Earlier albums in the series covered in part one.
“All Summer Long” gets off to an irresistible start with the ultimate cruising song, “I Get Around” (which also gets a first-ever stereo mix). Other standouts include the title song, “Little Honda,” “Wendy,” and “Girls on the Beach,” while the harmonies on The Mystics’ “Hushabye” are superb. There are further nods to summer fun with “Drive-In” and “Don’t Back Down,” the latter notable for being the band’s last surfing song for a while. But the track “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” should’ve been left to the end of the album, as it breaks up the flow.
“The Beach Boys Today!” is presented in stereo for the first time in its entirety. The group displays a growing maturity on the album, as seen in the trepidation of “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man),” which wonders in the last verse “Will I love my wife/for the rest of my life?” Dennis Wilson delivers two of his best vocals on “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “In the Back of My Mind.” The latter is another song that conveys a sense of foreboding, something you also hear on “She Knows Me Too Well,” and even the more upbeat “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister,” while the cover of The Students’ “I’m So Young” is a lovely song of yearning disappointment. But there are lush romantic songs for balance, as well as the joyous “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Though you have to knock a point off for the supposed “comedy” track, “Bull Session with ‘Big Daddy.’”
“Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” also makes its stereo debut for the first time in its entirety. It now sounds like a dry run for “Pet Sounds” — “You’re So Good to Me” reminiscent of “I’m Waiting for the Day,” for example, while the roots of “Good Vibrations” are clearly evident in the opening of “California Girls.” Listening to the musical backing of the songs gives you a new appreciation for Brian’s skills as an arranger and producer; though a number of the lyrics remain set in the high school milieu (e.g. “Amusement Parks USA,” with its maniacal laughs), instrumentally this is as richly textured an album as Brian’s best later work. He was ready to make that great leap forward.
But first came the “Beach Boys’ Party!” (also making its stereo debut here). It’s been called the first “Unplugged”-styled album by a major act, creating what the band’s fans might have imagined a real party with the Beach Boys could sound like; a bunch of friends sitting around with their acoustic guitars, engaging in a massive singalong. There’s an interesting song selection (three Beatles songs, Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’”) and “Barbara Ann” was a hit, but this album is probably best suited as background music for your own party. You’ll probably end up singing along too.