The Beach Boys

Bluebirds over the Mountain

Composed by Ersel Hickey

Song Review by

The Beach Boys cover of “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” was among the singles and stray studio sides -- some dating back to the still borne SMiLE (1967) project -- that ended up on the contractually obligated 20/20 (1969) album. This track was among the handful of “new” pieces worked up specifically for the disc. In spite of the fact that the Beach Boys’ had moved their recording facilities into Brian Wilson’s home, the senior partner had completely retreated from any responsibilities that the group or music might require of him. Therefore the remaining band members bravely took up the gauntlet. The highly underrated talents of Bruce Johnston -- who had begun as early as 1965 filling in for the eldest Wilson brother -- are thoroughly evident not only as a primary vocal lead, but also a burgeoning keen-eared record producer and arranger. Ed Carter’s blistering (by Beach Boys standards) electric guitar work in the opening bars, indicates that the combo were actively searching for new and hipper musical environs to shed their socially irrelevant image. This upbeat love song is a perfect pallet from which the vocalists are able to trade leads -- between Michael Love on the verses and the tag-team harmonies of Johnston and Carl Wilson during the choruses. The song features a catchy and otherwise unencumbered melody. Johnston’s arrangement and instrumentation contains a subtle nod to Paul McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da” from the Beatles (1968). The contrasting backing vocals with Love’s leads is a nice touch and adds a texture hearkening back to some of Brian Wilson’s most dynamic pop arrangements, such as “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations”. The instrumental break erupts into an incongruous hard rock electric guitar jam which contrasts the comparatively tame vocals. After a slight key change, the end tag recalls both some of the ethereal sonic snippets from SMiLE as well as foreshadowing arrangements circa Surf’s Up (1971) and Holland (1972). Right down to the song’s waning strains, Johnston applies the impressionistic styles to popular music that Phil Spector and Brian Wilson became legend for -- much of which he learned and observed first hand. The live reading featured on the Beach Boys '69 (Beach Boys Live in London) contains a bit more bite as the band are augmented by a prominent horn section and aggressive excecution. Although perhaps ‘sweetened’ in the studio, the vocals are delivered with dead-on accuracy.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
20/20 1969 Capitol 2:53
Beach Boys '69 1976 Capitol
No Image 1983 EMI Music Distribution
Friends/20/20 1990 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 2:53
Rarities 1998 Capitol 2:51
Dutch Singles Collection 1998 EMI Music Distribution 2:49
Capitol Years 1999 EMI Music Distribution 2:52
The Greatest Hits, Vol. 2: 20 More Good Vibrations 1999 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 2:51
blue highlight denotes editor's pick