The Beach Boys: Holland

Largely recorded in the country that gave the record its name, the album displayed a mature group that had found its feet on the concert stage and was now willing to stretch out instrumentally as well as vocally

The Beach Boys: Holland

Fifty years ago this week (January 8th, to be exact), The Beach Boys released their Holland LP. Their fourth album since leaving Capitol Records in 1970, it was also the third in a series of albums that had sought to move them away from the sun and surf image that had dogged them since the sixties and to reposition them as a serious, progressive music band. Largely recorded in the country that gave the record its name, the album displayed a mature group that had found its feet on the concert stage and was now willing to stretch out instrumentally as well as vocally. This was in large part down to the way that guitarist Carl Wilson (effectively the leader of the band in the absence of an ailing Brian) had gelled with bassist Blondie Chaplin and drummer Ricky Fataar (the latter two South African musicians drafted into the band after Bruce Johnston had left in late 1971). The contributions of the various band members – all of whom contributed songs – offered further proof, if any were required, that the band had been right to adopt a democratic approach at the dawn of the seventies.
Although perhaps not as strong overall as 1971’s Surf’s Up (it lacked anything as wonderful as Brian’s legendary Smile tune, excised from the vaults to serve as the title track of that release), the album was a step forward from 1972’s flawed but worthy Carl And The Passions: So Tough, with Dennis Wilson’s two contributions (“Steamboat” and the lovely “Only With You”) properly gelling with the rest of the tunes, rather than sticking out likes sore thumbs as “Cuddle Up” and “Make It Good” had done on the previous album. Mike Love and Al Jardine poured their energies into the three-part “California Saga”, a travelogue in song with a second part that featured Mike reciting from Robinson Jeffers’ poem “The Beaks Of Eagles”: it could have been hokum, it might have been pretentious (and some listeners felt that it was both) but the sincere lyrics, swirling flutes, Carl’s warm production and superb vocals from the whole band (including the departed Johnston) made it work; to these ears at least, it stands as a highpoint among the progressive rock of the era. Elsewhere, Carl contributed the anti-imperialist “The Trader” (a concert highlight during the year) while Blondie and Ricky turned in the soulful “Leaving This Town”. (They also contributed the excellent “We Got Love”, shamefully left off the album but thankfully now available, alongside their rocking “Hard Times” and Dennis’s heartfelt “Carry Me Home”, on the recently issued (and superb) 6 CD set Sail On Sailor: 1972.)
Only big brother Brian failed to get into the spirit on things, his “Funky Pretty” (co-written with Mike) being the set’s only real disappointment. Instead, he turned his attention to the barking mad “Mt. Vernon And Fairway: A Fairytale”, a six-part suite included as a bonus EP with the original album package. The music was shot through with flashes of his melodic genius but the storyline and the narration were infantile beyond belief and the band were right to excise it from the record itself. Fortunately, Brian did have one ace up his sleeve, coaxed out of him by a briefly returned Van Dyke Parks and recorded by the band under Carl’s direction, with Blondie handling the lead vocal. “Sail On Sailor” was a magnificent rock song – the last truly great song to come from Brian until the late eighties – and deservedly gave the band a hit single, helping the album into the top forty and confirming them as both a significant, contemporary rock band and a viable, ongoing concern.
Sadly, it didn’t turn out like that in the long run. The commercial success of the Capitol compilation album Endless Summer in 1974 shone the spotlight back on the “fun in the sun” era and effectively turned the band (once again minus Ricky and Blondie) into the golden oldies institution that they have been ever since. But for a brief moment – perfectly captured on the new box set (and on its predecessor, last year’s similar exhaustive Feel Flows: The Sunflower And Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-71) – there really was an alternative future within their grasp. If your budget doesn’t stretch to the two box sets (which it really should), then at least go back and check out Holland: the last truly great album that The Beach Boys ever made.

Listen to the “Sail On, Sailor” from the album Holland




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Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones is a music connoisseur and the author of the book "French Pop: from Music Hall to Yé-Yé"

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