The Beach Boys were the first band I ever loved. As a kid their harmonies were infectious, and they had a wholesome sound that evoked the sun-dappled afternoons on Pacific beaches that the Wide World of Disney or the Brady Bunch in Hawaii romanticized. I remember going to a summer camp that had a huge cabinet LP player and a copy of Endless Summer perpetually on rotation, and loved the optimism and promise the music aroused. Even as the band devolved into an oldies act, playing state fairs and aging before my eyes, I never lost my enthusiasm for their music, and if anything, have come to appreciate how complex and gorgeous it is even more.
That's why I was so excited to hear about The Beach Boys: Doin' It Again, a new DVD celebrating their recent reunion and the fifty years of music that preceded it. It's a fine survey of the band, lovingly balanced between footage of the young band making all-time classic American music in the '60s and their geriatric but surprisingly spry selves today, touring behind their new album, That's Why God Made The Radio. It's an important reminder of how vital the Beach Boys were to the development of rock and roll--on par with the Beatles back in the day--and how with the right combination of perseverance and positive attitude, you can defy the whips and scorns of time and remain relevant into your twilight years.
And make no mistake: the band is in their twilight years. It's sobering to see Brian Wilson's sagging flesh or Al Jardine's face fold into a hundred creases when he smiles. And they have not been together in decades, having dealt with Brian's mental health, lost both Dennis and Carl Wilson, and sparred over the bands legacy. The bandmates, however, sound invigorated in their interviews, cheerfully reminiscing about how Mike Love and the Wilson brothers got their start singing at family holiday gatherings. Bruce Johnston gives a nice lesson on how he developed the propulsive riffs of early hits like "Surfin' USA" and "409," and as each band member talks about how their unique voices contribute to the multi-layered harmonies the band is known for, you get a growing appreciation for how gifted Brian Wilson was at manipulating them into some of the most gorgeous music of the rock era.
The documentary suffers somewhat for being a career-spanning survey. With fifty years to cover, it's hard to delve with any great depth into the truly remarkable moments in the band's history, or the relationships between them. Pretty much everything between 1968 and today is glossed over, even ignored. But that's likely a conscious effort to focus on the positive, much like the Beach Boys themselves.
And there are a number of fantastic gifts for Beach Boys fans throughout. I particularly enjoyed hearing the band talk about how they got their first single, "Surfin'" on the radio, and how Bruce, David, and Al met and came to join the family. There are wonderful tributes to Carl and Dennis Wilson, each of whom offered something unique and important to the band. (Side note: if you have not yet added Dennis Wilson's lost masterpiece, Pacific Ocean Blue, to your music collection, stop what you're reading this and go get it right now. Trust me. Breathtaking.) Of greatest note by far, however, is the inclusion of never-before-seen footage from the recording sessions for "Good Vibrations," a song on the short list of the Greatest Songs of All Time by virtually any measure. It's a legendary recording session, and to get a peak behind the curtain to see how it assembled does nothing to reduce it's power and poignancy.
Overall, The Beach Boys: Doin' It Again is an enjoyable trip down memory lane, and a commemoration of one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history. It celebrates their legacy without tumbling towards nostalgia, and tickles that part of the limbic system that responds instinctively to happiness and joy. And no band has done that so long and so successfully as the Beach Boys.