Mar 092008

Let’s take all psychiatric illnesses out of the equation. Let’s say The Beach Boys had been able to continue making records with Brian Wilson operating at the mental faculties he’d had in play through Pet Sounds. Let’s say Mike Love‘s geeky side didn’t develop into a full-blown annoyance and Hal Blaine continued drumming for Dennis Wilson. Let’s say Carl was allowed to be simply Carl, with no expectations to pick up the slack for Brian. Let’s say John Stamos never began showing up onstage with the band. How much more gas was left in The Beach Boys’ tank?

Do the dozen charming, humble numbers in the years that followed Pet Sounds and the “Good Vibrations” single point toward any further musical growth, or would the band, even in the best of circumstances, have peaked no later than they did, carrying on for however long like any number of great rock ‘n roll bands that had worked their magic for all it was worth (eg, The Rolling Stones), or would they have found a higher plane yet given their musical abilities and songwriting palette?


  13 Responses to “Endless Summer or Inevitable Bummer?”

  1. This hypothetical question hinges on the assumption that one thinks that they were any good to begin with…

  2. Mr. Moderator

    Ouch! But point taken…

  3. I think the question is could Brian Wilsom adapt his sound to electrified rock? Given his prior success at assimilating diffent cultural trends and musical influences, I believe the answer is yes.

    Most likely, Brian would go solo and make at least one more great album, although it might be too out there to gain popular acclaim.

  4. Well does the question include what would happen had Brain completed SMiLE? Why, Paul McCartney would go crazy, and Sgt. Pepper would fall apart and be released as Sgt. Peppers Smiley Smile Club Band.

    I think Brian Wilson could’ve gone further musically, or at least remain consistant for a few years afterwards. I mean, for all it’s awful production, Love and Mercy is a GREAT song, easily on the same level as Pet Sounds era stuff. I could easily imagine another classic album following Pet Sounds or SMiLE.

    And then of course, Brian would probably go solo, release some good albums, go through some rut, have Phil Collins produce a god awful ‘comeback’ album in 1986. You know, the same ol’ McCartney routine.

  5. general slocum

    I’m with Mr. Clean. Of all the “what ifs” in the world I can’t spend the time thinking through, this is a primo example. There are artists, as we’ve discussed here several times, that you just don’t get, in spite of friends you respect digging them. The Beach Boys never even knocked at the door for me. No song ever made me think, “Wow. If only they didn’t kill that buzz by…” There has yet to be that one instance of fun for me.

  6. BigSteve

    This is one of the great mysteries of life that I would never have known about without the internet — that sensible people with otherwise good taste in music don’t ‘get’ the Beach Boys. Not one instance? I’m flummoxed, but no longer surprised.

  7. alexmagic

    I still think the core of the Beach Boys’ fan base and record companies would have made it hard for them to ever truly get out of doing songs about surfing and beaches, especially with Love still a dominant personality and happy to go that route. There’d probably be more interesting ‘70s weirdness in the presented scenario as occasional concessions are made to exploring new ideas, but I think all it would get us is in the end a somewhat healthier Brian Wilson eventually palling around on the set of Full House doing some Bullwinkle impressions with Dave Coulier.

    Unless we’re talking a full-on alternate dimension Brian Wilson here – possibly with a goatee – to step up and force some changes, I can’t help but think there were too many things that were pointing the Beach Boys to where they ended up, especially if they were going to keep touring and playing live. One of the strengths of the Beatles was that they could force people to redefine what was expected out of them, and the Beach Boys seemed to have lacked the ability or desire to do the same. Hence, the inevitability of Stamos.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    You’ve summed up my feelings, as well, Alexmagic. BigSteve, you also have touched on some feelings that I didn’t expect getting out of this post. I simply think they exhausted their palette with “Good Vibrations”, mental illnesses and Mike Love beside the point.

  9. Maybe the real problem with this what-if is that the answer is too obvious. Why should the Beach Boys or Brian Wilson be any different than anyone else? Of course, he/they wouldn’t do anything to match 1962-1966. No one else did either.

    It’s a thread or two of its own but that time was a perfect storm era. The time was right for the undeniably great artists of the era to make a huge impact. There was nowhere to go but down and that’s where everyone went. People, including myself, are fond of saying that the best of Dylan post-motorcycle crash is one helluva career and it’s true. But it pales before 1961-1966 Dylan. As great as Sgt. Pepper and what followed were, the Fabs peaked before that.

    After that, what are artists supposed to do? What’s the next step when you are already the voice of a generation or bigger than Jesus? Tread water, dabble in other genres, do a covers album, a classical piece? And after you’ve done all of those, then what? How do you have a 40+ year career and maintain the heights of what these artists achieved in the early ‘60s? It’s not possible.

  10. Am I the only one here besides thegreat48 and BigSteve who thinks they did all right for themsleves, at least up until 1973, even without these hypothetical scenarios? And also, there was plenty of ’70s weirdness (a lot of it due to Brian), as many of you I’m sure already know. Great question, though, and one for which I don’t have an answer.

  11. no Berlyant, you’re not the only one. I agree with you completely. Mental Illness(not just Brian’s, Mike’s and Dennis’ too) was a necessary part of their whacked trajectory, just as heroin was for Iggy’s. Surf’s Up(71)
    Is my favorite Beach Boys album. I’m not saying it’s good,but it’s my favorite.

  12. no Berlyant, you’re not the only one. I agree with you completely. Mental Illness(not just Brian’s, Mike’s and Dennis’ too) was a necessary part of their whacked trajectory, just as heroin was for Iggy’s. Surf’s Up(71)
    Is my favorite Beach Boys album. I’m not saying it’s good,but it’s my favorite.

    Well if I had to pick a favorite, it would be a toss up between Friends, Sunflower, the very underrated Holland and Love You. I’m not saying that those are their best albums, but they’re certainly the ones I’ve played the most. I find Surf’s Up to be maddeningly inconsistent actually. On one hand, it’s got amazing stuff like “Til I Die”, the title track (though I prefer the ’66 version) and slightly lesser but still great stuff like “Long Promised Road” and “Disney Girls (1957)”, but on the other hand it’s got some of the worst stuff Mike and Al ever came up with (specifically “Student Demonstration Time”, though “Take a Load Off Your Feet” and “Don’t Go Near the Water” are weak as well).

    I’m intrigued to hear why you think Mike was mentally ill, though. I mean it’s generally accepted that he’s a prick, a womanizer (married 8 or 9 times), gullible (i.e. his long running fascination with The Maharishi) and more recently, that he’s dragged the Beach Boys name into the mud, but I never found him to be as nuts as either Brian or Dennis, to say the least.

  13. I love Student Demonstration Time.
    Maybe he’s not crazy, but he sure is an extreme personality.

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