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If you are a fan of sunshine, the sixties, or just good singing (oh how sibilant), then you ought to be a fan of the Beach Boys, without a doubt. With definite influences from artists like the Four Freshmen, their sound is incredibly harmonious and cheerful, yet with a much more modern sound that characterises the sixties. However, their signature sound was adaptable, and it did change throughout their career, so simply buying one of their albums arguably won't give you the full picture.
That's why I'd recommend the Platinum Collection, a sort of Greatest Hits of the Beach Boys; which gives you, in 3 discs, the very best of their songs from all three "eras" of their songwriting career. The forty songs included are a collection of their very best songs, and are well chosen, in my opinion.
I find that the three discs actually divide the Beach Boys' music quite neatly into their three very different identifiable sounds. The first I would describe as teenage surf tunes, the second more noisy classics, and the third as a highly developed and more subtle musical style. This might sound a bit arbitrary, but I hope to persuade you that the band really did develop in this way, just as every musical group ought.
I'm not going to go through every single track and weigh up its merits, because let's be honest, you'd die of boredom. Instead, I've picked a few favourites from each disc to give you a picture of the compilation.
The twenty songs on this disc are a set of quite early singles, but many of them are what we know the Beach Boys for. Most of them surfing-based, they are bound to give you an incredibly summery vibe, or at least make you think of prom night. They are filled with teenage emotions, and amazingly high-pitched singing, which can get a bit tedious if you listen to it all at once. However, the range of topics which the early Beach Boys would write songs about is astounding, and rather amusing: from their favourite cars (little deuce coupe, little honda) to school loyalty (be true to your school). Some of the lyrics sound quite hilariously dodgy as well: "the girls on the beach, are all within reach, if you know what to do". Steady on, lads.
Here are some of my favourites from disc 1:
I GET AROUND - the Beach Boys' first number one, containing their signature mixture of fun, falsetto singing, and big harmonies. Also a bit of car banter thrown in there for good measure!
SURFIN' SAFARI - there are four songs with 'surf' in the title on this disc, but this is probably their most famous. Totally trivial and very rock and roll, it's what you should be playing in your little deuce coupe on the way to the South of France. A tribute to Brian Wilson's amazing songwriting.
IN MY ROOM - beautiful song with flawless harmonies that epitomises the Beach Boys' easy and soaring style of this period.
If you don't know the Beach Boys for their surfing-themed era, you'll probably know them from their most popular era, the peak of their songwriting, arguably. There's a little less very high singing here, and the recording of their songs has improved in leaps and bounds. It sounds a bit less like a prom playlist, and more like very carefully made hits. By now, Brian Wilson was becoming increasingly innovative with song structure, sound, and instrumentation. The close vocal harmonies and infectiously cheery melodies are still there, but the most popular of the Beach Boys songs just sound less trivial than before. They sound like they've grown up, and so has their audience.
GOOD VIBRATIONS - probably the most famous Beach Boys song, it's a tribute to their incredible singing skills, and improving recording techniques, including strings, synths and more.
GOD ONLY KNOWS - orchestral and soaring, this song shows off the lads' singing so well that you'll be echoing it in the shower. The chords and lyrics are quite moving, yet the song still remains fun and cheery, which is typical Beach Boys, really.
WOULDN'T IT BE NICE - still popular with teenagers today, 'wouldn't it be nice' charms you from the very start. The tinkling sound of the "ice-cream van esque" beginning makes your heart soar, and it's probably the most romantic of the Beach Boys' songs.
BREAKAWAY - this song is one of my favourites by the Beach Boys, and it has such a mature sound that it might have belonged to the last era. However, it's still a winning song, with a catchy and rhythmic chorus that you'll have in your head all day.
By now, the Beach Boys had transformed into America's most popular rock band, and their songs are much more varied and interesting. They're not just catchy like their earlier songs, they're also growers, which means they're highly developed musically. Or in geek terms, there are enough surprising chord changes and interesting instrument choices to keep your attention for much longer. So, combining their infectious harmonious singing with a modern rocky sound, they've found a form which really suits them, and I actually think these songs are their best written, despite them being their least popular.
If you don't recognise these song names, make sure you hunt them down and download them, because they're absolute gems. You might have heard them, but not realised they're Beach Boys, since there is a great deal more solo singing on this disc, by voices that you might not immediately recognise when they're not singing in falsetto!
TEARS IN THE MORNING - this amazing song is so well performed that it's heart-wretchingly beautiful, and contains some of their more mature song features, such as including a string section to make the bridge even more atmospheric.
DISNEY GIRLS (1957) - another beautiful song that is a brave step away from the ensemble singing that we've come to expect from the Beach Boys. The bridge then surprises us with some of the most gorgeous harmonies ever written (or it seems that way to me anyway!). It's typical of the later era of the band, because it's a longer and more developed song, perhaps following the Beatles' innovative example in this direction.
LADY LYNDA - definitely my favourite Beach Boys song, and also my Mum's favourite song of all time! So, a winner then. It deserves a little more detail, because it's a masterpiece of a song. Starting with a harpsichord intro from Jesu Joy of Man Desiring by Bach, Lady Lynda has a nice melody on the verses, and contains some brilliant backing singing which can't help making you happy. The climactic chorus is then probably the best thing you've ever heard, and the song is basically variations on the Bach. It's so well written and romantic that it promises to be the kind of thing you play at your wedding, but it's also the kind of singing that reminds you of the band's early cheery sound, and includes everything they do well.
The rest of the songs on all discs are good, and in case you're worrying, classics like 'Surfin' USA', 'Fun, fun, fun', 'Sloop John B', 'California Girls', 'Barbara Ann', 'Help Me, Rhonda', 'I can hear music' and 'Kokomo' are included! I just had so many to choose from, I couldn't discuss all of them. Be careful, with this compilation, not to get Beach Boys overload, which is possible considering their signature sound being fairly constant and the falsetto getting to your insides if you're in a bad mood.
The Wilson brothers (Brian, Carl and Dennis) were, as a songwriting team, very skilled musicians, but they were also remarkable singers, as is very clear when listening to their songs. All this came together to make them America's favourite rock band of all time (and the bestselling), with thirty-six top 40 hits, and four number one singles.
The platinum collection also contains a few interesting songs such as a medley containing some of their most popular songs from the middle era on disc 2, and collaboration tracks with the Fat Boys and with Status Quo, to name a few.
There are several compilations that aim to be a kind of 'Greatest Hits of the Beach Boys'. However, none of them are particularly satisfying, because they are too short, simply! If you try and make a single-disc 'best of', you're bound to exclude a number of favourites that people will miss. By putting almost every hit that the band had on three discs, this compilation has succeeded in being a satisfying Beach Boys heaven. There aren't any songs that I miss, and you truly get an overview of their career, this way. That's why I'd recommend you purchase this collection if you are a Beach Boys fan or you want to become one!
It's £10.93 on amazon.co.uk, which is the cheapest I've found it, comparing it with prices on hmv.com and play.com, quite reasonable for a three-disc compilation.