Thursday, 22 October 2015

7 inch singles collection: The Beach Boys - California Dreamin'

Harmonies and California it must be


A-Side: California Dreamin'
B-Side: Lady Liberty
(Capitol 1986)      

I reckon that most people would think that there are three distinct eras of The Beach Boys - the first when they released all the famous stuff about surfing, cars, and girls, the second era is when they were doing thing innovative and new, making Lennon & McCartney jealous, and being critical favourites. The third era that follows is basically everything else. This is possible a little harsh especially as the first two eras together make up no more than about 8 years, and the third era is coming on to at least 45 years. So let's look at this third era in a bit more detail, and I think this can again be neatly subdivided into 3 parts. The first of these I think we can label "The Seventies" without too much argument. The Beach Boys were still putting out new, and often interesting, and occasionally very good material. A lot of it veered off into soft rock, a genre which has always had limited critical or commercial cachet. After this period there were still original and new records - although with less frequency, and it has to be said less good records. It's during this period that there seems to start up a lot of in-fighting over who owns the name of the band, and whether it's better to just live off performing on the oldies, or doing new material - I'd say that this seems to be another 10 or so years. After that things fall apart Mike takes the name and Bruce Johnston and tours all the old hits, Brian goes off and does his own mercurial thing, Al's left touring with a band that may have contained people who were session musicians and part of the touring line-up of The Beach Boys at some point in the past, and Carl and Denis are deceased - this is the current period it seems to be made up of the band suing and counter-suing each other, then getting back together for brief friendly reunions, and one-off records, then falling apart again.

It's towards the latter end of the second of the periods in the "everything else" era that California Dreamin' was released. On paper it makes quite a bit of sense it's a song about California, and is all close harmony - two things that practically define The Beach Boys. Another thing that I think you will all agree with me on is that the original version of California Dreamin' is a most magnificent song - so deciding to cover it is going to take something special. The best cover versions always bring something new to a song, shake it up a bit, with new arrangements and stylings, and it's to The Beach Boys credit that they try to do it that here. They go for a rockier feel, with thudding drums, twanging guitars and a decent sax solo, they also up the tempo of the song slightly - and they nearly pull it off, but not quite; they've lost the melancholic, isolated feel of the original, and the absence of female voices as a counterpoint to the males harmonies is something that lets this version down. It's never going to match The Mamas and The Papas original version, but I've heard worse versions. (If I ever get through this blog plan in full I've got a delightfully bad disco version - something for you to look forward to!)

Lady Liberty on the flip-side is based on a piece of music by J.S.Bach, I'm sure Bach purists will see this as a bit of sacrilege, however I'm not being a Bach purist so I have no problem on this front. I am however a Beach Boys purist and the fact that this is a re-write of possibly the best track from their 1979 album L.A.(The Light Album). [I'd strongly recommend you go out and listen to this album, because if I can't abuse my position as a trusted blogger by trying to get my readers to listen to a hard to find mediocre Beach Boys album, then what's the point]. Anyway Lady Lynda is a heartfelt and tender love song, Lady Liberty is a song of jingoism going on about the stuff that we should identify with America - you know the sort of the thing truth, justice, apple pie, high school massacres, etc. Even going as far as to quote, in a spoken word bit, the old "Give me you tired..." bit of polemic that's written on the Statue of Liberty. Tunewise it's a nice little number - not entirely down to Bach - it's got an engaging bassline, and a lightness of tone that is quite sweet - but with the re-written patriotic lyrics it goes beyond sweet and into saccharine

All in all an odd record that takes two better songs and makes them worse - one slightly, one even more so. A shame, but probably seemed like a good idea at the time, a cry to the general public that The Beach Boys were still around.

Next time something about suicide...

1 comment:

  1. Make Me Happy I Remember Everything We Had In Many Years
    Ago God Bless In My Life We Had So Hard Great Job Friends Mine
    Yes I Remember!!!