In 1968, just two months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, and only weeks after RFK was shot, The Beach Boys released their fourteenth studio album FRIENDS on Capitol Records. It only reached No 126 on the US chart and only stayed on the chart for ten weeks. At one time though, Brian Wilson said it was his favorite Beach Boys record. Brian: “The song writing cycle for the FRIENDS album project came quickly to me. I was, by then, an experienced song writer and I knew what each basic key meant to me. By this time I had a good thing rollin’ in my head...The album took shape mostly in my studio in one room in my Bel Air mansion”.
FRIENDS opens with ‘Meant For You’ with Mike Love on lead. It is a mellow song of reflection: “As I sit and close my eyes/There’s peace in my mind/And I’m hoping that you’ll find it too/And these feelings in my heart/I know are meant for you”. The title track hit No 47 on the charts. It is a waltz that has been used at the Berklee College of Music for teaching purposes. It is also a pretty pop song about friendship and uses harmonica: “We’ve been friends now for so many years/We’ve been together through the good times and the tears/Turned each other on to the good things that life has to give/We drift apart for a little bit of a spell/One night I get a call and I know that you’re well/And days I was down, you would help me get out of my hole/Ohh/Let’s be friends (3X)”.
‘Wake The World’ was penned by Brian Wilson and Al Jardine and uses the tuba. It is a cheerful, optimistic song: “One by one the stars appear/The light of day is no longer here/One by one the stars disappear/The sky grows brighter every minute of the sunrise/Wake the world with a brand new morning/Say hello to another fine morning/Got my face in the running water/Making my life so much brighter”. ‘Be Here in the Morning’ uses the glockenspiel and is a song of longing: “It’s been such a long day so you better hurry home/Lit all my incense and I wish you were home/Only five minutes and you walk through my door/Be here in the morning/Be here in the evening/Be here and make my life full”.
By 1968 all six of The Beach Boys were married and five had or were having kids. ‘When a Man Needs a Woman’ finds Brian Wilson on lead and is a great light pop song even if the lyrics are silly: “When a man needs a woman/They make things like you, my son/A man needs a woman/Like a woman needs a man/When the two get together, oh, oh, oh/Pretty soon we’ll be a family of three/Then it’s not gonna be just you and me/We’ll share all the goodies/With the one we bring in the world”. ‘Passing By’ is a nice musical interlude that includes an organ and bass harmonica.
’Anna Lee, The Healer’ is a melodic, easy listening tune. It is a tribute to a masseuse: “Anna Lee, Anna Lee, the healer/Healer with the healing hands/Makes you well as quick as she can/You’d love to see those smiling eyes of Anna Lee/From the Himalayan mountain side/Of the nishigesh/To a California beach house/Facing towards the sea/Goes a gal who got her fame/By going round healing folks”. Dennis Wilson co-wrote ‘Little Bird’. He and Brian share the lead on this track that uses a muted trumpet. It contains these lyrics dealing with nature: “Tree in my own backyard/Stands all alone/Bears fruit for me/And it tastes so good/Where’s my pretty bird?/He must have flown away/If I keep singing/He’ll come back someday/Dawn, bird’s still gone/Guess I’ll go mow the lawn/What a day, what a day/Oooo, what a beautiful day this is”.
‘Be Still’ is a quiet song with Dennis on the lead with Carl. This one has hippie-like lyrics: “Now is the time life begins/Take that simple path/And love will set you free/Live in harmony/And love will set you free, oh/You know, you know you are/Be still and know you are/You know, you know you are/Be still and know you are”. ‘Busy Doin’ Nothin’’ is an ambitious track with a bossa nova beat. It is about a day in the life of Brian Wilson in 1968 and includes these humorous lyrics: “I wrote a number down, but I lost it/So I searched through my pocket book/I couldn’t find it/So I sat and concentrated on the number/And slowly it came to me/So I dialed it/And I let it ring a few times/There was no answer/So I let it ring a little more/Still no answer/So I hung up the telephone/Got some paper and sharpened up a pencil/And wrote a letter to my friend”.
‘Diamond Head’ is about a Hawaiian landmark. It doesn’t use any words, but includes lots of interesting sounds. In late 1967 The Beach Boys met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and learned how to meditate. By the Spring of 1968 they toured together. The tour cost the group several hundred thousand dollars. As a Christian I only support Biblical meditation, but this funky rock song called ‘Transcendental Meditation’ includes these words: “Transcendental Meditation/Can emancipate the man/And get you feeling grand/Fusion of/The never changing wind/The ever changing wind/The never changing world/It’s good”.
FRIENDS is a vast improvement over 1967’s WILD HONEY. It is creative, artistic, and innovative. It sounds like a Beach Boys record with some harmonies. This sounds like a group full of maturity and with a desire to make meaningful music for their audience. I’m rating FRIENDS 90%.
In 1969 The Beach Boys released 20/20. This album fulfilled their contract with Capitol Records. David Leaf writes: “The title 20/20 refers to both the eye chart Brian’s hiding behind on the inside of the gatefold cover and the fact that this was the Beach Boys 20th album (in less than seven years) for Capitol”. It sold better than FRIENDS, hitting No 68 on the US chart. Brian Wilson: “The key word for this album is-refinement. I was still growin’ musically and we as a group wanted to sound more subtle and tighter. I felt strongly about making an album that would also appeal to older audiences as well”.
The album beings with ‘Do It Again’, with Mike Love on lead. It hit No 20, making it the group’s 17th Top 20 hit of the 1960’s. It has the classic Beach Boys sound complete with harmonies and a danceable beat. It finds the guys reminiscing about the good times: “It’s automatic when I talk with old friends/The conversation turns to girls we knew/When their hair was soft and long/And the beach was the place to go/With sun tanned bodies and the waves of sunshine/The California girls and a beautiful coastline/And warmed up weather/Let’s get together and do it again”. Next up is a cover of The Ronettes’ ‘I Can Hear Music’. The Beach Boys version finds Carl Wilson on lead. He produced it and it went to No 24. This great pop song uses sleighbells. These words may make some listeners blush: “I never had a love of my own/Maybe that’s why when we’re all alone/I can hear music/I can hear music/The sound of the city baby, seems to disappear/I can hear music/Sweet, sweet music/Whenever you touch me baby/Whenever you’re near”.
This is followed by Ersel Hickey’s ‘Bluebirds Over The Mountain’. Ed Carter plays lead guitar. This is a pulsating song of longing that also uses horns and strings: “Oh everyone in every land/Please give me a helping hand/If you see her all alone/Oh, tell my baby/’Won’t you please come home?’/Bluebirds over the mountain/Seagulls over the sea-ea-ea/Bluebirds over the mountain/Bring my baby to me”. Dennis Wilson wrote and sings lead on ‘Be With Me’. It finds him desiring closeness with a gal: “Go walking round at night/The wind’s really blowing/It’s too cold to talk/I wonder if she’s knowing/She should be with me/It could set her free/Come with me/Be with me/A part of me”.
‘All I Want to Do’ is an energetic rock ‘n’ roll song written and produced by Dennis, but Mike Love sings it. These words would be fine if in the context of matrimony: “Well, I don’t care where you wanna go/Just so you go with me/And I don’t care what you want to do/But make sure you do it with me/All I wanna do with you/Well, I just wanna make some love to you”. ‘The Nearest Faraway Place’ is a lovely, meditative instrumental composed, performed, and produced by group member Bruce Johnston. Its title is from an article by Shana Alexander in LIFE magazine.
Carrying on, ‘Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)’ is a cover of a folk classic by Huddie (Leadbelly) Ledbetter. Al Jardine takes the lead. Here are some of the words: “Don’t care if them cotton balls get rotten/When I got you baby, who needs cotton/In them old cotton fields back home/Brother only one thing more that’s gonna warm you/A summer’s day out in California/It’s gonna be the cotton fields back home”. ‘I Went to Sleep’ has a barbershop feel to it vocally. It is a song about dozing off peacefully: “Ten thirty, I turned my radio on/Some group was playing a musical song/It wasn’t too long and I went to sleep/Again at the park on a nice summer day/High up above me the trees gently sway/A bird flew away and I went to sleep”.
‘Time to Get Alone’ was originally produced by Brian for Redwood who later became Three Dog Night. The song is one of romance and The Beach Boys version uses harpsichord and strings: ”The pine scented air/Smells so good in the snow/In our toboggan we’ll go/Screaming down the mountain side/The touch of your cheeks/When they’re rosy and cold/Feels so cozy to hold/Just to take you close and make you warm/It’s time to get alone/To get alone/And just be together/We’ll only be together”. Believe it or not, Dennis’ ‘Never Learn Not to Love’ was originally a Charles Manson composition called ‘Cease to Exist’! Dennis’ decent light rock reworking of it, includes these words: “Cease to resist, come on say you love me/Give up your world, come on and be with me.../Submission is a gift, give it to your lover/Love and understanding is for one another/I’m your kind, I’m your kind, and I see”.
‘Our Prayer’ was originally recorded in October of 1966 for SMILE which was shelved. The Beach Boys recorded additional vocals for the song in the Fall of 1968. The song has no words, but features the group harmonizing acappella style. The album ends with the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks composition ‘Cabinessence’ which was also meant for SMILE. It is an experimental number that includes these far out lyrics: “Have you seen the grand coolie workin’ on the railroad?/Workin’ on the railroad?/Workin’ on the railroad?/Over and over/The crow cries, uncover the cornfield/Over and over/The thresher and hover the wheat field”.
20/20 is a strong album that still sounds good after all these years. Here we have a group with lots of energy, fine vocals, and effective instrumentation. We have a group full of promise, even after all their earlier hits about surfing and cars. I’m rating 20/20 87%.
The 2001 double album re-release of FRIENDS and 20/20 on one CD includes five bonus tracks you will want to check out. The Beach Boys would sign with Warner Brothers in 1970 starting a new chapter in the group’s history. For more info visit: www.thebeachboys.com.