Recent news stories about the internal struggles of the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour suggest the soul of the band is at stake. Apparently, Mike Love owns the name, and by extension the group’s identity. He’s fired founding members Brian Wilson and Al Jardine from the band (here’s a link to the Rolling Stone story about it, but Love’s denied firing his bandmates since this story originally ran).
I think the spirit of the band died on February 6, 1998, when Carl Wilson passed away. The only reason the band survived the tumultuous late 60s/early 70s was his leadership, and the era produced some of their best albums. Yep, my favorite Beach Boy is Carl!
Of course, he’s not as revered as his brother Brian, and his didn’t do the stupid sort of shit Dennis did (like take Charles Manson to the Cielo Drive house where Sharon Tate was later murdered). He just wrote and sang awesome songs. Carl, who’s voice is probably best remember for his lead performance on “God Only Knows,” still joined the Beach Boys after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Carl also recorded the first Beach Boys solo album in the 80s, as well as leading the group for a number of years in the early 70s. An example of this is the Carl and the Passions album, which is technically a Beach Boys record (it was released as a two-fer with Pet Sounds in 1971) even though it’s named for a band Carl led as a teenager.
Surf’s Up is sort of the high point for his leadership of the band. It features two great songs he wrote, “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows.” He also wrote a memorable song on Holland called “The Trader,” which you heard up above.
(“Long Hard Road”)
But by the middle of the decade his brother Brian had returned as the band’s de-facto leader, and Carl’s contributions diminished. This, Brian Wilson fans, is why Love You sucks. It’s a bad record and it’s because the guy who’d established the band’s 70s sound was told to take a back seat as “mixdown producer,” whatever that is.
Recent news reports ask who would go to see the Beach Boys without Brian Wilson, but I can’t help but wonder who’s been going all these years since Carl died. And who’s been singing “God Only Knows”?