If Pet Sounds is the critics’ fave, Summer Days is perhaps the people’s day at the beach.
Chris Roberts 2011-07-12
Released just four months after Today! in July 1965, The Beach Boys’ ninth album was at first deemed by some to be a regression. Its predecessor had, on its second side, revealed the now studio-locked, pot-guzzling Brian Wilson’s knack for melancholy, darker ballads. Summer Days re-embraced the band’s archetypal themes of fun, sun, and partying. Mike Love was pleased the group were back on course, as were Capitol, little knowing that Wilson had Pet Sounds brewing as his next trick.
If Pet Sounds is now so firmly ensconced in the canon and drowned with adulation that it’s impossible to hear it without wondering if it’s quite the epic work of genius it’s cracked up to be, Summer Days inversely wins love for having always been unfairly sniffed at. Sparkling pop records don’t feature in lists of The Greatest Albums You Must Own Or We’ll Disown You as frequently as drug-influenced over-strainers, and this is simply loaded with proud pop songs. Half the tracklisting reads like a Greatest Hits: Then I Kissed Her, Help Me Rhonda, You’re So Good to Me and California Girls are up there with any icons of West Coast sunshine. Help Me Rhonda – a number one – was a reworking of the previous album’s Help Me Ronda, with new vocals by Al Jardine. (This was also the first album to feature Bruce Johnston.)
Then I Kissed Her was Wilson’s attempt to out-play his hero Phil Spector at his own game, but his arrangements elsewhere were more inspired. Throwaways like Amusement Parks USA and Salt Lake City boast subtle intricacies and Summer Means New Love is a coy but charming instrumental. It was California Girls however which, with its symphonic intro (Wilson’s personal favourite), fused operatic pretensions and pop smarts to best effect, landing another huge hit. Cloying joke songs (I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man) aside, Summer Days retains its big, balmy sound through the Beatles-esque Girl Don’t Tell Me and the Bacharach homage Let Him Run Wild. If Pet Sounds is the critics’ favourite, Summer Days is perhaps the people’s day at the beach.