The Beach Boys: Doin’ It Again – Review
BBC4 9pm, Friday 30 November
I’ve never understood the Beach Boys’ massive success. I mean, I’m a fan. Good Vibrations managed to create an entirely new sound in one track. God Only Knows is a beautiful pop track: its honesty and ironic tone heartened by time. And the driving rhythms of I Get Around and Surfin’ USA will get anyone with a chunk of the 60s in their heart twisting their hips.
But unlike the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or the Who, their sound has never transcended the era in which it was created. The Beach Boys might be surfer rock at its very best, but surfer rock is very 1961. Nevertheless, a band that has been so big for so long must have a story to tell. If so, Doin’ It Again doesn’t find it.
I’m willing to be convinced that the Beach Boys are still relevant, but the film grabs hold of its subject about as hard as a museum plaque. This is very much the authorised story. You get an unbeatable line-up of talking heads, but they’re not going to offer much controversy. At least, none that will challenge the overall valedictory tone.
Keith Moon drove a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, John Lennon had a foot-thick file at the CIA and Mick Jagger got Marianne Faithfull to do unspeakable things with a Mars Bar. But one anecdote here begins, “I was sat at home one Sunday night, watching Bonanza in my pyjamas.” The Beach Boys’ troubles are hardly undocumented, but they’re barely even mentioned.
Brian Wilson wanders in and out of the band in a couple of pleasant-enough anecdotes, but there isn’t even the attempt make anything of it. Fair enough if he doesn’t want to talk about his drug and mental health problems in what is meant to be a celebratory film, but there’s precious little to fill the gap.
Recalling his trip to London to promote Pet Sounds, Wilson says, “I walk [into my hotel room] and there’s Lennon and McCartney”. Fair dues, that’s a neat line to have in your back pocket, but it’s damning that the most impressive story the film offers involves a more significant band. “I heard they’d distilled the sound of Pet Sounds into the Revolver album,” he continues. Yeah, well I heard Jimmy Craig fingered Amy Sanderson behind the D&T block after Maths last Tuesday: doesn’t make it true.
At 55 minutes (that’s near enough a year a minute) the documentary skips through its journey too quickly to stop and explore potentially interesting corners. The studio footage of the original Good Vibrations recording is fascinating – and responsible for one of the two stars we’ve given the film – but it’s a class act on a weak bill. God only knows what it would have been without it.