The Beach Boys Christmas Surprise

Exactly 3 months after the belated Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys released another album just a week before Christmas. It wasn’t a seasonal album but a collection of all-new songs that saw the band move from psychedelia and complexity to simplicity and basic R&B. It was also released just a few days before I was born, so as Wild Honey celebrates its 50th birthday, it will be last Beach Boys album featured in my 50 anniversary posts that is older than me.

After the trauma of the scrapping of SMiLE and the critical and public befuddlement at the “odd” Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys clearly needed to take another direction. However, coming so soon after Smiley Smile, this new album direction was released to a public that, in the USA, at least, was already indifferent to the Beach Boys.

The new direction took the “back to basics” element of Smiley Smile and added the boogie-woogie feel that Brian and his family had grown up. The result is a spirited, up-tempo album that still hinted at the melodic genius of Brian. It was also an album for Brian to “cool out” to, in Carl’s words, after the traumas of 1967, although as with all the albums in the immediate wake of the SMiLE sessions, there is still a connection to the material from those sessions in Mama Says, a fragment of Vegatables abandoned for Smiley Smile. Brian is, from a composers point of view, still very involved, although How She Boogalooed It is the first original non-instrumental track put out by the band not written by Brian.

Individual track highlights include Aren’t You Glad which hints at Bacharach, the beautiful, soulful Let The Wind Blow and Darlin’ which is a retread of the earlier tune Thinking About You Baby but features a fantastic Carl vocal and great production.

The rest of the songs all fit in well to the overall mood of the album, but the fact the harmonies, production and tunes are not all top-drawer prevents this album from being right at the top of the Beach Boys pile. Having said that, this is still a vastly underrated album that gives many other much more vaunted works of 1967 a good run for their money in the quality stakes, and this year’s release of Sunshine Tomorrow¬†and the rich body of the band’s work at this time has helped with the critical re-appraisal of the record.

Indeed, the fact that 1968 releases from the Stones, Dylan and the Beatles reflected a “back to basics” ethos may indicate that Wild Honey was ahead of its time. While there were probably many other factors in these 1968 releases going in that direction, it is hard to believe that Wild Honey had absolutely no influence on this direction, even given the Beach Boys’ diminished “hipness” as that stage. Once again, the band put out a work ahead of its time, and for all times.

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