Wild Honey by The Beach Boys


In June 1967, The Beach Boys pulled out of the Monterey pop festival at the last minute because their U.K. tour had been poorly received. Their credibility with the hip youth scene on the West Coast was plummeting quickly. “Smile”, if it had been released, would have put them at the forefront of post-pop psychedelia but Brian Wilson’s mental decline led to the cancellation of what would have blown everybody’s mind, to use the jargon of the time. The release of “Smiley Smile”, in September 1967, went some way to placing them somewhere in the orbit of the zeitgeist but apart from the majestic “Heroes And Villains” and the perfection that is “Good Vibrations”, many of the remaining nine tracks were seen as more odd than forward thinking, progressive or “out there”.

In 1968, many of the leading musicians of the time were getting “back to basics”. The Beatles eponymous album eschewed much of the intricate arrangement of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“. Two years after the complexity and thin wild mercury sound of “Blonde On Blonde“, Bob Dylan released “John Wesley Harding”, a low key affair of ten songs with no choruses or overdubs. The Band’s “Music From Big Pink” was regarded as one of the most influential albums of the era, with it’s focus on good playing, great songs and no special effects. Who was the first of the big musical artists who released a “back to basics” album in 1968? That’s a trick question because the answer is The Beach Boys and Wild Honey was released on 18th December 1967.

As with “Smiley Smile”, each side of the album opens with a single. “Darlin‘” is 132 seconds of pure pop perfection and was released on the same day as the album, eventually reaching Number 11 in the U.K. and Number 19 in the U.S.A. Carl Wilson, whose lead vocals on the song are particularly strong, recalled that the song was recorded in just one or two takes which is remarkable, considering the complexity of the harmonies.

The title track, “Wild Honey“, had been released as a single on 23rd October, 1967 and reached Number 29 in the U.K. and Number 31 in the U.S.A. Once again, Carl Wilson takes led vocals and this song is rooted in 60’s R’n’B. Mike Love recalls writing the lyrics “Brian was doing this track with a Theremin and we were doing the song. I went into the kitchen and we were in this health food thing and wild honey was all natural. So there’s this can of wild honey and we’re making some tea. So I said, I’ll write the lyrics about this girl who was a wild little honey. And I wrote it from the perspective that that album was Brian’s R&B-influenced album, in his mind. It may not sound like it to a Motown executive but that was where he was coming from on that record. In that particular instance I wrote it from the perspective of Stevie Wonder singing it.”

The Theremin had been developed by the Russian inventor Leon Theremin, after the Soviet government sponsored research into proximity sensors. It was quite difficult to control the sound and so Paul Tanner, a member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, developed the instrument to include a slider; this became the Electro-Theremin. When Brian Wilson heard Paul Tanner playing the Electro-Theremin during the theme tune to “My Favorite Martian”, he asked him to play the instrument on “Good Vibrations”. The opening notes to “Wild Honey” are also played by Paul Tanner, who continues to oscillate between the two notes throughout the song.

These two singles indicated a return to a simpler type of song, with a R’n’B/Motown rhythm, wonderful vocals, trademark harmonies and some interesting but understated effects. The Beach Boys may have been considered unfashionable at the time but, in hindsight, they were trendsetters.

Aren’t You Glad” is a typical late 60’s Beach Boys album track. It’s subdued, restrained and not in any way ostentatious; it just happens to be perfect. Lead vocals are shared by Mike Love, Brian WIlson and Carl Wilson. The melody is beautiful, the harmonies are gorgeous, the playing is subtle and it’s all over in 138 seconds.

Less typical is “I Was Made To Love Her“, which had been a Number Two hit for Stevie Wonder in July 1967. Whilst it is a surprising choice, once again Carl Wilson’s soulful vocals are completely out there. The Beach Boys are rightly known as a harmony group but it’s often forgotten that they had five very good singers as well as one of the best singers of any generation.

A good memory: Three good teenage friends in a field, playing with a tennis ball while the sun was setting and only finishing when it was too dark to see. All of us getting a breath of the “Country Air” near Ticehurst in East Sussex. Andy, Alex and I in 1968 were making the most of a perfect Summer’s afternoon. One of Alex’s favourite songs.

Another of Alex’s favourite songs was “I’d Love Just Once To See You” and I can clearly see the smile on his face as he played me the song for the first time, watching to see how I would react to the last line. It never occurred to us that the wonderful, perfect Beach Boys could enjoy smutty schoolboy humour as much as we did. Brian Wilson’s vocals on this song are charming and the way he urges his friend to visit him and bake him a pie is a perfect precursor to “Busy Doin’ Nothin'” from “Friends“, which would be released six months later in June 1968.

I’m doin’ this and I’m doin’ that and I’m a-walkin’ the floor. I drink a little of this and eat a little of that and poke my head out the door. I get thinkin’ I’m a-wasting the night away. I wouldn’t mind if I could get with you right away. Oh, honey, don’t know how long it’s been but this feeling’s buildin’ up inside again.

I wash the dishes and I rinsed up the sink like a busy bee. I make up a song as I’m a-workin’ along – no one’s watching me. I wish that you were here to help me dry. When’s the last time you baked me a pie? You had a way of makin’ it come alive. It’s not too late for you to take a drive.

It’s not too late. I’d love just once to see you. I’d love just once to see you. I’d love just once to see you in the nude.

Brian Wilson takes lead vocals again on “Here Comes The Night” which was reworked on “l.A. (Light Album)” in 1979 into an eleven minute disco track.

The last track on the album, “Mama Says” is a list of instructions including “Eat a lot. Sleep a lot. Brush ’em like crazy. Runa lot. Do a lot. Never be lazy” This was a one minute sequence taken from the “Smile” song “Vega-Tables”.

The whole album lasts for 24 minutes and 28 seconds. (Side Four of “The Beatles” lasted for 24 minutes and 21 seconds). The “back-to-basics”, R’n’B/Motown sound makes it a very comforting, soothing, warm listen.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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