Monday, April 23, 2012

Beach Boys 2: Endless Summer

Much like Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys were already a caricature by the time the post baby-boom generation knew who they were. And like Elvis, they deserve better than to be written off in that way.
Those youngsters who’d study the history of rock ‘n roll would learn about how Pet Sounds was their best album, and how the follow-up, Smile, was never completed despite its destiny as music that rivaled the Beatles’ best moments. They undoubtedly would also have found it odd that a band known best from Sunkist orange soda commercials could be spoken of so reverently. This could be reinforced by the popularity of Endless Summer, a well-sequenced compilation of songs about girls, cars, surfing and the beach.
It was a timely set; the band was gaining some of their old acclaim back as an excellent touring outfit, and with the trend started by Sha Na Na, American Graffiti, Grease (the Broadway version) and Happy Days, nostalgia was okay, particularly if it was back to a time of on-the-surface innocence. So it was that one of the most successful albums of 1974 was a compilation of previously released material that was about ten years old at the time. While the Beach Boys may not have been burning up the charts with their current work, their old label, never shy about cashing in, hit pay dirt with Endless Summer.
It doesn’t have every single classic from the early days, but certainly covers most of the period before Brian Wilson took over the studio and the band’s albums became solo projects with the guys singing. There’s a mild progression in chronology, but not so you’d notice. Side one is mostly about surfing, as evidenced in the song titles, including a couple of slow numbers. Side two covers driving and high school, with “In My Room” providing an excellent portrait of the American teenager. Side three gets a touch more sophisticated musically, particularly by the inclusion of “Let Him Run Wild” and “Don’t Worry Baby”, two of Brian’s best productions. Side four is all upbeat singalongs, from “California Girls” to the closing throwback of “All Summer Long”.
Probably the worst thing we can say about the album is the artwork, as we doubt even the band members themselves would be able to clarify who was who. It evokes a mental image of too much time in the sun, right about the middle of August when the humidity has become unbearable, your skin blistered from sunburn and the pungent stench of Noxzema and Caladryl. Luckily, that goes away when the music starts. Endless Summer follows through on its premise, with 20 songs in under an hour. The CD version would add “Good Vibrations” to the lineup, but by then the racks were glutted with redundant compilations, including the 1975 follow-up Spirit Of America. The album is now out of print, and while there are several “summer”-related Beach Boys titles that include many of the same tracks, the original 2-LP set has proven impossible to beat.

The Beach Boys Endless Summer (1974)—4
1988 CD reissue: same as 1974, plus 1 extra tracks
Current CD equivalent: none

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