The Basement Vapes, Volume 12: Friendless Summer Playlist—Recommended If You Like … Wilson!

In a cast-away world without desert-island discs and no Beach Boys to lean on, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers unearths sunken treasures and lost pet sounds to add some music to your day.  

Not sure about the beach this summer? Hopefully, you’ll figure it out. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of making use of the things around you. And no excuses! Just remember poor Tom Hanks and his resourceful character Chuck Noland in the 2000 movie Cast Away. Surviving is tough when you’re forced to make do with what you can salvage on your own, but it can be done.

For example, what if you were stranded somewhere remote without your beloved desert-island discs? Let’s just say that you had absolutely no access to anything by the Beach Boys. No Pet Sounds, no Smile sessions, no “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Could you still manage to sort out some good vibrations? I think we all know the world can be a lonely place without your pal Wilson.

Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys have permeated our world for six decades, but there are also forgotten treasures from recording artists who’ve been influenced by Wilson and Co. The group’s iconic sound has been frequently emulated with its the grand arrangements, sumptuous harmonies, layered vocals, luminous melodies, emotive orchestrations and occasional shoreline aesthetics. 

The Beach Boys begin generating ubiquitous hit singles in the early ’60s with surf and car tunes. Then came California sagas and symphonic sandbox celebrations fusing high-concept artistry, pop-savant introspections and quaint American sock-hop psychedelia with pristine sound production and lavish studio wizardry. From the beginning, unknown singers, industry producers and staff arrangers were duly inspired by Wilson’s eccentric genius and crafted their own musical offerings. To this point, we here at MAGNET have assembled some tracks to compensate for the hypothetical lack of Beach Boys songs: a Friendless Summer Playlist, if you will. So, let the games begin by saying the name … Wilson! 

Mark Eric “Where Do the Girls Of The Summer Go?” (1969)

Mark Eric Maimborg was a good-looking Los Angeles kid who stumbled into Hollywood as a musician and songwriter and later worked as an actor. His one album, A Midsummer’s Day Dream, came out in 1969 and revealed a profound Beach Boys influence with a splash of Bacharach. Maimborg’s winsome voice was limited but well suited for his yearning, Wilson-esque reveries, while dreamy orchestral arrangements for strings and horns help sustain the season-ending fantasia of “Where Do The Girls Of The Summer Go?” Where indeed.

Sagittarius “My World Fell Down” (1968)

Sagittarius was a 1968 project conceived by L.A. producer/musician Gary Usher, who’d co-written songs with Brian Wilson including “In My Room.” On “My World Fell Down,” Usher was abetted by the talented Curt Boettcher along with actual Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, producer/party boy Terry Melcher and Glen Campbell, who toured as a Beach Boy and sings lead here. The song even has Wrecking Crew kingpin Hal Blaine on drums. It represents an essential achievement in West Coast pop/psychedelia, sounding like a perfect cross between the Mamas And The Papas and “Good Vibrations”-era Beach Boys. While the Sagittarius musicians were individually responsible for much of the California sound at the time, it took them all working together on this one song to approximate Wilson’s artistry.

Billy Nicholls “Would You Believe” (1968)

Much like Maimborg, British singer Billy Nicholls got into the music business at a very young age. Gaining some attention, he garnered a quick record deal with rock impresario Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Oldham—a huge fan of both Phil Spector and Brian Wilson—served as the record’s producer and encouraged Nicholls to indulge his California-fueled music fantasies. Would You Believe was recorded in 1968 with U.K. musicians including Small Faces singer Stevie Marriott, and its title track boasts a Beach Boys-styled arrangement re-imagined by British fanatics who threw everything they could into the mix. 

Modern Folk Quartet “This Could Be The Night” (1965)

Brian Wilson “This Could Be The Night” (1995)

Young Harry Nilsson wrote “This Could Be The Night” as a tribute to Brian Wilson in late 1965. Performed by the Modern Folk Quartet and produced by Wilson’s personal hero Phil Spector, this buoyant performance is both an homage to the budding Beach Boys vibe and a template for the “wall of sound” that they, too, would use in the future. Not surprising since Wilson was at the original recording session at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood and adored the song. Thirty years later, he finally recorded it himself on tribute album For The Love Of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson. Both versions are sweet and vulnerable, but which track sounds more like the Beach Boys?

Yellow Balloon “Yellow Balloon” (1967)

Another example of ’60s Hollywood in action, Yellow Balloon was the brainchild of producer Gary Zekley and musician Don Grady, a former Mouseketeer best known for the television series My Three Sons. Grady later made a fascinating solo record as Don Agrati, but Yellow Balloon was a prime example of the Wilson-ian “sunshine pop” movement in Southern California. The song starts out a little lightweight, but it reaches an inspired a cappella middle section in Beach Boys choir fashion replete with falsetto, so you have to consider this mission accomplished. 

Gary Usher “Friends” (1970)

High Llamas “Hawaiian Smile” (1996)

Previously titled Add Some Music To Your Day, Smile For Me: A Symphonic Tribute To Brian Wilson was “produced, conducted and arranged by Gary Usher.” Performed in 1970 with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, Usher’s concept LP was one step away from elevator music but still ahead of the curve. Moreover, there’s no denying Usher’s grasp of Wilson’s harmonic sophistication, and the beauty contained therein. A quarter century later, Sean O’Hagan of the High Llamas was happily mining related terrain, creating his own ornate universe with bittersweet melodies that harkened back to Wilson’s collaborations with Van Dyke Parks à la Smile. How could you not?

California Music “Jamaica Farewell” (1976)

“Sloop John B,” anyone? That traditional Bahamian folk song had been around since the early 1900s and was performed by the Weavers and the Kingston Trio before Beach Boy Al Jardine convinced Brian Wilson that it would work with their group harmonies. A similar sounding West Indies ditty called “Jamaica Farewell” was recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1957 and had a lesser but comparable trajectory. Vocal group California Music was basically another studio project helmed by Boettcher along with his pals Melcher and Usher. The song was recorded in 1976 when these nostalgic West Coast music veterans put their heads together to craft a reasonable facsimile of their master’s voice one more time. 

Brian Wilson “One For The Boys” (1988)

It’s probably safe to say that nobody misses the Beach Boys as much as Brian Wilson. “One For The Boys” was from Wilson’s first solo album in 1988 with assistance from engineer/musician Andy Paley. The original title was “There We Were,” and just like some of the old recordings by the Beach Boys, this wordless a cappella features Brian doing all of the vocal lines himself. Still, I imagine he would rather have been singing harmony alongside his dear brothers Carl and Dennis, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love. Don’t you?

BONUS TRACKS                                                                                    

John Cale “Mr. Wilson”( 1975)

All sorts of creative elites were down with the Beach Boys back in the day. Former Velvet Underground member John Cale made a point of singing Brian Wilson’s praises on his dark and powerful solo LP from 1975, Slow Dazzle. The song “Mr. Wilson” was a straightforward fan letter from Cale that also remembered not to skimp on the angelic backing vocals. He closes out the earnest paean intoning dryly, “California wine tastes fine.” 

Todd Rundgren “Good Vibrations” (1976)

In 1976, the multi-talented Todd Rundgren released his wonderful Faithful album, which included six classic rock tunes that he had re-created quite, well, faithfully. Besides covering all-stars like the Beatles, Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, Rundgren chose to tackle the Beach Boys’ shining moment, “Good Vibrations.” Rather than trying to improve on perfection, Todd’s sonic imitation of this amazing song is simply letter-perfect. What better endorsement than the sincerest form of flattery?