Wednesday, December 9, 2009

20 Years Ago Still Cruisin' Stalled

Still Cruisin'
Capitol Records
By David M. Beard

This hodgepodge of an album still bemuses me after 20 years, because, as good as Side 1 is, Side 2 falls flat. Most longtime Beach Boy fans simply dismiss this album, which is a mistake. If this album had been released in 1991 it would have faired much better (with the addition of "Problem Child" and "Crocodile Rock"). The inclusion of "I Get Around" (mono), "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "California Girls" (stereo) on the tail end of side 2 watered the album down to such an extent that it's almost unlistenable. A consistency missing from this album: An individual track contribution from Bruce Johnston.

Side 1 had the group being compared by some critics to Fleetwood Mac and U2; not exactly bad company. I won't be reviewing "Wipe Out," as it is a dismissive recording.

"Still Cruisin'" (T. Melcher/M. Love): Mike Love is in prime Beach Boys Adult-Contemporary form with the album's title track; a sort of "Do It Again" for the "Kokomo" generation. Not exactly a song that I would choose to play while watching Mel Gibson's trailer get shot up on the beach in Lethal Weapon 2… But what do I know? It was the only "beach" scene in the movie, so I guess they had to squeeze it in somewhere.

"Somewhere Near Japan" (Phillips/Melcher/Love/Johnston): This song, along with the music video, features the Beach Boys at their Adult-Contemporary best. The vocal structuring is top drawer and enables each member an intertwining moment seamlessly bouncing off of one another. Great mix, and great execution, and a true group effort.

Historical notes: Co-written by the late "Papa" John Phillips, this song was purportedly written about his daughter Mackenzie during her drug addiction to heroin. The lyric, "Now she's trippin' on some Chinese junk…" was sung by Al Jardine, who upon the discovery of the lyric's meaning (post recording) stated he wouldn't have sung it if he had known what the song was about. The alternate radio edit version omitted the gong sound effect beginning.

"Island Girl" (Alan Jardine): Opening with the stellar trio blend of Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson and Al Jardine, this recording does not let up for one second, and is, for my money, Al Jardine's finest moment as a composer and writer of an original Beach Boys recording. This track also features seamless cross-vocal mixing. Carl's wonderful vamp vocal, "Every now and then I get this silly grin when I'm out in her company… " Not exactly the best lyrics, but it's still worth repeated listens.

"In My Car" (Wilson/Landy/Morgan): Primarily a recording overseen by Landy and his crew, Brian brought this song to the table to fill out the album. His vocals with younger brother Carl are excellent, but this would have been a far better recording with vocals from Al, Mike and Bruce complimenting the overall sound.

"Kokomo" (Phillips/Melcher/Love/McKenzie): Beach Boys fans of old dismiss this song without blinking, but the truth is this is a very good song. In fact, if not for "Kokomo," "Papa" John Phillips would not have enjoyed post Mama & Papas hit success. Perhaps the problem lies in the reality that this song outsold Brian's beautiful "Love & Mercy." In a perfect world Brian would have been a Beach Boy at the time, and both recordings would have had the Beach Boys name on it. Either way, the summer of 1988 was a great time for Beach Boys and Brian Wilson fans.

"Make It Big" (Melcher/House/Love): The track features some interesting breaks, and the lyrical message is nice, but that's about it. Considering Troop Beverly Hills is a children's film, the song fits… One of the nicer moments is the break where Mike Love aptly sings: "Baby you're a superstar, lookin' like you're goin' far… Do what ya' wanna. C'mon and do what you wanna… Be my little beauty queen up there on the Silver Screen, c'mon and do what you wanna… "

Here's a stronger lineup for a 14-track Still Cruisin' (combining the idea of soundtrack recordings with new material, released from 1984-1991):
SIDE 1: Soundtrack recordings
"Still Cruisin'" (T. Melcher/M. Love) — Lethal Weapon 2
"Kokomo" (Phillips/Melcher/Love/McKenzie) — Cocktail
"Chasin' The Sky" (Randy Bishop) — Up The Creek
"Make It Big" (Melcher/House/Love) — Troop Beverly Hills
"Problem Child" (Melcher) — Problem Child
"Wipe Out" (The Surfaris) — The Fat Boys (with the Beach Boys)
"Happy Endings" (Johnston/Melcher) — (with Little Richard) — The Telephone

SIDE 2: Other songs
"Crocodile Rock" (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
"Somewhere Near Japan" (Phillips/Melcher/Love/Johnston)
"Island Girl" (Alan Jardine)
"Lady Liberty" (Alan Jardine/Ron Altbach)
"In My Car" (Wilson/Landy/Morgan)
"Rock n Roll To The Rescue" (Love/Melcher)
"California Dreamin'" (Phillips/Gilliam)

Bonus cuts:
"Kokomo" [Spanish Version]

Among the really cool releases that hasn't happened yet, outside of a few other mythically dangling projects, is a true "Beach Boys At The Movies" compilation. This is something that I've researched in detail (to the point of submitting a complete lineup to EMI in 2008). I'll write more on this in a future blog.

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