The Beach Boys
Beach Boy’ Party! Uncovered and Unplugged
“So, instead of being good, it’s gotta be entertaining.”
Brian Wilson makes this proclamation at the first recording session for what would be the Beach Boys’ classic album, Beach Boys Party!, which was the band’s tenth album in the four years since their formation. Recorded quickly in September of 1965, it was released less than six weeks later, just in time for the Christmas season, and is often seen as an anomaly between the conclusion of the first phase of the Beach Boys’ career and the start of the second. Conventional wisdom would later take Brian’s statement to heart. But it seems inconceivable that Wilson could do anything not good at this point in his career.
The double-disc Beach Boys Party! Uncovered and Unplugged, released in time for the album’s fiftieth anniversary, gives this popular but peculiar album a second look. Ostensibly recorded at a Beach Boys house party, the record was, in fact, merely loose jam sessions recorded with party sounds overdubbed in, with wives and girlfriends laughing and talking and bottles clinking and singing along in an oddly out-of-place kind of way. Even though the record might have seemed a bit of a toss-off, it would feature one of the band’s final smash hits, “Barbara Ann,” and would outsell the Pet Sounds masterpiece that was merely months away. What made the album intriguing for fans were the loose, fun takes on their “competition” and label mates, The Beatles, as well as rousing versions of songs by Bob Dylan (“The Times They Are a-Changin’”), The Crystals (“There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”), and The Everly Brothers (“Devoted To You”).
It was rumored at one point that Brian wanted to make the album a complete Beatles cover album, and though this set doesn’t necessarily prove that rumor, one does hear a completed take of “Ticket To Ride,” as well as snippets of “Eight Days a Week,” “Love Me Do,” “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” This set also adds excellent versions of “Don’t Worry Baby” and “California Girls,” as well as fun takes on Dion’s “Ruby Baby” and The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” as well as incomplete but fun jams on Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” and The McCoys “Hang On Sloopy,” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place at a party, and whose exclusion is a bit puzzling, as they would have fit the mood quite well—i mean, who goes to parties where guitars are produced and complete takes of songs are completed?
What makes Uncovered and Unplugged great, though, is the peek into the studio that these session tapes present. Between shooting the breeze, instructing the boys on what to do, and discussing the project, one gets to witness Brian in a relaxed mood, just having fun, and releasing some creative pressure as he prepared to make his masterpiece. Just because it is meant to be loose, Brian is fully in control, often demanding and insistent on the way he wanted it to sound. And even though it seems to be more entertaining than good, Party! was and is an original concept that was a masterpiece created by a young man whose best work was on the horizon. (Also, it’s hard not to wince at Brian’s request for pot, considering the drug hell he would quickly descend into, and the taunting of Carl’s weight is bothersome as well.)
Oh, and about that, there is one moment of wonderful foreshadowing. It’s a tossed-of moment, one you might notice if you weren’t paying attention. During the track titled “Dialog: The Sunrays,” While discussing Murry’s new production aimed as competing with his sons, Brian just starts humming the Theremin line of a song he’d soon start working on called “Good Vibrations…”