One night after a rock show and the right number of drinks, a friend rolled out an outrageous fact: He considers Love You by The Beach Boys to be their best album. This led to a loud argument between three record nerds on a Schley Pass sidewalk at 3 a.m.
It was somewhat weird that it didn't end with a noise complaint visit from the po-pos. It was even weirder that my friend stood by his statement even when drinks or an irrational desire to defend an unpopular argument were not involved. Ultimately, he won, because it led me to scan the dollar bins for a copy of this heretofore ignored "masterpiece."
Love You was released in 1977, far after the Beach Boys golden era; these days few but the most hardcore fans search out the band's exploits past the '60s, to say nothing of disco era efforts. Thankfully, at least, Love You is before the Boys' brief detour down that avenue in search of a hit.
Even more promising, it's part of a short-lived "comeback" era for Brian Wilson. The erstwhile band leader took over most of the songwriting duties on Love You for the first time since the collapse of the Smile project a decade earlier. During that time Beach Boys albums were far more of an actual band effort, with everyone contributing songs, plus pieces of Smile and other old Brian tracks gradually being finished and released.
There's a lot of very good, largely neglected music in that decade of work, but considered overall it tends to be much more standard issue rock than what came before it, albeit greatly boosted by those lighter than air harmonies.
Love You does definitely present a more cohesive sound than many '70s Beach Boys albums, partly due to a ubiquitous synthesizer farting away (and usually serving as the bass line) on most tracks. Around that problematic base Brian Wilson does concoct some soundscapes that, in a stripped-down way, have more in common with his mid-'60s heyday than any of the new band collaborations of the previous decade. Flashes of Wilson's melodic genius also reappear, particularly on "I'll Bet He's Nice," which would have fit in perfectly on Pet Sounds.
Much weirder than the music are the lyrics, which at times offer a childlike worldview rarely heard in songs not specifically aimed at grade schoolers. (Sample lyric from "Johnny Carson": "He sits behind his microphone/Johnny Carson/He speaks in such a manly tone/Johnny Carson.") Occasionally, when an apparently youthful topic coincides with an adult situation, such as on "Roller Skating Child," it can make for some uncomfortable listening.
A projected, and much-bootlegged, Brian Wilson solo album from around this time often goes under the name Adult Child; that title also captures well the weird world of Love You. It may not be their best album, but it definitely could be their strangest officially released work.