In many ways, this song represents the end of an era in the Beach Boys history. Released in the June of 1969, it saw the band saying goodbye to both the sixties and the Capitol label for which they’ve been recording ever since the first album. The song’s title seems to be a reference to that latter happening; the band apparently saw the departure as a relief after some good years of under-promotion from the label.
Another “last” worth mentioning is Brian Wilson’s full involvement in the writing and production, the last time in 5 years he would be credited as such for a Beach Boys single. Only the lyrics do not belong to him – in what seems like another oddity among the thousands in the band’s story, they were written by the Wilsons’ father, Murry. The same Murry that got the Beach Boys started by being their manager and publisher back when they were just a bunch of teenagers with a dream…and the same Murry that they eventually fired from those positions because of his overbearing, unrequested artistic input.
But enough with the facts, let’s concentrate of the song itself. Now, you can go ahead and call me a fan-boy, but there are so many 60’s Brian-written songs that I would call ideal, that I lost count at some point. And ‘Break Away’ is no worse than any of them, despite its disastrous #63 chart placement and relative obscurity these days. Not a single second is wasted on this pop tour-de-force – the verses, pre-chorus and chorus flow into one another in the most natural, effortless manner. And the coda is pure vocal blossom, reassuring everybody that the Beach Boys were the best singers in pop music. There’s so much going on, yet it’s all perfectly accessible ultimately. Brian’s genius lies not in how complicated his melodies and structures are, but in how well they’re incorporated within the pop format. It is music that can be both listened for pleasure and analyzed.
So why isn’t the song at least half as well-known as say, ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations’? Well, the day someone can explain to me why so many god damn great Beach Boys songs are underrated, I’ll be a happy man. Although to be fair, the fact that it doesn’t appear on any of the band’s studio albums doesn’t help matters either. The main place you can find the song is on the two-in-one reissue of the Friends and 20/20 albums, but it was also included on compilations (such as ‘Spirit of America’ and ’20 Golden Greats’), as well as on both career-spanning box-sets (‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Made in California’). Let’s remedy this ‘underrated’ situation and give credit where credit is due.
Categories: The Song In My Head Today