It would be a very Brian Wilson thing to want a song called Summer’s Gone, and to keep the song for over ten years until the Beach Boys were back again. And for a group known for celebrating the good times to possibly end their studio album career with a reflective song looking at the passing of those times.
If Pacific Coast Highway is rumored to be inspired by Dennis Wilson’s passing, then there is some sense in this being inspired by Carl’s passing, and the realisation of being the last Wilson standing. It also dates back to the original Joe Thomas sessions, with the interesting, some may say, incongruous, additional involvement of Jon Bon Jovi.
Unlike the previous two tracks which dazzle in their movement between different motifs, Summer’s Gone has a more conventional song structure, with a single pace and melodic structure. This is not to say the standard has dropped from the previous two songs, but more that you need to listen very carefully -unlike many of Brian’s songs which soar melodically, this one digs deep and slowly into one’s consciousness.
The immediate parallel is Caroline No, the only other Beach Boys album closer in a similar league. Whereas that song ostensibly dealt with the end of a relationship, this one deals with the end of lives or at least the passing of the summer of one’s lives. And that aching final “Caroline No” in that song, which is one of music’s greatest moments and the final realisation of irrevocable change, almost fifty years later as Brian sings “summer’s gone, it’s finally sinking in”, we have another aching, and possibly even deeper moment.
Ultimately however, the song is cyclical, and that is why this song is maybe the “downer” that it first may appear to be. Just as “one day begins, another ends”, summer will be back again. The summer of our lives may end, indeed our own lives are transient, but the waves rolling against the ocean at the song will always be there, and will always inspire us. And indeed, the music of the Beach Boys, from the teenage joy of Surfin’ Safari to this stunning song, and back again if you so wish, will always be there for us as well.