A bittersweet record, intentionally and otherwise.
The sixties may not be my favourite decade for pop music – hardly surprising since I didn’t live them – but that doesn’t mean I’m not impressed by the pace of their change. The Beach Boys’ surfin heyday was only five or six years behind them, but the way they sing the verses of “Do It Again” – stiff, tentative, maybe even slightly embarassed – it might have been twenty or thirty. Of course it wasn’t just pop that had changed: it was them as brothers, friends, musicians, a group. Mike Love’s lyric might be an open hand – c’mon fellas, let’s bring the good times back – but the barest knowledge of the band’s internal struggles shows you the edge: the good times are the simple times, full of simple songs, a retreat from the disasterous complexities of the Smile era. Love saw the Beach Boys as a brand as much as a band – summer, surf, hot rods and pretty girls – and he was acutely aware of how easily genius Brian might fuck that branding up. But his own lyric, and the way the song is structured like a museum tour of Beach Boys styles (upbeat singalong; dreamy ballad; harmonic overload), means you know he knows going back won’t be easy, might even be impossible. The tides have turned strange, there are new boys on the beaches.
The fact is, though, I’m having to write about this song and not “Heroes And Villains” or “Friends”, which shows that Mike Love had a commercial point. Or does it? The Beach Boys had no nostalgic clout in Britain – their surfing material barely registered (British surf music starts with the Aphex Twin). The specific past Love’s lyric is reaching towards couldn’t have won the band a number one in the UK – it must be the shameful, sweet feelings coming through the performance; their exhaustion and their overcoming of it, for now.
For me as a Beach Boys fan, the biggest gulf in the song isn’t between its now and its then but between its now and its maybe. The record opens and closes with percussion: Wilson was apparently very proud of the jerky, rigid robot drums which open the track, and so he should have been: not only ahead of their time, they dramatise the difficulty of recovering what’s past. But on the album mix, over the fade comes an incongruous snatch of “Workshop” from the Smile project, a bitter reminder of what the back-to-basics approach was reacting to and pushing aside.