The Beach Boys Love You

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The Beach Boys Love You
Studio album by
ReleasedApril 11, 1977 (1977-04-11)
  • January 1970 ("Good Time")
  • March–November 1973 ("Ding Dang")
  • October 1976–January 1977
StudioBrother Studios and Beach Boys Studio, California
ProducerBrian Wilson
The Beach Boys chronology
15 Big Ones
The Beach Boys Love You
M.I.U. Album
Singles from The Beach Boys Love You
  1. "Honkin' Down the Highway" / "Solar System"
    Released: May 30, 1977

The Beach Boys Love You is the 21st studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on April 11, 1977. Originally planned as a Brian Wilson solo outing named Brian Loves You, the album is almost entirely written and performed by Wilson[2][3] and was penned during a process of mental and drug rehabilitation for him. Synthesizers are featured heavily in its arrangements, while the lyrics tend to be autobiographic or conversational.[4] It was initially received with a sharp divide between fans and critics, peaking at number 53 on US record charts. One single was issued from the album: "Honkin' Down the Highway" backed with "Solar System".

Love You has been recognized as a work of "proto-synth pop,"[2] a forerunner to new wave experiments,[5] and an idiosyncratic and creative oddity in the Beach Boys' canon.[6] After being asked where somebody should begin with the Beach Boys discography, Wilson answered: "Pet Sounds first, then listen to The Beach Boys Love You."[7] A follow-up album, Adult/Child, was completed by the group, but left unreleased.[8] Love You would remain the last album written and produced by Wilson for the next 11 years – his debut solo LP Brian Wilson (1988) marked his comeback.[9]


Ten years ago, I had resolved I wasn't going to tour, that I was much better off, I assumed, at home, in an environment where I could create music. Then, the guys in the group said, "Hey Brian, would you help us? We think your presence on the road would improve the quality of the show and help sell tickets." Another reason was that my psychiatrist [Eugene Landy] wished I would do something to keep me from sitting on my ass, to keep me from going insane.

— Brian Wilson, Rolling Stone, March 1977[10]
The Beach Boys performing a concert in 1978

Three months following the release of 15 Big Ones (1976), Wilson commenced recording the bulk of Love You – then tentatively a solo project entitled Brian Loves You[11] or Brian's in Love[12] – that he had mostly written alone. The songs were largely performed by Wilson through the aid of multitrack recording.[2] From October 13 to November 10, 1976, Wilson demoed over sixteen tracks for the Beach Boys' next release at Brother Studios,[13] and claimed to have written about 28 new songs.[14] In comparison to the Beach Boys' previous 15 Big Ones, Wilson intended Love You to be "more creative, more original" and "lyrically much more interesting."[10] Wilson stated optimistically: "We're going to do another 'Good Vibrations' [this] time. Another masterpiece."[15] Due to internal struggles with the group, Wilson felt unable to pursue a solo career, likening his place in the band "a commodity in a stock market."[16] To make the album seem more democratic, its title was changed to The Beach Boys Love You.[17] Brian said he chose the name Love You because he "thought it would be a good sound people could feel secure with".[14]

On November 27, 1976, eleven days after compiling the first rough mix of the Love You demos,[18] Wilson made a solo appearance on Saturday Night Live at the instigation of Landy to promote the upcoming album by performing Beach Boys oldies and the work-in-progress track "Love Is a Woman".[19][20] A few weeks following this performance, he was released from Landy's program due to disputes over the doctor's monthly fee.[19]

Recording and production[edit]

Brian Wilson behind the mixing board of Brother Studios, circa 1976.

Similar to the Wilson-commandeered Mount Vernon and Fairway, Love You's instrumentation is almost entirely made up of state-of-the-art analog synthesizers such as the Minimoog,[21] with arrangements inspired by Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach (1968).[22] The arranging and mixing methods of these instruments were often made from a Wall of Sound approach, owing to Wilson's fascination with the work of record producer Phil Spector.[12][23] Producer Earle Mankey served as engineer for the album. According to him, Wilson's studio time was booked by therapist Landy, who forced him to be productive, which was "the only way he'd get his dinner." Occasionally, Landy rewarded Wilson with a joint of cannabis when performing his duties well.[3] Brother Studios' chief administrator Trish Camp recalls an associate of Landy would stand over Wilson with a baseball bat to further his "creative inspiration."[3] Mankey described his own role in the album as "the low man on the totem pole," elaborating:

I would sit in there with Brian for his morning session, which ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nobody else wanted to get up that early. And nobody else wanted to sit around if Brian didn’t have anything to do. I worked there. I got paid to do that. I spent a lot of time with him – sometimes productive, sometimes not productive. It was very cool because I was a major Brian Wilson fan and I got to talk to him a lot about the recording aspects of the music that interested me.… Lots [of discussions] about Phil Spector and his techniques and the things that he learned from Phil Spector and the methods that he used. At the foot of it all Brian would say, “There was a fire, and I don’t have that fire anymore and I wish I could get it back.”… When I would get him up to that point he would be talking about how he wrote the songs and recorded them with lots of live musicians in the room."[23]

Containing 12 of songs the Beach Boys had worked on throughout 1976 and 1977, the album also sourced two tracks from earlier recording sessions. "Good Time", co-written by Wilson and Al Jardine, was the first of these, having been recorded on January 7, 1970, during a Sunflower session.[6] It is atypical in the context of the Love You album, because the song features a Wilson lead vocal recorded before the deepening of his voice.[24] The second of the tracks, "Ding Dang", was largely conceived by Wilson with lyrics contributed by Roger McGuinn.[25] Wilson became obsessed with the vocal arrangement of "Ding Dang" (adapted to or from the traditional folk song "Shortnin' Bread") and as such, various sessions of the songs and its derivatives were recorded throughout the 1970s, creating ambiguity in determining the version on Love You's precise recording date. Beach Boys historians have estimated that it was likely recorded sometime in spring and fall 1973.[26]

Carl Wilson remixed the completed material in January 1977, overdubbing elements such as guitar and extra percussion to complement the idiosyncratic sound of the songs.[citation needed] For these contributions, he was credited as the album's mixdown producer.[27] Around this period, the call and response tag to "Airplane" was recorded.[28] Jardine considered Carl and Dennis Wilson's contributions to be crucial, accordingly, "I didn’t have that much to do with it... I remember watching the brothers work on it. In a way, [Love You] was Carl’s tribute to Brian. The title of that album is really The Beach Boys Love Brian. Carl wanted Brian to feel appreciated. He had the most to do with that album, him and Dennis, paying tribute to their brother. The Minimoogs are all over the place."[21] Love You's assembly was completed on January 14, 1977. Five days later, Brian immediately began work on a follow-up album, Adult/Child, which remains unreleased, but is often bootlegged.[28]

Music and lyrics[edit]

I worked specifically at getting the lyrics right, so that the lyrics would be interesting enough to listen to. Like, "I love to pick you up because you're still a baby to me"—you know, things like that. Interesting.

—Brian Wilson, 1977[10]

Mankey considered Love You to be "lighthearted" on the surface, but a "serious, autobiographical" work that could be compared somewhat to Eraserhead.[11] Writer Chris Shields observed: "If it wasn't for the synthesizer-heavy production, it's almost punk. Simple messages, conveyed in a straight-forward fashion. Even the beautiful moments are grounded in basic living. ... The vocals are gruff. Synthesizers are everywhere. The lyrics can be immature or come from a youthful perspective."[29] Beach Boys engineer Alan Boyd said of Wilson's methods: "[In] a lot of the material from Love You, Brian was working very quickly on his own. ... Brian did this very interesting thing and it goes back to his early days too, for rhythm he’d often use guitars and piano to fulfill the same rhythm function as a high-hat. He’d always have these eighth notes but there’d be these chord clusters. I think he liked the tack piano because it had that sort of percussive click on it and it sort of fulfills the same function as a high-hat except with all these notes so it makes everything sort of swirl."[30]


Side A opens with two rockers,[11] the first of which, "Let Us Go On This Way", was written by Brian and Mike Love after they found the album sounded too "deadpan".[14] "Roller Skating Child" was inspired by Brian's daughters when they would go ice skating.[14] Biographer Peter Ames Carlin described the song as a "musical interpretation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, complete with vivid descriptions of adolescent sexuality, (the ribbons in her hair, her devious wink, her preternatural facility on skates), careless parenting, ("Her folks let me stay with her 'til late at night"), and the lust-filled escape that sounded so much like Humbert Humbert's scheme you can almost imagine him singing with Mike's voice".[11] It is followed by "Mona", a 1950s-style love ballad that contains references to Phil Spector, "Be My Baby", and "Da Doo Ron Ron" in its lyrics.[11]

The fourth track, "Johnny Carson", is a "pivot point" of the album, wrote Carlin. "From there it just got weirder."[11] Wilson has explained, "'Johnny Carson' came about when I was sitting at my piano and someone was talking about him. I told them I was gonna write a song about him and they didn't believe me. I had the whole thing done in twenty minutes."[25] Despite the song's eccentric lyrics, it has been speculated to have been written as a semi-autobiographic piece. The lyrics can be interpreted as Wilson's frustrations with outside pressures expecting him to be consistently active; which leads him to compare himself with the daily appearing late-night talk show host Johnny Carson.[31]

Brian said that "Good Time" was recycled for Love You because Spring was unsuccessful and he thought: "Maybe the exposure to that song to people might be good. Why waste a song?"[14] Mankey has said that Wizzard frontman Roy Wood contributed to "Honkin' Down the Highway" and "Ding Dang", and asserted: "everybody who showed up got subjected to 'Ding Dang'."[23] Fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine further explains: "Brian had an obsession about 'Ding Dang'. He was channeling a certain vibration. He would get hyper-focused on one riff. That might have evolved into 'Shortenin' Bread'. Those songs had that great boogie piano behind them. He had such unique rhythmic expressions, and the voices were like punctuation marks."[23] McGuinn later expounded on his writing contributions, stating that Wilson had one day drove to his house unexpectedly for amphetamines. He recollects:

Brian parked in the driveway and approached the house. I opened the front door and invited him in. "I just wanted to see you," he said. "Do you have any speed?" "Why yes," I replied. "Are you sure you should be taking it?" He said, "I'm running away from Dr. Landy, so it's OK," with a half smile from the side of his mouth. I gave him two Biphetamine 20s and a glass of water and he gulped them down like someone gasping for fresh air after having been submerged for a long time. We had a beer and played pool for a while and then Brian found his way to the music room. He had seated himself at my upright piano and was playing a tune. "What's that?" I asked. "Oh nothing. Just something I came up with now," he replied. I said, "It sounds great! Do you want to write some words?" "OK," he replied. We played the tune for an hour or so but the only lyrics we had were: "I love a girl and I love her madly / I treat her so fine but she treats me so badly," et cetera. After about five or six hours of this, I got tired and went to bed. When I awoke the next morning, Brian was still at the piano playing the same verse over and over.[32]

For the opening of side B, Brian has said on two different occasions that "Solar System" was written while driving to his daughters' school.[14][33] In 2007, Wilson said the song was written in his head while he was attending a weekly astrology class at UCLA.[23] Carlin continues to describe it "a celestial variant on 'California Girls'", while referring to subsequent tracks "The Night Was So Young" and "I'll Bet He's Nice" as "traditional shades of self-pity, jealousy, and loneliness."[34]


In 1976, Wilson retrieved an instrumental track he recorded in 1965 for the album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) entitled "Sandy". He renamed the song "Sherry She Needs Me" and recorded new vocals, but ended up discarding the song for Love You. A cover version of the Spector-produced "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" was also recorded. According to Alan Boyd, "His [Wilson's] version of 'You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling' is very dark and it's very raw. It almost has kind of a punk edge to it. ... He plays everything on it, did all the vocals. Everything was pretty much done in one take."[30] Both outtakes would remain unreleased until 2013 for the Made in California box set. Other Love You-era outtakes would later be reworked for Adult/Child and Wilson's debut solo album Brian Wilson.[citation needed]


Patti Smith wrote a review of the album calling Brian Wilson "[seemingly] frozen forever within the light bubbly aura of a birthday party"[35]

Released on April 11, just weeks after announcing the band's new record deal with CBS, it has been hypothesized that the lack of promotion Reprise Records put into Love You was a byproduct of the falling out between artist and label.[36] It is reported that most Warner Brothers associates liked the record, except for label president Mo Ostin, who believed it should have been "touched up" further.[17] It was relatively overlooked by mainstream audiences, which Brian attributed to the poor promotion by Reprise.[25] Peaking at number 28 in the UK and number 53 in the US, the album was a moderate success.[according to whom?] Despite its low charts, Love You was met with praise, and viewed as a dramatic improvement over 15 Big Ones the year before.[37] Music critic Chris Shields wrote that the album was "one of the most divisive" of the Beach Boys catalog,[29] while Scott Schinder cited a "sharp divide" between fans and critics. Some saw the album as a work of "eccentric genius" whereas others "dismissed it as childish and trivial".[24]

Rolling Stone's Billy Altman called the album "truly wonderful" and "reminiscent of many other Beach Boys albums. Like the best of them, it's flawed but enjoyable. Brian Wilson still isn't singing as well as he used to, but his playing and composing talents have certainly returned from wherever they've been the past few years."[38] Singer-songwriter Patti Smith lauded the album at release, and helped promote it with her own review which called Love You an album "siphoned from the meandering mind of a madman…laced w/ tender cynicism, [it] seems to exude from a dead man w/ memory."[35] Writing for Circus, Lester Bangs said the Beach Boys were "a diseased bunch of motherfuckers if ever there was one…But the miracle is that the Beach Boys have made that disease sound like the literal babyflesh pink of health…Maybe it’s just that unprickable and ingenuous wholesomeness that accounts not only for their charm, but for their beauty—a beauty so awesome that listening to them at their best is like being in some vast dream cathedral decorated with a thousand gleaming American pop culture icons."[39]

In a negative review by Audio, the album was named "a real disappointment … patronizing and disastrous, the kind of record to get out of a contract with. And that they have done." The periodical went on to accuse other critics of writing unauthentic positive feedback toward the album. It praised the fanzine Pet Sounds for publishing a negative piece on the album by Michael Tearson, for who they called "the only record reviewer who told it like it is. It took guts."[40]

Retrospective reviews and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[41]
Blender3/5 stars[42]
Christgau's Record GuideA[43]
Entertainment WeeklyA[44]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[45]
Pitchfork Media7.8/10[6]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[47]

In the decades since its release, Love You developed a cult following and is regarded by some as one of the band's best albums.[48] Pitchfork's D. Erik Kempke said of the album: "The Beach Boys Love You stands in sharp contrast to the albums that preceded and followed it, because it was a product of genuine inspiration on Brian Wilson's part, with little outside interference."[6] AllMusic also agreed that the emotional inspiration was apparent, believing "The Night Was So Young," "I'll Bet He's Nice," and "Let's Put Our Hearts Together" form a suite during side two that possesses a breadth of emotional attachment to rival Pet Sounds.[41]

In 1981, publication Musician, Player, and Listener wrote: "In the bargain bins [the album] collected dust. That 1977 release is Brian Wilson's most ambitious and successful work of the decade. It ranks with Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Steely Dan's Katy Lied, and Neil Young's Zuma as the best California rock albums of the decade."[49] Referring to "naysayers" of the album, the underground fanzine Scram wrote "fuck [them] … [the album showcases] a truly original mix of humor and sadness. The original numbers always dance just a step away from the cliché, dealing with simple lyrical themes that make you wonder why they had never been explored before."[50] The A.V. Club relented: "there's something not-quite-right about men on the cusp of middle age hungering after a 'roller-skating child'—but its failure reveals a touching vulnerability beneath the sunny good-times image of an American institution", going on to say that "more often than not, Love You has a winning, human directness."[39]

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth first discovered the Beach Boys through Patti Smith's review of Love You.[51] Peter Buck of R.E.M. praised Love You as his favorite Beach Boys record.[27] A cover version by Alex Chilton of the album's "Solar System" was included in the posthumous Electricity by Candlelight (2013),[52] and he contributed his own recording of "I Wanna Pick You Up" for the various artists tribute album Caroline Now! (2000). Other songs covered in the compilation were "Honkin' Down the Highway" (Radio Sweethearts), "Good Time" (Stevie Jackson of Belle and Sebastian), and "Let's Put Our Hearts Together" (duet between Chip Taylor and Evie Sands).[53] In 1997, Darian Sahanaja released a cover of "I Wanna Pick You Up" as a single.[citation needed] Yo La Tengo's version of "Ding Dang" (in medley with "Interplanetary Music" by Sun Ra) is included on their album Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics (2006).[citation needed]

It wasn't "Good Vibrations". It was barely even the Beach Boys. But Love You was a mesmerizing and at time darkly lovely portrait of the world as viewed through the eyes of an emotionally fraught thirty-four-year-old rock star whose own success had become an inescapable trap.

Peter Ames Carlin[34]

Following the album's lukewarm reception and the reemergence of personal demons, Wilson resumed his back seat proceedings in the band and would never again be as involved with an album's genesis and execution.[citation needed] Peter Ames Carlin noted that, following Love You, Brian wouldn't write songs that reflected his musical, emotional, and intellectual interests to a similar degree until the aborted Andy Paley sessions nearly two decades later.[54] Since then, he has stated that the album is one of his favorite Beach Boys releases, saying: "That's when it all happened for me. That's where my heart lies. Jesus, that's the best album we ever made."[55] He added in later years: "I think because I felt so sad I had to bring out my feelings, and try to create music that would make me and all my friends feel better.…My favorites are 'I Wanna Pick You Up' and 'Ding Dang'. that was a good cut, wasn't it? Just a very short song, that's all."[22][25] In 2013, Beach Boy Al Jardine expressed enthusiasm for performing the entire Love You album in concert, going on to note, "those are some of the best songs we ever did."[56]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Brian Wilson, except where noted.

Side one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Let Us Go On This Way" (Brian Wilson, Mike Love)Carl Wilson with Love1:58
2."Roller Skating Child"Love, C. Wilson, Al Jardine with B. Wilson2:17
3."Mona"Dennis Wilson with B. Wilson2:06
4."Johnny Carson"Love with C. Wilson2:47
5."Good Time" (Wilson, Al Jardine)B. Wilson2:50
6."Honkin' Down the Highway"Jardine2:48
7."Ding Dang" (Wilson, Roger McGuinn)Love0:57
Side two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Solar System"B. Wilson2:49
2."The Night Was So Young"C. Wilson with B. Wilson2:15
3."I'll Bet He's Nice"D. Wilson, B. Wilson with C. Wilson2:36
4."Let's Put Our Hearts Together"B. Wilson with Marilyn Wilson2:14
5."I Wanna Pick You Up"D. Wilson with B. Wilson2:39
6."Airplane"Love, B. Wilson with C. Wilson3:05
7."Love Is a Woman"B. Wilson, Love with Jardine2:57


The Beach Boys
Additional musicians
  • Ed Carter – electric guitar on “Mona”[58][62][63]
  • Billy Hinsche – backing vocals and possible electric guitar on "Honkin' Down the Highway”[58][64]
  • Steve Douglas – saxophone on “Let Us Go On This Way,” “Mona,” and “Love Is A Woman”[58][65]
  • Jay Migliori - flutes on “Mona” and “Love Is A Woman”[58][66]
  • Marilyn Wilson – vocals[34]
  • Dennis Dragon – drums and percussion on "Good Time"[61][67]
  • Bruce Johnston – backing vocals on "Good Time” and “I'll Bet He's Nice"[68][69]
Production staff


Weekly charts
Chart Position
Canada RPM Albums Chart 66[70]
Swedish Album Charts 34[71]
UK Top 40 Album Chart 28[72]
US Billboard 200 Albums Chart 53[73]


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