Little Deuce Coupe
REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/03/2009
The Beach Boys had become full-fledged rock stars by late 1963. The Capitol label’s quest for new product was insatiable, and Brian Wilson and the group were under constant pressure to provide that product. Little Deuce Coupe was the fourth Beach Boys album released within a year’s time and arrived about a month after Surfer Girl. While this deluge of material, mostly excellent, would sell in the millions, this constant pressure would wear on Brian Wilson over the next five years, producing ultimately catastrophic results.
The Capitol Label had released a compilation album of car songs, featuring a couple of tunes by the Beach Boys, and it sold well. As a result, The Beach Boys decided to jump on this car song bandwagon. Little Deuce Coupe is in a way the group’s first theme album, as all the songs except “Be True To Your School” are stories about automobiles.
The group would recycle four of their songs for this album. The title song, plus “409,” “Our Car Club” and “Shut Down” all reappeared here. While all were strong songs, they had been heard before – and recently.
With four songs already in place, they still needed eight more to create a full album. Production notes show that all eight were recorded the same day. While Brian Wilson tinkered with them for a week or so, it was still an amazing achievement. This creative burst would produce a number of creative and memorable – if mostly non-hit – songs.
“Ballad Of Ole Betsy” is a ode to an aging car that will ring familiar familiar; I still remember my first car and trading it in for a newer one. The unique aspect of this song is the first use of a capella, which presents the young Beach Boys in all their vocal and harmonic strength.
The version of “Be True To Your School” here was an early one. It emerged as a classic Beach Boys single later on. One can’t help but wonder if Brian Wilson just did not have enough time to finish the track. Looking at the ultimately completed product, it does give an excellent look at how Brian Wilson could refine a basic song when given enough time.
“Spirit Of America” was a biographical song about Craig Breedlove, who was trying to set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah with his car, called The Spirit Of America. This song would later be the title song of a multi-platinum selling Beach Boys greatest hits album.
“No Go Showboat,” while simplistic lyric-wise, has interesting chord changes plus a Brian Wilson and Mike Love duet. The song is about a car that cannot go fast, which is the antithesis of the Beach Boy automobile philosophy.
Brian Wilson always mentions the Four Freshmen as one of his musical inspirations. Here he takes their song, “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring,” and substitutes his lyrics to create a “A Young Man Is Gone,” which is a tribute to James Dean, who died in a car crash. Again the use of a capella accents just how pure the early voices of the group members were and how well they fit together.
“Cherry Cherry Coupe” has always been my favorite song on Little Deuce Coupe. There were no dramatic highs, just a smooth vocal by Mike Love with subtle backing. It just flows along and is relaxing in its own way.
Little Deuce Coupe was a quickly thrown together affair, and it shows in some ways. There is very little musical and technical advancement from Surfer Girl. Having said that, Brian Wilson proved the even when hurried he could still produce an album that was superior from most of what was being released in 1963. Time was passing, and Brian Wilson was still learning.