The little woodwind and the nice piano is only part of what makes this one of the better of the 15 Big Ones, even given the fact that we start out listening to Mike Love’s lead for the third song in a row. Mike Love is like a cluster bomb; he must be carefully deployed to avoid international outrage. When he sings “Had to phone ya” over and over in the opening lines, DEFCON status drops a point and Security Council members knit their brows, loosen their ties, take long prayerful drinks of water. When he sings that “California’s not so far away” and the triumphant “Feel so good when you come on the line,” love parades spill nakedly into the streets of Prague; a thousand doves are released from a thousand cages; an evil man sings of redemption. It is good stuff!
The round robin vocals here are what make this track kind of a gem. Even though Carl and Dennis each get maybe ten seconds of solo vox time, it’s worth listening to this just for those performances; Carl gets to sing about his spirit and Dennis gets one of those great sustained Dennis notes. I don’t know what Al was doing while this was getting recorded (or I just can’t pick out Al’s voice so well), but it is a pretty good document of the band members who were actually related, and what the special superpower of each member happens to be. Even Marilyn gets to be on this one, or at least I assume that’s her saying “Hey, Brian!” on the fadeout. Her superpower is to put up with Brian!
(N.b., one could usefully compare the Beach Boys to the Royal Tenenbaums, in that Mike Love is Eli Cash, and this is the root of his struggle. One could not make many useful comparisons to the Royal Tenenbaums beyond this.)
And it’s hard to imagine another group that would try to pull off what the group almost pulls off on the bridge section, with a long group vocal chant solely consisting of the word “you.” The only real iffy part about this, I think, is the rough recording, the roughness of which becomes much more evident when the singers are literally just singing the same word over and over with a different pitch and inflection each time. It still almost works. It’s still this kind of over the top nutso emotionalism that only this band can do, because it seems not to know how nutso it is, or not to care. Brian writes the best lyrics because they have almost zero sense of boundaries, my favorite instance of this being “Could we, could we, could we get married? / I’m sick I’m sick I’m sick of going steady” on Love You’s “Mona,” or the time on the Friends album where he gives Beach Boys fans incredibly accurate directions to his house. Because he wants you to visit him! He will not come to you!
A good essay could be written on the number of times in post-Smile Beach Boys albums when Brian seriously addresses the logistical question of getting a girl to his house, or getting to a girl’s house. Graphs could be made about which years contain the most instances of such logistics, who goes to visit whom, whether a phone call precedes the journey, etc.
The most troubling moment on this track, though, is when Brian finally takes the lead on the outro, revealing his voice on a record for the first time since the 1973 Holland album (where if I’m not mistaken, all he really does is the cartoon voice of the Pied Piper from the Faraway Land of Night on the bonus EP), and providing through his totally destroyed voice the most powerful argument against smoking and cocaine one can muster. I have to believe this was a shock to hear in 1976, and it’s still a really jarring moment, even given the iffiness of the “you” chant immediately preceding his entry. Dennis’s voice gets bad as the group goes on, true, and for the same reason, but Dennis’s voice was never famous for being The Best Voice, the voice you think of when you think of the Beach Boys, the voice that made Kraftwerk decide to start a band, the voice of God speaking through dumb angel teenagers. God as ultimate manifest destiny hedonistic empire. That God.
A really dreadful but compelling mashup could be made between this and that Lady Gaga song.