What happens when the goose stops laying golden eggs? That's the dilemma the Beach Boys faced when Brian Wilson underwent a self-imposed creative cooling-off period after the mysterious Smile album debacle. And after producing what averaged to better than three albums a year for the previous half-decade, who could blame him? Nevertheless, the band's failure to capitalize on the musical revolution symbolized by Sgt. Pepper saw their American fortunes plummet from world-beaters to also-rans, seemingly overnight. But ironically, as the times were a-changin', so was the Beach Boys sound, even if few in America were listening. Friends is easily the band's most tranquil album, a missive of peaceful good tidings fatefully issued amidst the assassinations and street riots of 1968. And if Brian was absent from many of the group's photos during the troubled era, he was still involved behind the scenes, as the vocal harmonies of the title track, "Be Here in the Mornin'," and others attest; his instrumental arrangements may be low-key, though ever inventive, as "Diamond Head" also confirms. Still, the blunt, confessional message of Wilson's "Busy Doin' Nothin'" is equally hard to miss. 20/20 marked the 20th--and last--album of the band's first Capitol era. The album is a collection of singles (the nostalgic "Do It Again," Carl Wilson's vibrant showcase "I Can Hear Music") and a couple of key Smile scraps (the transcendent a cappella album intro "Our Prayer" and the American gothic-tinged "Cabinessence," with obtusely punning lyrics courtesy of Van Dyke Parks) set amidst productions that are mostly divided among various band members. Perhaps most notable is the continued blossoming of Dennis Wilson's talents on "Be with Me" and "Never Learn Not to Love" (the latter reputedly originally given to Wilson by temporary housemate Charles Manson; strange days, indeed). This digitally remastered edition of the long out-of-print twofer edition includes the reminiscences of Brian Wilson and insightful liner notes by Beach Boys and the California Myth author David Leaf and features five bonus cuts: "Break Away," the band's vocally spectacular, if woefully underappreciated, last Capitol single; the B-side "Celebrate the News," sung and produced by Dennis; the beautiful '68 outtake, "We're Together Again"; a snippet of Brian's soaring falsetto paying tribute to Bacharach's "Walk on By"; and a medley of "Old Folks at Home"/"Ol' Man River" that underscores the band's distinctly American historical and artistic heritage. --Jerry McCulley
Similarly Requested CDs
A very interesting point in Beach Boys history, but not for
Muddy Moe | Plano, TX United States | 12/05/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This album (i.e. this CD of two albums and out takes) is something I never would have bought a couple years ago, prior to reading several (yes, several) biographies of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Knowing what I do about the band's history now, I am fascinated by both albums. Still, if a casual fan is expecting the high energy fun in the sun and delightful harmonies of the band's signature sound, then start with Pet Sounds, the Sounds of Summer compilation, and the Warmth of the Sun compilation. All three of those are essential. Friends/20/20 is for more die hard fans.
Friends is a soothing confection of a listen, just like the cover art suggests. The music is relaxing and often beautiful, yet never really all that substantial. Several tunes are more abstracts, fading out as they really get going. It took me repeated listens to really get into it, but I did. If you're in the mood for a lighter, softer Beach Boys experience, and don't really mind that it lacks intensity, then it's a good listen. I even like the "Diamond Head" instrumental track quite a bit. "Transcendental Meditation," however, is an embarrassing indulgence. "We're Together Again," an out take track on this version would have worked better.
20/20 is to my mind a better listen over all, in spite of the fact it's scrapped together to meet contractual obligations. The first two tracks "Do It Again" and "I Can Hear Music" get the album started strongly. The out take tracks "Break Away" and "Celebrate the News" have similar hit potential (even though they didn't chart all that well), showing signs how both Friends and 20/20 could have been better albums overall with a little better song selection and effort.
And "could have been better" is an impression both of these albums leave me with. I know the band well enough to see the potential there and appreciate the beauty in the recordings. Yet to my mind neither Friends nor 20/20 approaches Sunflower, Surf's Up, Wild Honey or Smiley Smile, not to mention Pet Sounds or anything prior. As it is, the combined albums on one CD represent a good value because you get a bigger slice of "what could have been.""
Bill Your 'Free Form FM Handi Cyber | Mahwah, NJ USA | 11/08/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Friends was part of the aftershock after Smile imploded. Brian Wilson was quite ill, and the Beach Boys went from a huge wave of sound led by a mastero to a songwritting collective.
Initally, the songs here seemed slight--the title track, "Be Still," "Little Bird," all seemed irrelevent next to the Doors, Hendrix, RFK and Chicago. Hearing this album right after the broken promice of Smile must have seemed like a massive let down; maybe because Friends was a real album and Smile was an idealized, infinately possible abstraction--a musical perfect lover that never exisited.
Listeing now, however, Friends is nothing short of a pop materpiece, even though the songs are mini pieces. None have the Spectorian ambition of Pet Sounds, but all the harmonies are in tact.
If the music is smaller in scale, the playing is still excellent as is the arranging; listen to the vibraphone on the title track or the way the Hammond Organ is used on "Be Still." If the latter were a Harrison track from the White Album, critics would have been singing its praises. "Busy Doing Nothing" is a Wilson bossa nova, and one of his best songs--a little super-8 movie of the genius convolessing in the LA mountins in 1968, hiding from the riots, assainations and demonstrations.
Don't forget that for every protest and riot in 1968, it was much more common to see regular people living small, quiet, domestic lives in a completely local world: no internet, no email, and TV and radio were for the most part indiginous to the area. Work, eat, love, gather the kids and check out Laugh In or the Lucy Show.
Friends does not so much ignore or reject the happenings of 1968 as it does provide a counterpoint to them; that laid back lifestyle that most Americans were actually still living at the time. Go down to the beach, light a fire, medetate, stay home and get work done without effort. Kind of nice if you think of it, no? Don't we all wish we had time for this, or that we could, even just for a day, go back to THAT 1968?--that nice, quiet sheltered slowness Friends represents.
You could make a plausable arugment that Friends, was in fact, the musical manafestation of the peaceful lifestyle the kids who moved to the communes were trying to achieve. The whole hippie dream on one little album
20/20 has some great work--"Be With Me" is dark, foggy nuance that rivals some of the best psychadelia, and "I can hear music" gives a hint of where Wilson could have taken his band had he been more productive during 1969s return to the roots trend in rock. (I'll bet if the Beach Boy's had used the Dominos minus Derek, it would have made one hell of a cosmic cowboy album) Ironically, "Cabinessence," amazing as it is, is out of place.
The album is a patchwork and does not have the conceptual tightness of Friends. But with the exception of a few clunkers--covering Old Man River in the middle of 1969 was NOT a smart idea, no matter how calming you were trying to sound--the patches are great and the record holds up as well as, say, any Guess Who or other middle of the road pop album of the period.
Good as 20/20 is, Friends is the classic here, and is one of the most overlooked albums of that OTHER 60s."