The Beach Boys: Made In California Review
by Peter Reum
In memory of Paul Williams
Overall Rating of This Boxed Set is A- on a scale of A to F
Writer's note: Album titles are underlined to clarify a sometimes confusing chronology for the casual reader
Now that Made In California is hitting peoples' homes, here are some impressions of the set as a whole, and several song impressions. I hope everyone enjoys their set. There are quibbles, but the overall objective was to showcase a 50 year history of recording, and this set succeeds in that mission. Yes, there are tracks we all would have liked to see included, but the set hits a balance between hard core collectors and people whose only purchase of Beach Boys music will be this set. Why do I say this? Because I buy sets to capture a sample of a group's career output.
The Demo Tape:
The group's first rehearsal tapes are hilarious. If anyone doubts they were a garage band when they began, these recordings will settle the argument. The fountainhead of Beach Boys "professional" recording is the Surfin' session with what may be Chuck Britz calling off takes. Their Hearts Were Full of Spring is positively chilling. The vocal blend is already there with Brian directing the session in the studio.The version of Surfin' Safari on the demo tape is the one released by Capitol, as is the version of 409. In essence, Capitol was HANDED the first single. There are very few groups that can do that now, much less in 1962. The version of The Lonely Sea is also unchanged as issued on Surfin' USA. This is the demo tape.....and it is terrific.
The rest of Disc 1:
After listening to The Beach Boys' first Capitol single, culled from the demo tape and included on the Surfin' Safari album, the Beach Boys' identity as a punk band based on the life of Dennis Wilson is established. The genius of Surfin' Safari as a prototype punk/New Wave album I wrote about in a previous entry in this blog, the very first entry. Surfin' USA, their second album, became the album that took the Beach Boys to a national stature. That album was an interesting amalgam of vocal and instrumental surf music, and the quality of the album was head and shoulders above other so called "teen music" of the period. The pattern of a mixture of some introspective ballads, car songs, surf songs, summer songs, and "relationship songs" became the topical formula that was used all the way through Summer Days (and Summer Nights). The stereo separation of the vocals on these early songs is very listenable. If there was any doubt Brian was producing from the beginning, listen to him producing vocals in the studio even on the demo tape. By the amazing Surfer Girl album, he is in full command. The group defers to his judgement. Surfer Girl is the first of several Beach Boys albums which are full of quality tunes with little filler. Because Capitol had Brian recording and submitting 3 albums a year, some of the albums could not help but be issued with so called "filler tracks." The early version of Back Home is a great record, and swings like Little Deuce Coupe. The Little Deuce Coupe album is somewhat of a rerun of the Surfer Girl album with around 5 new so called "car songs" added. That album can be considered without "filler," because the new recordings were not silliness or uninspired music. By Shut Down Volume 2, Brian was stretched like a rubber band holding up a bowling ball. Despite his touring and studio responsibilities, most of Shut Down Volume 2 is not filler. The mix of Fun Fun Fun here is the crispest I have heard, simply delicious. Brian's mix of Why Do Fools Fall In Love in mono is more powerful than the stereo mix. Nevertheless, the stereo mix also shows his mastery of the Wall of Sound. The Warmth of the Sun 2012 mix is exquisite, the song finally getting the sonic treatment it deserves. It is the finest blend of music and lyrics that Brian and Mike ever wrote. The mix strikes an great balance between track and vocals.
The Beach Boys Concert Album (Sacramento) was a master stroke, mainly because Brian was able to send out an album promoting the Beach Boys now quite potent live show, without having to write new songs for that album. The Beach Boys Christmas Album, recorded in 90 degree weather in the summer of 1964 in Los Angeles only required five newly written tunes. Recorded in response to The Phil Spector Christmas Album, it became a classic in its own right, and contributed a place for the 1963 Little Saint Nick single to land on an lp. The stereo Little Saint Nick on this disc is very nice with vocals mixed up front. I can barely hear the sleigh bells and glockenspiel however. The second of the "all beef, minimal filler" albums was All Summer Long which is the second excellent album nearly half represented on this disc. The All Summer Long album tunes are all presented beautifully, with the possible exception of Don't Back Down. The vocals are mixed very brightly. All Dressed Up For School to me has thematically always struck me as a first stab at The Little Girl I Once Knew. The tune knocks me out. In some respects, All Summer Long is topically laid out fairly similarly to Surfer Girl. The stereo separation on Little Honda is very clean, and the bass is mixed in a little better than the rest of this disc. It is a pleasure to hear.
The ballads picked from The Beach Boys Today's romantic second side are the ones that really stand out. In the Back of My Mind is mixed in a more balanced manner than previous versions. It sounds like Brian doubles Dennis in a few places on it for brief segments. The Beach Boys Today was an album that not only foreshadowed Pet Sounds, but was an album full of new innovations. The Beach Boys Today extends the theme of relationships into the post teenage years, and couples are described in terms more like relationships in the early twenties than teenage years. The thoughts expressed on the second side of The Beach Boys Today are thoughts that run through the minds of young men and women who are not only sexually intimate, but are considered marriage. The so called "rock side" of The Beach Boys Today still concerns the subject of relationships, but is more high school oriented, with Don't Hurt My Little Sister, Good To My Baby, and the two 'dance" songs, Dance Dance Dance and Do You Wanna Dance. The vocals here on this disc are nicely mixed with the guitars on Dance Dance Dance. The guitar solo is presented very well. The phenomenal growth of The Beach Boys as artists and Brian Wilson as a producer, performer, arranger, and songwriter is right here on this disc and disc 2 of this set.
I think this disc is a winner and rate it an A on an A to F scale.
Tunes from The Beach Boys Today conclude with Do You Wanna Dance, which is nicely done on this disc. That album's best tunes are here on the box. The single version of Help Me Rhonda and 5 other songs from the Summer Days (and Summer Nights) album are also on this disc. Summer Days (and Summer Nights) had the distinction of having several hit singles and "B" sides culled from it's program. Worldwide, California Girls, Let Him Run Wild, Help me Rhonda, Amusement Parks USA, Girl Don't Tell Me, You're So Good To Me, Then I Kissed Her, and Summer Means New Love were all singles or "B" sides from this album. Help Me Rhonda is a mono mix, which is the rerecorded single version. It is still stunning 45 years after it was released. The stereo mixes of California Girls and Salt Lake City have always been favorites of mine. Amusement Parks USA, a big hit in Japan going to #3, but on here is lyrically clumsy, and lacks some of the overdubs that make the finished version an early Heroes and Villains sort of prototype. Let Him Run Wild speaks about Brian's father, who had an affair that angered the Wilson Brothers. It is written to his mother, Audree Wilson from Brian, which he couched in the first person.. the song is a painfully yet beautifully expressed letter to a mother from her eldest son telling her to let her husband go...he is not worth crying over or allowing home. Graduation Day is simply amazing. Over a simple acoustic guitar, The Beach Boys pay tribute to The Four Freshmen. Play this tune next to the demo tape version of Their Hearts Were Full of Spring to see how far they came in those first four years.
The Little Girl I Once Knew treads some of the same turf as All Dressed Up For School and Beach Boys Love You's Roller Skating Child. It would be nice to hear this in stereo one day. An informal air covers the very rigorous work The Beach Boys did on the Beach Boys' Party Album to sound "informal." There's No Other is performed "straight" with none of the "witty repartee" of some of the other tunes. Barbara Ann with Dean Torrence is in stereo and good to hear. Pet Sounds is represented by the tunes that were singles either in the USA or in the UK. The one exception is I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, with its early use of theremin and autobiographical lyrics. It is perhaps one of the more personal songs Brian ever wrote, and the tune has a stateliness to it that is most often heard in choir music. It was the last tune recorded for Pet Sounds. Referring to Wouldn't It Be Nice, The Rolling Stones once said in total frustration, "we write a song about taking a girl to bed and get told to change the lyrics for TV. The Beach Boys sing about the same subject like innocent choir boys and get away with it." God Only Knows was a hit "A" side in the UK, and established Brian Wilson as a mysterious "boy wonder" in The UK and Europe. Caroline No describes the heartache of a deeply intimate relationship ending. Released as a Brian Wilson solo single, it made top 35 in the Billboard Singles chart. In the USA, Pet Sounds was sabotaged by Capitol, when they released a Best of The Beach Boys album shortly after Pet Sounds went top ten in Billboard. Pet Sounds from that point on became an "underground album", especially for guy listeners, who shared their love of the album very selectively and carefully for fear of being ridiculed. Simply put, Pet Sounds is the evolution of Brian Wilson's tunes about relationships into an adult perspective, following his growth as a person whose affection for women changed from puppy love, to high school "going steady," to dating seriously, to looking for a life partner, to marriage. We would not see a similar change in Brian's perspective until 1977's Adult Child where Still I Dream of It and It's Over Now would explore the permanent end of marriage and the uncertainty and loneliness that divorce brings.
The Grammy Award winning The Smile Sessions Box Set is amply represented. The recently remastered Good Vibrations is presented first, in mono. The reconstructed Smile track lineup is not followed in this box, and many of the best "anchor songs" of Smile are instead highlighted. After a stereo Our Prayer, the two sided single reconstruction of Heroes and Villains is presented. The length and parts of the 1966-67 Heroes and Villains two sided single are mostly based upon interviews of the '66-'67 period. The tune probably would have sounded very much like this version, had Brian's ideas not been in such a state of flux. The tune as reassembled runs roughly over 7 minutes, which is the conjectured length of the single from Smile period interviews. To this listener's ears, it doesn't flow the way the 5 minute version on The Smile Sessions Box does, or the 1967 Smiley Smile version does. Vegetables, another "anchor song," and a song considered for a single release, seems to better capture the good humor concept of the Smile album art by Frank Holmes. Wind Chimes has the same incredible bassline that also was to be used in Can't Wait Too Long. The song alternates between bombast and tinkling piano. Perhaps this represents the variability of the wind itself. As in The Smile Sessions Box version of Smile, The Elements (Fire) follows Wind Chimes. Fire is all that the legend made it out to be. Another Smile "anchor song," Cabin Essence, is next. When little if any Smile music was officially released, the appearance of Cabin Essence and Our Prayer on the 20/20 album cemented Smile's reputation musically and only whetted people's appetites for more.
Brian's modular replacement for Smile, Smiley Smile, an exercise in Zen starkness which turned production values on their head in 1967, is represented by the released Heroes and Villains single from 1967 and by the radically innovative Wonderful. Heroes flows much more easily in this released single version than Part 1 and Part 2. It is an incredible achievement, and won France's Record of the Year Award in 1967. Wonderful is transformed from a near baroque chamber piece to a confiding, almost gossipy tone. The lead vocal here is salacious in tone. with the bridge being spoken and sung in counterpoint, copied by dozens of choir composers since it appeared on Smiley Smile. Country Air rolls out the new and less ambitious production ethos of the Post Smile Beach Boys, from their production transition album, Wild Honey. Carl Wilson and the rest of the group to a lesser degree assumed a more active production role, and Brian took a needed break that turned into a 10 year period of sporadic recording. Wild Honey, for this listener, is an evergreen album, one that I can listen to anytime, anywhere. It recently was named as one of the top ten all time summer themed albums.
This disc also deserves an A on an A to F scale.
The Wild Honey album is also represented by the punchy Darlin' single, which charted well, and by the gorgeous waltz time tune Let The Wind Blow. Both of these tunes are stereo. More than any other album not yet mixed in stereo, the ENTIRE Wild Honey album deserves to be heard in stereo. 1968's jazz flavored Friends album is gentle, loving, and spiritual. The organ found on the opener, an extended Meant For You, underlies a wish for peace and tranquility in 1968, a year of turmoil worldwide, but especially stateside. Friends, the single from the album, is a waltz time loping tune, almost sounding like the soundtrack to a film of a horse running through a field. It was used by Berklee College of Music to show budding music students how a song in waltz time should be written. Dennis's Little Bird, with an intimate tone and "carpe diem" lyrics by Stephen Kalinich is exquisite. Brian's arrangement of the tune incorporates some hornlines from Smile's Child Is Father To the Man. On Busy Doin' Nothin', Brian, now adjusting to a less harried life, presents a bossa nova musical arrangement illustrating his newly burgeoning Type B personality. The tune is a tour de force.
Sail Plane Song is a psychedelic wonder that eventually became a tune called Loop de Loop. The song is the best piece of psychedelia Brian cut after Good Vibrations. It could have easily blown away people on the 20/20 album. We're Together Again has a wonderful Brian/Carl lead vocal, and would have been a great closing track to Friends. The 1968 so called "summer single," Do It Again, appears here in stereo, and showcases the group's vocals very well. The tune served as the kickoff tune for the 50th Anniversary Shows in 2012. The drum that begins the song was added by Carl Wilson to avoid a "cold start" on the tune. Do It Again begins a series of tunes from 1968 culled by the group to fulfill their Capitol album contract. 20/20. It was the group's last Sixties Capitol album, and was a mosaic of different tunes from various sessions that was musically eclectic.
Brian's arrangement of Ol' Man River was never fully realized. partially due to the group wanting to try other tunes. His version here is beautiful, and one has to wonder what he might have come up with had he been able to complete the tune. On 20/20, Dennis's Be With Me is a tune that foreshadows the Dennis Wilson songs of the Seventies. It is intense, intimate, and seductive. I Can Hear Music is a single that Carl Wilson produced that was huge overseas, and sold well in the USA. The acapella break is cited by several critics, such as Steve Simels, as being the most powerful piece of Beach Boys vocal work post Smile. Brian's waltz time tune, Time To Get Alone, was written during Smile, but intended for the Brother Records 1967 "Pre Dog Night" group Redwood. The string arrangement here is a star of the show....brilliant. Brian's I Went to Sleep, another waltz, is a second slice of Brian's simplified life akin to Busy Doin' Nothin'. The tune would have fit on Friends.
Can't Wait Too Long was cited by Bruce Johnston as the most beautiful unreleased tune in The Beach Boys' Vault in 1980. A composite 6 minute version was extracted at that time from the session tapes, of which this section is the opening segment. See if you agree....Bruce might be right. Worried by a lack of record sales in the USA, Brian Wilson and his father Murry buried the hatchet and composed Breakaway, a jewel of a tune that was a big hit everywhere except the USA. This version is one of many that have surfaced through the years, and has a longer fade than the released single. It is worth noting that beginning with the Friends album, all new subsequent Beach Boys albums were released in stereo, thus handicapping Brian, who hears only in one ear. Even singles began to be mixed in both mono and stereo because of the rise in FM station's musical profile. Dennis's Celebrate the News, the "B" side of the Breakaway single, is unique in the Beach Boys' songbook. It is a towering production, showcasing Dennis's composing skills. Cottonfields was cut twice by The Beach Boys. Brian's production appears on 20/20. The single version, redone by Alan Jardine, was the final record in the original Capitol contract. This version as presented on this box has a steel guitar overlay, and is a more uptempo arrangement with horns. It was a number 1 in several countries around the world, but stiffed here in the USA.
The Beach Boys, after leaving Capitol in 1970, were without a recording contract for a period until signed by Reprise, part of the Warner Records conglomerate. The group reactivated their Brother Records logo, and began to juggle tracks to sift out an album for Reprise. Susie Cincinnati was a track that appeared as the "B" side of the initial Brother/Reprise single, Add Some Music. Reprise asked the group to retool the rejected Add Some Music album to be stronger for radio play. A number of fantastic tracks were summarily recorded by he Beach Boys, and then sifted for album placement.
Good Time, a Brian Wilson production and arrangement, offers an incredible horn arrangement, albeit with some rather unusual lyrics. The innocence expressed on this tune resurfaced when it was placed on an album full of tunes with Brian's innocent lyrics, Beach Boys Love You, in 1977. Slip On Through is a radical departure for the group, and proves that the group could be soulful when they chose. It opened the released Sunflower album, which had several standout Dennis compositions. Thematically, the first Reprise single, Add Some Music, is a paean to the power of music as a healing force. This is probably the most important reason Brian wrote music. This philosophy is discussed in the little Carl Wilson segment at the end of Disc 6. It is a Brian production, mixed to stereo by Carl. It is no coincidence that Brian and the Beach Boys' music is cited as a power that helped people get through harrowing spots in their lives.
This Whole World is a Brian/Carl production that is named by Music Critic Steve Simels as having the best tag to any tune he has heard. Brian has mentioned in several interviews over the years that he is really concerned about the world and its well-being. The song's lyrics reflect this orientation admirably. Dennis's Forever is a Beach Boys standard, the most well known song of Dennis Wilson's compositions. It features gorgeous vocals, courtesy of Brian, Dennis, and Carl. A vocal only version appears on another Capitol album. It's About Time feature a tremendous percussion track that is innovative and quite avant garde for 1970 when it was recorded. The ambient true stereo on the 1970 Sunflower and 1971 Surfs Up albums is courtesy of engineer Stephen Desper. This period from 1970 and 1971 is the zenith of Beach Boys album production work as a group.
Soulful Old Man Sunshine is a venture into vocal jazz by Brian Wilson and co-writer Rick Henn, formerly of the Beach Boys soundalikes The Sunrays. The tune swings, with a great brass arrangement and a flute sailing over the vocals. One can only wonder what might have happened had the group pursued this direction more ardently. Dennis Wilson, a prolific writer and composer, issued a solo single on the EMI Stateside label outside the USA as Dennis Wilson and Rumbo, with Rumbo being Darryl Dragon, keyboard player for The\Beach Boys road band, and later of The Captain and Tennile. Fallin' In Love, aka Lady, heard here in stereo, is a beautiful Sunflower album period love song from Dennis. The "A" side of the single, Sound of Free, is a mid tempo tune with nice guitar from Carl, who is in the background vocals as well. The version here is in mono.
By late 1970, Brian's emotions were quite labile, and he composed Til I Die as a way of expressing his very dejected mood and feelings of powerlessness about his life and world. It was issued on the Surfs Up album in 1971. The Surfs Up title track is a blend of the gorgeous 1966 track recorded for Smile and a 1971 lead vocal from Carl on the first half of the tune. Brian's solo recording from 1966 surfaces with the transition to the second half of the song, at "dove nested towers." The tag is a 1971 Brian idea, appended to the Brian solo vocal second section. It expresses the idea of a child growing older and taking care of the parent in the parent's old age, after being raised by the parent as a child. The idea in the tag is now a part of the second movement of the 2004 Brian Wilson Presents Smile, which concludes with Surfs Up, which was another Smile "anchor tune." Left off of the Surfs Up album were two incredible Dennis Wilson songs, Wouldn't It Be Nice (To Live Again) and Fourth of July. These compositions were left off of the Surfs Up album due to group friction, with the former tune making its debut on this box, having been a song sought by Beach Boys aficionados for decades. Fourth of July appears on an earlier Capitol compilation.
This cd is also an A on a scale from A to F.
1971's Surfs Up, as an album, was the best selling original Beach Boys album since Pet Sounds. It received lots of FM airplay, although singles from the album were not hits. After the relatively slow sales of the Sunflower album, The Beach Boys needed an album that sold well. At the time of it's release, sales were upwards of 350,000 units, an exponential increase from the critical hit yet slow selling Sunflower. The Beach Boys on Surfs Up reflected a culture that was concerned about the environment, health, and in Brian's case, quality of life. Carl's Feel Flows showed a newly found spiritual consciousness amplified by the group's use of transcendental meditation. The group had at least three members who actively meditated. The chilling flute solo in Feel Flows is by Charles Lloyd, jazz auteur, who is also a meditator. After 42 years of waiting,Wouldn't It Be Nice (To Live Again) finally makes its debut in the Surfs Up album context. The tune is sung passionately by Dennis Wilson, in a voice not yet ravaged by hard living. The song builds into a peak, then maintains it for a few minutes before dissolving into a little jam between Dennis on drums and Charles Lloyd on flute.
1972's Carl and the Passions-So Tough is represented by Marcella, a tune about a masseuse that Brian went to regularly in the early Seventies. It has become a hard rocking Beach Boys concert standard, and Brian loves to play it live. The counterpoint tag is a Beach Boys highlight. All This Is That is a tune based on Indian Vedic scriptures. The theme is about transcendental meditation, and has a tag that spotlights Carl Wilson singing perhaps the most chillingly beautiful 45 seconds of his entire career. He simply sings Jai Guru Dev over and over as the counterpoint vocals fade, leaving only his voice remaining.
The Beach Boys spent the latter half of 1972 in The Netherlands recording the Holland album in a converted barn in a cow pasture. Having come aboard on Carl and The Passions-So Tough, former South African group "Flame" members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin became full members of the group, and accompanied them to record Holland. After countless equipment failures, and false starts by Brian to fly to Amsterdam, the group returned to Los Angeles with an album that was promptly rejected by Reprise for lack of a single. Sail On Sailor was finished by Van Dyke Parks and Brian and designated to be the album's single. After tries by Dennis and Carl, Blondie Chaplin sang the tune with a passion that reflected his struggles in apartheid plagued South Africa. The Trader, beginning with Carl's son Jonah saying"hi," explored the theme of European and American imperialism toward Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Despite the holocaust that was the Indigenous life experience after the Europeans and Americans appeared, the song dares to tread into the strong survival drive that Indigenous peoples have had despite the deaths of nearly 60 million Indigenous people since 1492. Alan Jardine's wonderful (On My Way to) California celebrates the stark and treacherous beauty of the Big Sur coastline, where people live off the grid, and the cliffs meet the Pacific. The Beach Boys played the Big Sur Folk Festival in 1970, were warmly welcomed, and Alan Jardine lived there afterward. In 1973, the family's patriarch, Murry Wilson, died of a heart attack at his Whittier home. Both Brian and Dennis were utterly devastated, and Brian was so shaken he flew to New York to promote his wife and sister-in-law's single rather than attend the funeral. The family seemed to be unable to recover from this event. All three Wilson brothers descended into tailspins for years afterward.
After the advent of Capitol's Multiple Platinum compilations of Brian's 1962 to 1965 work, Endless Summer and Spirit of America, The Beach Boys were silent after Holland with the exception of a Christmas single and a double live set entitled The Beach Boys In Concert. Pressure built for Brian to take control of the group again, as The Beach Boys were unsure about how to compete with Brian's brilliant work from the Sixties. In 1975, Brian, was placed under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychologist specializing in Behavioral Milieu Therapy. Therapeutically, the idea was to cut a double set, one album full of remakes of oldies that Brian liked, and one album of new material from Brian. As it turned out, the album that emerged, 15 Big Ones, was a mish mash of a few originals and vault chestnuts, along with several oldies the group liked. More oldies than originals were done, and Brian did not have the sense of perfection and meticulous attention to detail in recording that he had in the Sixties. A favorite expression Brian had when he was recording 15 Big Ones was "where's the fire, I don't feel the fire." He was speaking about the sense of compulsive competitiveness and perfectionism he had in the Sixties.
The first single from the 15 Big Ones sessions was Chuck Berry's Rock and Roll Music, and it went to Number 5 on the Billboard charts. This set's version has an extra verse with a Farfisa organ riff. The album itself was critically mixed in its reception. It was evident that Brian was doubtful enough about his desire and mental state stability to only very reluctantly reassume the producer's role he had filled in the Sixties. Complicating this was the fact that other Beach Boys had been writing songs of high quality that they were asked to defer for Brian's therapeutic writing and producing. It became somewhat of a charade when Brian was asked to write songs to earn hamburgers to eat. Apparently no one told Dr. Landy that pieces of birthday cake were the reinforcement contingency that Brian preferred. Landy's treatment plan, labelled in the publicity and press as "Brian's Back," was eventually scuttled mostly from external press criticism and Landy's imperious manner with Brian's loved ones and The Beach Boys.The group did a summer television special named after the 15 Big Ones album's second single, called It's OK. The version of It's OK presented here has a riff that begins the tune which appears in several tunes of the period, competing for frequency of appearance with Brian's legendary "Shortnin' Bread" synthesizer riff, which appears in probably 20 different songs from 1972 to 2004. The song itself has a summery feel to it that is cut with a lyric that talks about "gotta go through it, gotta get to it" .....lyrically it sounds like the Protestant Ethic meets Surf Music....fun, serious fun. The third of 15 Big Ones' tunes on this cd, Had To Phone Ya, is a lovely song first cut in 1973 by Brian with his first wife Marilyn, his sister-in-law Diane, and David Sandler, a wonderful writing partner for Brian. Dennis's lead vocal here is magical, and makes the tune, which has a lovely track featured on CD 6 of this set.
After 15 Big Ones won an RIAA Gold Record Award, Brian was asked by the group to write and record a new album. In the Autumn of 1976 and Spring of 1977, he cut an album of songs entitled Adult Child, which featured two amazing songs, Still I Dream of It, and It's Over Now. Adult Child was not well received by Reprise, and Brian two masterpieces were sent to the Vault for many years. The version of It's Over Now that appears here is breathtakingly beautiful, yet deeply sad, in a Sinatra Blue Mood manner. Carl Wilson's lead vocal here may be the most beautiful lead he sang in the Seventies. Brian's first wife also makes a cameo vocal appearance here.
Brian had also put together a series of demos for a solo album that was being encouraged by Dr. Landy. Entitled Brian Loves You, the demos became the foundation of a new Beach Boys album when Adult Child was turned down by Reprise. The new replacement album, Beach Boys Love You, was a collection of 14 songs that summed up Brian Wilson's world in 1977. Beach Boys Love You is represented on this set by five songs, including Good Time, recorded in 1970. Beach Boys Love You begins in a promising manner with the rocker Let Us Go On This Way. Brian's use of Moog Bass on this album is innovative, and was cited by Peter Buck of R.E.M.as highly influential on Eighties records by them and other groups. Carl's lead vocal is in his 'rock and roll" voice. I'll Bet He's Nice is a wonderful tune written by Brian that explores the theme of being replaced in his love's heart by a new guy. The Wilson Brothers all contribute great vocals here.
Solar System was inspired by a stained glass window at the now razed Brother Studio in Santa Monica. This writer had the privilege of touring the studio in 1978 and seeing the window. There was also an RIAA Gold Record Award for the Surfin' USA album embedded in the back door loading dock. It was a thrill to actually hold the master tapes for Smile in my hands. The Night Was So Young is a song written for a woman who Brian loved for many years in between his first and second marriages. It is a Beach Boys classic, and is simply a masterpiece. Loneliness became a recurring theme in Brian's writing from Beach Boys Love You until his second marriage in 1995.
The Beach Boys were courted and signed by CBS Records at about the time Beach Boys Love You entered the charts. The signing was not kept confidential, and Beach Boys Love You died from a promotional campaign truncated by Reprise, who had wanted to resign the group. After Beach Boys Love You, Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue solo album was released on CBS Caribou, and it outsold any new Beach Boys product until 1987's Still Cruisin' album on Capitol. Dennis's solo album was the product of withholding great tunes so Brian could work therapeutically, and having his own Brother Studio available to record at any time he desired. The backlog of tunes Dennis recorded was uniformly excellent, and caused some rancor in the group. A group blowout with threats of breaking up after a New York City free concert was well documented by a Rolling Stone Magazine writer who was an eyewitness to the arguments first hand that led to the group's fracturing.
The problem at hand was that The Beach Boys still owed Reprise one more album before they could be able to consummate their contract with CBS/Caribou. In early 1978, several group members decamped to Fairfield, Iowa to the campus of the former Parsons College, renamed Maharishi International University. The main players were a very homesick Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Alan Jardine. The final Reprise album, named after the site where it was recorded ala Holland with makeshift equipment was The M.I.U. Album. Before The M.I.U. Album was accepted by Reprise, The Beach Boys submitted a second Christmas Album, Mele Kaliki Maka to Reprise that was rejected. The group then retooled those songs into The M.I.U. Album.
The final songs on CD are generally from the sessions for the first CBS album, L.A Light Album. The exceptions are California Feelin', Come Go With Me, and Brian's Back. California Feelin' is a tune dating to the early Seventies which was written by Brian Wilson and Stephen Kalinich. The demo for the song, dating from 1974, is featured on Disc 6. Brian and Stephen go back as friends many years before then. Stephen is the only lyricist who collaborated with all three Wilson Brothers. This version is from 1978, and was considered for The L.A. Light Album. Why it was left off is a mystery, as CBS wanted Brian to be a major songwriting contributor to Beach Boys albums in their contract. It begins with Brian singing lead, then changes to a Carl lead vocal for the rest of the song. The song has the feel of a hymn, and perhaps it was not rock and roll enough for The L.A.Light Album.
Come Go With Me was recorded first as part of the batch of oldies recorded for 15 Big Ones. While at M.I.U., the song was reworked and appeared initially on The M.I.U. Album. In 1981, it was issued as a single to promote the release of the Ten Years of Harmony double set which presented the best of the period from 1970 to 1980. Come Go With Me as redone by Alan Jardine was a hit, and became a staple of the Beach Boys' live set for the next 30 years. Brian's Back was a Mike Love tune that was written as a memoir of Mike Love's family relationship with Brian, and features a nice tag done by Carl Wilson which is based on the end of Pet Sounds' You Still Believe In Me.
The L.A. Light Album was the debut album on the CBS/Caribou contract. In 1979, while at Criteria Studios in Miami, Brian, struggling with his physical and mental health, concluded he was not in good enough shape to produce the album. He called Bruce Johnston, who had been the replacement for Brian on the road from 1965 through 1972, having left then due to differences with group management. Bruce agreed to return and tour with the group and produce The L.A. Light Album. Bruce began work on the album, and he spearheaded a 10 minute long remake in disco format of Here Comes the Night from The Wild Honey album which was the first single. The tune, an attempt to modernize The Beach Boys sound, yet keep their legendary vocal blend, was not well received critically or commercially.
CBS subsequently issued as a second single, Good Timin', a Brian and Carl Wilson composition, begun as a track only in 1974 at Caribou Studios in Nederland, Colorado, which was finished for The L.A. Light Album. The tune as completed went to Number 40 in the Billboard Top 100, and top 5 on the Adult Contemporary Billboard Chart. In minor ways, it bears some similarity to the instrumental track Why, which appears on Disc 6 of this set. Angel Come Home is a Carl composition which is beautifully performed by Dennis Wilson. It received some solid FM airplay at the time of The L.A. Light Album's release. Baby Blue is a Dennis Wilson composition, issued as the "B" side of the Here Comes the Night single. It is the unquestionable standout track on this album, and shows Dennis Wilson at the top of his creative power. The tune should have been the first single, and is the pinnacle of The Beach Boys' post Brian's Back period on CBS/Caribou.
It's a Beautiful Day was issued the same year as The L.A. Light Album, on an otherwise forgettable soundtrack for a movie entitled Americathon. The tune on the soundtrack goes on for about 3 minutes longer than the single version, which is what appears on this set. The shortened version would have been a great selection for a track on The L.A. Light Album. Goin' To The Beach was recorded in the time between The L.A. Light and Keepin' The Summer Alive albums, It was considered for inclusion on Keepin' The Summer Alive. It was a vehicle for The Beach Boys to resurrect their Sixties Fun In The Sun image.
This CD is a mixed bag of great and pedestrian Beach Boys work. It reflects the difficulty The Beach Boys had in establishing an identity independent of their Summer, Surf, and Car songs recordings. For this reason, I am rating it a B on a scale from A to F.
Keepin' The Summer Alive was the second album released by CBS/Caribou by The Beach Boys. By that time, The Beach Boys' battle with nostalgia was long over, to their detriment, yet they were still committed to a number of albums under their CBS/Caribou contract. Brian Wilson was more active in writing on this album, contributing to roughly 60% of the songs on the album. The clear jewel was Goin' On, a tune that while lyrically dull, had a catchy melody, and a chorus that used The Beach Boys' voices to go up the musical scale. A similar technique dates back to All Dressed Up For School on Disc 1 of this set, and was revisited in 1967 in one of Brian's many experiments for Heroes and Villains. Keepin' The Summer Alive did well in a number of countries. It saw solid airplay in Japan, The United Kingdom, and Germany.
To listen to this disc, one would conclude that Brian was on a Phil Spector recording spree. Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love and Da Doo Ron Ron date from the early Eighties, and are demos of Brian's. To this listener's ears, the demo for Why Don't They Let Us Fall In Love sounds like a Brian production with Brian and Mike doing vocals. It has a charm that comes from the blend of the two mens' voices, which is exceptional. Da Doo Ron Ron sounds like a Brian production, with a Carl lead vocal. By this time, both Brian and Dennis's lives were degenerating due to chemical dependence, mental health issues, and for Brian, morbid obesity. Brian's and Dennis's health became such a concern for the group as a whole that both of them were "fired" for periods of time from the group. I had occasion to visit Brian just before he was taken to Hawaii and put under Landy's care for the second time, and he was not expected to live through the next year. Dennis Wilson battled his memories and inner demons, and started to enter chemical dependency treatment, only to postpone it. Things were very bleak.
We all know what happened to both men. Dennis's death shook the family, and was deeply painful for them, and for his children and loved ones. The beginning part of Brian's second period with Dr. Landy was productive and his physical health improved dramatically. The Beach Boys as a group died when Dennis died. He was a lion.... untameable, strong willed, and wild. He was the beach boy in The Beach Boys. The group carried on, and recorded one final album for CBS/Caribou in 1985, simply entitled The Beach Boys. Dr. Landy had already begun to isolate Brian from his family, sequestered in a beach home in Malibu. He was around for 1985's The Beach Boys, but his songs were only sketches that reinforced the impression that he was very lonely, very sad, and yet, somehow compliant with Landy's treatment regimen. The only tune in this set from The Beach Boys is Getcha Back, which is again about love lost. It begins the album with some drum beats as a memorial in sound to Dennis.
After the CBS/Caribou contract ended, The Beach Boys were without a recording contract for the first time since 1970. They did some tunes that were placed on soundtracks, most notably Kokomo, a tune that was on the Cocktail Movie Soundtrack. Brian signed a recording contract with Sire Records' Seymour Stein, and embarked on the recording of his first solo album. Ironically, as his first album entered the Billboard Charts, Kokomo exploded, and The Beach Boys, sans Brian, had a worldwide hit. Kokomo is a midtempo number, written by John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, and Mike Love. The tune, along with California Dreamin', was produced by former Byrds producer and Bruce Johnston pal Terry Melcher.'
In 1995, following the court ordered separation of Eugene Landy from Brian Wilson, Brian, along with collaborator Andy Paley, approached The Beach Boys and offered to record an an album with them. Two songs were recorded, both jewels that have languished in the vault for nearly 20 years. Soul Searchin' is a tremendous Brian Wilson and Andy Paley song that has a doo wop feel yet also sounds very soulful. Carl Wilson's vocals on it are simply stunning. You're Still A Mystery is a Wilson and Paley tune that recalls some of the great Beach Boys counterpoint vocals achievements. It is the best song The Beach Boys recorded since The Beach Boys Love You. After a reunion for a Nashville Sounds type of Beach Boys and various Country Artists Sing the Beach Boys' Songbook project, the group seemed to fly apart. Most of this was due to the grief the group felt seeing spiritual and live band leader Carl Wilson pass away in February 1998 from cancer. For Brian, the tragedy was doubled. His mother Audree also died during that period. Brian, having married for a second time in 1995, had the support of his wife Melinda, and his remaining family to support him during this bleak period.
For years after Carl's death, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston have toured representing The Beach Boys. Brian and Alan have toured together and apart during the same period. Carl's death seemed to unbind the surviving members, perhaps due to the grief they all felt but couldn't express to each other. This is not just a family or a business....it is a family business. When the second of the members, Carl, passed. the band seemed rudderless. But there is the legacy of their live performances which lives on, as exemplified by the live performances covering some 30 years over the second half of this disc. Before we discuss those, there is the matter of the 2012 Beach Boys album.
That's Why God Made Radio arrived in 2012 to low expectations on my part. The family seemed too fractured to reunite. But they gave it a go, and united to release a surprisingly good album. When they cut Do It Again, it seemed like an olive branch, a gesture from the two camps to each other. They were then able to record the new album.The absence in this case did make the heart grow softer. A huge positive was the invitation to David Marks, rhythm guitarist in 1962-63 to rejoin. The title track on the album is a holdover from Brian's work on his Imagination solo album with Joe Thomas. The vocals are stunningly good. It was a drink of cool water upon emerging from the desert. The single version of Isn't It Time left me wishing they had left the song alone. Despite the "improvement," the song is head and shoulders above anything issued as a single since Come Go With Me. As the line from the song says, "it's time to raise a glass to kindness."
The array of live tunes on CD 5 is spread over 30 years, from 1965 to 1995. Runaway from late August 1965 is the 5 member combo including Bruce Johnston. Not more than 4 months or so later, I caught them for the first time in Albuquerque. This tune really rocks, and Alan really "runs away" with the song. Carl's solo is great. This is one of those songs that you rarely hear The Beach Boys perform. You're So Good To Me from Paris 1966 is one of those legendary shows where one wishes he had been there. The Beach Boys rocked, and a good Beach Boys friend of mine attended the show and got backstage. He said the guys were delighted to see an American who was a diehard fan of their music. The Letter has previously been released, and was recorded by the group for their Lei'd In Hawaii album. It was originally done by The Box Tops, whose guitarist and singer Alex Chilton, returned the favor by cutting Solar System live on an acoustic solo show that has been recently released.
In the Spring of 1968, The Beach Boys mounted a tour with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that bombed and cost them a great deal of money. Friends and Little Bird are from an early July show in Chicago. They are charming, and Friends in particular is done beautifully. There is an organ which accompanies Friends that really matches the studio version nicely. Friends' "B" side, Little Bird, is played as well, and is introduced somewhat whimsically by Mike. The song is done very well, especially the uptempo bridge. An odd in-joke is made with Mike calling off days of the week...a real treat. All I Want To Do is probably the hardest rocking song the Beach Boys ever cut. It was released on Beach Boys Rarities in 1983. Mike shows that he has the pipes to do great hard rock. This version is an outtake from the Live In London album.
We fast forward four years, and are treated to a delightful ballsy rocking blues version of Help Me Rhonda sung by Dennis. Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar are obvious presences in the background vocals. A soulful Carl Wilson does some blues screaming in the choruses. This style of Rhonda was first played when the Beach Boys jammed with The Grateful Dead about 2 years earlier. Daryl Dragon plays a great keyboard solo. Wild Honey, performed in an untamed hard rocking version by Blondie Chaplin, is also from 1972. It is an outtake from The Beach Boys In Concert single album, rejected by Reprise because it did not have enough hits from the Sixties on it. The concert was held on November 19, 1972. The final track from 1972 is Carl's performance of Dennis's Only With You. The song at that time was as yet unreleased, scheduled for Holland. It is a gorgeous, almost intimate version. Dennis does the tag, and closes.
Forward to 1973, and a rare performance of It's About Time from Sunflower. At this point, Carl was at the top of his art, and this version is as soulful as can be. Mike be heard doing some counterpoint in the background. A stinging guitar solo rings the song to a close. Forward to 1975, and we hear Carl singing I Can Hear Music. He sings it the way Ronnie Spector did. The vocal break is done as on the single, without instruments. This is from the famous Chicago/Beach Boys Tour, and this performance is from June 1975.
The next three tunes are from The Beach Boys "Deep Cuts" 1993 Tour, done in part to promote this set's predecessor, Good Vibrations. That set was named reissue of the year in 1993 in Rolling Stone Magazine. The versions of Vegetables and Wonderful that are on this disc are the versions from the Smile arrangements of these tunes rather than Smiley Smile's versions. These tunes are done faithfully to their studio counterparts, and are unique to this tour. This was a treasure for the fans who caught this tour. Sail On Sailor is identified as being from 1995. Carl's vocal here is as I heard it through 70 or so Beach Boys concerts. It is a sad reality that he is not here to be singing it today. He is sorely missed, not only by his family, but by the millions of Beach Boys listeners who grew accustomed to hearing his majestic and soulful vocals. This cd concludes with a version of Summer In Paradise from the album of the same name. It was released by Brother Entertainment in 1992. This version dates from 1995.
This disc is a treat for the ears, and a potential example of the depth and breadth of The Beach Boys live concert vault. They have the most numerous selection of live recordings of any group in Rock Music. All anyone has to do is review Jon Stebbins and Ian Rusten's book, The Beach Boys In Concert, to imagine how many concerts were recorded. Perhaps they were not done with the highest fidelity equipment, but most collectors are sitting on literally a few hundred concerts themselves....all of us would rather hear them as presented in this set....in the best fidelity possible.
The Beach Boys as a studio entity lost their mojo after Dennis's death. The simple truth is that most studio albums after Love You had perhaps between 3 and 5 listenable cuts, and the rest was drivel. That said, the compilers of this set have done a nice job of finding music of quality to put on this disc. The live material could have filled a disc by itself. Because of the strength of the live material, and the inclusion of the 1995 Wilson/Paley written tunes, and the 2012 new tunes, I am rating this CD a B on a scale of A to F.
This particular disc is the one most long-term Beach Boys fans went to first before the rest of the set. The challenge here was to find material that is both unheard, and of sufficient musical proficiency so as not to be an embarrassment to members of The Beach Boys, living or deceased. Even someone of my length of following them is excited to hear new studio material or live work that is novel to my ears. The grim reality, is that between the various Boxed Sets already released, The Sea of Tunes series, and miscellaneous "unauthorized" cds, the amount of studio material unheard and unreleased is meager. So, here we go, the disc I have been waiting for, Disc 6.....
Some impressions...On the early take of Don't Worry Baby I hear Brian singing much more like Ronnie Spector in this performance than in the released version. It is powerful, as he wrote the song for her. Perhaps there is a little more drama in this version, which is "unsanitized." The vocals only version of Slip On Through has some background vocals that at times have been run through an oscillator. The arrangement is brilliant. Sometimes hearing a song in this manner can bring a whole new appreciation for it. This is the case for me here.
Pom Pom Playgirl is a tune that I have been mostly underwhelmed by. This is interesting in that Brian has one of his "dog ear" episodes, and Carl is advised on how Brian wants it to be sung. For the simple example of a "dog ears" Brian moment, it is worth hearing. Guess I'm Dumb is the lost 12th track to The Beach Boys Today! and this beats Bull Session With the Big Daddy. To have the backing vocals and track isolated is simply majestic. Glen Campbell did a wonderful lead, and why this wasn't a hit is one of those unexplained mysteries of the music biz.
Sheri She Needs Me suffers from a Brian 1976 vocal and insipid lyrics. The track musically is magic. That is enough said. There is a reason things are unreleased. The version on Imagination with new lyrics is BEAUTIFUL.The tag here where The Beach Boys come in is fantastic though. I first heard Mona Kana (nee Mona Kani) on a Smile cassette. It is a portent of things to come from Dennis, especially the first 45 seconds. The later parts of the melody almost sound like the soundtrack from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western movie. This Whole World is a song that I have loved since I first bought Sunflower. It is a revelation to hear this mix, especially Brian's bridge and the tag.
Where Is She is another lovely Brian Wilson waltz tempo tune that just is a thrill to hear. I first heard it about 30 years ago, and the impression it made stuck with me a long time.I hear some Beatles influence here, and it is cool, a delightful inclusion on this set. Why no Little Red Book? The Had To Phone Ya track is another highlight of this disc. Although it has been bootlegged, it is much clearer here, and shows some great Brian mid Seventies arrangement skills.
I have adored the The Smile Sessions Box vocal montage since I first heard it. There is a tendency to think that Smile was mostly music tracks recorded without vocals, until one assembles the various vocals from Heroes, Cabin Essence, and the other Smile tunes. The Good Vibrations stereo segments are from The Best Summers of Our Lives 1976 15th Anniversary Radio Show. I sent my copy of Best Summers of Our Lives to Brother Entertainment earlier this year because they did not have these tapes. I would bet they are culled from my old set!
Dennis's Be With Me demo is him at his most intimate. It is as if he is sitting in your living room playing the tune for you. The demo has a depth that the 20/20 version does not. This is probably due to the "Charlie" type sounds on the finished tune. "Dennis does Elvis" at the end is sublime. I had no idea what I Believe In Miracles was supposed to be, until I heard it and realized it was a Can't Wait Too Long fragment. It is nice to hear in isolation. Why is what sounds like a Brian composition from an unknown period that has some relation to the song Good Timin'. The two songs are almost exactly the same length, and share some chords.
Barnyard Blues sounds cool, and somewhat derived from Smile...at least the animal sounds. To be honest, it sounds like a playful Dennis and Carl studio moment rather than a serious song. The track to Don't Go Near the Water is beautiful, and has been somewhat unappreciated. The synthesizer work on it is pioneering. The tag is an obvious homage to Stephen Foster, probably Old Folks At Home. Brian's You've Lost That Lovin Feelin' was an afternoon at Brother Studio Project. He first cut the track, then overdubbed his vocal, singing Bill Medley AND Bobby Hatfield's parts in the same take. He then went back and added duet parts where needed.
Transcendental Meditation as the closer to Friends was never a tune I appreciated. The version on this disc is the track without vocals. I love it. The track is early jazz fusion, and most likely could have been released sans vocals. It is reminiscent to me of some of Sun Ra's music, or possibly Cannonball Adderly's work from the same period. The Our Sweet Love vocals are from Sunflower...'nuff' said... Heavenly. Alan Jardine's version of Back Home is something I first heard in the Seventies. It occurred to me at that time that it could have easily fit into the California Saga on Holland. It is really a different song than anything Brian did. I am glad it got released, along with Brian's swinging 1963 version. The only thing they really share is the shuffling pace. Brian's California Feelin' demo has some great piano on it, as well as some unusual MOR type singing. Good to hear it again.
The so called "studio rehearsal" Lei'd In Hawaii sessions are really a live in the studio session, and the majority of the recordings from those sessions are fantastic. Perhaps more of these sessions could be released, rather than "escaping." Help Me Rhonda from the same session is also just terrific. These vocals can be contrasted with Disc 1's Their Hearts Were Full of Spring from the demo tape and Graduation Day from the Summer Days Sessions,and the Slip On Through vocals only work and Smile vocals montage on this disc. The growth in vocal artistry is unparalleled.
What more can be said about the 1967 "Wild Smile" version of Surfs Up? It is a performance of a life time. There is only music like this in heaven.....it is sung so naturally, so relaxed, that you finally realize that this version would have been just fine on Smile as is. My Love Lives On is a lost Dennis Wilson tune that I frankly like as much as Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again. The tune seems to look ahead to Dennis's shortened life, and could serve as a message to his children. It is poignant, intimate, and moving, and has an intimate feel that his more full productions don't have.
The BBC tunes are nice for me to hear, mainly because I have had a crappy cassette of them for years, and the sound improvement is huge. There are little moments...Carl's brief guitar solo on Wendy, the "Beatle Ending chord" on Wendy, Brian's wonderful live singing on When I Grow Up, Carl's guitar solo on there as well, Mike's "won't last forever'" the chilling harmonies on Hushabye, and Mike's wonderful lead on Hushabye.
What to make of this disc? Well....it amplifies aspects of The Beach Boys' talent the way an archive disc has to. After 50 years, will you hear this disc with "new ears?" I sure did. I haven't had the time in years to sit down by myself, put on some headphones, and just LISTEN. I grade this disc an A on a scale of A to F.
My friend, fellow music lover/critic, and much missed music fan and colleague Paul Williams wrote a brilliant essay in reaction to the Good Vibrations Boxed Set that set the standard high for critical essays about Beach Boys' Boxed sets. I can't presume to duplicate his incredible work in that essay, but I want to dedicate this essay to him as a memorial that can point the way to his incredible writing about whatever music that he delighted in
Text Copyright 2013 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved