Wild Honey (album)

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Wild Honey
Wild honey beach boys.jpg
Studio album by the Beach Boys
Released December 18, 1967 (1967-12-18)
Recorded September 26 – November 15, 1967
Studio Wally Heider Studios and Brian Wilson's home studio in Los Angeles
Length 23:58
Label Capitol
Producer The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys chronology
Smiley Smile
Wild Honey
Singles from Wild Honey
  1. "Wild Honey"
    Released: October 23, 1967
  2. "Darlin'"
    Released: December 18, 1967

Wild Honey is the 13th studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on December 18, 1967. The album contrasts with many Beach Boys LPs that came before it with its R&B and soul music aesthetic. Its name is a double entendre suggesting both edible honey and "honey" as a term of endearment; also the namesake of the album's lead single and opening track.[1] The single became a minor hit with only a short chart stay. Its follow-up "Darlin'" reached the US Top 20. The album itself reached number 24 in the US and number seven in the UK.

The album's sessions began immediately after the abandonment of Lei'd in Hawaii, a failed live album; and the release of Smiley Smile, their previous studio album. Like Smiley Smile, Wild Honey's core instrumental combo consists of organ, honky-tonk piano, and electronic bass. The Beach Boys were inspired to regroup as a self-contained rock band, partly in response to critical assertions that they were "ball-less choir boys". The production was once again credited to the group rather than Brian Wilson alone, who had gradually abdicated the band's musical leadership following the difficult sessions for the aborted Smile LP. At Brian's request, his younger brother Carl began contributing more to the recording process, a trend that continued on subsequent albums.

Wild Honey became the Beach Boys' lowest-selling album at that point and remained on the US charts for only 15 weeks. Critics initially viewed it as another inconsequential record from the band. The album also alienated others whose expectations had been raised by Smile. After a 1974 reissue, Wild Honey was reevaluated by fans and critics who highlighted the record for its simplicity and charm. It would be the last Beach Boys album to feature Brian as a primary composer until The Beach Boys Love You (1977). The track "Here Comes the Night" was later redone by the group as a disco single in the late 1970s. In 2017, a complete stereo mix of Wild Honey was released for the first time on the rarities compilation 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow.


Bel Air, Los Angeles, where Brian relocated to in mid 1967.

The Beach Boys' previous LP Smiley Smile, released in September 1967, peaked at number 41 on US Billboard charts[2] for what was their worst performing album to date.[3] The unfinished album that Smiley Smile came to replace, Smile, had acquired considerable press, and Capitol Records was still interested in putting the album out. In July 1967, an internal memo circulated around Capitol Records that discussed imminent plans to follow up Smiley Smile with a 10-track version of the original Smile, but this never came to fruition.[4] Instead, the group attempted to record a live-in-the-studio album, Lei'd in Hawaii. When conflicts arose, the idea was dropped in favor of a new studio album.[5]

The image on the front of the album sleeve is a small section of an elaborate stained-glass window that adorned Brian's home in Bel Air.[6] The Wilsons' cousin Steve Korthoff and friend Arnie Geller later wrote the album's original liner notes: "Honey, of the wild variety, on a shelf in Brian's kitchen, was not only an aide to all of the Beach Boys' health but the source of inspiration for the record, Wild Honey ... We think this is a great album. We love to listen to it. We might just be biased because we work for the Beach Boys. Please see what you think."[7] Friend Danny Hutton remembers: "The vibe was still great. He'd [Brian] have me over and he'd suddenly say: 'I've got this idea, man!' Then he'd point to a jar of wild honey. 'That's it! That's what the album's gonna be called!' And the other guys were thrilled."[8]

Style and production[edit]

Wild Honey is a soul album.[11] Biographer Mark Dillon wrote: "While R&B had been a big part of the band's early days — when it built songs on borrowed Chuck Berry riffs — much of the new material was inspired by the more vocally emotive soul music on the Motown, Stax Records."[12] In The Rough Guide to Rock (1996), Nig Hodgkins called it the Beach Boys' "party album" which mixed rhythm and blues, pop, and soul styles,[13] while Billboard referred to it as a pop rock record.[14] Edwin Faust from Stylus Magazine wrote that its music focuses "simply on catchy hooks, snappy melodies and a straight-up boogie-woogie feel".[15] Lenny Kaye, writing for Wondering Sound, felt that its "R&B leanings" may be attributed to Mike Love and Carl Wilson's vocal roles on the album.[16] Carl said that his R&B side had "always wanted to come out. I have this massive collection of R&B records. When we were doing Pet Sounds, I'd go home and put on my Stax and Aretha stuff. It's always been a big part of my life."[17] According to Love, the band made a conscious decision to be "completely out of the mainstream for what was going on at that time, which was all hard rock/psychedelic music. [The album] just didn’t have anything to do with what was going on."[18]

Wild Honey was music for Brian to cool out by. He was still very spaced.
Carl Wilson[19]

Recorded mostly at Brian Wilson's home studio, Paste's Brian Chidester called Wild Honey the second in a three-part series of lo-fi Beach Boys albums.[20] By the time of the album's recording, Brian was tired of producing the Beach Boys after having done it for several years, and so he requested that brother Carl contribute more to the process.[21] The resulting album was partly a response to critical assertions that the group were "ball-less choir boys".[19] Music theorist Daniel Harrison described Wild Honey as a self-conscious attempt by the Beach Boys to "regroup as a rock 'n' roll band and to reject the mantle of recording-studio auteurs that Brian had made them wear. Without Brian's drive, of course, they could no longer be those auteurs, hence Wild Honey."[22] Bruce Johnston recalls: "we wanted to be a band again. The whole [Smile] thing had wiped everyone out, and we wanted to play together again."[7] The last time the Beach Boys had an album where they essentially played as a self-contained band was 1964's Shut Down Volume 2.[23]

The album differs in many ways from previous Beach Boys records: it contains very little group singing compared to previous albums, and mainly features Brian singing at his piano.[7] The recording sessions lasted only several weeks, compared to the several months required for "Good Vibrations" (1966).[7] Harrison say that its "simple songs" lacked the "enigmatic weirdness" and "virtuosic mesmerizers" present in Smiley Smile, but featured the same production approach and similar core instrumental combo of organ, honky-tonk piano, and electronic bass.[24] The piano was slightly detuned, which Brian says made it "more like a twelve-string guitar, to get a more mellow sound. ... I loved what it did to the sound of the record."[25] Music journalist Paul Williams wrote that the "piano lines in Wild Honey are, in their own way, as inventive as Brian’s more textured records ... Brian happily going back to his roots, the boogie woogie piano that he had loved as a teen."[7] Wild Honey was the last Beach Boys album to be mixed in mono.[26]


Mike Love said that he wrote the lyrics of the lead track "Wild Honey" from the perspective of Stevie Wonder singing it.[1] Rolling Stone magazine characterized "Aren't You Glad" as a "Lovin' Spoonful type song with the Beach Boys touch",[27] while magazine editor Gene Sculatti said it "achieves a Miracles style smoothness via a Bobby Goldsboro-type song".[28] "I Was Made to Love Her" was originally recorded by Wonder, who had a number 2 hit with the song in July 1967.[29] Author Andrew Hickey noted melodic similarities between "Country Air" and the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron".[30] Musicologist Christian Matijas-Mecca identifies "A Thing or Two" as a "sibling" to Smiley Smile's "Gettin' Hungry", and that the vocal riff would be reprised in the group's 1968 single "Do It Again".[31]

Three Dog Night's Chuck Negron, Cory Wells and Danny Hutton, whom Brian hoped to produce as Redwood

The side two opener "Darlin'" was one of the album's more developed productions, and was reworked from an earlier Brian Wilson/Mike Love composition entitled "Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby".[7] Initially, Brian had planned to give this song (along with "Time to Get Alone") to Three Dog Night, then called "Redwood", before Carl and Love insisted that Brian focus his attention on producing work for the Beach Boys.[31] Biographer David Leaf named "I'd Love Just Once to See You" a precursor to the writing style that Brian would later explore in the next studio album Friends.[7] Hickey believes that the song had no significant writing contributions from Mike Love, calling it "as obvious an example of a Brian Wilson solo composition as I've ever heard. This is the first in a series of slice-of-life songs that would become a minor thread running through the next few years of Brian's work."[33] "Let the Wind Blow" was the first composition recorded by the group that is in 3/4 time from beginning to end.[34] "How She Boogaloeed It" was the first original Beach Boys song (excluding instrumentals and cover versions) not to feature contributions from Brian.[7] The closing track, "Mama Says", is a chant that originated from an unreleased incarnation of the composition "Vegetables".[35] It was the first time a track with thematic links to Smile was used to close a later Beach Boys album, the others being 20/20 (1969) and Surf's Up (1971).[7] Inexplicably, when the alternate "Mama Says" version of "Vegetables" was released, Love's songwriting credit was not honored, and instead Van Dyke Parks' was listed as the song's only co-writer.[36]

In total, Brian is credited as composer or co-composer for only 9 of 11 tracks, compared to Smiley Smile in which he held a songwriting credit for every track.[24] This would be the last Beach Boys album to feature Brian as a primary composer until The Beach Boys Love You (1977).[37] Outtakes from the Wild Honey sessions include the originals "Can't Wait Too Long", "Time to Get Alone", "Cool, Cool Water",[38] "Honey Get Home", and "Lonely Days".[5] Additionally, the band recorded cover versions of the Box Tops hit "The Letter" (1967), Burt Bacharach/Hal David's "My Little Red Book" (1965),[39] and Clint Ballard Jr.'s "The Game of Love" (1965).[5] The New York Observer's Ron Hart alludes to the significance of the Beach Boys covering "The Letter" as sung by Alex Chilton: "for that special kind of music nerd ... [it] is simply beyond comprehension."[18]


Wild Honey was released on December 18, 1967 in competition with the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request.[6] It became the Beach Boys' lowest-selling album at that point and remained on the charts for only 15 weeks.[7] It was similarly received as Smiley Smile had been by contemporary critics, who viewed it as another inconsequential record from the band.[19] The album also alienated others whose expectations had been raised by Smile. According to Williams, Wild Honey was "a work of joy ... new and fresh and raw and beautiful", but "we expected more (from Brian) than we would expect from any other composer alive, because the tracks we'd heard from Smile were just that good. Smiley Smile was ... a confusion ... and Wild Honey is just another Beach Boys record."[7]

Rolling Stone wrote at the time that the Beach Boys have regained their better judgement after the "disaster" of Smiley Smile, although their use of "pre-existing ideas and idioms" on Wild Honey is less satisfactory and original than their earlier work: "It's kind of amusing that the Beach Boys are suddenly re-discovering rhythm and blues five years after the Beatles and Stones had brought it all back home".[27] Gene Scullati wrote: "[the Beach Boys] have the audacity to fool around with r&b, a territory indeed alien to them. Surprisingly, Wild Honey works well. It isn't the least bit pretentious, it's honest, and convincing.".[28] In his column for Esquire, Robert Christgau wrote that the album "epitomizes Brian Wilson", including the song "I'd Love Just Once to See You", which "expresses perfectly his quiet, thoughtful, sentimental artistic personality."[40]

Retrospective reviews[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[41]
Blender 5/5 stars[42]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 3/5 stars[43]
The Great Rock Discography 6/10[44]
Music Story 3.5/5 stars[44]
MusicHound Rock 4.5/5[44]
Pitchfork 3.5/10[45]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[46]
The Village Voice A+[47]

Like Smiley Smile, Wild Honey was reevaluated by fans and critics who highlighted the record for its simplicity and charm after it was reissued by Warner Bros. in 1974.[48] In a 1976 retrospective guide to 1967 for The Village Voice, Christgau felt Wild Honey is "so slight" but "perfect and full of pleasure". He argued that, "almost without a bad second", the album conveys "the troubled innocence of the Beach Boys through a time of attractive but perilous psychedelic sturm und drang. Its method is whimsy, candor, and carefully modulated amateurishness, all of which comes through as humor."[47] In 1978, he ranked Wild Honey number 10 on his list of the best rock albums.[49] In 2002, he ranked it as his seventh favourite album of the 1960s, excluding jazz albums.[50] Record producer Tony Visconti listed it as one of his 13 favorite albums and said that "I still refer to this record as a benchmark in the same way that I do Revolver."[51] In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Wild Honey at number two on its "Coolest Summer Albums of All Time" list, praising its "hedonistic rock & roll spirit", "humor" and "pensive depth".[52]

In a negative review, Pitchfork critic Spencer Owen said only "one or two" songs succeed and the majority of Wild Honey is "not pretty" because of its R&B vein as "interpreted by white surfer boys", including "a Stevie Wonder cover sung with as much faux-soul as Carl Wilson could have possibly mustered".[45] Writing in his Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Colin Larkin pairs the album with the "scrappy" Smiley Smile as two "hastily released" works that show how the Beach Boys' music had "lost its cohesiveness", with Brian Wilson's reduced involvement.[53] In his review for AllMusic, Richie Unterberger wrote that, apart from "Darlin'", "Here Comes the Night" and the title track, most of Wild Honey was "inessential". He found the music "often quite pleasant, for the great harmonies if nothing else, but the material and arrangements were quite simply thinner than they had been for a long time."[41] Music journalist Tim Sommer called the original mono mix of Wild Honey "flat and peculiar", but noted the album's significance as a "precursor" to albums like the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society and the Byrds' The Notorious Byrd Brothers (both 1968).[23]

1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow[edit]

In 2017, a complete stereo mix of Wild Honey was released for the first time on the rarities compilation 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow. The set also includes numerous session highlights, alternate takes, and live renditions of Wild Honey tracks in addition to other unreleased material recorded during the Smiley Smile and Lei'd in Hawaii era.[54]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Lead vocal(s) Length
1. "Wild Honey" Carl Wilson 2:37
2. "Aren't You Glad" Mike Love and Brian Wilson 2:16
3. "I Was Made to Love Her" (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Lula Mae Hardaway, Stevie Wonder) C. Wilson 2:05
4. "Country Air" group 2:20
5. "A Thing or Two" Love, C. Wilson, and B. Wilson 2:40
Side two
No. Title Lead vocal(s) Length
1. "Darlin'" C. Wilson 2:12
2. "I'd Love Just Once to See You" B. Wilson 1:48
3. "Here Comes the Night" B. Wilson 2:41
4. "Let the Wind Blow" Love, B. Wilson, and C. Wilson 2:19
5. "How She Boogalooed It" (Love, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson) C. Wilson 1:56
6. "Mama Says" group 1:05


Per David Leaf.[7]

The Beach Boys
Production staff


Chart (1968) Peak
UK Albums Chart[6] 7
US Billboard 200[6] 24


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  2. ^ Schinder 2007, p. 119.
  3. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 124.
  4. ^ Matijas-Mecca 2017, pp. 82–83.
  5. ^ a b c Doe, Andrew Grayham. "Unreleased Albums". Bellagio 10452. Endless Summer Quarterly. Retrieved July 13, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d Badman 2004, p. 208.
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  8. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 129.
  9. ^ Preiss 1979, p. 87.
  10. ^ Badman 2004, p. 203.
  11. ^ Gaines 1986, p. 183, "considered by many" to be soul; Fine 2004, pp. 46, 48, "a rougher album of California soul"; Leaf 1985, p. 125, "this Beach Boys soul album"; Preiss 1979, p. 87, "something thoroughly unexpected: a Beach Boys' soul album"
  12. ^ Dillon 2012, pp. 305–306.
  13. ^ Hodgkins 1996, p. 69.
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  18. ^ a b Hart, Ron (July 20, 2017). "5 Treasures on the Beach Boys’ New ‘1967—Sunshine Tomorrow’". New York Observer. 
  19. ^ a b c Leaf 1985, p. 125.
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  21. ^ "The Beach Boys". Music Favorites. Vol. 1 no. 2. 1976. 
  22. ^ Harrison 1997, pp. 49–50.
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  24. ^ a b Harrison 1997, p. 51.
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  26. ^ Matijas-Mecca 2017, p. 83.
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  41. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. "Wild Honey". AllMusic. 
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  43. ^ Larkin 2006, p. 479.
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  46. ^ Fine 2004, pp. 46, 48.
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  52. ^ Sheffield, Rob (July 18, 2012). "The 10 Coolest Summer Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 5, 2015. 
  53. ^ Larkin 2006, p. 477.
  54. ^ Rock Cellar Magazine Staff (May 23, 2017). "Beach Boys to Release ‘1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow’ Set on 6/30, Full of Rare Material". Rock Cellar Magazine. 


External links[edit]