Sunday, April 13, 2008

Review #29: Little Deuce Coupe

Another Beach Boy review, comin' right up! (This is sort of to coincide with my podcast, for which I just did a Beach Boys episode to make up for the pilot.)

Like many bands in the early sixties, nobody cared about LPs. It was all about those little 45 rpm platters of vinyl called singles. So, it’s no surprise to listeners today that the first four Beach Boys LPs seem like weak efforts with little in the way of creativity and a lot in the way of fillers. Surfin’ Safari, their debut, is filled with innocent, childish numbers (“Heads You Win – Tales I Lose”, anyone?) and Surfin’ USA has five surf guitar instrumentals spread among some of their greatest pre-Pet Sounds songs. Then, there’s Surfer Girl, which, to me, is among their greatest LPs (how do you call an album with “Surfer Girl”, “Catch A Wave”, “In My Room” and “Little Deuce Coupe” bad?) and sticks out like a sore thumb among the first four. Finally, there’s today’s LP of discussion, LITTLE DEUCE COUPE. It was released a mere month (yes…ONE MONTH, in fact, all of the first four LPs were released in a span of FOURTEEN months!) after Surfer Girl and features some retreads. Actually, the title track itself is a retread! However, we’ll gloss over that fact and talk about the songs that landed on the platter known as Little Deuce Coupe!
The album kicks off, with, what else, Little Deuce Coupe. This is simply one of those songs that definitely sum up the best of The Beach Boys. The hot rod track is about everyone’s dream car, just like the A-Side of the single was about everyone’s dream girl. It is the first of four retreads on the album, but obviously the album would be missing something if it wasn’t on it, right?
Ballad Of Ole’ Betsy is next. Brian is doing a magnificent falsetto job on it, and this is one of the many songs on here where he shows his developing skill with this singing style.
Of course, next is the sole non-hot rod track of the album, Be True To Your School. This version is not the same as what landed on the single, although many might be familiar with it because of Capitol’s many screw-ups of including this version rather than the single version on compilations. Here, the song is sort of bland and easily gets lost in the mix of all these car songs.
Next, we shift gears (pun very much intended) with Car Crazy Cutie. This track’s very fun, with a great intro and excellent falsetto part by Brian in the breaks.
Cherry Coupe follows and this is sort of a standard Mike song, with nothing real special. I’m not quite sure why a guy would want to describe their car as being ‘cherry red’. ‘Fire-engine red’ sounds manlier to me.
409, which sounds like a dinosaur already follows to close the first side. It just goes to show how Brian’s production techniques were changing quicker than anyone could have possibly anticipated. Again, like “Little Deuce Coupe” though, this album wouldn’t feel complete without it. As the first Beach Boy hot-rod song, it’s very necessary here. On top of that, it’s a classic and runs to barely two-minutes, anyway, so really, what’s the problem?
Side Two opens with another necessary retread, Shut Down. A lot of issues surrounding The Beach Boys and Capitol revolve around this song. First, between the month that Surfer Girl and Little Deuce Coupe came out, Capitol used this track, without The Boys permission, as a title track for a cheese-ball compilation of random hot-rod tracks by one-hit nobodies (some didn’t even have that). So, that’s the reason why the next two Beach Boy albums, this one and Shut Down, Vol. II were (mostly) hot-rod albums. The Boys wanted to make their own car songs and prove to Capitol that they could do it all by themselves and fill a whole album of them. “Shut Down,” the song, is another classic and was the flip-side of “Surfin’ USA” and of course on the LP of the same name.
To my ears, besides the retreads, the album’s classic is Spirit Of America, Brian’s second all-falsetto track on the LP. It’s just amazing stuff and Capitol used it as a title track to the follow-up of Endless Summer in 1974.
Surfer Girl’s Our Car Club follows. It wasn’t a single release, but is one of the more noteworthy tracks from that record and definitely is unique! The drumming is pretty nice and I love the bridge (Brian’s part).
No – Go Showboat is one of the silliest songs the Boys recorded. Who on earth sings a song about an awful car that “…just don't go…” but “She's just for looks, man, not for drags”? The one redeeming value, again, is Brian’s wonderful falsetto. I just can’t get enough of that!
Next is A Young Man Is Gone, sung to the tune of Bobby Troup’s “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring”, a song the Boys could do in their sleep. The lyric is an obvious tribute to James Dean. These are the sort of vocal acrobatics the Boys could do any time of day and any day in the week.
The album closes with another song about a car that’s just for looks, Custom Machine. It’s a simple way to close out a simple album. I’m not sure why anyone would drive a car that goes “wa wa”, but that’s just me.
The sleeve is as boring as the first three. It’s just a picture from a car magazine of a guy (who’s head is cut-off) leaning against a real Deuce Coupe. The back featured another bland liner note from Capitol’s marketing department and a couple of tiny B & W shots of the Boys near a car. (Note that this is the last appearance of David Marks, who is pictured, even though Al is actually on a few of these tracks.)
For those who want this LP on CD, it’s currently in print and paired with All Summer Long, because Capitol didn’t want you to buy a CD with two of the four retreads repeated. (It should be paired with Surfer Girl.)
In conclusion, this is a simple collection of silly, mundane car songs and none of them really stand out. Even “Be True To Your School” is lacking because it isn’t the stellar single version that would come out after this record. However, it’s still an essential part of Beach Boys history. On top of that, because All Summer Long is too awesome to ignore, you’re going to get this anyway, so give it a try.

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