The music suggests the Beach Boys are all having fun, despite the pretense of enjoyment. This is meta-amusement.
The Beach Boys were the best-selling American band during the mid-'60s, trailing only the Beatles in popularity. They already had released two top five albums in 1965, only to be told by their record label that they needed another one to take advantage of the Christmas shopping holidays. By then, Brian Wilson had stopped touring with the group to concentrate on songwriting and arrangements, and he and the group knew they would not be able to create another worthy studio release so quickly. Since the Beach Boys put out a live album just a year earlier, they did not thinking that doing another one would be a good idea, unless there was something different about it. They came up with the idea of recording a live in the studio party using acoustic instruments, playing other people’s songs, and joking around with each other and friends. Hence, the Beach Boys’ Party! was born.
Well, at least that’s the legend surrounding the record, and most of it is based on truth. There were other factors involved, and anyone with even a smattering of knowledge about the band at this period understands this was a complicated time as Brian struggled to write Pet Sounds. The live studio release actually was generated with parts of songs recorded at different sessions over several weeks and combined, it used fake audience responses and noises to help the disc sound more genuine, etc. But the album became a hit, in large part due to the hit single “Barbara Ann”, which was not even originally slated to be part of the set.
Capitol Records has just reissued the album, but this time “uncovered and unplugged". The label took out the bogus audience sounds of laughing and clapping (hence the first 12 songs are “uncovered”) and added dozens more for a combined total of a whopping 43 tracks on two CDs. That means one gets to hear several versions of the same song, often with flubs and such, as well as dialogue between the band members. Most of these would only be of interest to the Beach Boys’ special fans, but the new cleaned-up versions of the dozen original cuts are worthy of everyone’s attention.
The new record bills itself as “unplugged” but even the 1965 version contained mostly acoustic instruments (there was an electric bass used on a few cuts). The unembellished songs reveal how clean the vocal harmonies and 12-string guitars sounded. The material includes everything from three Beatles covers (“Tell Me Why”, “I Should Have Known Better”, and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing”, several blasts from the past like the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” and The Rivingtons’ “Papa Oom Mow Mow”, and even a couple exuberant riffs of their own stuff (“I Get Around", “Little Deuce Coupe”). The bonus hits here shows they tried lots of other cuts by the Beatles and Dylan, as well as a host of other interesting selections such as Dion’s “Ruby Baby”, the Robins’ “Riot in Cell Block #9”, and the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.
But it is the 12 original cuts now in heard in their immaculate setting that shine the most. The much-maligned Mike Love on lead makes the Olympics’ “Hully Gully” into something much more festive than just a dance song. It does sound like a party in itself! The spirit of having a good time infects all of the songs, even when Dennis Wilson growls “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away", or Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean) comes in the room. He and Brian turn the Regents’ “Barbara Ann” into something exciting.
Beach Boys’ Party! Uncovered and Unplugged may not be a revelation to long time Beach Boys fans who always sensed the quality of the recordings, but it is a lot more pleasurable than the padded party noises ever conveyed. The music suggests they are all having fun, despite the pretense of enjoyment. This is meta-amusement. The merriment may be the most subversive aspect of the whole project.