Beach Boys YouTube wormholes can take many paths, from sunshine-draped reveries to sudden decisive turns towards the seriously depressing. But no clickbait-enhanced listicle of questionable Mike Love sartorial/dance/aesthetic moves, horrifying Brian Wilson zombie moments, made-for-TV movies, or John Stamos appearances could ever possibly top the legendary bootleg Endless Bummer: The Very Worst of the Beach Boys, which has all the Brian rap, Budweiser ads, drunken in-studio rants by stage-father Murry Wilson, and Spanish versions of “Kokomo” that one might (hopefully) ever desire. With the band coming to town for two shows at the Beacon Theater this week, and at least a few people planning to go—plus the onset of actual summer and all that—it’s good vibrations only today. You can Google the rest yourselves.
“I Get Around” from The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)
Wait 53 seconds for the first shot of drummer Dennis Wilson to understand why the girls (and probably also the boys) are screaming. Only a few years removed from surf-delinquent teendom, The T.A.M.I. Show—shot on the Boys’ home turf at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1964—is Dennis Wilson at his most primal and the Beach Boys as their most convincing as a rock band.
“Guess I’m Dumb” performed by Glen Campbell from Shindig (1965)
Never recorded by the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson’s “Guess I’m Dumb”—written for Glen Campbell to thank him for acting as stunt-Brian in 1964—features Brian and others on backing vocals. Probably not on the Beach Boys’ setlist for 2012, though it should be; it’s one of Brian’s greatest, and a template for Pet Sounds‘ melancholy.
Brian Wilson plays the fragile “Surf’s Up”—the would-be centerpiece to the in-progress Smile album—at home, not long before he had his grand piano moved into a sandbox to feel the beach under his feet as he wrote.
“God Only Knows” from UNICEF Variety Gala (1967)
With unobtrusive orchestral accompaniment, the Beach Boys pull off a live version of “God Only Knows” that sounds as flawless as Pet Sounds, and might well be a lip-synch if all synchronization and historical evidence didn’t point to the contrary. After this show, with John Lennon and George Harrison in the audience, the Beach Boys were introduced to the Maharishi.
“Walk On By” from Friends sessions (1968)
No passage into the wormhole would be complete without some audio-only studio outtake, like this all-too-brief version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk On By,” its arrangement demoed by Brian for the Friends sessions, but never completed. It’s possible to get lost for days in this sub-branch of related videos. Also recommended is the vocals-only version of “Break Away,” their live version of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” with the Grateful Dead from Fillmore East ’71, and the 1967 Hawaii shows (and even more stunning rehearsals), the last to feature the original Beach Boys quintet without any auxiliary musicians, including Smile‘s complex “Heroes and Villains.”
“Never Learn Not to Love” from Mike Douglas Show (1968)
Watch the Boys mime along to the Dennis Wilson-sung, Charles Manson-penned “Never Learn Not to Love.” No bad vibrations here. It’s a great song. Plus, bonus points for a rare appearance by Carl Wilson “playing” drums.
“I Can Hear Music” promotional video (1969)
Brian Wilson didn’t fully melt down until well after the Smile sessions, a major contributing factor to Beach Boys albums at least through the early ’70s, in large part because the band’s new studio was built directly below his bedroom. Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry’s “I Can Hear Music” was the lead single from 20/20—and the first produced by Carl—but it’s set to home movies shot at Brian’s house, a period in which the band operated as a real collaborative group in the studio, all contributing and performing on a series of underrated records. Things didn’t start to really suck until the seventies.
“Sail, On Sailor” featuring Ray Charles from Beach Boys’ 25th Anniversary Concert (1987)
This should not be good, probably. Definitely. The vibrations get very ugly indeed behind the links to the rest of this TV special—unless one happened to see it when it originally aired and is looking for a peculiar double-layered kick of ’60s/’80s nostalgia. But give or take the accuracy of Brian’s intro, which claims to have written it with Charles in mind—Van Dyke Parks has said Brian barely contributed to the song at all—somebody must have been thinking of Brother Ray. And if not, the Genius and the Dumb Angels make the song far more than it ever was before and has been since.
“The Warmth of Sun” featuring Willie Nelson from Stars and Stripes, vol. 1 (1996)
If only Brian Wilson was as unbothered by Mike Love as Willie Nelson, who totally ignores Love’s vocal suggestions in this awkward but hilarious behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the first and thankfully only volume of the Boys’ collaborations with country stars. Nelson turns in a wrenching performance of “The Warmth of the Sun,” the only song on the album not worth deleting from memory (virtual or actual) immediately.
The Beach Boys play the Beacon Theater on May 8 and 9.