Where next after Surf’s Up? That was the question for the Beach Boys as they sailed the uncertain commercial waters of the early 1970s. The surprising answer was an album in which Brian Wilson’s involvement was limited, on which Bruce Johnston barely featured after his sudden (and temporary) departure, and which was named after the band that Carl Wilson and Mike Love had had in high school.
Carl and the Passions – ‘So Tough’ was released on 15 May 1972, and if it failed to deliver any major hits, the Beach Boys’ 17th studio album stands as a showcase, especially, for Carl, as he took a greater hand in studio direction. Surf’s Up had won rave reviews and landed the group on the cover of Rolling Stone in an extensive interview, but it was less than a sales blockbuster, and the group’s direction was to change again.
Listen to Carl and the Passions – ‘So Tough’ right now.
Sessions for the new record began in December 1971 at the Beach Boys’ new recording studio, Brother, just before the group embarked on some pre-Christmas tour dates. ‘All This Is That,’ written by Carl, Mike and Al Jardine, was one of the first songs to come together, as were ‘He Come Down’ and ‘Marcella,’ which (as Keith Badman’s The Beach Boys diary book detailed) came to life under the title ‘Beatrice From Baltimore.’
By the new year of 1973, the factions within the band were prompting Carl to suggest that fresh impetus and new faces may be needed. That led to the arrival as official members of South Africans Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, as the Beach Boys became, in name at least, a seven-piece outfit. Their input was felt on the albums that continued, firstly at Brother, and then at Brian’s home studio in Bel Air.
Fataar and Chaplin wrote and sang on ‘Here She Comes’ and ‘Hold On Dear Brother,’ while Dennis Wilson took lead vocals on the pretty ‘Make It Good’ and ‘Cuddle Up,’ written with Daryl Dragon, later to find fame as one half of the Captain & Tennille. Brian’s main involvement was on the opening ‘You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone,’ which became the LP’s first single, followed by ‘Marcella.’
By the spring, Johnston’s departure through what he called “differences in musical policy” was confirmed. When the album emerged, with the Beach Boys on an extensive European tour, the overall feeling was of a highly listenable if disjointed record, by a group heading in several directions at once.
Reprise released it in America as an initial twin-pack with Pet Sounds, a juxtaposition which hardly helped the new record to shine, and it peaked at No. 50. It fared better at No. 25 in the UK, even if neither single made any real chart impression — except in Holland, where the next phase of the Beach Boys’ story would soon unfold.
Carl and the Passions – ‘So Tough’ can be bought here.
Follow the official Beach Boys Best Of playlist.