Friends is the fourteenth studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on June 24, 1968 through Capitol Records. The album was the first Beach Boys release in true stereo since 1964's The Beach Boys' Christmas Album and was the first time a Beach Boys album had not been issued in mono. Friends was the final album until 15 Big Ones in 1976 to feature Brian Wilson as a dominant creative force in the group. On this album, Brian had contributed to the writing or production of each song with the lone exception of "Be Still".
Friends was the first Beach Boys album to feature significant songwriting contributions from Dennis Wilson. The bridge section of the song "Little Bird" incorporates elements of "Child Is Father of the Man", a then-unreleased song from the aborted Smile. Brian Wilson received no credit on the song "Little Bird," allegedly[by whom?] so that Dennis Wilson and Stephen Kalinich could collect more royalties.
For the album's liner notes, Brian Wilson wrote a short essay describing his feelings about the album:
The songwriting cycle for the Friends album project came quickly to me. I was, by then, an experienced song writer and I knew what each basic key meant to me. By this time I had a good thing rollin’ in my head. The bad things that had happened to me had taken their toll and I was free to find out just how much I had grown through the emotional pain that had come my way. I, even more, had spiritual love high in mind for my fans and people in general.…“Wake The World” was my favorite cut. It was so descriptive to how I felt about the dramatic change over from day to night…Dennis gave us “Little Bird” which blew my mind because it was so full of spiritualness. He was a late bloomer as a music maker. He lived hard and rough but his music was as sensitive as anyone’s. I think that the Beach Boys’ sound was evolving right along. I had developed a 6th sense for everybody’s voices and we could all harmonize this way. When we all sing together I feel a spiritual closeness. Harmony usually means notes that are perfectly and mathematically related to each other, like 1, 3, and 5. This is the basic chord of music. Then there’s 1, 3, 5, and 7. This is a more complex chord. It gets much more complex than that, but I try to keep it sounding simple, no matter how complex it really is.
Friends reached number 13 on UK charts but was not as successful in the US, reaching a peak of number 126, an indication of the band's declining popularity at the time. The band infamously cancelled a show at Singer Bowl in New York after drawing 800 people to the 16,000 capacity venue.
The album has gone on to receive generally favorable reviews. Rolling Stone wrote: "If you can get past sappy wannabe-hippie tracks such as "Wake the World" and "Transcendental Meditation", the album is gorgeous, with standout moments including "Meant for You", one of Mike Love’s finest vocals, and Brian’s "Busy Doin' Nothin'", a samba shuffle in which Wilson details his homebound life."AllMusic's Richie Unterberger wrote: "The production and harmonies remained pleasantly idiosyncratic, but there was little substance at the heart of most of the songs. The irony was that Smile had collapsed, in part, because some of the Beach Boys felt that Wilson's increasingly avant-garde leanings would lose their pop audience; yet by the time of Friends, the Beach Boys had done a pretty good job of losing most of their audience by retreating to a less experimental, more group-based approach."
None of the songs from Friends became regulars in Beach Boys sets, making it one of the least-played albums on live tours. However, six songs from the album have been performed at some point by either The Beach Boys, Brian or California Saga (a band made up of the Beach Boys' children). These include "Friends", "Meant for You", "Wake the World", "Busy Doin' Nothin'", and "Little Bird". "Wake the World" was later released on the band's Live in London album, while a live version of "Little Bird" is featured on the band's Made in California box set.
By the early 1970s, Wilson's reputation suffered as a result of his eccentricities of lore, and he quickly became known as a commercial has-been which record labels feared. When friend Stanley Shapiro persuaded Wilson to rewrite and rerecord a number of Beach Boys songs in order to reclaim his legacy, he contacted fellow songwriter Tandyn Almer for support. The trio then spent a month reworking cuts from Friends. As Shapiro handed demo tapes to A&M Records executives, they found the product favorable before they learned of Wilson and Almer's involvement, and proceeded to veto the idea. The Friends remakes were "Passing By", "Wake the World", "Be Still", and the album's title track.