Sort of like The Beatles (which we’re about to get to, in detail), The Beach Boys’ music was just something that was in the air when I was growing up. I knew all the hits, just by osmosis. Great songs, great band (or so we thought — no one then knew that the so-called Wrecking Crew performed most of the actual music), and absolutely iconic sounds of summer. But as I got into records, they were never a priority, and through all these years, I only ever bought one Beach Boys album on vinyl: Endless Summer. This compilation came out in 1974, and it seemed like anyone who grew up in the ’70s had it. I think I bought mine in 1977, somewhere in between junior and senior year of high school, and I do remember playing it endlessly in the summer.
That was a particularly magical time of life — 16 turning 17, expanding universes of friends, romance, music — it was all going on. I particularly remember this album in association with a weekend on Lake George, a weekend when everything seemed so full of promise. It was our prom weekend, and somehow we ended up at the camp of a friend’s cousins. A pack of 16, 17, 18 year olds at a camp on Lake George — just imagine. The cousins — I don’t remember their names, but they were a boy and a girl roughly our ages — went to some other school, I hadn’t ever met them before, but they were very cool and we had a lot of fun, and it seems in memory like Endless Summer was playing the whole time. We all had such a good time, and it looked like we would have more good times in the summer to come, that last summer of youth. And then, just a week or two later, my friend had to tell us that her cousins were dead, killed by a drunk driver. In an instant, not only the promise of that summer but the whole promise of their lives was gone. It would be nice to say it was a shock, but it was actually an aftershock — we had lost a brother and sister in our own school earlier in that year, the same way. So when I think of the Endless Summer album, it’s always a little bittersweet.
I don’t listen to this too often — in fact, for a few years it was kinda ritualistic to play at the beginning of the summer, dredge up those memories of being 16, and then put it back on the shelf for another year. So I just put it on. These are the earlier hits. Today some of them sound a little slow-paced, though the production is clear and crisp and the vocals are very much front and center. But this is no Pet Sounds stuff — this is 1963-1966. Despite being a double album, these are VERY short tracks, and a good example of one of the problems with LPs — constantly having to change the record. (My turntable doesn’t stop automatically, either, so there is much running across the room to catch the end of the side.) The whole double album doesn’t run an hour. There are no liner notes, no dates of release, nothing. There’s gatefold art that I’m not a fan of, and a big terrible poster insert of an airplane trailing a banner that says “Endless Summer.” It’s almost as if this were an anonymous release — there’s no sense of the band whatsoever. A K-Tel collection would have had more focus on the band. Very odd for a greatest hits collection, but that didn’t keep it from being a huge success.
Despite all my years of collecting and many thousands of opportunities, I guess I just didn’t love the Beach Boys enough to buy anything else on vinyl. I have Pet Sounds and Smile on digital, and there are Beach Boys songs that I just love — “Caroline, No,” for one, and “God Only Knows” for another. But I never felt inspired to pick up anything other than this.