Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Beach Boys Friends (1968)


Note: already after I’ve finished writing this review, I suddenly remembered that a weird former part of myself actually already wrote a review of this album, and not on the Prindle site.

I checked it out and was excited to learn I still share a lot of those opinions, but since there were a few actual differences, plus, the old review’s style was a bit, er, obsolete, to put it roughly, after some inner debates I decided to keep the new one after all. Here’s a link to the old classic weird review, then (see the Friends entry, of course).

Back to the new one, now. After Wild Honey, I guess it was obvious that the Beach Boys had entirely given up on competition of any sorts, and both of last year’s albums had cemented the “dated” image of the boys so firmly in the public opinion that it was impossible to compete anyway. In this respect, I don’t think Brian ever had any illusions about potential success when he and the boys were recording Friends.

The album seems to go entirely against the trends and norms of 1968, in almost every single respect, even more so than the Kinks. It’s abysmally short, about twenty five minutes long, bringing back the era of Surfin’ Safari. It’s based on singles. It’s drastically underproduced, with many of the tunes employing just a single organ pattern or a trivial piano-bass interplay. Worse of all, it’s softer than any other record released at the time – rock record, at least, if we’re to consider the Beach Boys a rock band.

But it’s a good record, twenty five minutes of calm, quiet, and exceptionally tuneful relaxation. It’s just that the record is so stripped down that at times I get the feeling I’m listening to Smiley Smile again. Fortunately, it is not so: all of the compositions on here are all very well thought-out and finished, all of them joining together in one intentional package of briefness, charm and soothingness. It just takes time to get into; a time and a mood. Unfortunately, so far I haven’t yet had a chance to get into the required mood, but I’ll try to fake it.
After all, there’s a time for everything, and just because I haven’t been patient enough to wait for the time for Friends, do you think I can bash a good album just like that? No way!

I can bash certain songs, though. Like almost everybody, I can, will and even feel myself obliged to bash the chitlins out of ‘Transcendental Meditation’, one of the band’s lowest points of the epoch. What an ugly and dumb way to end the record – with a two-minute pseudo-rocker based on discordant jazzy brass work and corny, sappy vocals that have absolutely nothing to do with transcendental meditation. The only excuse I can take for the existence of the song is that it has to be taken tongue-in-cheek, based on the Beach Boys’ unhappy experience of touring with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. If they ever wanted to make fun of his doctrine, they couldn’t have taken a better route… and even so, it still sucks.

More arguable would be my dismissal of the two compositions by Dennis. Despite the hugely laudable liner notes about Dennis’ enormous creative potential and beautiful voice, I can only say that (a) if Dennis ever had a potential in the first place, it wouldn’t start coming out until a couple of albums later and (b) out of all the Beach Boys’ voices, his is undeniably the worst – not exactly lacking expression, but very insecure of itself and, well, ordinary compared to the rest. ‘Little Bird’ is at least upbeat in its own humble way, but ‘Be Still’ just passes me by like a stone: minimalistic organ notes and near a cappella singing in that shaky tone don’t really make up for substantial listening.

So let’s stick to the real thing, shall we? There are nine more songs, which all rule in one of the nine possible ways. Way number one: take the same minimalist organ pattern as in ‘Be Still’, but supplement it with a great emotional vocal hook and cute backing vocals and make a half-minute intro. That’s ‘Meant For You’, as gorgeous an introduction to an album that there ever was.

Way number two: make up a cheerful, delightful waltz that will make you feel at home even if you’re listening to it through a gap in Lucifer’s jaws. That’s the title track. Way number three: to punch up some emotionality, take a music-hall melody and play it in a minor key to put an inch of melancholy into the pudding (‘Wake The World’). Way number four: sing a song in a pitch higher than everything you did before (‘Be Here In The Morning’). And so on…

I’ll just mention three songs more because there are substantial things I think I can say about ’em. ‘Passing By’, although instrumental, is also one of the very best instrumentals ever recorded by the band. Unlike the early obligatory surf send-ups or the “experimental for the sake of experimentation” stuff on Pet Sounds, this one has a really interesting original melody that’s just as soothing as everything else on here but doesn’t suffer from cheaply penned lyrics. Cool harmony lines, oh so cool harmony lines, too. Next: ‘Anna Lee The Healer’ is beautiful.

A bit McCartneyesque in style, and I could care less if Mike Love’s lyrics are ridiculous beyond belief, set out to celebrate the talents of a masseuse of all people. Finally, ‘Diamond Head’ is another instrumental and one of the weirdest ones they ever did. Who said experimentation days are over? It describes a Hawaiian landmark and does so in a million different ways and so vivaciously I really gape in awe. Listen to the sound effects, the slide guitars, the complex percussion, the way the melodies fade out and come back in a different way… a whole world of its own.

And that’s about it. I know I mentioned the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society in the previous review already, but I can’t help but make a comparison again – this album is the equivalent, with the nice charming rural atmosphere overwhelming the listener. Even the album cover with all the ‘green’ overtones brings on associations. Needless to say, both albums sank equally low at the time… and were replaced on the pedestal as time went by.

Still, let us not forget Friends is not a masterpiece – too short, too much filler for such a short album, and, well, hey, it’s no Pet Sounds, you know, as banal as it sounds.

June 18, 2013 Posted by | The Beach Boys Friends | | Leave a comment