Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Beach Boys: Party! (1965)



My memory's hazy now, but I believe I paid about $15 for most of the "twofer" CDs in Capitol's Beach Boys reissue program, including the one that pairs this extremely strange item with the instrumental collection Stack-o-Tracks. For the time, $15 wasn't bad for two albums and 55 or more minutes of music. However, although I don't think it would be right to charge $15 to pay to hear the Beach Boys covering the Everlys, industry heavyweights coping with the decline and fall of physical media can take note: it'd be worth every penny.

(Deep breath.) Beach Boys' Party! is a fake live album that is actually a covers album with overdubbed "party" sound effects. This was conceived as a way to get product out quickly while Brian finished the real followup to Summer Days. And it's certainly weaker than any of the last few studio efforts, but about half of it is surprisingly lovely, and the rest -- save an indescribable Dylan cover that screams "bad idea" -- is hardly embarrassing.

Three Beatles covers seems like overkill, but when you had a crush on that person (you know the one) in high school, you rarely thought about anything else, right? Interestingly, all three are from films -- "I Should Have Known Better" and "Tell Me Why" from A Hard Day's Night, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" from Help!. Dennis really belts that last one out, but the "girls" present see fit to chant the "hey" before the title each time he gets to it, making the whole thing scarcely listenable. The others work better, and I'd wager the Beach Boys' "Tell Me Why" against the original unless you include the footage from that scene of AHDN as part of the song, in which case the Beach Boys lose, badly.

Okay, but covering yourself, that's a stretch. The off-the-cuff but somehow impossibly contrived medley of "I Get Around" and "Little Deuce Coupe" has Mike hamming it up while the ladies laugh, but having him overload the former with sarcasm and improvised wit along the lines of "The other guys... are really... tough / So... those other guys... that are... not yet tough... [trails off]..." isn't even as funny as Weird Al replacing "bad" with "fat." I don't even remember what he does to "Little Deuce Coupe" because usually I've hit the skip button by that point.

I confess, I also don't care much for their cover of the Regents' "Barbara Ann," the album's surprise smash hit, issued on the heels of a much better single that didn't do much and provided an unsettling contrast to this then-new album ("The Little Girl I Once Knew"). I don't deny the garage band appeal of the Beach Boys' version, but that's territory they've covered, and part of what made garage bands so great was that they either advanced or disappeared, not like Enya or somebody who just never improves or goes away. I like the instrumental break where they're pretending to ad lib, just because they're one of my favorite bands and people like it when their favorite bands do stupid shit like that. Wouldn't bother otherwise.

"Hully Gully" is a fine opener, pretty standard cover; I hate the Hollywood Argyles' "Alley Oop," but the Beach Boys' isn't terrible; and I love hearing Brian sing "Papa-Oom Mow Mow" because I like it when he cuts loose and rocks out, but there's a better version on the Concert album. The Beach Boys' version of the durable Harold Dorman single "Mountain of Love," brilliantly covered by Johnny Rivers in 1960, is excellent and notable as the only truly great song that really works in this context. Mike's vocal and the whole band's spontaneous interpretation are just wonderful and most explicitly recall the off-the-cuff fun of an Unplugged show or some such acoustic foray.

Of course I love "Devoted to You" since the Everly Brothers are one of the few acts I come close to loving as much as the Beach Boys, and I'll be goddamned if Mike and Brian aren't a close match for Phil and Don. You can hear this without Party! overdubs on a few later reissues but even here, those chilling harmonies shine through the murk. The Crystals' "There's No Other (Like My Baby)," one of my favorite Spector compositions, also used on the flipside of "Little Girl" with overdubs intact -- is basically just a very nice acoustic variation on a fine tune. Note that even with nothing but acoustic guitars, scant production and a few voices at his disposal, Brian creates a "wall of sound" on the chorus.

On the whole, I'd say if you're a fan or you just like the stylistic flavor of "Barbara Ann," Party! is something worth hearing, especially if you pick it up either in the 2015 version without the fake conversational overdubs or in the twofer edition with Stack-o-Tracks, a bizarre set of instrumental tracks I'd count as indispensable for anyone who's interested in Brian's production techniques. In another way, his skills are just as impressive here (after all, he did fixate a few months later on the idea of a "humor" album that would involve orchestrated laughter and such); he just has a different variety of instruments and tricks at his disposal, and if Party! does little to add to his mystique, it hardly debunks it.


[Originally posted with slightly different phrasing in 2003.]

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