Brian Wilson: Sure, Pet Sounds Is Great, But Have You Heard Beach Boys Party!?

Brian Wilson is not a great interview. Actually, the best quote I can pull from 10 painful minutes of taped conversation between me and my all-time favorite musician is this:

"Print that Brian says: 'Please, come out to my concert.'"

On the surface, that's probably the worst quote any music journalist has ever published. However, it's also maybe the best, because it sums up pretty much everything you need to know in advance of a concert by the legendary genius behind The Beach Boys.

Brian Wilson: His second-best work is totally underappreciated.
Brian Wilson: His second-best work is totally underappreciated.

Listen up, everyone: Brian Wilson has asked you, in a fashion both polite and timely, to attend his concert. Are you going to deny him?

You could not — or, at least, you should not — because it's Brian fucking Wilson. The Roman Catholic's current canonization procedure requires but one otherwise inexplicable miracle in a prospective saint's name. Brian Wilson has two: one you know well, one you probably don't.

Pet Sounds, obviously, is Brian Wilson's best-known work. The 1966 masterpiece has been called the best rock record ever made by most of the top British music mags — NME, The Times and Mojo among them. America's top source for all things '60s, Rolling Stone, in a perhaps non-coincidental case of reverse homerism, put it at number two, behind Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pet Sounds is, of course, the first record the Cameron Crowe character pulls out of the stack under his bed in Almost Famous, the collection of hand-me-down vinyl that will "set him free." I'm not going to write another word about Pet Sounds; chances are you know what you need to about the record.

However, I submit to you that the Beach Boys album preceding Pet Sounds is also a true masterpiece, deserving of enshrinement in the National Recording Registry alongside it's more famous sibling. That record, Beach Boys Party!, is something of an obscurity. Chances are you haven't heard it. Actually, I hadn't even heard it until three years ago, and I'm the music critic making a case for Wilson's sainthood here. Now, though, I tell every Pet Sounds fanboy I know to get a copy. Because while Beach Boys Party! is maybe not equal to Pet Sounds, its certainly the second-best Beach Boys record ever made (sorry, Smile) and is undeniably unique, with a certain magical quality all its own.

In a nutshell, Party! is a faux live record with 12 songs, clocking in at just over a half-hour. Among those songs are several Beach Boys hits, three Beatles covers, a Bob Dylan cover, and versions of a few old rock 'n' roll standards like "Hully Gully" and "Mountain of Love." Party! is all acoustic, and all the tracks are mixed together with between-song dialogue, clapping, and catcalls, to make it sound like one continuous take. The album is a highly stylized imitation bootleg that's almost too fun and loose to be a commercial release, which is probably why it was a surprise hit with curious consumers when it first came out 45 years ago this November.

Moreover, Party! is essentially a genre unto itself: a live acoustic "party" album that functions as the realization of the ultimate fantasy of every dude who picks up his guitar and starts playing by the backyard campfire at a late-fall get-together, or anyone who sits by him to listen, hoping to be blown away.

Actually, the best listening experience I've had with the album (and maybe any other album, for that matter) came when I blared it from my buddy Seth's cabin while our gang of friends hung out around the campfire, talking and drinking. In the dark woods, with a few stiff drinks in me, it was like attending a party where The Beach Boys at their peak were playing inside. If that's not my cornfield in Iowa, I don't know what is.

The record starts with "Hully Gully," a minor hit by The Olympics in 1959, which Wilson pulled off the scrap heap. Like the rest of the record, it's self-consciously lo-fi but actually perfectly mixed by Brian's golden ear at its peak, around the same time he recorded his universally beloved masterpiece. The simple percussion comes from bongos, while Mike Love takes the lead vocals and Brian calls out instructions to his younger brother Carl, the group's lead guitarist. As it unfolds, you can almost see the girls in the crowd — sun-baked California blondes wearing modish miniskirts, I'd imagine — shimmying along.

The second track, a cover of The Beatles' "I Should've Known Better" is where things shift to the next gear. Though some critics have dismissed The Beach Boys' use of three Beatles covers here as a cheap attempt to move records, I find it astonishingly brave. These were, after all, two of the most vital groups of the era, though some fans and critics (who hadn't yet heard Pet Sounds, mind you) seemed desperate to condemn The Beach Boys to the junkpile of other pre-Beatlemania American rock groups who'd outlived their purpose. Looking back now, though, what "Should've Known" and the following track, "Tell Me Why," do is give a priceless sense of time and place. Like everyone, The Beach Boys were listening to The Beatles and playing Beatles songs for each other. Maybe not Mike Love, who was always the proudest Beach Boy and, at 24 years old, probably a little too old for Beatlemania. But certainly the younger Carl Wilson and Al Jardine, who share the lead vocals. Someone hits "record" and we get Beach Boys harmonies and Beatles melodies: The most perfect marriage of '60s-style pop music possible.

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11 comments
Modern Otter
Modern Otter

Oh man-- you didn't even mention "Party's" out-an-out best track, the magnificent cover of The Crystals' "There's No Other Like My Baby."

ozarksbeachboy
ozarksbeachboy

Speaking as a Beach Boy/Brian Wilson fanatic from way back I agree the Party! never has received its due. Calling it "2nd best" may be a stretch, but the album IS addictive. Besides the campfire idea try listening to it if you have a long car trip alone...you won't feel alone and if you don't end up singing along you're just not alive. I have read in various accounts that Wilson never could embrace Barbara Ann or Party! because it was obviously a commercial ploy by Capitol Records that ran against the Pet Sounds direction Wilson was taking his music. But, as beautiful as Pet Sounds is, it was the pure pop sounds of the band's early years that gave them new life in the 70's on the heels of American Graffiti. To hear a great band performing great pop songs (whether they wrote them or not) is timeless. So what if life were reduced to a "malt shop with a cherry on top"? That wouldn't be all bad to have some optimism for a change. Many modern acts have covered various Beach Boy songs through the years (country singer Collin Raye sounds great on Sloop John B), and I wish more would. To end this rambling tale I wish to convey that you're "dead solid perfect" (sorry Dan Jenkins) correct on Beach Boys Party!

Reuben888
Reuben888

Good article. But like the others I don't agree that "Party!" is The Beach Boys second best album. But it's nice to see a music writer praise something other than "Pet Sounds" & "Smile" by looking further into their great catalog. (I personally would say that "Sunflower" is their second best album)

Would you say Nirvana's second best album is "Unplugged"? Never.

suck it
suck it

another dumb article

mark
mark

Maybe if I'd been with you at the campsite where you played this record, I'd be as stoked about it as you are. Don't get me wrong, Party is a fun album, it's just not a classic to be compared with Pet Sounds. SMiLE is the obvious choice, but since you dismiss it I'll also suggest Beach Boys Today album, which for my money has the most amazing harmony vocals of all. Kiss Me Baby, I'm So Young, Please Let Me Wonder - WOW. Plus 4 hits on Side 1. It even has "Bull Session" which sounds like they're setting up for the Party album. And "In the Back of My Mind" is a great lead-in to Pet Sounds. But next time I'll play Party outside with friends and beers and see how it goes.

newtardo
newtardo

To answer your question, yes I've heard it. I own it. It's good, it has good moments. I wouldn't ever consider it "second" best BB album though. IMO there are a number of others that could take that spot. Smile to me doesn't count because it wasn't really released.

azecho
azecho

i like the casual acoustic feel of the songs on "party" but the "studio cheese" between songs was/is always a bit much for me to take. The number of covers on the album suggests to me "party" was merely a filler album to appease their record company who wanted to get "new" product on the shelf. all of the above usually equates to a disaster and "party" certainly isn't a total loss. For my money, i'd put "today" or even "sunflower" as their second best album...

Martin Cizmar
Martin Cizmar

Let me ask you gentlemen this: Have you actually listened to this record?

newtardo
newtardo

Eh, I don't think a in-studio manufactured "party" album of covers could count as the second best Beach Boy's Album. I personally like listening to Friends & 20/20 more than Pet Sounds. Certainly those could be "second" best.

 
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