Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!)
After the cohesive album statement of Today!, The Beach Boys lowered their artistic standards with Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!). Released just months after Today!, it’s a curious mixture of inconsequential material with bizarre lyrical preoccupations (amusement parks, Salt Lake City), and absolutely brilliant pieces of music that were Wilson’s best yet. It seems obvious that Mike Love is the person to blame for dross like ‘The Girl From New York City’, ‘Amusement Parks U.S.A.’ (doing for America’s theme parks what ‘Surfing Safari’ did for her beaches) and ‘Salt Lake City’; no matter how strong Wilson’s melodies and arrangements are, these songs still feel inconsequential. ‘Salt Lake City’ was a deliberate sales pitch to their large fan base in Utah; it’s surprisingly crass even by Love’s standards.
Wilson only gets a handful of lead vocals, including the uncomfortably confessional ‘I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man’, where he complains of his father’s domination. It’s delivered as comedy, but given Wilson’s real life situation (his deafness in his left ear was a result of his father punching him) it’s far more macabre than it should be. There’s a fantastic core of four songs in the middle of the album that makes it worthwhile even if the rest is spotty. ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ was 19 year old Carl Wilson’s first lead vocal, and it was long overdue; even in this band of uniformly talented singers, he was arguably the best. The composition is derivative of contemporary Beatles tunes (‘Ticket To Ride’ in particular), but it has a simple grace and chugs along nicely. The finished version of ‘Help Me Rhonda’ is a huge improvement on the Today! version, dispensing with the weird gimmicks, such as the modulating volume on the fade, and providing a classic single. Wilson himself cites the mini-symphonic intro to ‘California Girls’ as his favourite piece of music that he recorded, and it is absolutely gorgeous; a seemingly unrelated piece of orchestration builds perfectly into the song, providing another pop masterpiece. And finally, ‘Let Him Run Wild’ is a ballad that would have fitted perfectly into Today!, and would have been a highlight to boot. Other highlights towards the end of album include a beautiful orchestral piece, ‘Summer Means New Love’, and the a capella closer ‘And Your Dreams Come True’.
In some ways Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!) is the quintessential Beach Boys album; it feels summer drenched, while there’s a very tangible sense of Brian Wilson’s genius being dragged down by record company expectations of timely and marketable material and the crassness of Mike Love.