SUNFLOWER SEEDS by Peter Reum
When was the first time you listened to Sunflower? For me, it was shortly after it came out with great anticipation in late 1970. I was a high school senior absorbed in that period's music, and hearing Sunflower after a nearly 2 year break after 20/20 was a revelation. It was apparent upon first listen that the harmonies on Sunflower were more superb than any Beach Boys fan could dream of. It truly blew back my expectations and created a new anticipation for Beach Boys music that for one album refocused my attention from Brian to the group as a whole. I had become a Brian-Beach Boys aficionado in 1963 upon the release of Surfin' USA, and he had rarely let me down, but I had seen his influence wane from Beach Boys' albums. By Sunflower, Brian was tired of being a Beach Boy, and had cultivated a reputation as a person who did not finish songs he began. His desire was to produce The Beach Boys occasionally and work with other artists as well. His production of the Honeys 45 Tonight You Belong to Me/Goodnight My Love showed that nothing had been lost other than the desire to be a full-time Beach Boy.
Meanwhile, The Beach Boys were recording for the purpose of fulfilling their final album commitment for their Capitol Records contract. There was no love lost between Capitol and The Beach Boys at the time, and several interviews and concert recordings from the era reveal members of The Beach Boys referring to Capitol as "Captive Records." The Beach Boys record sales were down, and chart success in the USA was nowhere close to success in other sales markets like Europe and Japan. The Beach Boys were struggling to even have modest turnouts stateside, whereas in Europe, they were still selling out venues. Cash flow was sparse, and American Productions, the Wilson family corporation, was having cash flow issues. In a mid 1969 press conference, Brian told the media in Los Angeles that the Beach Boys were "nearly bankrupt." Mike Love, when told about Brian's remarks in Europe quipped "Oh my....Brian must be down to his last million."
It was a strange period for The Beach Boys-Murry Wilson in a panic sold Sea of Tunes Publishing to A&M, and Brian did unusual things to try to help everyone understand that he did not really want to get into another long-term recording commitment. When some guys from a record company thinking about signing The Beach Boys said they had to meet Brian to see if he was in adequate shape to commit to a new contract, Brian was told by the Beach Boys' business team to "be on your best behavior." He met the suits from the record company, and sounded perfectly normal, with the exception of painting his face green. In fact, Brian may have thought he was the first "Green Man." Marvin the Martian might be amazed to learn of this.
Among The Beach Boys, there was the realization that limited funds limited their recording. They used the studio in Brian's home, and many of the tunes they recorded at the time were cut there. In a 1969 interview with New Musical Express, Bruce mentioned that The Beach Boys were working on an album he jokingly called "A Fading Rock Group Revival." The title "Reverberation" was also mentioned for this album. As Andrew Does notes in his excellent section on his Bellagio Site regarding unreleased albums, recording for this projected album took place from January 1969 to August 1969. In general, the absence of Brian's production efforts is pronounced. As on 20/20, Carl, Bruce, Alan, and Dennis had stepped up into taking responsibility for writing and producing tracks that met their musical interests and could still fit within the broad musical umbrella that The Beach Boys first displayed on 20/20. Carl by this time was responsible to American Productions for relations with Capitol Records,and despite having his own distractions with his draft board, did an admirable job in dealing with Capitol through 1966 on through to the end of their Capitol contract.
After Friends, Brian again withdrew substantially from recording, suffering a worsening of his health. He in effect redelegated primary production responsibilities to Carl and secondary responsibilities to Dennis, Alan, and Bruce. Dennis's abilities flowered with the help of Carl and Brian, along with Daryl Dragon. Friends proved he was very capable of turning out mature, full, work that was every bit as sophisticated as any other Beach Boy was doing at the time. Dennis's work during Reverberation constituted writing and co-producing San Miguel, Celebrate the News, Got to Know the Woman, and Forever. His role in Reverberation as planned foreshadowed his dominant role in the Sunflower album that was released to critical acclaim in September 1970. Celebrate the News was a revelation to those of us who bought the Capitol Breakaway single as an A side. The drums on Celebrate the News were unlike anything recorded at the time. They foreshadowed several other creative uses of drums on other Dennis Wilson tracks, especially on Pacific Ocean Blue. San Miguel was written about a favorite surfing spot of Dennis's in Baja California near the end of paved roads at that time in Baja. For any of us who have driven the Baja in the late 60s or early 70s, the world of civilization ended at San Miguel. The pavement ended at Ensenada, and from there on out, it was serious 4 wheel drive terrain southbound. San Miguel offered all of the great things about Baja at the time...isolated, uncrowded beaches free of the crowds in Alta California. The seafood tacos were great, as was the Mexican beer. San Miguel is a production that mimics some of Phil Spector's productions, with its castanets and marimbas. It again showed that Carl and Dennis working together could mimic brother Brian's trademark Beach Boy sound. Forever was written by Dennis as a love song to women in general, and in a 1979 interview with this writer revealed that he wrote it to describe his feelings toward women as a whole. While he may have seemed to have written it for a particular woman, it was his love song to an entire gender. Brian's background vocal arrangement is one substantial example of his participation in this period. Got to Know the Woman was a send up Dennis told this writer in the same interview. He felt that he needed to occasionally deflate his own ego as well as those of his fellow Beach Boys. He said that he felt that nothing should be so sacred that it couldn't be made fun of. It is not surprising that all of Dennis's work on this album eventually was released.
Brian's production of Breakaway was a tour de force that demonstrated that he had lost none of the ability he showed in years gone by. While Carl and Murry produced it into stereo, it was Brian whose ear encompassed nearly all of the classic Beach Boys' sounds into one record. It was as if Brian had reached back into his back catalog of trademark Beach Boys' sounds and fit them together. Breakaway has been a favorite of nearly all Brian fans since its release, and live versions done with his band in the last few years have demonstrated the complexity and freshness of the arrangement. Brian's version of The Lord's Prayer was recorded in 1963 within Albert Hay Malotte's lifetime. One would like to believe that Mr. Malotte had the chance to hear Brian's recording. Mr. Malotte was a resident of Los Angeles, and composed for film, including some work for Disney. As The Beach Boys were wont to do, they tried to resurrect past work to fill out the proposed Reverberation album. This is a theme that was to happen more and more from 20/20 onward. Brian's Sail Plane Song was an artifact from 1967 that showed a remarkable grasp of things psychedelic, yet was abandoned in the vault until 30+ years later. By 1969, The Beach Boys were looking backward at Brian's body of unreleased work, scavenging for ideas that they could develop into finished songs. This was possibly due to their belief that Brian had a talent for creating hits at a time when their composing and writing talents were becoming evident. They perhaps did not feel their composing skills were on a par with Brian's. All I Wanna Do is another tune that eventually made it to Sunflower's final line-up. It's production would seem to be an example of why this album was to be called Reverberation. The song is heavily laden with reverb, and appears to have been an experiment on Brian and Carl's part in how to use reverb to add to the ambience of the record. It's position on the released Sunflower's "relationship side" is indicative of a romantic side of The Beach Boys that Forever, Our Sweet Love, At My Window, and Tears in the Morning also reflected.
One of the refreshing records scheduled tentatively for Reverberation was Cottonfields. The version Alan Jardine produced was a rework of Brian's more sparse version on 20/20. It offered a more uptempo approach, including some great pedal steel guitar. Alan's Cottonfields was included on the finished version of Sunflower as released in Europe and Japan. It's single release was successful in several countries, especially the United Kingdom. Cottonfields release in the USA fulfilled their last 45 commitment to Capitol. A Cottonfields EP was issued in some countries, including Israel and Portugal. What was becoming apparent was that even if Brian did produce a single for The Beach Boys, stereo singles were in force beginning with Breakaway,at Capitol, so someone with bilateral hearing was needed for stereo mixdown. Loop de Loop was a huge production encompassing some Stephen Desper field recordings of airplane engines being started. Stephen waited many years for Alan to finish what they so auspiciously began in 1969. A version turned up later on the album called Landlocked or the Brother Records Second Album. The version Alan produced was more of a full bore production, and had a similar gestation period to Smile, in that is took over 30 years from Brian's first version to Alan's version released on Endless Harmony.
Dierdre was a composition that Bruce shared with Brian, with Bruce mentioning that Brian wrote "about 10% of it." It was an effort by Bruce to engage Brian in writing together that seems to have only borne fruit with Dierdre. Brian's influence is most apparent in the vocal arrangement, which sounds very attuned to The Beach Boys. Bruce's work during this time was mostly behind the scenes. His contribution should not be underestimated, as he was instrumental in many of the arrangements and productions from this era. It was apparent that Reverberation had some significant influence on the finished Sunflower, in that several tunes cut during the final Capitol album sessions eventually made it to subsequent Beach Boy albums. That The Beach Boys do not waste their recording efforts is obvious by the fact that ALL of the tracks proposed for Reverberation or mentioned in Bruce's interview have been released as of 2010.
After The Beach Boys failed to release Reverberation, two concerts recorded in London in 1968 were mastered and submitted to Capitol to fulfill the commitment that they had to end their relationship with Capitol. Live in London was available in the USA only as an import album until 1976. Upon release of Cottonfields in April of 1970, their contract with Capitol was fulfilled. After their association with Capitol ended, the original albums The Beach Boys recorded were progressively deleted and the only album available in its original packaging was Little Deuce Coupe until 1974, when several albums were reissued and some actually hit the charts in the wake of Endless Summer's burgeoning popularity. Several repackaging ideas resulted in some albums being released with 10 tracks instead of 12. Brian's work was summarily disrespected by Capitol until the advent of compact discs when their original album catalog was lovingly reissued by Capitol with bonus tracks.
THE SUNFLOWER REEL/ADD SOME MUSIC
The famous picture of a tape reel entitled Sunflower has stretched the imagination of Beach Boy followers since 1978, when David Leaf's Beach Boys and The California Myth was published. The photographs of the Brother Studio Tape Vault are an artifact of a less formal more disorganized time. It was apparent that The Beach Boys during the Sunflower period had looked through their recorded work to see if there were tunes they could place on Sunflower. The reel in the photograph has several songs written on the spine of the tape box. Some are common to Reverberation, some are not. The songs listed are Slip on Through, Walkin', Forever, Games Two Can Play, Add Some Music To Your Day, When Girls Get Together, Our Sweet Love, Tears in the Morning, Back Home from 1970, Fallin' in Love, I Just Got My Pay, Carnival (Over the Sea), Susie Cincinnati, and Good Time.
The Beach Boys flirted with Polydor Records of Germany before finally inking with Warner Brothers/Reprise Records, who agreed to distribute their Brother Records label which was reactivated when their new contract ensued. Brian's presence in The Beach Boys was their reason for the new contract, and this writer owned Jasper's photos of the signing for many years. Jasper's account of the signing indicated that Brian was so dejected by signing for another Beach Boys contract that he cried openly. Despite this sadness, Brian took part in the February 1970 recording sessions and produced two tunes, Add Some Music For Your Day and Good Time. An early version of Add Some Music had distinctly different first two verses than the version released as a single by Brother-Reprise in February 1970 according to Andrew Doe on Bellagio. Brian's production of Add Some Music was feted by Reprise as their fastest selling single in history, only to be returned in huge amounts. Brian was reputedly very disappointed by the single not doing well, and further retreated from active recording with The Beach Boys. Good Time was not released by The Beach Boys until 1977, on Beach Boys Love You. It sounded fairly compatible with that album lyrically. Good Time surfaced first with different lyrics on 1972's Spring album, with Diane Rovell and Marilyn Wilson doing vocals. Brian co-produced When Girls Get Together, Our Sweet Love with Carl, and produced Games Two Can Play. Our Sweet Love's track was produced by Brian with no vocals except a brief coda which he recorded vocally. Carl added lyrics and a lead vocal. When Girls Get Together has a very unusual track with a bass driven rhythm track. Stephen Desper reports The Beach Boys as preferring a very deep bass sound in this track, Games Two Can Play reveal Brian's continuing interest in what is on the radio, as parts of the tune seem inspired by Joe South's hit single from 1969. The track was released on the Beach Boys' 1993 Good Vibrations Boxed Set, after being considered for 1977's unreleased Adult Child album.
In 1970, Carl, Dennis, Mike, and Al appeared on WPLJ in the New York Metro area and played versions of San Miguel, I Just Got My Pay, Take a Load Off Your Feet, and an unfinished version of Til' I Die. It was apparent that The Beach Boys were taking more steps to expose their music and to show listeners they were not broken up, nor had they become a "Jesus Band," rumors that were circulating about that time. Alan Jardine stepped up and supplied the flip side to the Add Some Music single, Susie Cincinnati. The song had a great bass line, but was termed "a throwaway" by Dennis Wilson when he was asked about it in 1976. The song was the third single from 15 Big Ones in 1976, but did not have the success of its predecessors, Rock and Roll Music and It's OK. In retrospect, the song had a number of limited appearances, and was an orphan unassigned to a Beach Boys album until 1976. Alan listened to Brian's version of Back Home from 1963, and decided to try to make the song relevant with a slowed down tempo and folk sort of new lyrics. The song sounds interesting in its version from that period, but Brian's 1976 version has more spirit and punch. Despite the 1976 release, Back Home, as interpreted by Alan has some strong lyrics, and deserves its own release. There is an unreleased tune from this period called Walkin' which is a boogie type beat with Brian trying to sing the lead vocal. It is unclear who composed the tune, but it has a feel that may be an Alan Jardine touch. Brian sings two full verses, then doesn't finish, saying "I can't sing this s**t" Despite Brian's opinion at the time, the tune is catchy if somewhat whimsical. I Just Got My Pay has been attributed to Brian and Alan, but the composer and lyricist remain missing in either BMI or ASCAP website databases. What makes the song at least partly attributable to Brian is its melodic structure, which has some overlap to 1964's All Dressed Up For School. Whether the lyrics come from Alan or some other Beach Boy is difficult to determine. Alan's At My Window is a remake of a track cut for a version of the Kingston Trio's Raspberries, Strawberries. The song is a pleasant melody, highlighted by a great group vocal on which Bruce is quite prominent. Lyricaly, it was intended to evoke a feeling of innocence somewhat like a French schoolboy might have in singing a folk tune in school. Brian's contribution is a spoken French part in the bridge of the song, which Alan thought sounded more Chicano than French. On the second side of the finished Sunflower, it is probably the track that is the most disposable. Take a Load Off Your Feet was written by Alan along with Gary Winfrey, a school friend, who also co-wrote Lookin' at Tomorrow on the Surfs Up album. Brian climbed on the Bellagio home's roof and danced in sandals with Stephen Desper catching the sounds with a remote mike. Brian was credited as a co-writer in a 1971 songbook collecting Surfs Up and Sunflower sheet music. His name is not on the Surfs Up album nor is it in the BMI or ASCAP databases. The song is more similar to several of the whimsical tunes on Add Some Music as submitted to Reprise, but seems a little out of place on Side One of Surfs Up, whose content is more socially conscious.
Dennis's contributions to this version of what became Sunflower were Slip on Through and Fallin' In Love. Slip on Through is a song which moves Dennis to the front line of Beach Boy composers. The track is a musical fountain which peaks during several moments in the song. The beginning tune of the released Sunflower, it's creative vocals and melody hook the listener immediately. It is apparent that Dennis was spending time listening to a variety of musical influences. The background vocals bring an element of soul to the finished Sunflower that make a huge difference when some of the more pop oriented songs emerge later in the album. Fallin' in Love was the flip side to Dennis's 1970 solo 45 on Stateside Records in Europe. It was released as Dennis Wilson and Rumbo, who was Daryl Dragon. The 'A' side, Sound of Free, is an awesome slice of pop which remains a lost Dennis Wilson jewel yet to see release on a legal compact disc. Fallin' in Love was later cut as a flip side for American Spring's Shyin' Away single produced by Brian in 1973 for Columbia records. The compact disc version finally emerged on 2009's Beach Boy set entitled Summer Love Songs.
Bruce's original version of Tears in the Morning had a lyric saying "I don't need no nepenthe," referring to an ancient Greek potion made to relieve sorrow and pain. Oddly enough, there is a Nepenthe in California, in Big Sur, on California Highway One, with spectacular views of the Big Sur coast and Pacific Ocean. Bruce may have decided the initial version lyrically was too obscure, because the finished Sunflower version omits these lyrics. Tears in the Morning leads to a subdued but romantic second side of the released Sunflower, as pensive and emotional as the first side is somewhat sexual, at least in Dennis's songs.
The second tune that remains completely unreleased as of 2010 from the Sunflower reel is Carnival (Over the Waves), which used Stephen Desper's engineering skills to make the tune sound as if one is riding a merry go round in a carnival with the sound effect swirling around the listener as if he or she was going in a circular auditory journey. While it is apparent that the tune was mostly a fun experiment, the tune is an engineering achievement that is amazing for its time.
Brian's This Whole World was a newcomer to the track line-up submitted to Reprise in April 1970. It was likely hoped that the Add Some Music 45 would be a hit single to be followed by an album of the same title. The virtues of This Whole World have been extolled through the years, even upon its initial critical reception. Rolling Stone's review at the time raved about This Whole World, and Steve Simels raved about its Aum Bop Diddit coda as one of the "most powerful moments in recorded music."
In the original Peter Reum Collection, one of my most prized pieces of memoribilia was an album and eight track set of Color Keys for the Add Some Music album. It included the track list that appears on Andrew Doe's Bellagio website, and made the evolution of the eventual Sunflower album more full and clearer. Overall, Reprise rejected the album, fearing that it did not have as strong a line-up as it could. This happened again on Surfs Up, Holland, and Beach Boys in Concert.
SUNFLOWER - BROTHER-REPRISE 6382
Lenny Waronker was influenced by Brian's production work in the Sixties. His work with Harpers Bizarre built upon Brian's Pet Sounds and Smile work. Mr. Waronker looked at Add Some Music, and realized there was a need for a strong, radio friendly track. Slip on Through b/w This Whole World had been released as a 45 to no appreciable impact saleswise. Waronker had been impressed by Brian's soundscapes on Pet Sounds and by his modular recording ideas for Smile. He went to Brian's home and asked him for a tune that would have these sorts of qualities. Brian played him Cool Cool Water on his piano, and Waronker liked what he heard. It was up to Carl and the Boys to finish what Brian had begun in 1967, as intended for Wild Honey. Carl pulled some Water Chants from Smile, and the whole song was sequenced somewhat differently than Brian envisioned. The Water Chants were used as the bridge for the finished version, which is the closing track of the reprogrammed and resequenced Sunflower. Alan and Bruce in separate interviews recall taking some 30 plus hours in a marathon mixdown session to finish Cool Cool Water and finish the album. Cool Cool Water was released as a shortened 45 as the last single off of Sunflower at the same time the finished album was released. The flip side was Forever. How this single was went unnoticed is criminal, as it certainly is one of the strongest The Beach Boys ever released. The album, as accepted by Reprise, was acclaimed almost unanimously by critics of the period. In 2008, Rolling Stone named Sunflower as one of the 500 best albums of the Rock Era. It has also been consistently mentioned as the finest album done by The Beach Boys as a group as opposed to produced by Brian. All of the Beach Boys remember it as their finest collective effort, and the English version on Stateside was even stronger with Alan's version of Cottonfields as the opening track. Sales in Britain lagged behind previous albums as well as in the United States. Today, there is no doubt that Sunflower is an evergreen deserving nothing but the highest praise. It is and will remain the classic post Brian producing period album.
OTHER WORK FROM THE PERIOD
Brian began work on a country/western album for Fred Vail known by a variety of titles, including Cow Pasture, as named on Andrew Doe's Bellagio website. Brian recorded tracks for the album but quit before lead vocals could be done. Fred mentioned many years ago to this writer that Linda Ronstadt had done backing vocals prior to vocal work ceasing. Stephen Kalinich's A World of Peace Must Come was released in 2008 to listeners interested in Stephen's poetry and what Brian did with it. The album is almost entirely spoken word, with sympathetic music added by Brian where both men felt it worked.
There are a few tracks that are elusive but remain unreleased to most Beach Boy listener's ears. Dennis's Barbara surfaced on Endless Harmony-an exquisite song celebrating love at its zenith. Mostly Dennis with piano, it shows off Dennis at his most sensitive and romantic nature. Brian's Where Is She is a waltz tempo musical idea at the piano, expressing almost the opposite feelings of Barbara. The singer in the song is obviously lost, and wonders where the woman he cares about has gone. The melody is Friends era in tempo and time signature, but it was cut during the Sunflower period. Brian and Rick Henn's Soulful Old Man Sunshine is a great jazz tempo workout assembled from different takes for the Endless Harmony album. Brian's demo, which doesn't cover the whole song is so tantalizing as to be maddening that it was never finished. I'm Going Your Way is a lovely Murry Wilson song with Carl and Brian singing together on a demo in an innocent and beautiful manner that deserves release. California Slide is an intense Dennis tune more in the rock style than the ballads he became better known singing. Also extant from this era is an Alan Jardine composition often confused for Back Home which is set on a farm, probably in honor of his new living quarters at the time in Big Sur. It is apparent that Til I Die dates from this period as well, though it was not released until the Surfs Up album, released some 9 months after Sunflower came out.
Thus ends one of the most productive eras in Beach Boys History, with generally fond memories from most of the participants, the most creative band in American Music during the Rock Era.
Add Some Music To Your Day [alternate version]
All I Wanna Do
Carnival (Over The Waves)
Celebrate The News
Cotton Fields [sidebar on different song version and alternate Sunflower LPs releases]
Cool Cool Water
Games Two Can Play
Got To Know The Woman
I'm Going Your Way
It's About Time
Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' In An Aeroplane)
My Lady (Fallin' In Love)
Sail Plane Song
Slip On Through
Soulful Old Man Sunshine
Tears In The Morning
The Lord's Prayer
This Whole World
When Girls Get Together
Where Is She?
Copyright 2010 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved
Special thanks to Andrew Doe for his review of this article. His site Bellagio.net may be accessed through the Endless Summer Quarterly website.