Wild Honey marks the second album released by The Beach Boys during 1967, easily one of the most influential years in the history of rock and roll. It also saw the group enter into a transitional phase; no longer did Brian Wilson wield complete control over the direction of the band’s sound. Instead, Wild Honey became the first album in the post-SMiLE era for The Beach Boys, and one in which the spotlight shone upon the other members.
As the years have passed, Wild Honey has grown in the eyes of critics and fans alike. Whatever one’s faults with the record may be, there is no denying that the album is a complete 180 from such masterworks as Pet Sounds, and the aborted SMiLE sessions. There is none of the ethereal, cathedral inspired quality that Brian Wilson brought to the masses. Instead, the focus with
Wild Honey seems to have been to recreate the feeling/tone of the group’s earlier works.
That is not to say the listener is treated to Surfin Safari Part Two. As has been mentioned ad nauseum in discussions of the record, Wild Honey was a response to the world of R&B. One does not have to strain to hear the Motown influence in “Aren’t You Glad,” or “I Was Made To Love Her.” While failing to reach a level of genius along the lines of a Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, or Smokey Robinion, there is no denying the accessibility of the best tracks from Wild Honey.
It is also fascinating to hear the group continuing to make an effort to acknowledge what was going on in the rest of the rock world during 1967. The Beach Boys never were able to pull off the psychedelic act, no matter how desperately they tried. “Good Vibrations” was a step in the right direction, but with Brian Wilson relegated to being “just another member” of the group, those ventures grew increasingly hackneyed. The title track marks the most successful fusion of the old and newfound sensibilities, aided in no small part by the inclusion of a theremin.
Few would recognize any of the tracks from Wild Honey, seeing as how the album spun off only minor hit singles. However, it would be a mistake to ignore the best work from the record. The Wilson/Love collaboration hit gold with “Darlin,” featuring an impassioned lead vocal from Carl Wilson that simply makes the song. “How She Boogalooed It” was the first non instrumental song from the group that did not feature a writing credit from Brian Wilson, highlighting the fact that yes, the other Beach Boys could indeed write a catchy tune without the assistance of their erstwhile leader.
Wild Honey’s true legacy comes when one realizes that this was the new direction for the group, and that Brian Wilson was no longer calling the shots. That choice would indeed yield some amazing music along the way, unfortunately the group would slide into irrelevance, before succumbing to the label of the “oldies” group that remains with them to this day.
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