All Summer Long signals the beginning of the end of an era for the Beach Boys: the soon-to-be pioneers hadn’t yet ditched their upbeat, California surf-rock, but their ambitions — or more accurately, Brian Wilson’s — swelled beyond the sometimes superficial teenybopper hits of previous years. Their songwriting here incorporates a pensive emotional edge, with Wilson and Mike Love focusing less on summertime reveries and more on volatile romantic angst (though Love was only credited as a co-writer for half of the album’s material, and even then only after he successfully sued a mentally incapacitated Wilson in the early ’90s.) Tracks like the languid doo-wop of “We’ll Run Away” and the tender heartbreak anthem “Wendy,” on top of being harried tales of young love gone awry, also provide early signs of the masterful vocal melodies and uniquely oddball instrumentation (the former’s sentimental Brian falsetto, the latter’s unorthodox organ solo) that would be essential elements of the group’s 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Even when surfing is sung about by the Boys here, on “Don’t Back Down,” it’s not some trivial excuse to lazily incorporate their favorite subjects (girls, partying, having a good time, etc.) but rather the mention serves to unify the album thematically — to offer that, sometimes in life, there’s “a twenty-footer” ready to knock you down, but you got to be “a little nuts” and take it head-on. It’s the band essentially acknowledging that you have to grow up at some point, a true departure from the youthful ethos of their previous work.
Tracks like the languid doo-wop of “We’ll Run Away” and the tender heartbreak anthem “Wendy,” on top of being harried tales of young love gone awry, provide early signs of the masterful vocal melodies and uniquely oddball instrumentation that would be essential elements of the group’s 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds.
The newfound experimentation and varied approach to genre on All Summer Long isn’t always successful, especially when it comes to “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” — which distorts and splits several studio outtakes, all of which really should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. “Carl’s Big Chance” is lead guitarist Carl Wilson’s shining moment in the spotlight, as he attempts a Memphis-style blues riff that sounds like a wannabe Chuck Berry impersonation (only minus any discernible personality), while “Do You Remember?” — a re-cap of rock’s black history, smugly sung by five white dudes — is about as insufferable as you’d expect. Surprisingly enough, though, All Summer Long also features the Boys’ first number one hit: the energetically eclectic “I Get Around.” On the surface, the song sounds like any other pre-’64 Beach Boys hit, with its rapid strumming and carefree lyrics (“We always take my car ’cause it’s never been beat / And we’ve never missed yet with the girls we meet”). But the incorporation of the opening fuzz-box riff and sporadic hand-clapping (which also featured prominently just a few months earlier on the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” the British invasion being in full-swing by this point) makes it one of the group’s most innovative early singles, one that helped to cement the producing prowess of a budding Brian Wilson even as he continued to push his ensemble’s sound for the next several years. More of a transitional footnote than a true classic, All Summer Long finds the Beach Boys still largely optimistic, reveling in the wonders of adolescence — but as they themselves admit, on the title track, it “won’t be long until summertime is through.”
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.