45 Years Ago: The Beach Boys’ ‘Friends’ Album Released
“‘Pet Sounds’ is by far my very best album, though my favorite is ‘Friends’,” writes Brian Wilson in the liner notes of the CD reissue of the latter album. “I think that the Beach Boys sound was developing right along. I had developed a sixth sense for everybody’s voices.”
Released in late June 1968, ‘Friends’ found the Beach Boys settling in after the many conflicts that derailed the making of their epic ‘Smile’ album. ‘Smiley Smile’ came first, but it was more of a bunt than a grand slam. With ‘Friends,’ the group crafted an inviting album full of terrific songs.
Sessions for the record had started in February at Wilson’s home studio. Over the next few months, the band worked on the songs. The album’s title cut was released as a single in April, making it to No. 47 — not a great shwoing. Wilson was still in charge of most of the writing, but a shift in group dynamics was beginning. Mike Love, Al Jardine and Carl Wilson all contributed to ‘Friends.’ Most significantly, Dennis Wilson stepped up as a songwriter too.
The album opens with the short but sweet ‘Meant for You,’ which serves as a welcoming note to the LP. Powered by only organ and vocals, it’s almost an overture. The title track follows, setting the tone for the rest of the record. The song’s calming nature and references to human interaction and friendship certainly were at odds with the turbulent times. ‘Wake the World,’ co-written by Brian and Jardine (their first collaboration), is another brief tune, clocking in at a minute and a half; ‘Be Here in the Morning‘ — written by all three Wilsons, Jardine and Love — follows and is deceptively simple. The lyrics play out as an in-joke among band members, with references to family and business associates. ‘Anna Lee the Healer‘ (written by Brian and Love) is about a masseuse and features some very sparse instrumentation.
The jaunty ‘Little Bird‘ is Dennis’ first real gem. Its arrangement and structure are fairly sophisticated this early in his songwriting game. Apparently he learned a lot from his older brother. His other contribution to ‘Friends,’ the hauntingly beautiful ‘Be Still,’ ranks as one of the Beach Boys’ most vulnerable tracks.
‘Busy Doin Nothin‘ basically describes a day in the life of Brian Wilson in 1968, with whimsical and odd lyrics that include directions to his house, albeit from an undisclosed starting point. ‘Transcendental Meditation,’ on the other hand, is a peek inside Love’s world at the time. He had ventured to India that year with the Beatles, Donovan and others to indulge his interests in meditation. ‘Diamond Head‘ — a lush instrumental that’s slightly out of step with the rest of the album yet still somehow fits — features more intricate production than most of the songs on ‘Friends.’
The album still holds a special place for many Beach Boys fans. After a period of disharmony, the group came together on the record. But music fans immersed in the latest records by Jimi Hendrix, Cream and others weren’t interested. There were no songs about revolution, drugs or politics on ‘Friends.’ Things had changed, and so did the Beach Boys. Just not in the same ways.
The album stalled at No. 126 in the U.S., but it charted significantly higher (No. 13) in the U.K., where the band was taken much more seriously than it was at home. ‘Friends” reputation has grown since it was released 45 years ago. Along with its follow-up, ’20/20,’ the LP would provide a perfect cap to the group’s first, wonderful decade.