The Beach Boys

Capitol, 1968

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


The Beach Boys changed direction in 1968 with the release of Friends. The pop brilliance of Pet Sounds, the psychedelic flavor of Smiley Smile and the soul inflections of Wild Honey were all discarded by the group in favor of the mellow and laidback vibes found here. While this does not contain the brilliant highs of the three aforementioned albums, it does have a pleasant quality and passes by like a gently flowing stream.

In many ways, Friends was out of place upon its release in 1968. The Vietnam War was raging, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated, the hippie movement was alive and well, and Jimi Hendrix was changing the musical landscape. It was against this background that the tranquil Friends was released and as could be expected, it encountered little commercial success.

I have always considered Wild Honey more interesting than listenable. Friends, on the other hand, is more listenable than interesting. The Beach Boys take few chances, which is fine given their releases of the past few years. This disc provided a nice counterpoint to the world swirling around the group.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This marks the album where Dennis Wilson stepped out from behind his drum set. He coauthored and sang lead on “Be Still” and “Little Bird.”  “Be Still” is a simple song but Dennis Wilson delivers a great vocal. “Little Bird” has the feel of a classic Beach Boys song. His voice moves counter to The Beach Boys’ traditional harmonies. These songs show how important Dennis Wilson’s clear and plaintive voice were to the vocal harmonies of the group. I have always thought that when The Beach Boys were having problems in the late 1970’s, they should have regrouped around his voice. While that did not happen, his occasional vocal and creative contributions were always welcome.

The title song is a full-blown Brian Wilson production and regrettably a single that did not reach the top 40. The words “We’ve been friends for so many years / Through the good times and bad,” may not have been aimed at their fans but would have fit. It also contains an odd beat for Carl Wilson’s lead vocal. Brian’s voice joins Carl’s about halfway through the song. The uses of intermittent harmonies fill the spaces in the song’s structure.

“When A Man Loves A Woman” contains a bubbly organ at its foundation. The vocal by Brian is excellent, but the song peters out near the end and has an unfinished feeling. Brian Wilson’s “Passing By” contains harmonies without words. The wonderful textures of the group’s voices just float about simple instrumentation. Brian Wilson also sang lead on the sparse “Busy Doing Nothing.” The title of this song describes its basic theme. Brian Wilson, without backing, basically sings about a day in his life at the time.

“Anna Lee, The Healer,” co-written by Brian and Mike with lead vocals by Mike, is a song bout a masseuse (I hope) who reduces a person’s stress. Musically, this song has a creative musical structure as it substituted harmony in place of many instruments.

The instrumental “Diamond Head” may be the most sophisticated song on Friends. Reminiscent of the sounds and textures of Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson creates a virtual symphony through the use of various instruments. A very creative guitar bridge at the center of the song connects two separate thoughts that are molded into a whole.

All in all, Friends, is ultimately satisfying in its own way. It is an album that should be listened to with your feet up and a glass of wine in hand.

Rating: B+

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© 2009 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol, and is used for informational purposes only.