#410: Wild Honey, The Beach Boys
First of all, let’s give thanks for an album that’s only 24 minutes long. Who needs 69 love songs when 11 two-minute ones will do just fine?
Another thing I’m thankful for? That I decided to work through this list top to bottom instead of the other way around. Down in the 400s, I’m grateful for the extra context. For instance this record came on the heels of two records that I’ve already reviewed: the juggernaut Pet Sounds, and the dud Smiley Smile (which was later reworked as Brian Wilson Presents Smile). Two albums with such wildly different receptions, plus the fact that Brian Wilson was quietly imploding, meant that the Beach Boys were forced to confront themselves. They were also tiring of criticism that basically accused them of being toothless “choir boys.” Personally I think that their wholesome vibes were what made them so different, but I get wanting a little more edge — even on this album, the Beach Boys only reference sex in a fairly sanitized way. (“I’d Love Just Once To See You” is followed by In the nude, which made me guffaw.)
So they wrested themselves some street cred. They took a hard swerve away from their typical surfer rock and invented DIY pop, otherwise known as lo-fi. That’s right, Lo-Fi Girl wouldn’t exist without the Beach Boys. I was shocked by how rock ‘n roll their voices sounded on songs like “A Thing Or Two” and especially “Here Comes The Night,” where they sound downright vicious. (If you’re worried that they abandon their harmonies and overlapping vocals entirely, they don’t — see “Aren’t You Glad” and “Country Air.”)
The Boys cited R&B as their primary inspiration for this record. In fact, Stevie Wonder is in essence this record’s muse. They cover him with “I Was Made To Love Her,” but you can kind of hear his peppy spirit in lo-fi throughout. Mike Love went as far as to say that “Wild Honey” is sung from Wonder’s perspective.
But there’s more than just R&B at work here. They don’t tie themselves to any one style or vibe. There’s the grand intro on “Darlin’,” the hippie-dippie balladry on “Let The Wind Blow,” and the peppiest guitar you ever did hear on “How She Boogalooed It.” I think it’s clear that the Beach Boys were having a blast with this one, and I think it paid off. Sometimes I forget they peaked in the Sixties. It still feels like these are ahead of their time.
Surprise Favorite: It’s actually one we’ve seen before: “Mama Says,” which was one of the earlier versions of “Vege-Tables” on Smile. I personally think this version is superior, because it shows the Beach Boys at their choir boy best. They do such cool things with dynamics and pronunciation here.