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The Beach Boys: A rear-view look from a little deuce coupe

The Beach Boys' Mike Love, Brian Wilson and David Marks (left to right) perform at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Irvine, California June 3, 2012.


You say it's your birthday. It's my birthday too, yeah.

Fifty is the new 40, which was the new 30, which was the new 25, and so on and so on and so on. A British tourism board has proclaimed 2012 as the "Year of Beatlemania," justifying it by noting that 1962 was the year in which Ringo Starr made his first appearance with the soon-to-be Fab Four. As if poor Pete Best never happened.

Speaking of golden anniversaries, the Rolling Stones were supposed to celebrate their own 50th this year. It didn't happen, but Keith Richards has hinted that something may happen in 2013, which is really more appropriate anyhow, the gnarled guitarist recently rationalized, because 1963 is when Charlie Watts began keeping time for the band. A timeline is fudged – "close enough" counts when it comes to hand grenades and rock 'n' roll marketing.

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And then there are the Beach Boys, whose own 50th birthday is marked by a reunion tour and a new album, That's Why God Made the Radio. It's a set piece, a dreamy sort of musical – a West Coast edition of Jersey Boys or the wistful, sappy stuff of dinner theatre. The sounds are the pets of Brian Wilson and collaborator Joe Thomas, all sun-splashed and shellacked, feathery harmonies and somewhat cheesy textures. Vintage Beach Boys, without the hits.

Think back to the 1960s. That's what the 70-year-old Wilson is doing, and he wishes to take his audience along. The disc is a rear-view look from a little deuce coupe, starting with the instrumental Think About the Days, continuing with Isn't It Time, as in, "isn't it time we dance the night away," to the music of the original Do You Wanna Dance? band.

The surviving band members haven't always played nice in the sandbox, but clearly Wilson wrote this album with a reconciliation in mind. The song Spring Vacation references the past while addressing the present: "Spring vacations, good vibrations/ summer weather, back together." And to anyone who has issues with the cash-grabbing regrouping, Wilson throws a pre-emptive blow: "Easy money, isn't life funny/ Hey what's it to ya, hallelujah."

Life is funny, absolutely. Opening the Beach Boys' 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds was Wouldn't It Be Nice, a lovely, dainty tune as well as a romantic supposition – the kind which threaded itself through the music of Wilson and his harmonizers. Some of the sounds were stunningly groundbreaking, some of it instantly nostalgic, a lot of it unforgettable.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we were older," was how that song began. Eventually it happened: The Beach Boys got older and the summer sun of the sixties set. Did everyone get what they wished for? Some did, some did not.

It's not just the Beach Boys who'll dance the night away this summer. Ringo Starr, whose All-Starr Band becomes a little less all-star-y every time he tours, hits the road, beginning at Fallsview Casino, in Niagara Falls, Ont., on June 14 and 15. With a little help from his non-Beatle friends, the bejewelled drummer offers a scrapbook that includes his faded Photograph – "Every time I see your face, it reminds me of the places we used to go."

These tours are about the halcyon days of youth and summer loves, but, of course, temperatures eventually cool. On the nostalgia-laden That's Why God Made the Radio, the piano ballad From There to Back Again is one of their disc's more memorable moments, a wistful thing of flutes and Al Jardine's whistling. The track dovetails into Pacific Coast Highway, a beautiful bittersweet comedown – "sunlight's fading, and there's not much left to say."

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The album's last line is from Summer's Gone: "We live then die, and dream about yesterday." This is a record about balmy reminiscing: Wouldn't It Be Nice in reverse, a Malibu version of Don Henley's Boys of Summers – "those days are gone forever/ I should just let 'em go, but…"

We seek good vibrations – from music and from lovers and friends; from coin-fed motel beds and certain singers of Surfin' USA. When we find them, we do not let them go. And that's why God made birthdays and Beach Boys.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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