The Beach Boys - Solo and Outside Works
Created | Updated Jan 8, 2012
Almost all of the Beach Boys have been involved in projects outside of the band. A few of these are either of no importance to the band's 'canon' (for want of a better word), or are impossible to track down, and these have been dealt with only briefly. This entry also doesn't mention certain minor projects and guest appearances as backing vocalists.
As well as being the band's main creative force, Brian Wilson was also the first to release a solo record. In fact, both songs on his single 'Caroline, No' backed with 'Summer Means New Love' were taken from Beach Boys albums, although Brian was the only Beach Boy to feature on either track.
This 1988 album was Brian's first true solo outing, although at the time it was overshadowed by the Beach Boys' number one hit 'Kokomo', released contemporaneously and in which Brian had no involvement. In retrospect, even the most minor track on this album is a thousand times more worthy than that particular pop confection, but at the time the buying public was unconvinced.
Apart from a few dodgy lyrics, the songwriting on the album is superb, but the production suffers from a slight case of too many cooks. The production credits include Brian Wilson, Andy Paley, Lenny Waronker, Russ Titelman, Jeff Lynne and Eugene Landy.
Eugene Landy, incidentally, was the controversial psychiatrist who exerted control of much of Brian's life at this time, also functioning as Brian's collaborator and manager. He is no longer involved with Brian Wilson or the Beach Boys in any capacity.
This album was reissued in 2000 by Rhino, with bonus tracks (contemporaneous non-album B-sides and singles, demo versions etc) and is an essential buy for anyone interested in popular music.
Sweet Insanity (Unreleased)
This album, the unreleased follow-up to Brian Wilson remains unreleased for good reason. By this time it seems that Eugene Landy had control over Brian's creative output, to its enormous detriment.
The album includes such horrors as 'Smart Girls' - a rap song about intelligent women, sampling old Beach Boys tunes, with such lines as 'Wouldn't It Be Nice if PhDs/were stroking me with hypotheses'. The album isn't entirely worthless, and 'Don't Let her Know She's an Angel' ranks with the very best of Brian's work, but on the whole it's third-rate at best.
I Just Wasn't Made for these Times (IJWMFTT)
This 1995 album was produced by Don Was, and is the soundtrack to his documentary of the same name. In much the same style as the Unplugged albums, it showcases Brian in an intimate setting performing several of his best works from throughout his career (although concentrating on 1966 - 72). Although not essential to any collection, it is a good introduction to the work of a great artist.
Orange Crate Art
Released in 1995 at the same time as IJWMFTT, this is less a Brian Wilson album than Brian singing the lead vocals on a Van Dyke Parks album. Fans of Parks' unique take on America's musical heritage will love this gentle, beautiful album, but at this point in his life Brian's singing is probably his least notable talent, and while it's great to see these two geniuses working together again, it would probably have been better as a purely Parks album.
The Paley Sessions (Unreleased)
Recorded in the mid-90s, these collaborations with Andy Paley (and in two cases featuring the Beach Boys) attained semi-legendary status among the fan community before they became widely-bootlegged, at which point it became obvious that, much like the rest of Brian's work since 1977 (released or otherwise), the material is a mixture of the wondrous and the decidedly average.
The production style is, however, far closer to Brian's best than on the material that has actually been released. Brian has recently talked about re-recording the best of it with his current touring band. Let's hope so.
Brian features on three tracks on this album by his daughters (formerly of Wilson Philips). The album is average at best, but it's worth picking up for 'Everything I Need', Brian's first collaboration in 30 years with Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher.
Brian's most recent studio album, from 1998, this divided, and still divides, fans. Co-produced by Joe Thomas (who also co-produced the Beach Boys' album of country collaborations Stars & Stripes Vol 1 the soft-rock clichés of the backing tracks don't sit well with the songs.
Having said that, Brian's vocals on 'She Says that She Needs Me' (a remake of a legendary unreleased Beach Boys track) are the best he's done since 1965. 'Your Imagination' is the best pop song he's done in decades, 'Sunshine' has an incredibly beautiful tag (supposedly written by Thomas) and 'Happy Days' is arguably the best song he's written since 1971, if not earlier.
Imagination takes some time to get into, but is very rewarding.
Live at the Roxy
Fans were astonished when, to promote Imagination, Brian Wilson announced he was to do a short tour. Other than a brief period in the late 1970s/ early 1980s, Brian had not appeared on stage regularly since 1964, and it was not thought likely that he ever would. What was even more astonishing was the quality of the shows.
Brian can no longer hit his old falsetto notes, and is uncomfortable on stage, so it was thought that at best the shows would be mediocre. In fact they were anything but. The backing band, led by Jeff Foskett (a former Beach Boys sideman and a great powerpop musician in his own right) and including powerpop band The Wondermints, had such a love of and reverence for the music that many have said these shows are better than any that the Beach Boys themselves ever performed.
Brian has continued touring, and this double CD set is a record of two shows from spring 2000 and lives up to every report. The backing band is truly spectacular, Brian's singing is better than it has been in years, Jeff Foskett manages to cover the falsetto parts that in past years both Brian and Carl would have covered, and the song selection is impeccable.
Most important to the fans will be the 'new' material. Two such tracks are covers - 'Be My Baby' is a cover version of Brian's all time favourite record, while 'Brian Wilson' is a cover of part of Canadian band Barenaked Ladies' tribute to the great man, both funny and touching in context. Of the other two, 'This Isn't Love' is a reasonable Burt Bacharach-type song which had previously appeared as a piano instrumental on a compilation called Songs Without Words, but appears here with lyrics by Tony Asher (the song also features in the recent Flintstones film) and 'The First Time' is a song dating from 1983 which appears here legally for the first time on this album.
The best thing of all is that this album appears on Brian's own label, and has the credit 'produced by Brian Wilson' for the first time in 23 years. He finally seems to have creative control and the backing band to handle his demands, and as great as this album is (and it's by far his best solo product) it's nothing compared to the hope it holds out for the future.
Brian also released a new Christmas song for 2000.
Mike Love is, perhaps unfairly, maligned by the majority of Beach Boys fans, but one thing that is certain is that his solo career deserves everything that can be thrown at it. Two albums by a side-project, Celebration, while somewhat off-topic for this Entry, are OK - the rest leave a lot to be desired.
Two albums, First Love and Country Love remain unreleased.
Looking back with Love
The songs are awful, the production terrible, and Love's voice so nasal it would be easy to believe the whole thing was an elaborate joke. Avoid at all costs.
Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and David Marks Salute NASCAR
An album made by members of the band then touring as 'The Beach Boys', for sale at petrol stations in the USA to promote Union 76 gasoline. It consists of remakes of Beach Boys car songs ranging from the dreadful (the remake of 'Don't Worry Baby' is truly painful to listen to) to the really quite good ('Ballad of Ole Betsy' is actually better than the original), plus a version of Jan & Dean's 'The Little Old Lady From Pasadena' featuring Dean Torrence, and a good version of 'Little GTO' by Ronnie & The Regents. Hunt it down if you enjoy searching for out-of-print budget albums of dodgy remakes of classic hits.
Having said this, Mike Love has made some important contributions to the Beach Boys music. To get a view from 'the other side' visit the Mike Love Fan Club.
Dennis' solo career started in the early '70s with an out of print 45 'Sound of Free' b/w 'Lady', under the name 'Dennis Wilson and Rumbo'1 but in fact featuring other members of the Beach Boys. Heavily influenced by Tim Hardin, it's a shame Dennis didn't release more solo material at this time.
Pacific Ocean Blue
Dennis' 1977 solo album is considered by many to be the finest Beach Boy solo project. Very different and far rockier than any Beach Boys release, this atmospheric album is defined by Dennis' gruff vocals, which resemble those of mid-80s Tom Waits or mid-70s Harry Nilsson.
Before his death, Dennis worked on one more, unreleased and unfinished, solo album, featuring guest appearances by his brother Carl and by Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. While it remains unreleased, the best tracks have turned up on Beach Boys' releases over the years, 'Baby Blue' and 'Love Surrounds Me' on LA (Light Album), 'Morning Christmas' on Ultimate Christmas and 'All Alone' on Endless Harmony. Much of the rest of the album is incomplete or comparatively poor.
For more information on Dennis Wilson, visit the Dennis Wilson Fan Site.
Carl released two solo albums in the early '80s, Carl Wilson and Youngblood. These suffered from many of the production problems that also affected Brian's solo work, but without the compensating moments of songwriting genius. Between the two albums, there are enough good tracks to make one very good album, and Carl's beautiful voice makes everything at least listenable, but given what he was capable of, these albums are a minor disappointment.
The posthumously released Like a Brother, his collaboration with Gerry Beckley of America and Robert Lamm of Chicago, is best forgotten, being more reminiscent of the songs on the Pokemon cartoons. Were it not for Carl's untimely death, this would not have found a release, but as these are his last recordings, there's enough interest among fans to sell even this relatively poor material
There do not appear to be any Carl Wilson fan sites, but there is a page set up by his sons for their charity, the Carl Wilson Foundation, which organises events for cancer research.
Much of Bruce's solo work was done while he was not in the band, and therefore falls outside the scope of this Entry, but a couple of things deserve noting. The first is his work with Terry Melcher, which produced (as the Rip-Chords) the top 5 hit 'Hey Little Cobra' and which is collected on The Best Of Bruce & Terry. The second is his mid-70s album Goin' Public, recorded during his temporary absence from the band. A saccharine collection of ballads, it contains remakes of his Beach Boys songs 'Deirdre' and 'Disney Girls', both of which are inferior to the originals, plus his own version of his 'I Write the Songs', Barry Manilow's version of which was a huge hit and won Johnston a Grammy (the only time any of the Beach Boys has ever won the award). The album is really isn't very good. This also goes for Symphonic Sounds, a collection of Beach Boys' songs performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, produced by Johnston, with various guest appearances from members of the Beach Boys touring band, along with Johnston and Love.
Alan Jardine has apparently recorded an album with his sons, and various members of the classic Beach Boys touring backing band, under the name of The Jardines, but it has not yet been released. The only solo Jardine material to have seen release is a duet with his son Matt, billed as 'Alan and Matt Jardine of the Beach Boys' on Papa loves Mama, a Garth Brooks tribute CD. A live album by Jardine's project 'The Beach Boys Family and Friends' is apparently due for release soon.
Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar recorded several albums with their band The Flame before joining the Beach Boys, including one produced by Carl Wilson. Blondie Chaplin also recorded a solo album, and has toured with the Byrds and the Rolling Stones, while Ricky Fataar went on to play Stig O'Hara in Beatles parody The Rutles, and appeared on the soundtrack album. Blondie is apparently working on a new solo album, which may feature Ricky.
David Marks, who was rhythm guitarist in the band during Al's temporary absence in 1962-3 and rejoined briefly in 1997-99 to cover the parts played by Carl Wilson, also has a solo CD out.
Out of Print Recordings
Please note that the following, while mentioned in the text, are currently out of print:
- Looking Back With Love
- Pacific Ocean Blue
- Carl Wilson
Any unreleased recordings mentioned above are also unavailable.