Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: ‘Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story’


Mark Dillon surfs a novel wave while telling familiar tales in Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story. He employs the aid of fifty fans and collaborators to relate the history of California’s favorite sons. Although each chapter is labeled according to a guest commentator and the song on which that guest has chosen to comment (ex: “Roger McGuinn on ‘Don’t Worry Baby’”), the guest is not the author of his or her chapter, nor is the featured song the sole focus. Rather, Dillon uses the song as a launch pad to discuss the era in which it was made while allowing the guest to interject here and there.

Typical of these sorts of things, the commentaries from those actually involved in the making of the music (all surviving Beach Boys, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Tony Asher, etc.) are more informative than celebrity guests given to comments like “There’s something in those records that’s going to speak to generation after generation.” But for the most part, Dillon wisely selected celebrities who actually knew the Boys, so the book rarely loses the beat.

A quick scan of the table of contents may raise eyebrows among certain fans. Nearly a third of the chapters profile songs from the band’s post-Holland era when the quality of their music took a dramatic dip. There are even some questionable choices from their golden age. But remember that this book is a biography and not a list of the 50 greatest Beach Boys songs. So while “I’m Bugged at My Old Man” may be barely listenable, it makes way for an interesting extended discussion of Brian Wilson’s fraught relationship with dad Murry. Sometimes the requisite biographical information on the guest commentators is slightly distracting, but Dillon never fails to prod his narrative back on track before such tangents veer off too far. And like any good biography, there are new details that expand the group’s story, particularly in the chapter on “Forever” that delves into Dennis’s sometimes avoided association with Charles Manson and the one on “Sail on Sailor”, in which Blondie Chaplin fully explains the unfortunate incident that initiated his exit from the band.

Despite such reliance on fans and admiring collaborators, Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys is commendable for its refusal to descend into banal hero worship. Dillon acknowledges that post-Holland quality-decline, while also reserving praise whenever it's due (mostly in response to Brian’s solo records). With summer looming over the horizon, Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story is essential beach reading for fans of our greatest champions of surf and sand.

Get Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story at Amazon.com here:
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