Sound ‘Round: The Beach Boys / James Brown

Further research after reading their respective biographies. 

The Beach Boys – Endless Summer (Capitol, 1987)

the beach boys - endless summerAfter nearly a decade of declining sales and slowly losing band architect Brian Wilson to ever-worsening mental health issues, this greatest hits album was released at a time when nostalgia for early rock was in high demand. Credit the success of this mega-selling behemoth for turning a bunch of disgruntled has-beens into the successful tribute act they would always remain. Here is every important single they ever released not found on Pet Sounds, all recorded within a brief five year span. They range from deceptively simple surf anthems (“Surfin’ Safari”), to vulnerable ballads (“In My Room”), to harmonically potent packs of sugar coated pop (“California Girls”). Together they demonstrate how connected the band was to the ballooning youth culture of the ‘60s, and how perceptive Wilson was to the hopelessly romantic struggles of adolescence. Played linearly, the album tells the story of beachcombers turned soliloquists, and of a fracturing mind made functional by its own brilliance. By the time the falsetto wailing and Theremin chirping finale of “Good Vibrations” reaches its peak, it’s the sound of the music’s mightiest victory lap. What? Can’t find the song on your copy? You must have the vinyl edition. Sorry. This is a review for the CD version. Damn right I’m a stickler about having the greatest pop song ever written on my (or any) Beach Boys hits package. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: Good Vibrations” / “California Girls” / “In My Room

James Brown – Live At the Apollo (King / Polydor, 1963)

james brown - live at the apolloRecorded in the fall of 1962, this is a definitive performance from one of America’s definitive performers. It transformed James Brown from the King of the Chitlin’ Circuit into music’s most exciting personality, and introduced new listeners (many of them white) to the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Despite having attained modest success with a string of notable R&B singles, Brown made his money, and his legend, on the stage, and knew the quickest way to sell more tickets was to sell a piece of  his act on wax. With his record label skeptical of a live album absent any new material’s profitability, Brown paid out of pocket to record it himself, betting cash saved for of an upcoming tour on one night at the greatest venue in Black America. This is quintessential soul music that’s a product of the rigid professionalism and expert showmanship Brown polished through years of playing in southern feed barns and chicken shacks. From the opening query “Are you ready for Star Time?” posed by M.C. Fats Gonder, to the shuffling finale of “Night Train,” Brown and the Famous Flames travel through a set of dance numbers and ballads in as straight a line as possible, pulverizing everyone in attendance along the way. The group’s reliance on The One, a musical philosophy touted by Brown which put emphasis on the first beat of each measure, is the mystical driving force which propels these songs, with Brown’s chest-piercing scream sounding the bells of a king assuming the throne. “I said I feel alright, children,” he says. And with good reason. His bet paid off, and Live at the Apollo spent 66 weeks on the charts, morphing a onetime Augusta shoeshine into a millionaire. GRADE: A+

Key Tracks: I’ll Go Crazy” / “Lost Someone” / “Think

Postscript: The particular biographies mentioned in the subhead are “Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson” by Peter Ames Carlin, and “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown” by RJ Smith. 

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