Bad Vibrations: The 6 Worst Beach Boys Tracks

Beach Boys

The Beach Boys have a justified place among pop music’s pantheon of all-time greats, and Brian Wilson is one of the few songwriters of the past half-century who can be mentioned in the same breath as Lennon and McCartney and Burt Bacharach.

However…

Like most pop acts of the era (the Beatles being the notable exception) the Beach Boys were also a product of their time in that their early albums contained “filler” tracks. You see, until albums like Revolver began to focus listeners’ attention more on the long-play album as a potentially more significant pop music canvas, it was all about the 45″ single. The little records with the big holes were the measure of an artist’s success; albums were mostly an afterthought–a hit song, maybe two, served up along with a batch of sub-par, often rush-recorded tunes to take a little more cash from the more dedicated fans.

This is not to mention Capitol Records’ proclivities for packaging (and re-packaging, and re-re-packaging) the work of their roster of artists in the most egregious and artistically-demeaning ways to make an extra buck or three. One Beach Boys bootleg box set acknowledges this in its title, Capitol Punishment. That’s why they call it the record business I guess.

The Beach Boys recorded a staggering five albums within an eighteen-month span in the early-to-mid 60’s. Looking back, the results would have been better had it been four. Nestled between the “Don’t Worry Baby”s and the “Surfer Girl”s were some first class turds. They weren’t all songs per se, which is why the word “tracks” is used in this post’s title.

The excellence of their classic material has been justifiably lauded at length. It’s time someone focused on the lowest low points.

So, to borrow a phrase from Elvis Costello, let’s take a look at the other side of summer:

1) “‘Cassius’ Love Vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson”

A mock studio battle breaks out between Mike Love and Brian Wilson. Nothing here sounds staged at all–just a little behind-the-curtain snapshot of a Beach Boys session.

This one’s positively painful to hear.

mike love

2) “Denny’s Drums”

Yeah, the Beach Boys had a drumming sibling. But there’s a reason Brian tended to employ ace Wrecking Crew drummers for sessions instead. This two-minute solo (thought to be the first recorded by a member of a vocal group) is something you’ll hear bettered by some 12-year-old the next time you walk through the drum section of your neighborhood music store.

3) “Our Favorite Recording Sessions”

Not half as embarrassing as “‘Cassius’ Love Vs. “Sonny” Wilson”, this track seems to depict actual candid studio banter. But that doesn’t mean it was a good idea to put it on an album. The Beatles kept the banter private, and so were able to heighten the mystery as to what the process of recording legendary albums was really like–and Capitolize (sorry) by releasing six CDs worth of the Anthology series to fans starved for anything unfamiliar. Oh, and the ‘Cassius’ Lennon Vs. ‘Sonny’ McCartney stuff was infused into really good songs like “Too Many People” and “How Do You Sleep”.

4) “Louie, Louie”

It was simply ill-advised and supremely unnecessary to cover a song that had been done in such definitive, ragged glory by the Kingsmen, not to mention a hundred other garagier bands than the ‘Boys.

5) “Bull Session with Big Daddy”

boys

Taken in context, this unfocused, rambling semi-interview with Teen Set magazine editor Earl Leaf–with food delivered mid-discussion apparently–is the most wince-inducing of all. The reason is that it closes what was side two of the Beach Boys Today album and follows five of the more sublime ballads in the band’s cannon. Whatever mood Brian’s gorgeous crooning and aching lyrics have induced is pulverized in about 2.5 seconds.

6) “County Fair”

With lines like “the most specialist girl I knew”, an annoying fair barker and a more annoying girlfriend whining about winning her a koala bear “Oooohh! Come on, baby!”, this is the opposite of “Fun, Fun, Fun” and serves to make a county fair sound like a teenage boy’s worst nightmare. Oddly enough, this one’s not a concert encore.

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