The Beach Boys spent the first half of the 1960s becoming more sophisticated. Under the leadership of Brian Wilson, they grew from emulating Chuck Berry on ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ to creating masterpieces like Pet Sounds. When Brian Wilson’s mental health suffered after 1966’s Smile was shelved, The Beach Boys changed.
As Brian Wilson’s influence faded after 1966, the other members enjoyed more creative input. This was sometimes for the worse, as anyone who’s heard the Mike Love-written ‘Student Demonstration Time’ can attest. If you can handle some treacle, Bruce Johnston’s songs like ‘Disney Girls’ and ‘Deidre’ are enjoyable. Carl Wilson wasn’t prolific, but wrote gems like ‘Long Promised Road’ and ‘Feel Flows’. But surprisingly, the second-most creative Beach Boy was drummer Dennis Wilson. Dennis wasn’t a virtuoso drummer and his vocals were shaky and emotive. He emerged as a songwriter on 1968’s Friends, writing ‘Little Bird’ and ‘Be Still’.
1969’s 20/20 was a fascinating mishmash. ‘Cabinessence’ and ‘Our Prayer’ were slices of Brian Wilson genius resuscitated from Smile. The cover of Leadbelly’s ‘Cotton Fields’ felt like an attempt to relive the magic of ‘Sloop John B’, while Johnston’s ‘The Nearest Faraway Place’ was easy-listening lounge music. Most infamously, Dennis Wilson’s ‘Never Learn Not to Love’ was originally written by Charles Manson and titled ‘Cease To Exist’.
Dennis Wilson’s ‘Celebrate the News’ was recorded a fortnight after 20/20 was released. It was instead used on the b-side of the non-album single ‘Break Away’. The latter was written by Brian with his father Murry, and it’s a fine stab at a radio-friendly hit, evoking their early 1960s hits without being too self-consciously retro.
‘Celebrate the News’ is much more idiosyncratic – the opening section, based around an acoustic strum, is in 6/4 The second half ramps up into a more conventional 4/4 time signature, using the group’s harmonies. The quality of this live version is poor and is mostly the studio version. The live vocals are impressive, particularly Mike Love’s deep bass. Carl Wilson is on drums in the video.
Dennis Wilson went on to make the first (and arguably best) solo album to emerge from The Beach Boys’ camp. Pacific Ocean Blue was released in 1977 and showcased Wilson’s talents more effectively than scattered moments on Beach Boys albums. It only peaked at #96 on the US charts, but still out-perfomed contemporary Beach Boys albums. Frustratingly, Pacific Ocean Blue was out of print for much off the CD-era, but is now available. Dennis’ second album Bambu was shelved, as Wilson’s life disintegrated. He married Mike Love’s daughter, his first cousin once removed, in 1982, and drowned in 1983. He left a worthwhile legacy of music too, a strong solo album and a smattering of excellent Beach Boys tracks.