting contributions” from Dennis Wilson, and the last until 1976’s 15 Big Ones to feature Brian Wilson as “a dominant creative force” (can you tell we’re Wiki-ing this stuff?). Anyway, on to the songs themselves…
Opening vignette “Meant for You” is 38 seconds of pure bliss, somehow managing to feel fully formed despite its ludicrously short running time, paving the way for the genuinely astonishing creation that is the album’s title track. Seemingly quite the group effort, “Friends” flaunts some barely believable feats of songwriting (try playing it for yourself, as long as you’re adept with swift chord changes), such as the absolutely fascinating “aaaah aaaah aaaah oooh oooh oooh OOOH!” over a quick-fire melodic ascent comprising of no less than seven different keys.
On an album blessed lovably playful lyrics, “You told me when my girl was untrue / I loaned you money when the funds weren’t too cool / I talked your folks out of making you cut off your hair” is one of Rocksucker’s favourites – add a swinging brass interlude and a vocable round of “dim dimberlee dimberlaye dim dimberloo dim dee aye oh” and you’ve got yourself a bit of a mini-masterpiece there, misters.
Contrary to his rasping R&B frontmanship on Wild Honey, Carl Wilson handles the verse of “Wake the World” as delicately as one would a tray loaded with champagne glasses, before Brian takes over for the delightfully trombone-parping chorus, the cheerful breeziness of which belies a chord sequence that folds ingeniously in on itself. This chorus is also notable for its crafty touch of raising the key up a semi-tone for the chorus – whether this was the inspiration of Brian or co-songwriting credit Al Jardine we could not tell you, but it works a treat and is used again on “When a Man Needs a Woman”.
Before that comes the stupendously light-hearted slow trot of “Be Here in the Mornin'”, which features a fantastic Al falsetto in its verse and such adorable lyrics as “Stay in on the weekend and unplug the phone / No calls from Korthof, Parks or Grillo / I only hope that you come here alone”, not to mention a sudden pile-up of harmonies in the chorus on the word “fuuullllll!” that come as an absolute treat.
“When a Man Needs a Woman” is easy to dismiss with its daft stadium organ line and lyrics about having a baby, but Brian’s vocal is so wonderfully deft that this song, written by Brian with the afore-sung-about Korthof and Parks, fits snugly into the album’s warm, embracing flow.
The mostly instrumental “Passing By” is very conceivably the sound it does actually make when Brian Wilson passes by you – glorious, effortless, impossibly exotic, “Passing By” is almost symphonic in structure in a way that might not be immediately obvious but once you notice it this track ceases to register as a mere interlude.
Prior to recording, Mike Love had gone and done the whole transcendental meditation/Maharishi thing with The Beatles and Donovan, an experience that is tattooed all over his songwriting contributions to Friends. “Anna Lee, the Healer”, sounds like a whimsical tribute (“She cures people with her hands / I’m just one of her many fans” is an oddly amusing line) scrubbed up to purpose by the sublime harmonies – naturally – of the chorus.
“Little Bird” is the first of back-to-back Dennis songs written alongside Steve Kalinich. and his emergent lead voice sounds meltingly beautiful, already brimming with honeyed smokiness/smoky honeyness but gentle and swoonsome with it. In fact it’s staggering stuff, working its way to a clearing of Beatles-y psychedelic cello, to which are applied otherworldly harmonies that sound drenched in sunny good vibes yet are also beautifully discordant in a way that just has Rocksucker grasping for superlatives. What a way to announce yourself.
The second, “Be Still”, is a tender little lullaby with just simple organ chords for accompaniment, but Dennis’s heartfelt vocal points the way forward to things like “Be With Me” and “Forever”. Brian’s “Busy Doin’ Nothin'” is along with the title track perhaps the most instantly striking number on the album, weaving as it does a strange kind of tropicalia powered by low flute that sounds almost like brass, and a set of lyrics that although mundane on paper (they include directions to his home via a series of turnings and physical landmarks, and an account of him forgetting someone’s number, thinking about it and then remembering it again) could with its cheerily sleepy melody not possibly be any more endearing. Quietly one of Brian’s finest compositions, it is.
“Diamond Head” credits Al Vescovo, Lyle Ritz and Jim Ackley amongst its writers, but that swoonsome Hawaiian guitar is unmistakably Brian, the kind of thing that inspired Sean O’Hagan’s wonderful High Llamas every bit as much as Pet Sounds. It dissolves into trippy wilderness and re-emerges as an inquisitive ukulele strum, because it bloody well can, that’s why. Finally we have Mike’s unmysteriously titled “Transcendental Meditation”, co-written with Brian and Al and featuring a Brian lead vocal so discordantly loopy that you can almost here the woodshop clacking and the sirens blaring.
Friends is on its surface an unremarkable little album, but get involved in it and you might realise that it is in fact a 25-minute master class of deceptively simple songwriting from some of the greatest craftsmen and performers of their time or any other.
That’s Why God Made the Radio is out now on Capitol. For more information, please visit thebeachboys.com