Good Vibrations: Best of the Beach Boys (1975)

The Beach Boys success after 1966 was rather spotty.  They could still place singles on the chart but their albums didn’t race up the charts like they used to.  After Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys sales picture changed.

In 1975, the Beach Boys released Good Vibrations, on their new Brother Records label, that pulled together a set of their strongest tracks from the past decade.  While their new material struggled in the marketplace, repackaging their old material turned out to be bonanza.  Endless Summer and Spirit of America, each two-disc sets, were massive successes of their pre-1966 material.

Good Vibrations, which was released after the other two sets, didn’t chart as high but is a solid single disc of their best material.  All of the songs were co-written by Brian Wilson, but during this period, other members of the band emerged as prolific writers, mainly because Wilson retreated from the group for periods of time and the Beach Boys needed material to record to meet the terms of their recording contracts.

The songs on this album are outstanding, maybe not the radio candy that their 1962-1965 period was, but these are strong pop songs and still carried a healthy portion of the Brian Wilson magic.

You’ll notice that Wilson had a variety of co-writers, not just Mike Love, his frequent lyricist from the early period.  Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks co-wrote many of these songs, which moved beyond teenage love and fast cars.

Side 1

No.      Title     Original album          Length

  1. “Sail On, Sailor” (Brian Wilson/Tandyn Almer/Jack Rieley/Ray Kennedy/Van Dyke Parks) Holland, 1973   3:18  This song has quite a disputed history, according to co-writer Van Dyke Parks.  With four credited writers, there were disagreements about who wrote what, but Van Dyke Parks has the strongest memory of the composition.  The album Holland was rejected by the record company as not having a single, so Parks led the effort to finish this song.  Blondie Chaplin sang lead, and apparently Wilson didn’t even appear on it.  It is a beautiful song and shows the Beach Boys maturity.
  2. “Sloop John B” (Traditional; arranged by Brian Wilson) Pet Sounds, 1966    2:56  Al Jardine loved the track, it had been around for many years.  Included on Pet Sounds, but wasn’t recorded for the album.
  3. “God Only Knows” (B. Wilson/Tony Asher) Pet Sounds   2:50  Lead vocal by Carl Wilson, instruments by the Wrecking Crew.  One of the most beautiful of the Beach Boys songs.  Wilson wrote that he structured the song much differently than rock songs, more like classical music.  Strangely, the song was released as the B-side of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
  4. “Darlin'” (B. Wilson/Mike Love) Wild Honey, 1967  2:12  Carl Wilson on lead, it was a single from the album that reached number 19.  Mostly non-Beach Boy musicians on the song.  It has that Beach Boy vibrant energy. Not quite a classic but close.
  5. “Add Some Music to Your Day” (B. Wilson/M. Love/Joe Knott) Sunflower, 1970   3:34  Very much a Beach Boys song, they all played and sang on it.  Good, but not great.
  6. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (B. Wilson/T. Asher/M. Love) Pet Sounds   2:22  A classic, and one of their best arranged songs, including the bridge section.  Wilson used non-traditional instruments usually found in an orchestra.  The sophistication of the composition and arrangement show Wilson’s growth as a composer.

Side 2

No.      Title     Original album          Length

  1. “Good Vibrations” (B. Wilson/M. Love) Smiley Smile, 1967  3:35  Their million selling single, perhaps their grandest creation.  This was released after Pet Sounds and included on Smiley Smile.
  2. “Do It Again” (B. Wilson/M. Love) 20/20, 1969   2:25  Written in the style of their earilier music, Love reached back to the surfing days for inspiration.  This is a competent Beach Boys song but a minor hit.  It reached number 20 on the chart.
  3. “Caroline, No” (B. Wilson/T. Asher) Pet Sounds   2:18  According to the recording notes, Wilson’s favorite ballad.  Lushly arranged. Wilson sings lead.
  4. “Friends” (B. Wilson/Carl Wilson/Dennis Wilson/Al Jardine) Friends, 1968   2:30  Pleasant, but not a spectacular song, it has a nice melody, but slight by Beach Boy standards. Wilson called this album his favorite Beach Boys album.  Considering the fresh, experimental music of 1968, Friends is a fairly weak musical effort.
  5. “Surf’s Up” (B. Wilson/V.D. Parks) Surf’s Up, 1971   4:11  Al Jardine on lead, it is one of the nicer post-Pet Sounds melodies.  It is a gentle, pleasing song with layered voices.  Close, but not quite a classic.
  6. “Heroes and Villains” (B. Wilson/V.D. Parks)  3:36  The intended follow-up to “Good Vibrations,” This song was supposed to be the hub for the Smile album that imploded and was not finished.  Brian Wilson recorded this song for the cobbled together album called Smiley Smile.  The failure of the original album greatly contributed to Wilson’s ongoing mental crisis that sidelined him for years.  “Heroes and Villains” did not crack the top ten.  A good song but not in the league of “Good Vibrations.”

Aside from Pet Sounds, if you comb through the various Beach Boys albums during this period you’ll find a few minor gems, in addition to these songs.  The album, Carl and the Passions, is completely ignored for this collection.  “This is That” is equal to or better than a few of the tracks on Good Vibrations.  There are no songs written by other band members not co-written by Brian Wilson on this album.  Dennis Wilson in particular, was writing and “Little Bird” and “Forever” are decent efforts.  Bruce Johnston’s “Disney Girls (1957)” is a bonafide hit, but not included on this album.

Good Vibrations is the best of Brian Wilson’s compositions, which is still the gold standard.  You could play it side-to-side and not be disappointed.

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