Several drug-and-meditation addled men in their thirties singing about dating girls at an amusement park! A cover song, no less! This should be a complete disaster, and the fact that it actually works pretty well can only be attributed to the total singing conviction of Carl Wilson, who can somehow sell lines like “I took a ride on the shoopty shoop / The girl I sat with almost puked” or “And when she winked, I gave that girl a hug.” Somehow his delivery and the neat backup vocals (which do their best to assure us that yes, the rides are indeed running) even distract the astute listener from the creepy fact that this obviously middle-aged-sounding narrator has “taken a walk in the dark” to hit on women at an amusement park. We don’t want to think about that. We want to think about how his arms are flying up! Like a rocket ship! Down! Like a roll-er coast-er!
(Note that in trying to figure out who wrote the original “Pallisades Park,” I’ve come across this man. His game show experiments aside, you have to respect anyone who writes a plainly fake autobiography about being a secret CIA assassin in order to “make a point,” whatever point that may be, and this endears me significantly to his lyrics.)
I confess that in my book, I’ve amalgamated Carl and Al into one character. I had to. Both Carl and Al are engagingly bizarre, true and I’ve spent enough time obsessing over these matters to be able to write both pretty well, but they’re both a quiet kind of bizarre, and when compared to the full out crazy of your Brians, your Dennises, your Mike Loves, there’s no way it can work to have two quiet characters, and it’s far better to combine their eccentricities. When I really regret that decision is when I listen to a really, really good Carl song from a terrible part of Beach Boys history—notably, his lead on the crazy 1979 disco remake of “Here Comes the Night.” He is really working very, very hard through his singing to make that record into a good decision.
Carl Wilson in the latter-day Beach Boys is fascinating in the way Albert Speer is fascinating. Yes, he shouldn’t be in the situation he’s in, but he’s sure going to make the best of it!
I have little more to say about “Pallisades Park.” As far as songs about the fair go, this is about on par with “Amusement Parks USA” from the 1965 Summer Days and Summer Nights album. Eerily, the 1976 age-inappropriate cover song about amusement parks is actually more wholesome than the earlier song, cut when the band members were in their twenties, given the 1965 cut’s horrifying spoken word bridge, its references to snake women and to people burning to death in bumper cars, its quiet voices squeaking “Is it REAL?”