Housed in a cute Rene Magritte-aping sleeve, featuring one of Dennis Wilson’s touching final prehumous* recordings on the b-side, starting off with some promising vocoder and pressed on luminous blue vinyl, “Here Comes the Night” was, nonetheless, an inauspicious end to a decade that saw the Beach Boys plumb the very depths of competence. I’d never heard it before, so was happy to part with a pound at the Etchinghill bootfair last Saturday for the pleasure, but truth be told, this sounds more like a Stars On 45-style cover of the Beach Boys than a tune by the actual band. There’s a reason for this.
Drafted in when Brian proved un-up to the task of producing (despite a new CBS contract obliging him to do just that), once and future Boy Bruce Johnston sprinkled a lil’ disco fairy dust on a twelve year-old Wild Honey track in much the same way he’d done with the Chantays’ surf instrumental “Pipeline” two years previously. The original “Here Comes the Night” represents one of the closest things the band produced to an R&B track, hence, I suppose, its nomination for a dance update. Alas, despite a high energy content and fluid bass part, the song is tedium itself, the familiar thump/strings/sheen of disco provided by an array of session musicians. Now, session musicians had featured on some of the band’s best music, but never had they sounded so faceless. The single edit on the b-side features an interesting, burbling synthesiser and makes a little more sense as a song than the 11 minute version, where verses, choruses, backing “oooo’s” come in and out in the most disembodied, arbitrary fashion. And let us be honest, this is not on the funky end of the disco spectrum.
But the similar vintage Four Seasons had managed a few disco hits. The Bee Gees transformed themselves likewise, so why not the Beach Boys? Perhaps because the Four Seasons and Bee Gees were simple vehicles for pop songs, while Brian Wilson & co. were, despite a calculated banality, not so simple; a band identified with, and weighted down by, an ethos/myth that couldn’t accommodate disco glitz. And having capitulated to travelling an oldies route following the enormous popularity of the Endless Summer and Spirit of America compilations, booty shaking in the direction of the Hustle was confusing to say the least. Certainly, this awkwardness, this uneasiness is more than apparent on a contemporary TV appearance, all beardy and dad-dancing, promoting the single (and note Dennis relegated to a ride cymbal!). Trouble was, at least commercially, the disco backlash had already begun in earnest, especially among the classic rock supporters constituting 98.6% of the BBs’ fan base, and fairly sharpish, this late-in-the-day, smacks-of-desperation misfire was dropped from their live set list.
So, Last Gasp for Beach Boy Radio Relevance or once again proof that anything can Go Disco? Answer: Yes.
*as opposed to, uh, posthumous.