Sometimes the circumstances behind the making of an album is more interesting than the album itself.
That's definitely the case with the Beach Boys' 1978 LP MIU Album. Songwise, it's a fairly bland, innocuous and occasional pleasant collection.
But the album was made at a time when The Beach Boys organization was the equivalent of a bombed out city.
First, much context. In 1976, after a few years of musical near-inactivity and a great deal of drug-taking and bouts of depression, Beach Boys visionary Brian Wilson returned to the studio as producer for the first time since the late 1960s and came out with the part-originals, part-cover versions album 15 Big Ones. It was far from their best effort, and Brian's voice was hoarse, but at least one could hear a sense of fun, especially on the hit It's OK.
Then came a whole lot of recording on Brian's part — unreleased until recently songs like a version of the Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling, a vocal for the 1965 music track Sherry (Sandy) She Needs Me, and some others; the recordings for what became Brian's 1977 childlike "magnum opus" The Beach Boys Love You, with a still hoarse Brian writing or co-writing all the songs this time; and more songs for the planned Adult/Child album, met with hostility by some band members and rejection by the band's record company, Reprise.
Brian, who had lost weight and was greatly active during this period, started to retreat at this point back into mental illness and drugs.
While this was happening, the Beach Boys as an entity was starting to implode and separated into factions — the "clean" Mike Love and Al Jardine, versus the "drug--infested" Carl and Dennis Wilson, with Brian an unhappy observer from the sidelines.
Rolling Stone Magazine chronicled, in gory detail, a viciously angry confrontation on the Newark Airport tarmac in late 1977 between group members over management and other issues, followed by what was perceived as a break-up.
A couple of weeks later, peace was declared, but the anger simmered on. It was album time again, so Love and Jardine decided it was time to go with Brian to a university created by Love's guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Maharishi International University (MIU) and record in a peaceful, drug-free atmosphere. The non-clean livers, Carl and Dennis, largely stayed away.
The first intention was to record the band's second Christmas album, and several songs were completed (including Brian's excellent Winter Symphony, which I saw Brian and his band perform live in Florida in late 2018). But the record company rejected the songs yet again. Several were later released on Beach Boys Christmas compilations.
The next step? Record a conventional album, with Jardine and Ron Altbach producing.
The result was, for the most part, not terrible nor great. Just very conventional with some bright spots and a slight sense of staleness. It might have been very different had Brian been able to produce at that point.
Here is my song-by-song evaluation:
• She's Got Rhythm-The good news here is that Brian's voice is clear and his falsetto has returned. The bad news is that the falsetto is strained and the song is a lame attempt to keep up with the (disco) times. The later disco remake of 1967's Here Comes the Night is great in comparison.
• Come Go With Me— A rather good cover of the Dell-Vikings hit, sung by Al, and a hit three years after the fact. The first MIU CD had a circa 1975 version of this song by mistake.
• Hey Little Tomboy — Musically excellent, bouncy and memorable, and started by Brian. Lyrically, quite cringeworthy, but innocuous compared to the spoken lyrics in an early version of the song.
• Kona Coast-A bland retread of the classic Beach Boys song Catch A Wave.
• Peggy Sue — Another pretty good Jardine cover, this time of Buddy Holly. The song was done during the Christmas album sessions with different lyrics.
• Woncha Come Out Tonight? — Excellent vocals by Brian, but the song is lackluster.
• Sweet Sunday Kinda Love — Very ordinary, but a nice vocal from Carl Wilson.
• Belles of Paris — Smarmy.
• Pitter Patter-Not a classic, but a very decent and understated song.
• My Diane- By far the best song on the album. Begun by Brian and passionately sung by a hoarse Dennis, it's an ode to Brian's sister-in-law, which must have made his then-wife Marilyn a bit uncomfortable.
• Match Point of Our Love- Critics hate the tennis metaphor lyrics, but it's a nice, mellow tune with smooth Brian vocals.
• Winds of Change — A mite overblown, but a nice philosophical concluder from Al.
Next album: The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees by The Monkees.