Friends By Donald Lang
Brian Wilson has stated over the years that Friends is his favorite Beach Boys album (although lately it seems to be Love You). This makes for an interesting case when arguing about Brian's superstitions regarding his more "serious" work (the Smile project in particular). It seems that Brian's best work is maybe not what people may think it is. Friends is so lighthearted and calm that it just kind of rolls by. You might not even realize that it was there at all. It somehow is able to affect one the way the perfect spring day would - feelings so subtle that we don't notice them while they are occurring, but later on, when reflecting on them, it's overwhelming. It's a powerful memory. Next time, we try a little harder to pay attention.
Maybe some of us should pay a little more attention to things like the Friends album. The songs here are among the finest the group ever recorded, but the most wonderful thing about the record is that not one song is much more prominent than any other. Sure, different people will have different favorite tracks, and some may argue that "Busy Doin' Nothin'" is Brian's only major statement here, or perhaps that the title track sums up the whole album in a couple of minutes. These critics, in my opinion, could not be farther off the mark. To any appreciator of Brian Wilson (or even any appreciator of good music), Friends is essential as a whole. The album runs about 25 minutes, and every second is important. Looking through Brad Elliot's carefully researched notes on these sessions, it is very clear that although the credit lists the Beach Boys as producers, this is in fact a Brian Wilson production (his last entire album until Love You in 1977). The group didn't even play on most of the tracks (including the instrumental "Diamond Head"). For those of you you haven't considered it yet, Friends may be the true follow up to Pet Sounds. Sure, Smile was originally going to be, but Brian decided (after "cooling out" with Wild Honey) to go this route instead. Aren't you glad? I am.
This time around, the songwriting is shared by all members of the group, as I'm sure Brian wanted this to be a family affair. According to Carl, even Murry sings here. The bad vibes are gone, we are now in the realm of peace. The "fire" music scared Brian; this calmed him. The group stayed together, the family stayed together, and they created something beautiful and magical. What more could you ask for?
It is sometimes stated that Friends was totally irrelevant to what was happening politically in 1968, but how relevant was a spring day? For this album, being relevant is actually irrelevant. If everyone in the world considered this album relevant at the time it was released, then we'd have world peace!!!