Summer in Purgatory — when The Beach Boys came close to destroying their legacy with one appalling album

Around thirty years ago, I was neck-deep in sixties music, and I made it my business to see all the groups from that era who were still touring — even if they were down to one original member, like Gerry and the Pacemakers were at that stage (no prizes for guessing who the sole original member was). So when I got the chance to see The Beach Boys perform live at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre, naturally, I jumped at the chance. At the time, I knew nothing about the band, hadn’t delved into their personal histories, and I certainly hadn’t watched that laughably awful TV movie which tries to blame their late sixties career slump on… Jimi Hendrix(!?) — I just knew I liked their music, and seeing them in concert would surely provide some fun, fun, fun. (Sorry.)

My main memory of the show — and bear in mind, I was approaching this from a position of near-total ignorance, and I was only seventeen at the time — is thinking that Mike Love seemed like a fun uncle. His singing was amazing (and I mean that — you can say whatever you like about his politics, his narcissism, his pro-censorship stance, his crappy treatment of his fellow band and family members, and all his other dickhead antics, but cut him some slack, he could SING), and not only did he act as the group’s cheerleader that night, he also displayed a streak of self-deprecating humour. ‘You don’t wanna hear all our crummy old surfing tunes,’ he said at the beginning of the show. ‘You want to hear some BARRY MANILOW!’ Sure enough, the band started playing Could It Be Magic. At this point, the booing from the audience became deafening, so they stopped dead, and went straight into California Girls. Ha ha. Love that Mike Love, he was just fucking with us! What followed was hit after hit after hit, and it was an excellent show. Even Kokomo sounded great.

What happened next, though — or, more precisely, just over a year later — was no laughing matter. I passed a record shop in town (RIP Spinadisc of Abington Street, you are still very sadly missed) and noticed a poster in the window that stopped me in my tracks. The Beach Boys had a new album out. That blew my mind. A whole new album by one of the greatest groups of the sixties? Hell yes, count me in! The title was Summer in Paradise. I loved the idea of that. Even the cover was cool, albeit in the same way murals on the sides of VW vans, Souvenir font and blob lamps are cool. This, I thought, was going to be good.

A collector’s item, believe it or not.

I walked into the shop, took a cassette copy from the rack, took it up to the counter… and the assistant laughed at me.

Not overtly. He didn’t laugh in my face, Nelson Muntz style, or even Richard Pryor style, when he got the giggles during a chat show and Milton Berle thought he was making fun of a dead relative or something. It was a little derisive snigger, somewhere between Muttley and Tommy Wiseau. I remember feeling unduly slighted and even insulted, and thinking ‘What does this scruffy idiot know about REAL music? Yeah, pardon me for not being like all the other teenage sheep and buying mindless top forty pabulum! This is The Beach Boys, son, listen up and learn a thing or two!’

Looking back, it’s obvious that the sales assistant knew something I didn’t — as in ‘here’s another sucker buying that chunk of reeking excrement, I bet he brings it back in a couple of days and asks for a refund.’ Or maybe he was remembering a funny sketch from Absolutely. Okay, so he was totally laughing at me. Anyway…

I listened to the album on the way home thanks to the technological miracle of the Walkman. And after every track, I began to feel worse. And worse. And worse. Truly, this was a bad case of the flu in album form. By the time the final track rolled around — a cover of a decades-old Dennis Wilson-penned deep cut called Forever, sung by John Stamos of all people, because f**k society — I felt genuinely nauseous. It was recognisably The Beach Boys, but at the same time… rapping? Those big thundering BAM-BAM-BAM Right Said Fred drums? Tinny-sounding synthesizers all over the place? Squiddly-widdly guitars? Cover versions of The Shangri-Las and The Drifters? This wasn’t Summer In Paradise. It was a bad hangover at Butlin’s. The kind of half-hearted, sickly beer belch your pissed uncle lets rip when it’s kicking out time, and that pickled egg he had with his cod and chips is repeating on him. A can’t-be-bothered mid-tempo saunter around the block with a bog-standard wedding band all rocking identical mullets. A seedy, divorced, middle-aged embarrassment with a balding ponytail and a loud Hawaiian shirt making eyes at the nineteen-year-old stunner who wouldn’t cross the street to piss on him if he was on fire.

The assistant was right. He was still there, the bastard, when I took the cassette back the very next day, along with the receipt. I obviously looked utterly defeated by the whole sorry experience, because as he handed me my £10 voucher, he said ‘I’m really sorry, mate.’ He knew. He knew all too well. (Ironically, original copies of Summer in Paradise are now very hard to find. The album sold incredibly poorly on its original — in fact, its only — release, and has never been reissued or remastered. This is one chapter of Beach Boys history everyone wants to forget. That bad, people. That bad.)

After the bottomless pit of embarrassment that is Summer In Paradise, I did some serious research on The Beach Boys, and… yeah, it’s kind of amazing that they were still together, still touring and still making music after the shit they went through, and I admired them for that. I just wish they hadn’t recorded Summer In Paradise.

Peter Bagge’s portrait of Mike Love. Frightening.

As for Mike Love? I think it speaks volumes that he remains the biggest douche ever associated with the band — which is particularly telling when you consider that Dennis Wilson used to hang out with CHARLES FRICKIN’ MANSON, and they even recorded one of his songs.

I still listen to and love their older music. I’ll even admit to a soft spot for Kokomo. And Mike Love — at least, for that one night in Birmingham back in 1991 — was quite the showman. But Summer In Paradise? You couldn’t pay me to listen to that again.

Cool cover, though.

STOP PRESS — Peter Bagge, the creator of Hate and Neat Stuff, also wrote an excellent essay on The Beach Boys, in which he also praises Mike Love. You can read it here.

I write, I try to amuse people, but mostly I stumble blindly from one disaster to the next. I have contributed to various 'outsider' publications.