In-depth reviews of classic or neglected albums, mainly from the 1960s and 70s, plus a weekly newsletter featuring all the latest news, views and music. Artists covered include Beach Boys, Beatles, Belle and Sebastian, Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash, Dire Straits, Grateful Dead, Hollies, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Kinks, Nils Lofgren, Monkees, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Searchers, Simon and Garfunkel, Small Faces, 10cc, The Who and Neil Young.
Monday, 25 August 2014
Beach Boys Solo/Live/Compilation/Unreleased/Rarities Albums/Box Sets Part Two 1988-14
Dear all, as you know the last month has been spent surfing through the Beach Boys catalogue in an attempt to bash our first AAA album into shape. Given that I'm a tad behind and don't have the time to write a 'top ten' this week I thought I'd publish the first of two parts looking at all the 'Beach Boys' paraphenelia which we either haven't covered till now or have only reviewed in brief. Hopefully all out books will include short pieces on each live album, the key compilations, unreleased albums, early recordings, rarities sets, box sets and any solo albums we haven't covered along the way, listed here in chronological order. For now, though, here's your chance to read them a couple of years early, without the main reviews in the way. Part Two covers the Brian Wilson solo years from 1988 onwards...
(Sire Records, July 12th 1988)
Love and Mercy/Walkin' The Line/Melt Away/Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long/Little Children/One For The Boys/There's So Many//Night Time/Let It Shine/Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight/Rio Grande
"Love, mercy and synthesisers"
Ever since the release of 'Caroline, No' as a single credited to Brian solo in 1966, fans had longed for a Brian Wilson solo album. Surely it would be magical, closer to 'Smile' than the hits the rest of the band insisted on making and playing, with not thought given to commercial success. Amazingly half of that wish came true in 1988: at the age of 46 Brian surprised the music world by releasing his first solo album and leaving The Beach Boys to do it; the story goes that record boss Seymour Stein (the same one Belle and Sebastian later write a song about) was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards in 1987 when Brian was giving an award to writers Leiber and Stoller; losing his train of thought he broke into an a capella version of 'On Broadway' to cover up for the fact and Stein, a big Beach Boys fan, was bowled over. The Beach Boys weren't doing anything and Brian wasn't technically under contract and so this album was born. Sensibly, Stein put one of his 'own' people in charge of the sessions to check that the record would actually get made and chose the perfect partner: Andy Paley, who still works off and on as Brian's collaborator now. Veteran producers Brian liked and trusted - Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman -were part of the deal too. Suddenly Brian was being surrounded by good people who wanted to hear what he had to offer, not The Beach Boys
Oddly, though, what we got wasn't so much 'Smile' as more of the same as the band had been making sporadically and unwelcomely in the 1980s: 'Brian Wilson' is a pop album dominated by period technology, closer in sound and spirit to 'Kokomo' than 'Pet Sounds' or 'Heroes and Villains'. Don't run away screaming just yet thought: 'Brian Wilson' is an excellent pop album; you can still just about tell that the composer is the same 'hooks' writer as 'Fun Fun Fun' and 'California Girls' and while this album doesn't have the range or all-round excellence of even Brian's half-baked 1960s songs, it's undoubtedly a step in the right direction and manages to improve on the last pair of Beach Boys albums hands down. While I still say a couple of Brian's later solo albums have the edge, this album is impressively good for someone who had until recently been through such a dark time in their life and it's the records consistency (maybe eight great little songs and one epic out of eleven) that's its biggest selling point.
Of course the big debate about this album has always been how much of a hand Brian had in writing it. Brian's therapist Dr Landy takes co-credits on almost all the songs here. Now, it could be that Brian was so isolated he chose to bounce his ideas off the one person who seemed to be helping him (Brian looks remarkably young for the half-profile on the cover, with both the beard and bodyweight he's sported since 1971 gone since the last time he was seen in public). It could be that Landy was the only person who could encourage Brian to writing songs. Or it could be (as The Beach Boys assumed) that Landy had broken the cardinal rule of treatment and was turning his patient into his business partner. Ultimately it was seeing his name on so many song credits that convinced Carl Wilson Landy was up to no good and fired him, with a court order later banning the psychotherapist from having any contact with his patient. The fact remains, though, that whoever wrote these songs they both impressively good and sufficiently Brian-like to sound comfortable coming out of his mouth. Brian sings with more gusto and spirit than he has in years and while it's a great shame he wastes his energies on so many now rather dated late 1980s instruments his arranging genius has come through unscathed. His voice sounds remarkably good, too, considering what was done to it and unlike all his later solo albums he sings a lot of his vocals solo, leaving the overdubbing to the many group choruses of Brians on this album.
While Brian's book records the quintet all getting along just fine - and even being a little bit amazed at how good a writer Landy turned out to be - the three producers have always told the story differently. Paley insists that Brian was being manipulated for Landy to get his own way all the time, with all sorts of blackmail going on (with-holding drinks until Brian agreed that Landy's lyrics were 'better' than his own drafts) and that every time the group 'broke through' with a neat idea Landy would usually change it on principle to one of his own ideas. For Brian it must have reminded him greatly of the days when Murry used to shout and scream to get his way while Brian played blithely on. As a result nobody except Landy seemed to have happy memories of the project - but strangely the songs nearly all find Brian in a perky, exuberant mood, without the melancholia that understandably crops up in his solo work from time to time. Even if Landy just 'happened' to be an unproven expert songwriter with a capacity to write in Brian's 'voice', the upbeat tone of this album doesn't seem to fit his persona either: the key messages on this album are 'mercy' 'forgiveness' and 'hope' - a world away from the childlike songs of 'Beach Boys Love You' and the complete polar opposite of what he was writing at the end of that 'first run' : 'Til' I Die' and Sail On Sailor'. What's more, given all the tears and tantrums that reportedly went into making it, 'Brian Wilson' is a remarkably consistent affair: there's none of the rushed 'that'll do' feeling you get from listening to '15 Big Ones' or even the band's most recent release 'The Beach Boys'
The trouble is that there's no one knock out song on it to approach the olden days. 'Love and Mercy', the album's opener, comes closest and it's become something of a concert staple as Brian's final encore - heard here though even this song never quite catches fire. 'Night Time' and 'Walkin' The Line' would have been killer pop songs in someone else's hands, but here sound unworthy of Brian's talents somehow, as if he promised to read us some poetry and made do with a limerick instead. A lot of critics and fans at the time thought the whole album was like this, but actually that's being unfair: Brian doesn't often play safe, as you can tell by playing the wordless choral chant 'One For The Boys' (more like something that would appear on a David Crosby record than a Beach Boys one) and the closing eight minute epic 'Rio Grande'. Neither comes as effortlessly as they would have even fifteen years before but the fact that Brian is thinking ambitiously is nevertheless highly welcome.
This album was re-issued by Sire in 2003 with a whopping fifteen bonus tracks; most of them don't add much, being mere songwriting fragments from the early sessions when Landy would encourage Brian to 'sing' what was on his mind. They're still interesting to hear though, as are some fascinatingly different versions of album songs (including a lot of the separate sections from 'Rio Grande' in the days before they were 'collected' together: this must have been how 'Smile' was intended to be made!)
One other point too: it's sweet of Brian to thank The Beach Boys as part of his long list of people who have helped him (especially considering how negative their reaction was to this album coming out at all) and the gushing lines about Dr Landy are as caught between sincerity and scripted praise as ever ('For saving my life and inspiring, overseeing and fighting for me and this entire album'; at least Brian put 'me' first I suppose). But why are Moody Blues Justin Hayward and John Lodge given thankyous?
To take the songs in order, 'Love and Mercy' is a charming, soulful rumination about all the violence and struggles in the world before offering up the hope that one day it won't be like that; in other words this song is 'All You Need Is Love', but with better lyrics and a stronger tune. Listen out for the reference to 'lyin' in my room' - the first of many Beach Boys references on the album.
'Walkin' The Line' may be a simple upbeat pop song or a reflection on Brian's tough exercise regime under Dr Landy - or both ('If I don't get my way this time I'll die, and that's no lie!') I could have done without the 'I need your lovin' call-and-response and the 'wah wah wah wah wah' vocal part but this is still a good and clever song.
'Melt Away' is the album highlight, the first verse reflecting with a big sigh how 'nothin' seems to go my way' before a loved one walks into the room and puts things right. The middle eight ('I won't let you see me suffer, woah not me!') is the highlight of a song that doesn't shy away from the darker side of Brian's recent life ('The world's not waiting just for me...I've been just like an island')- but is still very much sung with hope. The classic vocal round is pure Beach Boys, even though Brian's lead is a little ropey for him.
'Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long' is an overshrill sequel to 'Caroline, No'. In that song a teenage Marilyn cut her hair short not knowing the shock it would have on her husband (who thought it made her look much 'older'). This middle-aged song is rather more patronising ('You've got to try a little bit more') but the metaphor about wishing a loved one could be a little more carefree and innocent and carry less troubles around with them is at least heartfelt.
'Little Girls' is one of those songs you''ll either love or hate - depending what you think of the similar childlike songs on 'The Beach Boys Love You'. My guess is this song dates from that era given the references to a clearly young Carnie ('with dirt on her cheek') and Wendy ('too scared to speak')- who would have been 20 and 18 respectively at the time this song came out; then again it would be so Brian to 'accidentally' mortify his now grown-up daughters with this memory of their past. At two minutes, though, this song doesn't hang around long enough to say very much.
'One For The Boys' is a gorgeous mood piece that in the old days would have been stapled to a 'big' song like 'Heroes and Villains' but here is content simply to waft and glide with the breeze. The effect is lovely, even though Brian's voice(s) are clearly not what they were and the fact that this piece simply can't compete with 'Our Prayer', the similarly spiritual wordless choral piece intended for 'Smile'.
'There's So Many' is the closest song on the album to the ones on Brian's later solo albums with the balance between 'happy' and 'sad' sections, sudden stop-starts in the music and lyrical references to 'angels' and 'fantasy'. The 1980s production is at its worst on this song and the tempo a tad slow, but there are still flashes of talent and some killer group harmonies.
'Night Time' should have been the single: it's a fun, catchy little song about being a night owl ('My eyes can't take that light!') with a neat pull-and-tug between the verses and choruses and some cute synth sound effects that would have been better still with some stronger lyrics.
'Let It Shine' is the closest Brian has come to writing a gospel song, although it's a song about not religion as such but the 'sun' - a metaphor for life and creativity in so many of his songs (a 'burning fire' that 'fills me with desire' and takes all the troubles away. It should be stupendous, but instead sounds a little anonymous, fading mid-chorus for no good audible reason.
'Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight' is another fun pop song that would have been right up Mike Love's street. The shy narrator is too awkward to ask a girl out be he doesn't mind because he knows he'll dream about her that night anyway.
Closer 'Rio Grande' is the single most epic thing Brian had attempted since 'Smile' and while it doesn't quite work (the song rambles in the middle and the production values once again get in the way) the very fact that Brian is trying something with this scope is impressive. Kind of like the 'settlers' suite on 'Smile' this is the tale of cowboys and indians that like a film pulls away from the scene to reveal the smallness of man alongside the river 'rollin', rollin' on'. Another possible metaphor for the muse and its ability to keep going however badly the creative seems to be listening its full of exotic side-sweeps and cul-de-sacs, including a whole two minutes spent on the 'jasmine' blooming outside the narrator's window. It's a shame that Brian hasn't attempted anything quite this big again since ('Smile' being an honourable exception) because the feel is clearly still there and this song ever so nearly works.
Overall, then, 'Brian Wilson' isn't perfect but none of it is bad (which is more you can say for, well, any other album on this list really) and a lot of it is good. Considering the circumstances that's nothing short of astonishing and it's a shame that this great little record sold so poorly at the time, denting all that wonderful confidence Brian suddenly seemed to have sprouted. No matter, the next album proper will build on the best of this project, with Andy Paley once again in tow but no Dr Landy; although that said there's still one more uncomfortable chapter in the Landy story to go through yet...
Brian Wilson: "Sweet Insanity"
(Unreleased Album 1990-1991)
Bootleg Track-Listing: Concert Tonight/Don't Let Her Knows She's An Angel/Does You Have Any Regrets?/Hotter/Let's Stick Together/Love Ya/Make A Wish/Rainbow Eyes/Save The Day/Smart Girls/Someone To Love You/Thankyou aka Brian/The Spirit Of Rock and Roll/Water Builds Up/Concert Tonight (Reprise)
"My name Is Brian and I'm the man, I write hit songs with the wave of my hand, songs of surf and songs of sand, I make great music with my band!"
'Brian Wilson' had been a big hit with the critics and the few who bought it, but the album failed to sell even as well as the recent Beach Boys LP. Undeterred Brian was persuaded back into Sire with Dr Landy and Andy Paley in tow to record a follow-up with the proviso that it was to be even more commercial. Out were sweet little thoughtful hymns like 'Love and Mercy' and out and out epics like 'Rio Grande' - the Brian Wilson wanted on this record was the one who churned out hits in the 1960s. Only Brian wasn't the same person he had been a quarter of a century earlier: he sounds painfully aware throughout these songs that he's only singing banalities his old self would have thrown out immediately (the song 'Do You Have Any Regrets (About The Past)' is particularly telling in this context: 'I do I do, apologies seem overdue!') A lot of fans flocked to hear this album on bootleg - a lot more than Sire were perhaps expecting or they might have released the record instead of rejecting it for being 'under-par'! A lot of them were disappointed: played back to back with 'Brian Wilson' there's even less ambition here and even the chance to hear Brian 'playing out' his therapy in song (there's a lot of apologetical songs in this pile, which seems odd after the last project's optimism) isn't as interesting as that sentence makes it sound (there's only so many ways Brian can say sorry, without actually sending his fans a bunhc of flowers with every album). I'm not sure whether the first mix of the first album was like this too and proper mastering would have hidden it, but Brian's voice also creaks and groans far more on these recordings despite the usual quota of block harmonies; if the surprise of 'Brian Wilson' was that you came away feeling good about Brian in 1988 and his chances for the future then the sad thing here is that, two years later, he's gone back to being a shadow of his former self.
Which is not to say this album is all bad. Four of the songs were rescued for use on the 2004 album 'Gettin' In Over My Head' and while none were the best on that set there are a couple of minor Wilson classics in there somewhere. 'Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel' is a sweet little song that makes more sense here, in amongst a long line of apologies and this-is-all-too-good-for-me lyrics. 'Rainbow Eyes', too, is a charming song in Brian's 'childlike' 'Friends' era vein and in this version features some fascinatingly 'modern' uses of technology that don't sound as dated as the previous album. 'Save The Day' is a first draft of 'Fairytale' - although without the sweet childlike lyrics about slaying the dragons this version doesn't quite cut it. Equally 'Let's Stick Together' - with a guest appearance by 'Weird' Al Yankovic - sounds even weirder than the re-recorded version released as 'The Waltz'. Note the fact that all of these songs have 'lost' the Dr Landy co-credit by the time they appear on 'Over My Head'!
Of the songs that seem to have been abandoned along with this project, many seemed awful at first but have begun to grow on me: 'Hotter' (as in 'you're making me...') is a rare Brian Wilson sex song more like something The Rolling Stones would do and actually pretty god for what it is if you can somehow manage to forget that this is the same writer who came up with the multi-layered majority of 'Smile'. 'Someone To Love' is funky Brian, reflecting on his search 'since the age of 19' to look for a 'special girl' whilst sounding like James Brown - all very weird. Ditto: 'Smart Girl' - a Brian Wilson rap song no less! - which makes sense only when you read about why it was written (Brian and Andy thought there were far too many rap songs demeaning women and even had a go at the Beach Boys' past: 'all the songs I used to write talked about girls who weren't too bright...intelligent chicks are dynamite!' However I'm not sure the song's chorus line 'sexy legs with high IQs' is really the solution! 'The Spirit Of Rock and Roll', meanwhile, is a duet with...Bob Dylan! How on earth did that come about? (Neither man is exactly known for rock exactly - at least the heavy metal brand of it heard in this song). Like most of the album the song is a good one if you lower your expectations and remember that Brian was under pain of contract loss to deliver a 'commercial' record: as dumb bits of pop wallowing in dated synthesisers go, it's pretty good actually - better than 'Starship' anyway!
There' are two true moments of greatness on this album though that unlike the other songs are both quite traditional. 'Water Builds Up' shares a similar memory to Carl Perkins' 'Daddy Played Bass' with some excellent lyrics that yet again use water as a metaphor for creativity, with the idea that by now Brian's 'water' is overflowing, a 'pot starting to whistle'. Given the rest of this album I'm not quite sure I agree, but he certainly seems to be having more fun on this song than any of the others! Best of all, though, is 'Thankyou' aka 'Brian' - the almost unbearably sad autobiographical song whose lyrics were first published in Brian's back 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' A kind of updated 'Til I Die', this song looks at just where Brian stands in 1990:'All my life I've been runnin' scared, feelin' shut out, no one cared, not my mother, not my brother, crazy beatings by my father'. A later verse adds 'My cousins say I ain't the same, criticise the way I play the game, they're not happy because I'm different, more creative, independent'. The song then ends wistfully 'Those who love me know I'm tryin', livin' brave instead of dyin'. Even given the fact that Brian presumably redacts these comments along with the rest of his autobiography (ands this album) with these (presumably) Landy-sanctioned lyrics clearly wrong - it's still a great shame that this song hasn't been released yet. It's a classic slice of Brian Wilson melody and regret that would make a lot of sense now that Brian really does seem to have turned a corner.
Whether that one moment would have been enough to rescue an album even its creators seem to admit was under-par we'll never know. Chances are 'Sweet Insanity' would have carried on the balance between poor sales and critical plaudits. Indeed, one critic who did get to hear this album (thanks to a 'promotional cassette' released by 'Brains and Genius' rather than Sire - 'Brian' is 'Brains', 'Eugene Landy' is 'Genius', actually that name's quite clever!), Brett Millano hailed it as Brian's best work in years, while the in-house magazine in Tower Records (owners of 'Sire') called it Brian's best work since 'Sunflower'. Neither of those remarks is actually true and yet I can see how in 1990 many people would have thought: Brian appeared to be back, writing with the speed and knowledge of contemporary technology as in the 1960s and could - just about - have had a fluke hit with any of the songs herein. For his reputation's sake it's probably better than this album doesn't come out officially with Brian's name attached to it, but once you've twisted your head around it actually 'Sweet Insanity' isn't just mad, sit's pretty sweet too!
(SBK Records, May 8th 1990)
Hold On/Release Me/Impulsive/Next To You (Someday I'll Be)/You're In Love/Over and Over/A Reason To Believe/Ooh You're Gold/Eyes Like Twins/The Dream Is Still Alive
Few people were expecting much from this collaboration between Brian's Wilson's daughters Carnie and Wendy (then aged 22 and 20) and John and Michelle Phillips' daughter Chynna, infused with similar rock star genetics. None of the three had ever made a record before and neither were working with their famous parents - indeed, this album lacks any really strong identity with either The Mamas and The Papas or The Beach Boys. When the trio were making it they barely got a mention in the rock press. The story on release was very different though: with sales of over 10 million this album easily beat any studio album their parents had ever made (though perhaps not the compilations) and the three even won a coveted Billboard Music Award for 'song of the year' thanks to debut single 'Hold On' - even Brian had never had one of those! In fact to date only The Supremes have sold more records than Wilson Phillips in the 'American female' category - and that's based on just four albums compared to somewhere close to thirty.
'Wilson Phillips' was a runaway success then and well deserved in most respects: while the trio have a tendency to sound like The Chipmunks separately, together they have a neat blend that, much like The Beach Boys, clearly dates back much further than just the recording sessions (there's a cute picture of the three aged somewhere between six and eight having a sleepover together and grinning their heads off in the CD booklet just to emphasise the point, although in this Jimmy Saville-age its probably best not to ask why none of them seem to be wearing anything!) The trio also know just what people wanted from music in 1992: this is pop music with a heavy beat and period synthesisers just like the period Beach Boys albums, but there's also a depth underneath that surface sheen. Admittedly this album doesn't sound anything like as good now as it must have done at the time when it captured a public mood with the 'sound' of the times to back it up, but then that's popularity for you: 'The Beach Boys Concert' album doesn't sound like it should be the third biggest seller of 1964 anymore either.
Considering the rather unusual childhood they'd all shared and the songs about that same album to come, 'Wilson Phillips' is a very upbeat debut album. Unlike the others its about 50: 50 split between originals and cover songs and already the band's own stuff is the pick of the bunch: the singles 'Hold On' 'Release Me' 'You're In Love' 'Eyes Like Twins' and 'Ooh You're Gold' are particularly winning takes on the pop song formula, all variations on the 'boy meets girl' 'girl loses boy' 'girl wants to lose boy' 'girl is afraid of losing boy' 'girl remembers boy' and 'girl compares boy to money and decides that he's worth more than the stock market' kind of songs you hear on the radio all the time. The closest to a 'best song' on this album is the charming closer 'The Dream Is Still Alive' though, in which we get to hear all three sing separately for the first time on a track that sports a pretty melody and sweet lyrics. Typically for me, this was the one flop of the album when released as a single - the only of five not to make the top four! The one thing this album is lacking is any real sense of identity: there's nothing that particularly links these songs together except the production and that album and there's a sense that these lyrics are taking the easy route of writing cliched love songs instead of anything autobiographical. Impressively that will all change and Wilson Phillips will get immeasurably better on their next LP - although in truth as 'pure pop' albums from the 1990s go this record isn't bad either.
Beach Boys fanatics will be intrigued by this album's lengthy list of 'thankyous' (something that must be in the genes as Brian keeps doing that too on his solo albums) which include several famous family names: Wilson cousins Jonah and Justin (Carl's two sons) get lots of mentions for their support ('we've had some great times together' says Wendy about Jonah and 'you're my best friend in the world' says Carnie about him (the pair of brothers are remarkably similar in age to both Carnie and Wendy, as you can half-see from the 'Sunflower' album cover) Brian, Dennis and Carl's mum is listed here as 'Grandma Audree' ('I couldn't ask for a nicer and hipper grandma' says Wendy, clearly wrangling for some extra cookies come xmas) Meanwhile Carnie thanks a whole load of The Beach Boys clan: Carl, Diane (her mum's sister who often crops up in Brian's songs), Barbara (Dennis' wife) and even her dad although it speaks volumes (especially if you know the next volume) that he's sin the 'small print' dedicated to the family in general and listed not as 'daddy' but as 'Brian'. Chynna is much warmer to Papa John in her similarly long credits. That's a surprise given what she's going to be writing later on in the band's career too...
(Capitol, 'Late' 1990)
I Get Around/Surfin' USA/Fun Fun Fun/Little Deuce Coupe/Surfin' Safari/Help Me, Rhonda/California Girls/Don't Worry Baby/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/Dance Dance Dance/The Little Girl I Once Knew/Barbara Ann/Good Vibrations/Sloop John B/You're So Good To Me/God Only Knows/Then I Kissed Her/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Heroes and Villains/Wild Honey/Do It Again/Friends/Darlin'/Bluebirds Over The Mountain/I Can Hear Music/Cottonfields/California Dreamin'
Summer Dreams seems like same old, same old when you see the non-Beach Boy tacky surfer on the cover and skim your eyes over the contents which cover everything obvious from the Capitol era but nothing more. That's until you bring it home and actually play it - while like most compilations Capitol seem to have lost the art of putting tracks in chronological order 'Summer Dreams' has a better flow than most compilations. Also the packaging is excellent, with a track-by-track analysis by music journalist and one time Record Collector Magazine editor Peter Doggett that might be short but gets the history behind the songs told in a neat and informative way. While none of the songs are exactly rare you dod get to hear the Beach Boys' fairly decent stab at covering The Mamas and Papas' big hit 'California Dreamin' without having to it through the 'Stars and Stripes' re-recordings collection for it (there's no other reason for sitting through it!) Well at least it's better than Kokomo!
Wilson Phillips "Shadows and Light"
(SBK Records, June 2nd 1992)
I Hear You (Prelude)/It's Only Life/You Won't See Me Cry/Give It Up/This Doesn't Have To Be Love/Where Are You?/Flesh and Blood//Don't Take Me Down/All The Way From New York/Fuelled For Houston/Goodbye, Carmen/Alone/I Hear You (Reprise)
Just when the band were getting good and opening up much more of their hearts and souls into the music, the sales dried up and the band began to splinter - now just think where you read that story recently?! (Hint - it must be in the genes!) If the first 'Wilson Phillips' album was the fun in summer without the beach, girl or car references that this next album is their 'Pet Sounds'/'Smile' era. The songs tend towards the melancholy and subdued and the band have clearly been talking about their shared memories of parental absences during childhood and having to sacrifice their parents for celebrity and music. While there are 'upbeat' and 'modern' production values just as on the first album (most notably on 'It's Only Life', the one obvious single from the album that strangely wasn't any of the three released) these tend to be despite the strong emotional content, rather than instead of it as per the first album. While the trio still have a tendency to sound like The Chipmunks from time to time this is a lot more under control than on the earlier record I'm pleased to say and again when all three members of Wilson Phillips sing all together the effect is really powerful.
Most intriguingly for Beach Boys (and Mamas and Papas) fans, there's a half-theme on this album about broken dreams and childhood illusions (as you can tell from the pictures on the inner sleeve, all broken dolls and faded letters; neither rock star dad being exactly a natural at parenting). 'You Won't See Me Cry' finds the narrator badly hurt but unable to 'have the strength' to let a loved one go. 'Give It Up' is an awkward reunion between two people who ought to know each other well but turn out to be strangers ('Would you come over here and break the ice - it would be so nice!' - the similarity of that list line to one of dad's songs might be a clue!) 'Flesh and Blood' is pretty much definitely about Brian: 'If you never plan to come out of your shell, you're never going to get well...I understand your reasons not to, but what you don't know is what you're afraid of and I'm afraid of it too', adding 'daddy aren't we enough?' for good measure. Wendy's 'Alone' could well be a Brian Wilson track, a re-write of 'In My Room' with the twist that the narrator doesn't want to be trapped in their four walls on their own; they want to be out in the world experiencing life (compare too to 'Uncle Dennis' unreleased 'All Alone', which is kind of the emotional, drunken version of this sober discussion of feeling). Finally, note the title of Carnie's wordless instrumental 'I Hear You' - this is a spiritual mood piece so similar to Brian's own (think 'Passing By' via 'One For The Boys') that it surely must be her daddy she hears on this track - plugging into his melancholy and grief and trying to bond with him that way instead. Also, 'Where Are You?' is by Chynna Phillips rather than the Wilsons but in context this song fits as well: openly asking about an absent figure from childhood and adding that 'Visions of my younger years are buried, but the scenes inside of me are impending' (and if you doubted the use of a Brian Wilson lyric before then check out Chynna's use of 'window' in the line 'You don't have to look out that window anymore...'- one of her dad's favourite themes in the 1960s). Chynna then adds it with her song about John 'All The Way From New York' with the album's key line 'as a child I was always hanging onto nothing' and how her brother was always 'slammed into walls' by her drunken dad; by comparison Carnie and Wendy got off quite lightly. Of course all three women might have been singing about boyfriends/partners/the bloke they went to high school with and never saw again - but it doesn't seem like that to me: the illustrations, the lyrics and simply the fact that the trio must have known their songs were ripe pickings for discussion by Beach Boys and Mama and Papa fans in this way do all suggest that this is a song about the loss of Brian Wilson (and John Phillips) from their lives, just at the time they needed him most.
The result is an album that's quietly impressive, rather than noisily exuberant like the first album. I much prefer it though: this album's subtlety lasts much longer than empty pop singles any day and while not a perfect album by any means there are lots of great moments on 'Shadows and Light': 'It's Only Life' shows a better understanding of the pop world in 1992 than anything The Beach Boys released that year; 'Give It Up!' mixes personal angst with catchy chords in a way more top 40 songs could learn from; 'This Doesn't Have To Be Love' might be the one song that doesn't keep to the album theme but it might well be the album highlight: a perfectly believable song about being afraid of a fun relationship getting closer; 'Where Are You?' features many of John Phillips' beloved unusual chords to strong effect; 'Flesh and Blood' is a sweet if slightly sickly song about family ties overcoming everything, even simmering resentment; 'Don't Take Me Down' is another fine pop song built on only just contained resentment; finally, 'I Hear You' may be the best use of wordless choral chanting that neither David Crosby nor Daddy Wilson came up with. The other tracks don't compete but then that's alright - from what I remember most pop albums from 1992 came nowhere close either.
While you'd be hard pressed to say 'Shadows and Light' is equal to anything by The Beach Boys but this second record is even more worthy of the two family names and it's a similarly poor reward to the slow sales for 'Friends' and 'Sunflower' that this impressive album was simply allowed to die and stutter out, completely taking the trio by surprise. Chynna left by the end of the year and the Wilson sisters weren't quite sure how to respond; like The Beach Boys once did in a similar crisis they decided to make a Christmas LP together. We'll be picking up the thread of that story a little later...for now, though, compare this cracking little album to Brian's uninspired unreleased 'Sweet Insanity' project and then tell me which one is the more deserving of the family name. One final note on the title: 'Sweet Insanity' seems to have been the only working title for the project but one witty bootlegger redubbed it 'Landylocked' after the abandoned 'Landlocked' Beach Boys LP (the precursor to 'Sunflower'!)
CD Four: Sail On, Sailor/California Saga: California/The Trader/Funky Pretty/Fairy Tale Music (Mount Vernon and Fairway EP without narration)*/You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone/Marcella/All This Is That/Rock And Roll Music/It's OK/Had to Phone Ya/That Same Song/It's Over Now*/Still I Dream of It*/Please Let Us Go On This Way/The Night Was So Young/I'll Bet He's Nice/Airplane/Come Go with Me/Our Team*/Baby Blue/Good Timin'/Goin' On/Getcha Back/ Kokomo
CD Five: In My Room (Demo)*/Radio Spot #1*/I Get Around (Backing)*/"Radio Spot #2*/Dance, Dance, Dance (Tracking Session)*/Hang On to Your Ego (Sessions)*/God Only Knows (Tracking Session)*/Good Vibrations (Sessions)*/Heroes and Villains (Backing)/Cabinessence (Backing)*/Surf's Up (Backing)/Radio Spot #3*/All Summer Long (Split Mix)/Wendy (Split Mix)/Hushabye (Split Mix)/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) (Split Mix)/Vocals)/Wouldn't It Be Nice (Split Mix)/California Girls (Split Mix)/Radio Spot #4/Concert Intro*/Surfin' USA (Live 1964)*/Surfer Girl (Live 1964)*/Be True to Your School (Live 1964)*/Good Vibrations (Live 1966)*/Surfer Girl (Live in Hawaii Rehearsals 1967)*
CD Six 9European Release Only): Bluebirds Over the Mountain/Tears in the Morning/Here Comes the Night (12" version)/Lady Lynda/Sumahama
I knew for certain that I'd picked the right university when I signed up to the local library and found this box set sitting there, looking at me. I'd been trying to get hold of '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' for - no, not quite 30 years, but near enough a decade which was plenty long enough. This set is where I got to know a lot of the rarer, later Beach Boys albums first and what strikes me now on looking back at the track listing is how many of the songs included here genuinely became my favourites long after my own copy of the box set got relegated to the back of the pile. We took the decision right near the beginning of our website - 'News, Views and Music Issue 6' to be exact - to look at the best Alan's Album Archives box sets around because in my view box sets are the best way to experience a band you're not sure how much you like: compilations are too small; full album re-issues series too big. A good one can kickstart a love affair that lasts long after the box's edges have frayed and a bad one can put you off a group you only discover you like later. You'd be surprised at how many bad box sets there are - it was a struggle to get to five good AAA ones to be honest - but 'Good Vibrations' was one of the two winners, along with the 'CSN' box a nearly song-perfect guide to the ins and outs of a group whose varied career was impossible to fit into a box even 20 odd years ago. Somehow the set manages to take us from the Beach Boys' living room in 1961 to Japan in 1988 without jumping a track on any of the routes along the way.
'Vibrations' succeeds because it managed to tick the boxes for all my progressive stages as a Beach Boys fan: there's enough hits every few songs for newcomers, rarer album tracks for casual fans and some rarities even the biggest collector doesn't own.'Good Vibrations' contains every song you'd reasonably expect to be here, plus a very intelligent mix of songs from albums of all eras that I could quibble with a tiny bit ('Catch A Wave' included over 'Lonely Sea', 'Had To Phone Ya' instead of 'For Once In My Life' and 'Goin' On' over 'Santa Ana Winds') but by and large is spot on and gives a good overview as to what The Beach Boys represented in all eras (full marks for including the lesser known but jaw-droppingly superb 'Please Let Me Wonder' 'Add Some Music To Your Day' 'Marcella' and 'Baby Blue'). While the set centres around Brian Wilson, especially in the early days, all the band are well catered for with a good balance of songs from Carl, Dennis, Mike and Al thrown in, although poor Bruce only gets 'Disney Girls' to his name (plus 'Tears In The Morning' on the 'special' edition). About the only thing that would improve this track listing would be to have included the best of the solo Beach Boys records, but to be fair this box already covers ground enough without that, with an impressive five CDs, although weirdly the European added an under-running sixth disc mainly containing songs from 'L A Light Album'.
The real selling point of this set, though, is the rarities. All in all there are some 55 unreleased rarities - or slightly under half this entire set. There are five really early recordings that have never been heard before, in addition to the best tracks from the earliest session already released on 'Lost and Found'. We've studied them elsewhere earlier on in this book but its delightful to hear the cogs click into place as Brian boogies his way through a first draft of 'Surfin' USA' at the piano, records a 30 second fragment of unreleased 'Little Surfer Girl' as it passes through his head, drills the Dave Marks lineup of the Beach Boys through a rocking live version of 'Hushabye', gets the Beach Boys to rock out on 'Punchline', a surfing instrumental left over from the first album sessions better than any of the five they come up with on the second and - best of all - a 17 year old Brian Wilson celebrates The Four Freshman's birthday and his by testing his new gift of a tape recorder, adding his vocals one by one with painstaking precision. That's the equivalent of seeing Beethoven doing a bit of busking before he was famous or Leonardo have a first bash at the Sistine Chapel on his own ceiling - it's so wonderful that even short fragments like these have survived the test of time and that the band allowed them to be used. The rather staid Sinatra cover 'The Things We Did Last Summer' is less successful, but even this un-bootlegged song is quite a coup for the compilation.
The impact has somewhat diminished now that 'Smile' has its own box set of sessions (released in 2011), but at the time the first ever release for no less than twelve unreleased recordings from 'Smile' was the set's biggest talking point. Up until 1993 the general feeling still was that Brian hadn't actually got very far with 'Smile' and had absolutely no clue how to piece these little bits back together - but just as the premiere of 'Smile' songs on the '20/20' and 'Surf's Up' album spreads the 'Smile' mythology, so these tracks proved to the world that Brian and his music wasn't hopeless, they were just both ahead of their time. We've covered the recordings elsewhere several times already (Brian's finished version and the 'Smile Sessions' are coming up in this book soon!) - suffice to say that they all sound gorgeous, particularly 'Roll Plymouth Rock' which is about the one 'Smile' song here that really hadn't been heard in any form and 'Cool Cool Water' which is truly emotional heard in scattered, composite form here compared to the 'Sunflower' version of it. 'Good Vibrations' has understandably gone down a peg or two on fans' wants lists now that both a second box set and a chance to hear a full four hours of 'Smile' are on the cards, but for my money 'Smile' is at its best here as a haunting half hour suite, without being tied to a 'song cycle' or nitpicked to finish off an album.
That still leaves a handful of exciting finds from the 1960 and 70ss.'Ruby Baby' is a fun outtake from the 'Party' sessions which sounds like it was taped at the end when everyone was drunk (actually that's how most of the album ended up!) 'Games Two Can Play' 'I Just Got My Pay' and 'HELP Is On The Way' are three outtakes from the originally submitted version of 'Sunflower' then still titled 'Add Some Music To Your Day', like this book) which have in common not only rhyming titles but also a mischievous Brian Wilson having fun with putting his band's harmonies in all sorts of unlikely places - the latter, particularly, is a sweet song that deserved to make the final cut (remember, 'help creates love which manifests peace' - which is something I shall remind the DWP about next time they send me a rude letter!) '4th of July' is a gorgeous Dennis Wilson song from his aborted 1971 solo project that's actually about the darker side of American freedom and the unusual subject matter of censorship, highlighted by his golden vocals. 'Fairytale Music' is the inspired half of Brian's eccentric EP 'Mount Vernon and Fairway' given away free with copies of 'Holland' - the story might not make much sense with the narration removed but the bursts of music show real potential here. Both 'It's Over Now' and 'Still I Dream Of It' come from the aborted 'Adult Child' sessions and reveal first Carl and then Brian as secret crooners, turning some of the latter's most hauntingly and nakedly emotional songs into lounge music. Finally, the brotherhood celebrating 'Our Team' is the strongest song yet to come out of the 'MIU' album sessions - so what it's doing rescued from the cutting room floor is anyone's guess.
The box set then ends (if you own the American version) with a fifth disc full of totally unreleased tracks! That sounds good on paper but what it actually means is an awful lot of songs remixed so that they're 'split' with the instruments on one side and the vocals on another - an interesting way to hear songs you've known and loved for years once, maybe, but not the best decision ever made as cancelling one or other out (as intended by the compilers) effectively means you're just listening to a backing track or vocals in mono. Time has also been unkind to the generous helping of 'Pet Sounds' backing tracks and recording session excerpts as these were made available in a much more comprehensive form in 1997 on the next Beach Boys box set 'Pet Sounds Sessions'. A rather ramshackle mini-concert from 1964, with an encore of 'Good Vibrations' fro the first time the band ever played it live in 1966, is then tacked on the end - the screams seeming very out of place following on from a 'vocals only' mix of 'California Girls'. Still, even this final and weakest CD in the set contains some highlights: a brief but delightful demo of 'In My Room' (but why wasn't this included on CD One like the other period demos?), some great aborted takes for the backing tracks of both 'I Get Around' and 'Dance Dance Dance' plus a whole 20 minutes of extracts from the 90 plus hours of tapes that still exist for the 'Good Vibrations' recording session; even given the release of an even better eight on the 'Smiley Smile/Wild Honey' CD re-issue this is magical eye-opening stuff. definitely one for the 'Brian Is A Genius' brigade.
Overall, then, 'Good Vibrations - 30 Years Of The Beach Boys' is a box set that's hard to beat. The balance between old and new, rare and loved, finished and work-in-progress is absolutely spot-on - which is some going considering how at war the Beach Boys were in 1993 and how difficult it must have been for compilers David Leaf (Beach Boys biographer), Andy Paley (Brian Wilson collaborator) and Masrk Linnet (Engineer) to appease everybody. The contents have been handled with care, longterm fans and newcomers alike are well catered for, the five CDs are all generously long (if not the sixth in the European version) and the packaging is as sumptuous as a band as important as The Beach Boys deserve (with a 60 page essay from band specialist David Leaf almost as comprehensive as the AAA books!) even if the cover - a brown surfboard - is a little dull for what's otherwise such a colourful package. What's more 'Good Vibrations' came out at the perfect time: not only celebrating the band's first three decades but also preparing the ground for the band's slow revival across the 1990s to the point where their critical reputation was rivalling the Beatles' again, just like the good old days! I'd be hard pressed to tell you just one single Beach Boys item to buy, their career spans so many genres and takes in so many forms, but this box set is the perfect starting point because by the time you get to know it you, like me, will have fallen in love with The Beach Boys and will want to own everything just to get another glimpse of that talent. A word of warning from experience though: this will lead on to such dangerous past-times as searching for a copy of 'Stars and Stripes' and actually paying money to own 'Kokomo'. On balance I'd still say that's a good bargain though.
The Wilsons (Brian's Daughters): "Hey Santa!"
(SBK Records, October 5th 1993)
Hey Santa!/Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow/Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer/Winter Wonderland/The Little Drummer Boy//Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock/Silver Bells/We Three Kings Of Orient Are-Silent Night-The First Noel/I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Like The Beach Boys themselves, Wilson Phillips re-acted to a changing climate, the loss of a key member (Chynna Phillips leaving the band) and an unexpectedly received album by releasing a festive record. Unlike 'Merry Christmas From The Beach Bioys', however, this one saw the light of day and managed to successfully ignite the feel of the first successful album whilst losing gthe depoth and originality of the second. Close to their dad's solo festive winterwarmer rather than the two Beach Boys stabs at the idea, 'Hey Santa!' is a rocking, well produced album that's worth a quick listen on Christmas morning but will probably not be listened to long after that. The title track was a big hit for the Wilson sisters and somehow managed to combine sleigh bells, a tacky children's choir, some dodgy lyrics, a lot of charm and a cameo from 'Uncle' Carl over the fade (which is more than the Beach Boys managed on either attempt - well apart from the Carl Wilson bit although he didn't get much to do on either festive band record either as it happens). The sisters also resurrect a then still-unpublished Beach Boys recording of 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' from that unreleased 1977 record; the pair just about get away with it by courtesy of the fact that they sing on it as nine and seven years olds, along with their cousins Justin and Jonah (Carl's children), Matt and Adam Jadrine (Al's sons) and second-cousins Christian and Heyleigh Love. Otherwise this is pretty standard Christmassy fair: 'Jingle Bell Rock' 'Winter Wonderland'; the best thing you can say about it is that the pair don't recycle any material from either Beach Boys record, although its sad that they don't do what their dad so loves doing and didn't write any more for the record than just the title track. There's nothing on this album to match 'Child Of Winter' never mind 'Little Saint Nick', but considering that Christmas records never seem to bring out the best in musicians down the years and Beach Boys more than most, not bad at all. The record was re-issued in 1999 and that edition of it is more common to come across, although neither version was much of a seller and followed the commercial arc of the second album rather than the million-selling first.
Brian Wilson: "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times"
(MCA Records, August 15th 1995)
Meant For You/This Whole World/Caroline, No/Let The Wind Blow/Love and Mercy/Do It Again/Warmth Of The Sun/Wonderful/Still I Dream Of It/Melt Away/Til' I Die
"A rock in a landslide, surrounded by nearest and dearest"
This curious exercise in proving how far Brian has come (thanks to a documentary celebrating his life and work and the fact he's free of Dr Landy for the first time in years) seems in retrospect like a record being made 'just in case' Brian doesn't make it. Brian is morose throughout, shot in moody black and white which only accelerates the effects of time on his body and he seems more bewildered and unhappy than he ever actually did in the Landy years. Producer Don Was, who'll soon be working with The Rolling Stones and overdubbing the soul out of their records for a living, seems an odd choice for a low key record that in the documentary's case doesn't even seem to be able to afford anything more than monochrome film. Luckily, though, the project was more than simply musing about the past - Brian got to sing it as well and the documentary is livened up no end by the performances included in it. Rather than simply choosing the hits, Brian picked some of his more personal songs and unearthed some lovely forgotten songs: 'Warmth Of The Sun' 'Wonderful' 'This Whole World' and 'Let The Wind Blow', as well as the two key songs from his first solo album. What's more, some of these tracks really suit the starker tones of this album (this is effectively Brian's 'unplugged' album - the genre was everywhere in the mid 1990s - recorded with a single guitarist, keyboard player, bassist and drummer including James Hutchinson (fresh from working with David Crosby) and Jim Keltner (fresh from working with just about everybody!) 'Til I Die' fares best, this song of pain and madness now given a driving rhythmic riff and a fair Beach Boys facsimile on backing vocals - clearly its not up to the original (how can you improve on perfection?) but it's an intriguing new twist on a classic song that still does it justice. You also get to see Brian performing with his daughters Carnie and Wendy for the only time so far in the family's history (on a particularly spirited 'Do It Again'), which is sweet if on the verge of collapse throughout.
However there's something badly wrong with this project. Like the documentary these music clips almost seem as if they're goading Brian into slipping up, tackling heavier stuff with less backing, effort and money so everyone can go 'there, there, he's not as his best is he, poor lamb?' Brian's too good for that though: even sleepwalking his way through the recordings as per here he's aware and with it enough to outshine everyone else involved with this project. As a bonus for fans a demo from 1976 and the aborted 'Adult Child' was unearthed ('Still I Dream Of It' - a song already released 'finished' in 1993 on the 'Good Vibrations' box set). A strong reminder of how far Brian has come, even this boon for collectors seems a little cruel: nobody mentions it but Brian was deliberately wallowing in self-pity for this song because he wrote it for Frank Sinatra to sing (it's Brian's take on the melancholy of 'One For My Baby') - it's not overtly autobiographical although Brian's cigarette-destroyed vocals do make it seem that way. A truly curious album that's meant to celebrate Brian's genius - and yet everyone involved seems to be doing their best to make out how past-it he seems; Brian has the last laugh by being the only participant who comes out of this project with his credibility intact.
Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks "Orange Crate Art"
(Warner Brothers, October 24th 1995)
Orange Crate Art/Sail Away/My Hobo Heart/Wings Of A Dove/Pale Tree and Moon/Summer In Monterey/San Francisco/Hold Back Time/My Jeanine/Movies Is Magic/This Town Goes Down At Sunset/Lullaby
"Orange Crate Art is really not the right place to start, it's hearts in the right place but the lyrics are too smart"
Brian Wilson reuniting with Van Dyke Parks for the first time since 'Smile' - what could possibly go wrong?! Err, lots unfortunately. While not quite as fractured or with as big impact on the health of the participants 'Orange Crate Art' seems to have turned out as something of a disappointment for everyone concerned. Named for the pretty pictures that used to appear on the crates of oranges shipped to the mainland - the first really important export for the Beach Boys' home state - the title rather sums up the album: it's pretty, full of intricate detail when you get close up, but it's not 'proper' art: you won't come away from this album having learned anything (unlike 'Smile', which leaves you never quite the same again if you've been listening properly). Van Dyke wrote the whole album, with Brian's only role that as a singer, which is a great shame: the record badly needs Brian's canny knack of making an intellectual lyric sing when combined with music. However that was the original intention: Van Dyke made the offer to his old friend in 1992 when Brian was creatively adrift (Carl Wilson having finally had too much and firing Landy from Brian - a court order finding against the psychotherapist and banning him from going anywhere near him) and hoped the pair might collaborate; however Brian was at a low ebb and too 'afraid' to write in case it unleashed the 'Smile' demons. In fact Van Dyke deserves praise for persevering with a clearly frightened Brian (out in the musical world for the first time without Landy since 1980): Brian spent the first session asking his partner what on earth he was doing there; luckily a quick-witted Parks told Brian 'you're here because I can't stand the sound of my own voice!'
Thankfully Brian seems to have really come into his own across the sessions, freed from the responsibilities of creative control (even if his name was listed first on the album sleeve). Many of these vocals are fabulous in fact: the chuckle in Brian's voice on 'Sail Away' sounds a lifetime away from the 'Landlocked' experience, not just two years and this album is an important stepping stone towards 'our' Brian regaining his full self on 'Imagination'. Some of the songs, reflecting on the history of California, are quite sweet too: 'Wings Of A Dove' is a classy pop song that even features Brian's favourite metaphor of water 'washing away my sorrow', while 'My Jeanine' reuses Brian's love of unusual sounds (the bass harmonicas are straight out of 'Pet Sounds'). However the best song is one that Brian doesn't even seem to be on - the closing orchestral instrumental 'Lullaby', which actually sounds more like George Gershwin than any of the covers on Brian's Gershwin album (I hate to say it but perhaps an all-instrumental album without Brian's vocals might have been a better bet?)
Unfortunately there's something gauche and unlikeable about many of these songs: every time you think the album has settled down into something half-decent, along comes a 'look-at-me' wurlitzer organ/accordion/twee chorus phrase/all three as if the production team have just gone 'tah-dah!' after every single magic trick, oblivious of whether they worked or not. Some of the songs are so gauche and self-aware that you start to think that Mike Love had a point ('Summer In MOnterey' being the worst offender). Also, while I'm all for half-concept albums ('Smile' onwards) 'Orange Crate Art' is one of the strangest: I understand the Californian backdrop but, really, a few references aside this could be set anywhere and not make all that much difference. None of the characters in the song really do anything and while Van Dyke's words and especially his rhyming schemes are as great as ever ('Cowboy dressed up like injun popped right off that silver screen, Scarlet up like a jukebox for a dreamboat Delta Queen') there's no emotional core to any of this (except, perhaps, the three songs listed above). The result is an album that didn't seem to get any interest at all, except for a tiny handful of critics who seemed to hate the whole thing. That's a bit harsh: there's plenty to enjoy on 'Orange Crate Art' if you rummage around at the bottom of the box. However don't go into it expecting to find another 'Smile' - in truth this album isn't even up to 'Brian Wilson' - and the few Van Dyke Parks solo records I've heard all sound better than this too.
"Stars and Stripes - Volume One"
(River North Records, August 19th 1996)
Don't Worry Baby (with Lorrie Morgan)/Little Deuce Coupe (with James House)/409 (with Junior Brown)/Long Tall Texan (with Doug Supernaw)/I Get Around (with Sawyer Brown)/Be True To Your School (with Toby Keith)/Fun Fun Fun (with Ricky Van Shelton)/Help Me, Rhonda (with T Graham Brown)/Warmth Of The Sun (with Willie Nelson)/Sloop John B (with Colin Raye)/I Can Hear Music (with Kathy Tricolli)/Caroline, No (with Timothy B Schmidt)
"You can't make these songs what they're not, which means that they can't not be, you know...great!" Or, 'how to comprehensively ruin a classic for no good reason', starring 12 country music nobodies and The Beach Boys...sort of
Never has the stark words 'Volume One' struck more horror into a collector's soul than here. The last Beach Boys project to feature Al Jardine and Brian Wilson until 2012, the last 'new' work to feature Carl Wilson at all and the last album of freshly coined recordings to feature the band name is not really a Beach Boys album at all but a series of not that great cover songs by country artists with the band backing. As ever with these duet albums the main response is 'why?', until you actually hear the album and that feeling accelerates into 'Dear God, how? why? How much more of this is there? Ow my ears!' In case you haven't guessed already 'Stars and Stripes' is really not for me: I'm not that keen on the post-1980 Beach Boys, I'm not keen on re-recordings and I really hate most country stars (after hearing Johnny Cash country music always sounds false and over-dramatic to these ears: this record more than most). Thankfully for once the band stick to the tried and tested, the sort of things people ruin on karoke machines every day anyway (or its modern equivalent, an appearance on 'X Factor'!) so at least my ears have got used to hearing appalling versions of ' I Get Around' 'Fun Fun Fun' and 'Help Me Rhonda' over the ears. However why pass up the opportunity to add a little spice into the mix: I guess these people might have been unavailable rather than unasked but off the top of my head hows this for a better album: Emmylou Harris doing 'Lonely Sea', Chris Hillman picking his way through a mandolin version of 'Add Some Music To Your Day', Glenn Campbell reprising 'Guess I'm Dumb', Dolly Parton updating 'California Girls' to the point where they're now 'working nine till faaaahve!' and Johnny Cash himself (still alive in 1996, remember) performing a chilling version of 'Til' I Die' ('Ahhhhm a cork on the ocean....drifting over the rrrraging sea, I left my soul bobbing there like a cork just to watch it daaaaai!')
The Beach Boys - you know, the guys who wrote the songs, performed on the originals and whose name appears in big letters on the front of the record - don't really feature all that much and sound less than enthusiastic the few times you can hear them. Goodness only knows why Brian rejoined a band he'd just fought so hard to escape from and on the back of two well recived solo albums, while poor Carl's last recording sessions are wasted, plain and simple. For the record, Timothy B Schmidt's 'Caroline, No' is the best (he was in the Eagles as well as their vastly superior predecessors Poco - see our forthcoming Buffalo Springfield book for more!) followed by Kathy Trocoli's take on 'I Can Hear Music' (mainly because of Carl's counter harmony rather than anything she does). Bear it in mind though: that comparison is like finding yourself in the middle of a herd of lions and telling yourself which one you think will do least damage as it rips you to pieces - in no way was that anything approaching ther words 'recommendation'. A planned second volume, featuring even lesser known country-music 'legends', was quietly dropped - mainly on the advice of fans. However the band keep hinting that they'd lilke to revive the fornula one day - probably when the next pay cheque comes in short (there's certainly no artistic reason for ever releasing a duets album that I can see). Brian has in fact done just that on his new solo album in the works now, apparantly, featuring such vocal luminaries as, err, Zooey DeSchanel, which means I might have to update this book soon before it goes to print. Now if that wasn't an incentive to get this book made quickly I don't know what is...
"Pet Sounds Sessions"
(Capitol, November 4th 1997)
CD One: 'Pet Sounds' mixed in stereo/Sloop John B (Tracking Sessions and Backing Track)/Trombone Dixie (Tracking Sessions and Finished Version)/Pet Sounds (Tracking Sessions and Finished Version)/Let's Go Away For A While (Tracking Sessions and Finished Version)/Wouldn't It Be Nice? (Tracking Sessions, Backing Track and Backing Track With Harmony Vocals)/You Still Believe In Me (Intro Sessions and Finished version, plus Tracking Sessions and Backing Track)//
CD Two: Caroline, No (Tracking Sessions and Backing Track)/I Know There's An Answer (Tracking Sessions and Backing Track)/Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) (Piano Demo, Backing Track and Strings Overdub)/I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/That's Not Me (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/Good Vibrations (Tracking Sessions and Backing Track)/I'm Waiting For The Day (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/God Only Knows (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/Here Today (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (Vocal Snippet) (Un-credited)
CD Three: 'Pet Sounds' vocals only/Caroline, No Promo #1/Wouldn't It Be Nice? (Mono Mix)/You Still Believe In Me (Mono Mix)/Don't Talk (Vocal Sessions)/I'm Waiting For The Day (Mike sings lead)/Sloop John B (Carl sings lead)/God Only Knows (with unused saxophone solo)/Hang On To Your Ego/Here Today (Brian sings lead throughout)/I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (Mono Mix)/Dog Barking Sessions ('Banana and Louie' plus outtakes)/Caroline, No (Original Speed in stereo)/Caroline, No Promo #2/God Only Knows (with alternate ending)/Wouldn't It Be Nice? (Mono Mix)/Sloop John B (Brian sings lead throughout)/God Only Knows (Brian sings lead)/Caroline, No (original speed, mono)
"Alright, it's time to get Banana and Louie really wailing!"
Just missing the 30th anniversary of 'Pet Sounds' (legend has it the set was held up because Mike Love objected to the set booklet only ever talking about Brian, not the band), this set caused quite a stir when it came out. No other band had ever emptied their vaults in such a big way for an entire album and at four and a quarter hours it's more than eight times the length of the original album (give or take five minutes of 'Good Vibrations', which really shouldn't be here but is the highlight of the entire box - sadly plans to release a follow-up set dedicated to a whole four hours of 'Good Vibrations' came to naught). So how can so much space be used up? Well, disc one features the whole of the album mixed into stereo for the first time (Brian's slightly deaf in one ear and was always reluctant to mix Beach Boys albums into stereo - the band only start doing that after his post-'Smile' breakdown in 1967 and beyond). The second half of disc one and the whole of disc two are taken up by session tapes for all the album songs, plus 'Good Vibrations' and outtake 'Trombone Dixie' heard in truncated form before the 'final master' of each backing track is played out in full (which in the case of the three instrumentals simply means the versions we already know and love). Disc three then offers vocal mixes of the entire album (heard without the backing, apart from a bit of leakage from the band's headphones) plus a few not that different alternate mono mixes and some very different recording ideas for the album (usually with a different Beach Boy singing lead, although two different versions of 'God Only Knows' are fascinating: one with a sax solo in the middle and another with an a capella 'California Girls' style tag).
So does 'Pet Sounds' sound the better for it? Well, slightly. There are bits and pieces across this set that are genuinely revealing: Brian's lovely wordless piano demo for 'Don't Talk' for instance (presumably what he gave Tony Asher to set lyrics to), the string arrangement for the same song (a little cloying in the context of the album, but a thing of beauty when heard on it's own), the aborted attempts to get the right 'tack piano' notes for the intro of 'You Still Believe In Me' and the backing track for 'Caroline, No', heard at the proper speed at last and all the more mournful and better for it (Brian speeded the finished song up, at his dad's suggestion, to make him sound younger). There's another chance to hear 'Hang On To Your Ego', the first version of 'I Know There's An Answer' before the lyrics about self and importance got changed, heard back in its proper context as well as 'Pet Sounds' one bona fide outtake: the cute but strangely lopsided instrumental 'Trombone Dixie'. The third batch of 'Good Vibrations' takes (following on from the '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' box set and the 'Smiley Smile/Wild Honey' D re-issue) are also superlative: Brian could easily have made a whole album out of this one song, he had so many little brilliant ideas for it. The alternate versions, with various Beach Boys 'auditioning' for some of the songs (notably Brian 'failing' Carl singing 'Sloop John B' and failing himself on 'God Only Knows') prove what a good ear the elder Wilson had: all these alternate takes would have worked nicely but the finished versions are more 'right' somehow, even with taking the fact we know the finished versions better into account. The packaging is nice and about as informative as it can be for an album no one except Brian thought was particularly special: the photographs are a special treat. What's more there isn't really anything more Capitol could have done: while there is more in the vaults you get the sense that at three very full discs there isn't much more of this story that could possibl be told.
Best of all we also get our first glimpse at what a fully at home Brian Wilson sounded like in the studio: a hard yet fair taskmaster, with a clear idea of what he wants and the frustration when he comes so close to getting it; despite being all of 23, in a room without any of his brothers, friends and cousins (for the backing tracks at least - sadly there are no vocal session tapes except one short snippet from 'Don't Talk') Brian is always on the ball, brave enough to stand up to experienced musicians twice his age and yet ready for a quick joke and compliment too. He sounds like the perfect boss, in fact, with one eye on the clock but the other on 'team morale'. Along the way there are some fascinating snippets: Brian jokes with engineer Chuck Britz that 'he has his head in his hands again - I swear every time we do another session his hairline recedes a little more!') , completely messes up the piano intro of 'You Still Believe In Me', talks to the session crew about a 1959 comedy record 'how to speak hip' (no one has a clue what he's talking about!), tries to coax his dogs (with the memorable names 'Banana' and 'Louie') into barking on cue and
However, even after all this insight I really don't feel as if I 'know' this album any better. I know fans love it, that many babies of Beach Boy fanatical mums and dads have been conceived to it and that grown men wept at the chance to hear 'Pet Sounds' in stereo. But I still feel as if this is a party I don't belong to - that even after attending a longer party this time I still don't see what all the fuss is about (even in 1997 enough sections of 'Smile' had been released to make 'Pet Sounds' feel overblown and romanticised). A few of the pieces here undoubtedly shed new light onto 'Pet Sounds', some of the backing tracks show Brian's skills off at their finest and unlike The Beatles' 'Anthology' sets that had just come out there seemed to be the right mix of messing around with history and leaving things as they were (basically most of the 'silences' cut out, edited so well you'd never notice). But do we really need what by Beach Boys standards are some pretty basic vocal overdubs? (My theory on the reason Mike Love and co didn't like this album isn't the material but their lack of input, with less space for Beach Boys harmonies than any of their 60s records). Do we really need so many alternate mono mixes that you have to have dog's ears yourself to tell apart from the finished versions? And is the stereo mix really that different to the mono one? For my tastes 'Pet Sounds' has never been successfully mixed still: the backing and the voices seem to push each other down for some reason so that neither sound satisfactory together - despite all the critics tripping over themselves to praise the stereo mix in 1997 the actual 'finished mix' of the album doesn't sound any better. 'Pet Sounds' could have been a two-disc set with nothing important missing whatsoever and a really good single disc 'bonus' set had the band wished. Like the original 'Pet Sounds' this is a nice set with some intriguing moments, but the answer to life the universe and everything? It's still not that much of an improvement over 'Beach Boys Today' - and not in the same universe as 'Smile'.
(Capitol, August 11th 1998)
Soulful Old Man Sunshine (Demo Extract and Finished Version)*/Promo #1*/Hits Medley (Live 1966)*/Surfer Girl (Binaural Mix)/Help Me, Rhonda (Alternate Version)*/Kiss Me Baby (Alt Mix)/California Girls (Alt Mix)/Good Vibrations (Live In London 1968)/Heroes and Villains-I'm In Great Shape-Barnyard (Demo)*/Heroes and Villains (Live 1973)*/God Only Knows (Rehearsal 1967)*/Promo #2*/Darlin' (Live At Knebworth 1980)/Wonderful-Don't Worry Bill (Live Carnegie Hall 1972)*/Do It Again (Early Version)*/Break Away (Demo)*/Sail Plane Song aka Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' In Aeroplane)(Demo and Finished Version)*/Barbara*/Til' I Die (Alt Mix)/Long Promised Road (Live Carnegie Hall 1972)*/All Alone*/Brian Is Back*/Endless Harmony
"We'd like to show you how the Beach Boys go about making a record. First you record some low-quality demos, then you record some outtakes, then you plug the songs via endless versions in concert and then you put the whole lot together 30 years later and turn it into a rarities set!"
Like many rarities sets 'Endless Harmony' manages to get some things impressively spot-on and amazingly wrong. The '30 Years' box set had opened fans' eyes as to how many wonderful unreleased recordings there were in the archives (around 40); this set (released to tie in with the film documentary of the same name, although only about half a dozen of the songs were used in it) was therefore extremely exciting at the time. The result is an album as patchy as any outtakes or rarities set you'll find, with six truly essential how-dare-they-not-release-something-this-good-at-the-time recordings, 18 bits of filler of varying degrees of interest and a recycling of an autobiographical Bruce Johnston song from 1980's 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' that the press loved making out was a 'lost' song amongst fans (seriously guys, it was lost because we meant it that way).
Fears that albums with as much filler as '20/20' couldn't possibly have any half-decent outtakes are expelled straight away when 'Soulful Old Man Sunshine' blooms out of the speakers. Even by Beach Boys standards the vocals on this track are knock-outs (both Carl's lead and the block harmonies) and the song is typically Brian Wilson (along with co-writer Rick Henn from 'Three Dog Night') - gloriously uplifting escapism made during a very sad time in his life. How on earth was something this good left on the cutting room floor at a time when the band needed material so badly (it's exactly the sort of thing Mike was always getting Brian to write). A 'songwriting session' (it's too grand to call this fragment a 'demo') reveals just how proud Brian was of this song too, having a whale of a time navigating it's jazzy chords. Elsewhere the much-mentioned 'Flip Flop Flyin' In An Aereoplane' finally saw the light of day, after near-releases on 'Sunflower' and 'Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys' (where it became 'Santa's Got An Airplane'). Al Jardine's 'new' vocal made especially for this compilation is lovely and the song a lot of fun, although it's Brian's understated demo (complete with plane sound effects) that really takes flight! The 'Heroes and Villains' demo with Brian at the piano and Van Dyke doing barnyard impressions (!) is truly remarkable, the song see-sawing its way naturally into 'I'm In Great Shape' and 'Barnyard', giving 'Smile' fans pause for breath (were both these passages originally part of 'Heroes and Villains'? That's not the way Brian re-arranged them in 2004 however!) The glorious alternate mix of 'Til I Die', meanwhile, makes one of the band's greatest and most powerful songs even better, with engineer Steve Desper working on his own 'unofficial' version never intended for release but which should have come out in 1971: the whole song loops round, instrument by instrument, before going back to the beginning for a near enough a capella performance, turning a 2-and-a-half minute burst of tragedy into a full on five minute epic.
Best of all, however, is that 'Endless Harmony' single-handedly rescued Dennis Wilson's reputation. There are two fully solo tracks amongst the mix here, one from 1971 and another from 'Bambu' in 1978: both are amongst the best things the drummer ever made. 'Barbara' is just Dennis and a piano (played by Daryl Dragon, the 'Captain' half of 'And Tennille') pouring out his heart to his second wife in a hurried demo session taped at Brian's house. Even without the strings intended for the song (a la 'Cuddle Up' and 'Make It Good') this piece is exquisite, with a haunting melody and a lyric and vocal so direct and powerful; it's author understandably went off 'Barbara' the song when we went off 'Barbara' the wife but someone should have told him to put this out: it would have made 'Surf's Up' the classic everyone thinks it is. The later 'All Alone' is ever so nearly as good: a Carl Munoz cover, this track is as much of an emotional rollercoaster as the rest of 'Bambu'. Dennis now harsh, rasping lived in voice is perfect for this spooky song of regret, madness and vulnerability: if you can hear the opening 'If I could live my life again...' without shivers down your spine then you've got your stereo on too high and your central heating too warm. In truth the 'Endless Harmony' set is worth owning for all the six songs above alone and we placed this set at #3 in our 'best collections of AAA outtakes ever' in a 'News, Views and Music newsletter top five' for a reason: these songs aren't just good, they're up there with anything the Beach Boys put out on their 28 albums, a powerful reminder of just what a moving band they can be at their best.
Elsewhere we get the same old 'remixes' pretending to be 'rarities'; to be fair The Beach Boys have more excuse than most, given how reluctant Brian Wilson was to remix the band's work into stereo. However none of the 'binaural' mixes here really add much, whatever the otherwise excellent sleevenotes get carried away in believing. Similarly, while all of the live material is indeed unreleased, most of it doesn't sound that different to the live recordings we already owned several times over; of the six here the only one that's at all interesting is a 1972 Carnegie Hall medley of Smile's 'Wonderful' and 'Don't Worry Bill' - a song from the one and only 'Flame' record performed by The Beach Boys in q unique hybrid (to be honest though almost any other song off that album would have been both a better song and a better fit). There are also alternate versions (not demos as the track orders suggest) for 'Do It Again' and Break Away' which are interesting (the former has slightly altered lyrics - 'surf again' instead of 'it' for instance and the latter has Brian singing throughout) but not really that different enough to deserve all the hoo-hah. The set then ends with two of the worst Beach Boys songs in existence: 'Endless Harmony' we already covered in our review of 'Summer Alive' - quite why anyone would want to resurrect this song is beyond me as even the seemingly suitable end-credits music aren't at all accurate when you analyse them ('endless harmony'? The Beach Boys saga is one of fallings out and reunions as you've no doubt seen if you've got this far with the book). As for 'Brian Is Back' this 1976 '15 Big Ones' era Mike Love 'song' was hastily abandoned when it became clear that the song and idea came before the events and that Brian was further away from health than ever. The lyrics are trite and appalling, the melody non-existent and the false emotion in the song abysmal ('In my heart he's always been around' says the one man with the power to step in and saved 'Smile' and Brian with a comforting word or three). To think that was pack of lies was written not just by a colleague but by Brian 's own cousin is very sad and makes this arguably the worst recording in the Beach Boys' back catalogue.
So there you have it: a real mixture of the great and the ghastly. What I don't understand now is, coming to this album with another 16 years' worth of archive releases, why the band didn't simply release all the best 'totally' unreleased songs together: rounding up 'California Feelin' 'Lady', heck everything that's of interest on both 'Hawthorne CA' and 'Made In California'. Putting all these songs in one place would have earned the band less money, of course, but boy would it have restored the band's critical reputation once more - and that, surely, would have brought in more money over time anyway? 'Endless Harmony' is, like its parent documentary, cautiously recommended, a curate's egg of Beach Boys that's both the single best and the single worst releases they ever made.
Mike Love, David Marks and Bruce Johnston: "Salute NASCAR"
(M.E.L.E. Co, '1998')
I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe/Little Old Lady From Pasadena/409/Shut Down/Little GTO/Ballad Of Ole' Betsy/Little Honda/Fun Fun Fun/Don't Worry Baby
"As you've probably figured out by now, cool cars and hot fun at the beach have always been close to my heart"
Don't worry if you've never come across this rare-as-sunny-days-on-a-Northern-English-Beach cassette - I'd never heard of it either until I got properly into research for this book. To some extent I can see why fans have done their best to wipe it from their minds: by now the Beach Boys are down to just three (Mike, Bruce and a returning Dave) along with 'special guest' Dean Torrence and their once prestigious releases are now reduced to whatever gigs they can get: in this case ten re-recordings of old Beach Boys songs (and a couple of Jan and Dean ones) for release in garages as an exclusive advertising the new 'NASCAR' season. The entire exercise adds up to just 25 minutes - short even for a Beach Boys record of the 1960s. While I get the Beach Boys-car link, I can't be the only fan who found this linkup extremely wrong: Nascar is about firepower, bravery and being macho; the Beach Boys are about being laidback and spiritual and the only cars they drive are for 'fun fun fun', not smash competitors out the way while going round and round a loop (seriously, guys, you gave up formula one for a circuit that's shaped like an oval?!) What's odder is that instead of , say, simply re-recording the 'Little Deuce Coupe' album and sticking to 'car' songs the band throw in a few oddities: presumably 'The Little Old Lady From Pasadena' is on a motorised mobility scooter!
To be fair, though, this cassette was better than I feared it might be. To take the songs in order 'I Get Around' is fiery enough, with a stinging Dave Marks lead guitar part that actually beats what Carl played on the record. 'Little Deuce Coupe' is a bit ropier and the modern technology unwelcome but the band sing with more revelry and respect than they did on 'Beach Boys Party' at least. 'The Little Old Lady From Pasadena' has aged another 34 years since her last appearance on 'Beach Boys Concert' but it's fun to hear a hybrid of that and Jan and Dean's original (Dean doing the falsetto, Mike the lead). '409' fares the worst: the strain and age on Mike's voice is most obvious here and the artificial drums are appalling, although another fine and fitting Marks guitar solo prevents a total car crash. All I can say is: thank goodness 'Long Tall Texan' and 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow' aren't here as well! 'Shut Down' simply sounds dull - it was never the greatest Love-Wilson record of all time and the synthesised backing robs it of even the little firepower it once had. 'Little GTO' is a nice addition to the canon though: the song was first recorded by Ronny and the Daytonas, a Beach Boys clone from 1964. It's nice to hear the band getting their own back on a harmony-drenched finger-snapper that could easily have been one of their own. Slow but reflective ballad 'Ole Betsy' is on her last legs and leaking oil though: the band have chosen to make it even slower and more tear-jerking, which simply doesn't work: this should be an understated song about how close men and their motors can get - not a full-blown tearjerker complete with a blues harmonica! 'Little Honda' is much more fun - the modern Beach Boys are much better on uptempo numbers - with Mike on top form, loads more sound effects and Dave even sings on a Beach Boys record for the first time (singing 'faster!' where Dennis once did!) 'Fun Fun Fun' improves on the horrid 'Status Quo' duet version but doesn't do itself many other favours: the harmonies are at their ropiest here. And finally The Beach Boys' most famous B-side 'Don't Worry Baby' beats all odds to end the album with style, with Dean doing a great job filling in for old pal Brian with Bruce finally audible on the backing vocals.
All in all, this is a nice little curio to have if you are lucky enough to own it and if you see a copy cheap then go for it (it's better spending money on Nascar tickets, whatever the bumf the band give us during their clichéd opening remarks on this album!) However don't worry if you can't seem to get a hold of this one: it's not really essential to the Beach Boys story at all and only 'Little GTO' is really worth tracking it down for. Thankfully the next - and last - Beach Boys studio album on this list will be a bigger and much more important affair (although note that I haven't actually used the word 'better'...)
Brian Wilson: "Imagination"
(Giant Records, June 16th 1998)
Your Imagination/She Says That She Needs Me/South American/Where Has Love Been?/Keep An Eye On Summer/Dream Angel/Cry/Lay Down Burden/Let Him Run Wild/Sunshine/Happy Days
"Happy days are here again...briefly"
Brian Wilson studio solo album number two is a curious beast. Unlike the first impressively consistent set from a decade earlier, 'Imagination' is an album of real peaks and troughs, including at times the best music from any of the Beach Boys since at least 1979 and at others even less invention or talent than the band's increasingly pedestrian efforts. Sometimes the two extremes even occur in the same song, as on the alternately trite and overpoweringly resonant closer 'Happy Day's. Not for the first or last time Brian fell short on material and with a deadline looming had to fall back on 'filler' material to go alongside his carefully wrought music; the good news is that he decided to re-record to of his lesser known Beach Boys 1960s works - the bad news is that this simply revealed how much the 1998-vintage Brian's voice was shot and how much trouble the heavy album production and trickery had gone to hiding it. Still, for all that, 'Imagination' might well be my favourite of Brian's solo records after the re-made 'Smile' - unlike his other records this album is never afraid to take risks and even when it falls flat on it's face it's generally for attempting something that's difficult to pull off.
'Imagination' was clearly an emotional album of 'hellos' and 'goodbyes' too. Since his last appearance in this book Brian has got married again (to second wife Melinda in 1995), adopted twin daughters Daria Rose and Delanie Rae, freed himself from the grip of Dr Eugene Landy and has even got his own solo fan-club and website (I could be wrong but I'm fairly sure this CD was the first one I ever bought with a web address on it; not that that helped me much as in my village in 1998 the internet was still a magic trick that only big cities got to experience). The Brian on this record sounds a lot more confident and a lot less awkward than the one on the debut record and this album is much more 'Briansy' if you know what I mean - he may have had help from Joe Thomas in producing and arranging this record but you can tell the vast majority of the ideas in it must be Wilson's. However the pain is still very much on the surface at times on this record: even the recordings made when Brian was breaking up with first wife Marilyn weren't quite as naked and brutal as these songs (particularly the astonishing 'Cry', the album highlight and the best thing to come out of Brian's career so far: short bursts of overpowering sudden emotion from a man suddenly struck dumb by guilt over something he thought was all in the past). Carl Wilson was ailing fast from throat cancer while the album was being made and died in February, four months before release. We all knew 'Lay Down Burden' was written for Carl, even though Brian didn't admit as much until performing it in concert with The Wondermints four years later - the dedication of the album ('in loving memory to my brother Carl') is a nice touch too (it's more than any of the band did for Dennis when he passed away).
The big farewell, though, is to The Beach Boys. While the 1988 era Brian was kept away from the band through Dr Landy's insistence and BRian only went back in 1989 on the understanding that he would deliver his songs for 'Still Cruisin' separately, this time he's a free man choosing not to be with the band out of choice. At times that's the greatest thing about this record: Brian sounds free to re-invent himself however he chooses and on some songs such as the title track his decision not to replace the band but simply to record all the vocal parts himself over and over is a real display of confidence; a tour de force of willpower, strength and ideas. This record is also a big improvement on the last official Beach Boys album 'Summer In Paradise' - this album is so fresh, whereas even the best on that record (and there are some nice moments, however much its' derided) sounded recycled. At other times, though, you end up wondering what the band might have done with this album had they been all together: especially on the band re-recordings 'Keep An Eye On Summer' and 'Let Him Run Wild', which comparatively speaking don't have anywhere near the grace and fizz of old when the group were working as one. Brian also reclaims a couple of unused Beach Boys track for himself too and what he does with both of them is very interesting. The first draft of 'She Says That She Needs Me' recorded in 1965 (and released as 'Sherry She Needs Me' on the 'Made In California' box set) is lush, loping near-instrumental that put its heartbreak into music; the 1998 version features a modern production and a sensitive lyric that's about the best the Wilson and Paley pair came up with. Also the 'happy' half of the track 'Happy Days' started out life as the unreleased 'My Solution' in 1970, the tail end of Brian's happy-go-lucky period (probably left unreleased as it was becoming clear even by the 'Sunflower' sessions that those happy times wouldn't last). Then it was a cute and playful song about having fun; on this album it's the brief light at the end of a very dark tunnel, with the most direct and haunting lyrics about Brian's dark bed-bound period since 'Til' I Die'.
The album is full of lots of ups and downs like that one. 'Imagination' tries so hard to be the commercial, upbeat, positive album the 1998 vintage Brian wants to make for his fans, his record company and himself: an album that shows him as a survivor who can teach us how to survive too. Some of the songs in this mould work really well: the title track is nicely catchy, 'South American' is a fine re-setting of the old Beach Boys default sound with a few twists thrown in and 'Dream Angel' might be a generic pop song by Brian's standards, but that still makes it a better generic pop song than pretty much anything anyone else from the 1960s was still writing in 1998. The thing is, though, the awkward, delicate and fragile Brian keeps popping up to air his demons. 'Cry' is a killer song so powerful you half want to cry along with yourself. 'She Says That She Needs Me' is the cruellest I-don't-want-to-part-but-I-have-to song that struggles so hard throughout to give us a happy ending that never comes. 'Lay Down Burden' bitterly regrets all the 'lost' years that kept Brian away - from his family, his friends, his brothers and us, his listeners. 'Sunshine' is two minutes of dippy daffy reggae in the sun and 90 seconds of pure unrestricted melancholia which still takes me by surprise now, even after knowing this album so well across 16 years. Finally 'Happy Days' might be named after the all too brief ending but in truth it's a turbulent song, all distorted notes angular shapes and demons to grab us in the dark. Yes 'Brian Wilson' tackled the odd theme like this too, but only in an obscure way (as on 'Rio Grande') and with the upbeat message of 'Love and Mercy' to make up for the past; this album is almost a confessional by comparison, the album used instead of the pulpit. Ultimately 'Imagination' is an album that truly does find Brian back to something approaching full strength - which after what he went through is nothing short of astonishing - but it's not the upbeat parts of the album that Brian went through to please 'Giant Records' but the moments he bears his soul that make his light shine that little stronger. Thankfully for Brian (if sadly for us, creatively speaking), the demons get fewer and the bright spots get brighter as his solo career goes on, up to the point where the elder Wilson is making Christmas carols and Disney covers sound like the most natural thing in the world.
To take the album in order, 'Imagination' is a strong opening track that answers the question 'gee, what would the Beach Boys sound like if they were still going in 1998?' The answer is every bit as catchy and yet deep as they always used to be, just with more modern technology. The song opens with Brian imagining he's back in the 1960s, 'another car running fast, another trip to the beach', but eventually turns into a hymn to the imagination and the muse who inspires him - possibly the same thing, with this song a sort of less trippy version of the 'Mount Vernon and Fairway EP'.
'She Says That She Needs Me' is a 1965 vintage song refitted and re-arranged to sound less like one of Brian's moody instrumentals and more like a pop song. The lyrics (by Brian, Russ Titelman and Carole Bayer Sager) still cut deeper than expected, however, on a song about having to say goodbye when you don't want to. The highlight are some exquisitely arranged clarinets and flutes by Paul Mertens (a future member of the Wondermints) that prove Brian hasn't lost any of his arranging genius.
'South American' is an interesting track and my verdict is still out on how successful it is. Brian starts the song getting a letter from a 'long lost cousin' (Mike?) in South America, whose land seems so far away and exotic the narrator gets quite carried away as he accepts an invitation to meet up (memorably imagining himself 'doing lunch with Cameron Diaz'!) The Brazilian style backing track is unusual, but the sudden switch to a soaring round of harmonies and a 'de-de-de-de' chorus is pure 1960s Beach Boys.
'Where Has Love Been?' is an awful song, though, a drippy ballad about being out of love that sounds clichéd and saccharine after the similar 'She Says That She Needs Me'. This song was co-written by Wilson and Paley with J D Souther - once part of the 'Souther-Hillman-Furay' band we'll be covering on both our 'Buffalo Springfield' and 'Byrds' books.
The re-recording of 'Keep An Eye On Summer' is welcome in as much as this forgotten song from 'Shut Down Volume Two' deserves re-appraisal and is better than sitting through yet another version of 'California Girls' et al. However this slow and rather dreary version simply show up how much The Beach Boys' harmonies brightened up the original recording. The CD also manages to miss-spell Brian's early co-writer Bob Norberg as 'Bob Norman' - this lack of attention to detail rather sums up what could have been a nice recording!
'Dream Angel' is what we call on our site a 'nearly' song. There's a neat hook, a sweet melody and a few interesting things going on (a sudden key change on the second verse for instance), but somehow this track never really gets going. The idea of a loved one being a 'dream angel' is the single most unoriginal idea on the album and after the song reaches the end of the chorus, that's it -we simple cycle back round again without anywhere new to go.
Thank goodness for 'Cry'. You won't have read it yet - that bit comes later in this book, unless you did what I always do and started reading backwards - but this was one of my 'top 101 AAA songs' picks for a website article. Unusually arranged 'Cry' is less of a song and more of a breakdown set to music, each of Brian's wordless 'aaahs' sounding like the sound you make when you do cry and the song is structured so that each burst comes unexpectedly in sudden bursts of melancholia. The words may be simple but they pack a powerful punch too - and never has 'so alone!' sounded quite as isolated and frightened as here. Turn up the fade of the song as loud as you can without hurting your ears too for a few surprises: about four passes of rattled percussion that gives the listener a breather before the second half of the album begins. The clear album highlight.
'Lay Down Burden' is another lovely song, more traditional than the last track and sounding as if Brian was trying to write something similar to his 'hit' (in the sense that fans picked up on it) 'Love and Mercy' from his first album. A tale of goodbye and sorry that came too late, it's almost unbearably moving lyrically ('Too much emotion, a hole in my heart' go the lyrics and they're not far wrong!) but held in check by a grand, stately melody that just about holds itself together.
The re-recording of 'Let Him Run Wild' is a lot more successful than 'Summer' as this inventive and ahead-of-its-time song is more suited to the modern production and adventurous ideas. I've always been a fan of this B-side which manages to both sound like everything else around in 1965 and sound way ahead of everything; the perfect foil for A-side 'California Girls' in fact. However this re-recording is still not a patch on the original, really missing the full Beach Boys sound, while Brian's one lone single-tracked vocal on the album reveals how thin his voice has got over time.
'Sunshine' is awful all round. Someone really should have told Brian that he's already recorded a reggae song called 'Sunshine' on the 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' album and that it was one of the band's biggest disasters; this solo one isn't quite that bad but it still doesn't have a lot going for it - only the sudden unexpected melancholy tag ('Baby, don't be afraid to call...') pleases the ear and really it's just an easy way out for a song that doesn't know how to finish itself (this bit would have made a much better basis for a song in fact).
Finally, 'Happy Days' is a five minute epic, starting with 'baby music' (Brian added it for his newly adopted children according to a documentary!), going through synthesiser-simulated hell and ending up back full circle, at the innocent, hopeful pop we started this book with. This song has lots of good ideas: the sudden turn downwards with each line is really un Beach Boys-like (even as sad a song as 'Til' I Die' reaches for the stars at the end), the mumbled spoken word just out of ear shot is deeply disturbing (signifying the demons whispering to Brian perhaps?) and the harmonies powerful even by Brian Wilson standards. If only we didn't have to have that corny ending about 'happy days are here again' though ('Everyone I talk to says 'man, you're looking cool!')- even though in truth there's nothing I'd have wished more for one of the greatest writers the world has ever known. Thankfully the song proved to be accurate: happy days were indeed here again for Brian and of his later work only the unfinished recordings from 'Smile' come close to matching this song - and a lot of this album - for sheer unbridled intensity. All in all, a fascinating - if flawed - work.
Greatest Hits Volume One: 20 Good Vibrations
(Capitol, September 21st 1999)
Surfin' Safari/409/Surfin' USA/Shut Down/Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe/Catch A Wave/Be True To Your School/Fun Fun Fun/I Get Around/Dance Dance Dance/Do You Wanna Dance?/Help Me, Rhonda/California Girls/Barbara Ann/Sloop John B/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/God Only Knows/Good Vibrations/Kokomo
Capitol's second batch of CD era compilations were divided into three: basically the 1960s hits, the 1960s album tracks(released on the same day) and the 1970s (released a year later). On the plus side this compilation offers a full 20 songs which includes almost every top ten hit the Beach Boys had in America up to and including 'Good Vibrations'- only poor abandoned 'When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)' is missing despite scoring as high as #9 in late 1964. Best of all, this set includes everything in the right chronological order - you see, it wasn't so hard after all, was it?! On the down side there's no room for favourite album tracks and B sides so there's no 'Don't Worry Baby' or 'In My Room', two flips generally considered to be as worthy as any of the A sides - although weirdly '409' and 'Catch A Wave' both survived the cull. The compilation also ends sharply in 1966, just as the band are creatively taking off even if commercially they're on the wane. The result is that the sudden jump from 'Good Vibrations' (a #1 hit in 1966) and 'Kokomo' (a #1 hit in 1988) truly takes you from the sublime to the ridiculous. Also, what's with the weird retro packaging, which seems to have simply cut-and-pasted some random clipart (erm, no comment then really given what we've done in this book but still - the girl and the tyre I get, but what's the significance of the orange? Is thisis a (very) subtle reference to the Californian orange groves? Or an even more obscure reference to Brian and Van Dyke Park's 'Orange Crate Art'?!?!) Ah well, not a bad one-shop stop for newcomers curious what all the fuss is all about.
Greatest Hits Volume Two: 20 More Good Vibrations
(Capitol, September 21st 1990)
In My Room/Warmth Of The Sun/Don't Worry Baby/All Summer Long/Wendy/Little Honda/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/Please Let Me Wonder/You're So Good To Me/The Little Girl I Once Knew//Caroline, No/Heroes and Villains/Wild Honey/Darlin'/Friends/Do It Again/Bluebirds Over The Mountain/I Can Hear Music/Break Away/Cottonfields
Personally, I much prefer this second volume which contains more of the late 1960s material (which were hits in Europe but flopped in America) and a lot of the better album tracks from early on in the Beach Boys' run. I'm still curious as to why some of these songs are here though - 'Wendy' was hardly the best song on the 'All Summer Long' LP, never mind in the top 40 Beach Boys tracks on Capitol and 'Bluebirds Over The Mountain' is arguably a rescued flop single too far, although the set does make up for it by including such comparatively rare gems as 'The Little Girl I Once Knew' (which only made #20 in 1965 at the peak of the band's fame) and 'Little Honda' (Planned as a single until the band came up with 'I Get Around' - it was still released in some countries though, including Sweden where it hit #1!)Once again, my biggest gripe is with the cover: the surfing I get, but the wings?! And why is the border made up of oranges again (was the layout artist at Capitol dreaming of his lunch when he sketched these designs?!)
Greatest Hits Volume Three: Best Of The Brother Years
(Capitol, February 1st 2000)
Add Some Music To Your Day/Susie Cincinatti/This Whole World/Long Promised Road/Disney Girls/Til' I Die/Surf's Up/Marcella/Sail On Sailor/The Trader/California Saga: California/Rock and Roll Music/It's OK/Honkin' Down The Highway/Peggy Sue/Good Timin'/Goin' On/Come Go With Me/Getcha Back/California Dreamin'
Alas volume three wasn't quite up to the same standard, re-issuing many substandard songs from the 1976-85 years ('It's OK' 'Honkin' Down The Highway' 'Peggy Sue') instead of the true gems of that period ('For Once In My Life' 'Roller Skating Child' 'Baby Blue' 'Angel Comes Home' 'Santa Ana Winds' etc). To be fair, it's wonderful to have a compilation from the troubled Warner Brothers years at all - Capitol could have taken the easy way out and simply issued a 'volume three' from the golden 1960s years instead. The set is also spot-on whilst covering the early 19760s albums, with more or less the best songs from 'Sunflower' 'Surf's Up' 'So Tough' and 'Holland' intact; it's just a shame that this fine grasp of the loved album tracks over the flop singles goes so wrong near the end. Personally I think Capitol should have bought up the rights to the 'Ten Years Of Harmony' compilation and out that out on CD instead - that double record set had already got the best of this decade pretty much covered. At least the packaging is the best of the trio, though, with the 'Brother Records' logo (a pioneer with arms outstretched) looking over a distinctly Californian-looking beach while the sun sets (and not an orange in sight!)
Brian Wilson: "Live At The Roxy"
(Brimel Records, Recorded April 7-8th 2000, Released June 2000)
'Little Girl'Intro/The Little Girl I Once Knew/This Whole World/Don't Worry Baby/Kiss Me Baby/Do It Again/California Girls/I Get Around/Back Home/In My Room/Surfer Girl/The First Time/This Isn't Love/Add Some Music To Your Day/Please Let Me Wonder//Band Intro/'Brian Wilson'/Til' I Die/Darlin'/Let's Go Away For A While/Pet Sounds/God Only Knows/Lay Down Burden/Be My Baby/Good Vibrations/Caroline, No/All Summer Long/Love and Mercy/Sloop John B/Barbara Ann/Interview
"If you want me I'll be in my sandbox"
Who'd have thought, even twenty years ago, that touring would have been the thing that saved Brian Wilson? The chance to actually hear audiences fall over themselves praising his music seems to have been a bigger tonic for Brian than any therapy or psychotherapist and backing band The Wondermints are the best thing to have happened to the eldest Wilson since at least Van Dyke Parks. Thankfully Brian's return to the live arena is well documented, with this collection of highlights from the first two shows finding both band and singer on fine form. Arguably too, even though the Wondermints are impressively brave enough to try out a lot of new material from tour to tour, the balance between crowd favourite singalongs and complex obscure Beach Boy classics we never thought we'd get to see on stage is at its best here. While far less ambitious than the 'Pet Sounds' and 'Smile' concerts, this is a welcome chance to hear work from all eras of Brian's work side by side and all sound marvellous here: even songs like 'Back Home' and the two 'Pet Sounds' instrumentals that never particularly rocked my boat before are more than sea-worthy here. Above all this set doesn't take the easy way out: fancy starting not with any of the dozens of top ten hits but 'The Little Girl I Once Knew' - the band's biggest flop pre-1967, while there are some lovely even more obscure album tracks too, all sounding gorgeous: 'Please Let Me Wonder' 'Add Some Music To Your Day' and 'This Whole World', Brian Wilson gems all three. There's also two songs from Brian's solo years to date and arguably they're two out of three of the best ones: 'Love and Mercy' and 'Lay Down Burden' (movingly dedicated Carl).
Fans also have the benefit of three songs exclusive(more or less)-to-this-release: the cover of one of Brian's favourite songs, the Phil Spector produced 'Be My Baby' seems long overdue and something of an anticlimax after so many years of haring Brian talk about making it; similarly the long awaited return to work with lyricist Tony Asher (the first since 'Pet Sounds') on 'This Isn't Love' is by far the weakest song here (Brian proudly tells his fans 'this got put into a movie!' - what he doesn't tell the crowd is that the movie is unwatchable Flintstones live action sequel 'Live In Rock Vegas' and is sung not by Brian but by actor John Goodman). However the third may well be the best thing on the whole record: 'The First Time' is a song still officially unreleased that would have been the best thing from the Beach Boys unmade 1977 album 'Adult Child'; freed of its big band trappings this sensitive reading more than beats the original.
So why isn't this record one of our all time core must-have rave favourites? There are sadly two reasons. One is that Brian is an unnatural rock star - his remarks to the crowd are stilted and uncomfortable (no surprise, really, given that his last full gig was in 1980 and that came with far less responsibility than here) and having seen some of these shows the fact that Brian is stuck for two full songs in the second half with nothing to do but wave his arms ('Let's Go Away For A While' and 'Pet Sounds') only underlines how small his role onstage now is. The other is the decision to start disc two and the second set without Brian on stage and the others singing an 'affectionate tribute to him: 'Brian Wilson', a song written by and first recorded by The Barenaked Ladies. The band try to re-work the song to lose the bite but the lyrics are still a surprisingly sharp reminder of bad old days in the middle of such an outpouring of warm emotion from band and crowd ('You know I'm lying in bed like Brian Wilson did....staring at the ceiling tiles, relistening and relistening to 'Smiley Smile', is this some kind of creative drought?' It's like that moment when crazy uncle Edgar turns up to your surprise birthday party and insists on getting out the baby photos just when you were having a good time surrounded by nearest and dearest.
Still, that's what skip buttons were invented for and luckily this moment comes at the beginning of side two - leaving you with a particularly haunting 'Til' I Die' instead, which is brave and powerful and heartfelt and moving - everything that wretched song isn't. Even with some lesser moments 'Live At The Roxy' is still a much loved album, the moment when more than any other our beloved Brian came back to us and it may well be the best Beach Boys live album on the market, with just the right mix of standards and obscure gems. At the time this album seemed like a wonderful one-off, a chance to hear Brian at last hearing the applause he should have been hearing since 1964; the good news is that Brian has been on many more tours since and some of them (like the 'Smile' one) are better still. All great artists deserve a Wondermints, a band talented enough to play anything from their back catalogue with love, affection and patience; and just the songs on this album alone prove why Brian Wilson deserves a great band more than most.
(Capitol, May 22nd, 2001)
CD One: Intro Surfin'*/'Surfin'Rehearsal/Happy Birthday Four Freshman/Mike Chat*/Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring/Surfin' U.S.A.(demo)*/Surfin' U.S.A. (Backing Track)/Radio promo #1*/Shut Down (Live 1965)*/Little Deuce Coupe (Demo)*/Murry Wilson Chat*/Fun Fun Fun (Backing Track)/'Brian's Message To Rog'/Dance Dance Dance (Alt Mix)/Kiss Me Baby (Vocals Mix)/Good To My Baby (Backing Track)/Chuck Britz Chat/Salt Lake City (Tracking Sessions* and Remix)/Wish That He Could Say (Tracking Sessions)*/And Your Dreams Come True (Remix)/'Carol K' (Tracking Session)*/The Little Girl I Once Knew (Alternate Version)*/ Barbara Ann Intro/Barbara Ann (Tracking Session* and Finished Version without overdubs)/Mike Chat/Devoted To You (Without Overdubs)/Dennis Chat over 'In The Back Of My Mind'/Can't Wait Too Long (Un-credited)
CD Two: Dennis Chat/Good Vibrations (Tracking Session* and Rehearsal)/Heroes and Villains (Stereo Mix)/Vege-tables (Promo)*/With Me Tonight (Alternate Version)*/Lonely Days*/ Bruce Chat/Let The Wind Blow (Remix)/I Went To Sleep (Vocals Mix)/Time To Get Alone (Alternate Version)*/Band Chat/A Time To Live In Dreams*/Be With Me (Backing Track)*/Cottonfields Intro/Cottonfields (Stereo Mix)/Break Away (Intro)/Break Away (Alternate Version)/Add Some Music To Your Day (Vocals Mix)/Band on Dennis/Forever (Vocals Mix)/Sail On Sailor (Backing Track)*/Old Man River (Vocal Sessions)Band On Carl/The Lord's Prayer (Stereo Mix)/Coda
"Hey Rog, this is Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. I just thought I'd leave you a goofy message saying thanks for playing all our songs on the radio because one day outtakes from it can be included on a compilation CD and I can feel a right 'nana!"
This second set of rarities isn't quite up to the standard of the first - despite being twice as long it suffers from about ten times as much filler. That's a shame because, while nothing here is quite as high as any of the highs on 'Endless Harmony', a lot of these recordings are far too god to have missed out on being released as part of both that set, the first box set and all the CD re-issue series: the demos for 'Surfin' USA' and 'Little Deuce Coupe' are terrific, played by Brian with the fire and excitement of creativity still in his voice - the bedrock for the Beach Boys sounds falling into place before our ears. Like 'Endless Harmony' Dennis is once again the star here, benefitting from a lovely 'vocals only' mix of his gorgeous 'Forever', the eerie backing track to his under-rated song 'Be With Me' and an unreleased 90 second demo 'A Time To Live In Dreams' that, with a few additions in the recording process, could easily have been right up there with Dennis' best. There's also a chance to hear two of the three best songs from 'Beach Boys Party' with the later overdubs removed: the result is the world's first unplugged album, with the band busking their way through two cover songs so well it's rather a shame that someone had to come up with the 'party' atmosphere shenanigans. There's also some fun outtakes of an increasingly hysterical Brian Wilson trying to thank friend and co-writer Roger Christian for his help with the album: engineer Chuck Britz finds Brian's 22 attempts to get his short script right hilarious after so many years of watching Brian mercilessly mock session musicians for getting a single note wrong!
That little lot would have made a fine addition to 'Endless Harmony' instead of the 'binaural mixes' on that album or on either of the two box sets; however as the bedrock for a whole new double disc hour-and-three-quarters rarities compilation it's a little flimsy. Capitol chose to take the 'Beatles Anthology' route of filling out the albums to meagre success: backing tracks, vocal only mixes, 'new' mixes and worst of all 'chat' from the band about either a song or a band-mate that really jars when you play the album frequently (The Beatles intended to make all their 'Anthology' sets like this but sensibly cut them from volumes two and three when fans asked them kindly - and sometimes unkindly - to stick to music). The chance to hear backing tracks shorn of vocals is always a fascinating one and The Beach Boys' backing tracks are more interesting than most: they tend to be more complex than anyone else's and sound like entirely different songs. Some of the 'a capella' vocal mixes are intriguing too: 'Add Some Music To Your Days' really resonates with the band's complex six-part harmonies really shining through. However most of the rest just sounds pointless: do we really need the stereo mixes for 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Cottonfields' again on CD, here with Capitol 'pretending' that we're getting something rare? (Most compilations use the exact same mixes). Teasing the listener with something brilliant (such as yet another mix of the classy outtakes 'Can't Wait Too Long' - here as a 30 second piece behind some more inane band chat - is like doodling on the Mona Lisa and then putting her fizzog on the front of an art catalogue). Even the liner notes seem flimsier than before, when 'Endless Harmony' at least gave us lots of pictures and fascinating information (even if a lot of it - such as a list of every instrument played on 'Flip Flop Flying' - we didn't really need). What I don't understand is: we know now, after 2012, that there was at least another hour's worth of terrific unreleased material in the vaults - all of it unheard and not just backing tracks, vocal mixes or whatever. So why not take the best 20 minutes from this set, pair it with that and release a killer single disc set (perhaps with a second 'Stack-O-Track's gathering together the best of the backing tracks and outtakes and released as a limited edition for true fans who'd love such things?) A missed opportunity, with the odd indispensible gem thrown in.
Capitol's - what 14th now? - compilation (space means we haven't reviewed all of them here but don't worry you're not missing much) finally gets things about as spot-on as a single disc compilation of an artist with (then) 38 years' worth of recordings will ever be. Not co-incidentally this set also did far better in the charts than any of the recent Beach Boys best-ofs had, suggesting that perhaps the label should have done this a long time ago. On the plus side, ever so nearly everything that was actually a 'hit' (i.e. top ten somewhere in America or Europe) is here - and the two that aren't ('The Beach Boys Medley' and 'Come Go With Me') really shouldn't keep you lying awake at night too often.You also get well regarded Beach Boys songs like 'Little Honda' (so very nearly a single in 1964) and the single that started it all (well, technically the follow-up single that started it all but this is where most people be4gan to take notice) 'Surfin Safari' . Capitol have also done their best to secure the rights to the 'Warner Brothers' and 'Caribou' years and included all three eras (four if you count the band's return to Capitol in 1986) all together for the first time. On the downside, though, there's actually very little here from both eras: simply 1976's 'Rock and Roll Music' (a cover song which, though the band's biggest hit in years, is not often spoken of in the same hushed tones as their earlier work) and 1979's 'Lady Lynda' (nice and a surprise big hit in Britain, but not even the top half of songs off 'L A Light Album' never mind the Caribou era as a whole). Also, would it kill somebody to actually put all the songs in order for once? Hearing a song from 'Pet Sounds' going into the first 'big' hit from four years earlier is the equivalent of going '...and after Picasso revolutionised the world with his blue period, here he is cutting out bits of fuzzy felt at school'. Also, while I understand why it's there (first number one since 'Good Vibrations', blah blah blah) does the set really have to end with 'Kokomo'? Nothing is designed to make you file away a CD and never play it again more than ending a set with this track. Finally, what's with the generic cover? (a surfer on some waves - gosh that's original!) The most 'right' single disc compilation on this list (although if you can afford it the two box sets are better) - and yet Capitol still found new ways of messing up...
Brian Wilson: "Presents Pet Sounds Live"
(Sanctuary, Recorded January 27th-30th 2002, Released June 11th 2002)
Show Intro/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/You Still Believe In Me/That's Not Me/Don't Talk (Put Your Head On MY Shoulder)/I'm Waiting For The Day/Let's Go Away For A While/Sloop John B/God Only Knows/I Know There's An Answer/Here Today/I Just Wasn't Made For These Times/Pet Sounds/Caroline, No
"We're going to do the entire 'Carl and the Passions' album for you now...nah, only kidding, 'Pet Sounds' it is!"
January 2002 was a red letter month for many Beach Boys fans: Brian Wilson's second tour kicked off in London and the second half of the show was the whole of 'Pet Sounds' - never performed live in its entirety by any line-up of the band and with Brian himself having performed only five of its 13 songs till now ('Wouldn't It Be Nice?' 'Sloop John B' 'God Only Knows' 'Let's Go Away For A While' and 'Pet Sounds' itself). I fully understand why fans wanted to lap it all up and 'Pet Sounds' makes as much sense as any for the 21st century's first decade trend for bands revisiting whole albums in concert (The Human League, Belle and Sebastian and The Who being just three other AAA bands who did the same). But, really, what is the point of releasing a souvenir of the album? The brilliance of the Wondermints is that they can so accurately re-create the album's many layered textures live, which is great when you're actually there - but on CD why not simply play the original record instead? (at a cheaper price too). The only real difference between the two are the odd 'thankyou' and ad lib from Brian and the fact that his voice now sounds a full 36 years of heavy living older. A DVD on the line of the 'Smile' one would make more sense even: we're still unable to actually 'see' 'Pet Sounds', even with Brian older and more vulnerable on stage, but all we have here is the sound.
On the plus side, though, the Brian of 2002 is having a whale of a time, clearly moved by the reception his songs are getting, and even compared to 2001 has come out of his shell: 'now we're cooking' he cries after 'Don't Talk' hits the romantic spot; 'we appreciate it, we all appreciate it, we love it we love it...we love you guys!' he then reacts to the audience response of 'God Only Knows'; it's a moving moment in Beach Boys lore as Brian Wilson finally gets to see the people who bought an album everyone in his homeland thought was a flop (the fact that the first shows of 'Pet Sounds' were in London - the city that more than any other kept the candle burning for the album - is a neat balance of planning, acknowledgement and target audience). Brian also sounds full of energy and even his older voice cracking in ways it never used to somehow fits the more ravaged songs like 'I'm Waiting For The Day' and 'Caroline, No'. At other times, though, Brian sounds uncomfortable: he tells the audience to 'close your eyes' before sheepishly adding '...or keep them open, it doesn't matter 'before 'Don't Talk' and introduces 'Here Today' by saying 'I think you'll like this one, it has a bit of a Bob Dylan thing to it', perhaps not quite understanding the fact that everyone in the audience knows the 'Pet Sounds' album backwards.
Again, though, is this version of 'Pet Sounds' really all it's cracked up to be? I still don't get the fuss about the album, with this live set infinitely inferior to the more varied 'Live At The Roxy' for me. Even 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' - the one song on the record every bit as great as its reputation - sounds fumbled and lost and if The Wondermints can't make it soar then you know that something is wrong. What I would have preferred would be a double disc of the full setlist from the tour: even with repetition from the 'Roxy' gig it would have at least given non-fans the chance to sample the more varied and - in my opinion - better highlights from Brian's back catalogue. Oh well, like every other 'Pet Sounds' re-release and or anniversary I just don't feel involved somehow and in 2002 with the live shows in the offing this album was everywhere once again. I guess I just wasn't made for those times...
"Classics Selected By Brian Wilson"
(Capitol, July 2nd 2002)
Surfer Girl/Warmth Of The Sun/I Get Around/Don't Worry Baby/In My Room/California Girls/God Only Knows/Caroline, No/Good Vibrations/Wonderful/Heroes and Villains/Surf's Up/Busy Doin' Nothin'/We're Together Again/Time To Get Alone/This Whole World/Marcella/Sail On Sailor/Til' I Die/California Feelin' *
* = recording released for the first time in any form
The world really didn't need another Beach Boys compilation from capitol, just two years after what many consider to be the definitive one. To be fair, however, 'Classics' is more after the long-term fan than the casual one, the attention grabbers this time being the Brian Wilson sleevenotes (a bit short if I'm honest), the Brian Wilson track-listing (much as you'd expect, although the originally unreleased cover of 'We're Together Again' is a surprise) and the bonus of a then-unreleased lost Beach Boys song. This latter, 'California Feelin', is a song with a long complicated convoluted history: Brian wrote in 1974, his first song in years in fact, but the band were 'between contracts' and for some reason never bothered re-cutting it for '15 Big Ones'. The 'Made In California' box set (2013) features both the 1974 demo and a 1978 band re-recording from the 'MIU' era: this, the first version to be released, is a 'new' version recut by Brian and the Wondermints in 2002 (in many ways it's a 'test' song in fact, the first 'new' piece the band had played together in the studio). Unfortunately, despite Brian's rating of it as a 'classic', it's a terribly poor song by his standards, a slow drifting ballad without any real structure to it and his solo version doesn't even enjoy the Carl-Bruce trading vocals that made the 1978 version, if no classic, then worth a cursory glance.
What we're left with after all that, then, is a kind of secondary 'Beach Boys' compilation: it's nice to hear 'forgotten' songs 'Warmth Of The Sun' 'This Whole World' 'Time To Get Alone' and 'Marcella' offered another burst of life in the spotlight and along with the pick of the hits (interesting what's here and what isn't - there's no 'Surfin' USA' 'Help Me, Rhonda' 'Barbara Ann' or 'Do It Again' for instance) shows that Brian does have a better idea of his own best material than a lot of other AAA stars we cover (poor Paul McCartney is hopeless at putting compilations of his best work together!) Along the way we learn the titbits that 'Warmth Of The Sun' was written the night JFK died, that 'Time To Get Alone' was written for 'Three Dog Night' and - most bizarrely - 'Marcella' was written to sound like The Rolling Stones (no one could have done this song except The Beach Boys!) However Brian is 'wrong' when he claims that 'Caroline, No' was the last song to be written and recorded for 'Pet Sounds' : session tapes reveal that to be 'Here Today'! Whether a few fragments of info and a few songs you already own (and if you don't then we recommend buying each Beach Boys album anyway!) plus one rather poor 'bonus' track is enough is up to you!
Brian Wilson: "Gettin' In Over My Head"
(Rhino, June 22nd 2004)
How Could We Still Be Dancin'?/Soul Searchin'/You've Touched Me/Gettin' In Over My Head/City Blues/Desert Drive/A Friend Like You/Make A Wish/Rainbow Eyes/Saturday Morning In The City/Fairy Tale/Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel/The Waltz
"Fairytales can come true. Warning: some dragons may still be on the premises"
I don't know, those Brian Wilson albums - you wait six years for one and then two come along more or less at once. Brian's third solo album 'proper' was completely overshadowed by his next project, the finally completed 'Smile' released three months later and very much dominated by an older project, the abandoned 'Sweet Insanity' album recorded with Andy Paley across 1990 and 1991, with four tracks finding their first official release from that project. As things turned out these happen to amongst the four worst, suggesting that Brian was right to abandon those songs and should have had more confidence in his songwriting ability as of 2004. Ultimately 'Over My Head' is exactly the same mix of the great and the ghastly as his other solo projects, highlighted by some beautiful ballads that touch on his darker past ('the title track and 'Soul Searchin', plus the more hopeful 'You've Touched Me').
The big talking point for many fans is the sheer amount of big names who took time out of their busy schedules to work for Brian. Elton John, a lifelong Beach Boys fan, duets with Brian on 'How Could We Still Be Dancin' - which sounds like an uncomfortable pastiche of one of his own songs. Ditto 'Desert Drive', which is an angsty yet strangely upbeat blues that sounds like it could have come from London in the mid 1960s - Eric Clapton is therefore a perfect fit for it. Paul McCartney sounds less at home on the pair's Wilson-composed duet 'A Friend Like You', a terrible song which sounds like karma's revenge for forcing Stevie Wonder to sit through 'Ebony and Ivory'. Somehow the long awaited collaboration between the two leading left-handed bass-playing composers of their day (born just two days apart in June 1942 - Macca being the elder of the pair)should be more momentous than this rather embarrassing song, although it's a fair pastiche of McCartney at his most auto-pilot. Best of the special guests bunch is undoubtedly Carl Wilson, revived to sing lead on his brother's 'Soul Searchin' by courtesy of an early arrangement of the song for a Beach Boys album project started in the mid 1990s and finished off by Brian in the present day. Note too the first return of Van Dyke Parks to a Brian Wilson project (as opposed to Brian appearing on a Van Dyke Project) since the 'Sail On Sailor' in 1972 - although alas 'The Waltz' is more 'Orange Crate Art' than 'Wonderful', in both senses of the word. Finally British artist Peter Blake, whose made covers for everything from the Beatles' 'Sgt Peppers' to The Who's 'Face Dances' gets his first commission for a front cover for an American artist; the resulting collage is, erm, unusual, with all of the 12 songs represented somewhere in a rather dodgy cut-and-paste collage which has the unfortunate effect of including three unflattering portraits of Brian within (The highlight: Brian 'Gettin In Over His Head' with two inter-war models, one of them draped over his lap in 2004 thanks to the wonders of 3D collages).
There isn't really a theme for this record - unlike Brian's two previous solo records these songs all date back some years (the main hook from 'Desert Drive' harking back to the 1970s). However it's probably fair to say that this is Brian's most romantic album to date: there are many love songs written for his new wife Melinda, along with The Wondermints the driving force behind the last 15 years of impressive creativity, with the delightfully dotty 'You've Touched Me' just beating 'Rainbow Eyes' as the best of the bunch. However, like 'Pet Sounds', this work reaches back to some old loves too: 'Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel', from circa 1990, sounds very much like a song for first wife Marilyn. It's worth noting, too, that 'Desert Drive' is Brian's first 'car' song in a decade-and-a-half and only his second since writing a whole concept album on the theme in 1964.
To take the songs in order: 'How Could We Still Be Dancin?' is a failed nostalgia song. which starts as a simple dance song before turning into an extended metaphor for living and working, Brian wondering how he can keep going and have an audience 'after MTV'. Alas Elton's lead vocal turns this into a John Song not a Brian rhyme and the track feels a little bland. Worst of all this song simply doesn't rock, being a rather generic update of 'Dance Dance Dance'.
'Soul Searchin', however, is superb. Carl is perfect as the regretful narrator walking the streets after doing his girl wrong and wondering what to do next. Brian adds a new middle eight which somehow fits both the drama in the song and the fact that he's duetting with his brother: 'Tel me why did I ever say goodbye? I must be out of my mind! I keep walking on and walking on and looking for a sign!' The song's curious riff also sounds like the song helplessly tripping over its own big feet - arguably the big and bold arrangement is the best on the album.
Brian was never known for writing love songs until 'the 'Pet Sounds' era when even at the age of 24 he was more interested in recording past loves and times gone by. 'You've Touched Me' - written with Dennis' old writing partner Steve Kallinich - is quite the opposite though, a lovestruck Brian telling us how he 'can't sleep' because he's 'in love so deep'. Frivolous this song may be, but like the similarly frivolous songs on the 'Friends' album its wonderful simply to hear such a great man with such a troubled sounding so happy.
‘Gettin’ In Over My Head’ is not only the title track but the album highlight; a moody ballad that successfully conjures up helplessness and awe despite being once again mainly a song about falling in love. This co-write with Andy Paley touches on both Brian's 'bed' years and the pair's superb 'Cry' from Brian's last album: a single-tracked and fragile sounding Brian starts the song before it slowly builds into a wonderful mesh of harmonies. The arrangement is pure Brian too: an accordion, honking bass harmonicas and a celeste make for an interesting combination that somehow works; it also conjures up the era when Brian was in complete control and combined sounds like this on a regular basis.
'City Blues' was many people's favourite track from the album, but this latest variation on Brian's favourite boogie woogie chords never really coalesces into a full track despite some fine guitar from Clapton and a punchy backing track that rocks hard. Brian will write better songs on the 'city in trouble' theme on his 2006 album 'That Lucky Old Sun' though.
'Desert Drive' is a simple bordering on gormless 'car' song, with the twist that instead of heading to the beach Brian's narrator is heading inland to the desert. And that's about it: there's lots of chances for the Wondermints to re-create the feel of a 'Little Deuce Coupe' era song and Jeffrey Foskett's falsetto sounds great in the parts that Brian can't reach, but a direct comparison with the glory years simply reveals how generic and lifeless this song really is.
'A Friend Like You' was written about Brian's friendship with Paul McCartney, but the sense you get from it is that the pair don't really know each other that well. Brian finally got Paul to agree to sing it after meeting up with him backstage at the Royal Jubilee Concert in 2002 (no wonder the pair end up sounding like anachronistic fossils who have no place in modern society if the British Royal Family are what they've got in common). The sleevenotes put it best actually: Paul 'graciously accepted', something which suggests both men knew this song wasn't really up to par. A lost opportunity - I'd love to have heard what touches Paul might have added to the title track, for instance and 'The Waltz' is crying out for some vegetables to be munched on the fadeout...
'Make A Wish' is a solo Brian song that would have fitted onto his first solo album well: it's a sweet but rather empty song about wishing for world peace and equality that's massively overproduced as if trying to force it into being a hit against its natural state as a simple second-division number. In a parallel world U2 have just scored a massive hit with it despite the fact it just sounds like one of their other songs played backwards. This and the next song were both rescued from the abandoned 'Sweet Insanity' project.
'Rainbow Eyes' is another album highlight, a valiant attempt at welding the complex middle period Beach Boys sound with the fun primitivism of the eras either side of it. This second solo Brian Wilson song has a sweet McCartney-esque melody (the pair should have recorded this one...)and some interesting psychedelic lyrics about a girl whose eyes change colour. Brian's lines about asking to be his girl's 'rainbow man' sound awfully corny, but remember Brian never got the chance to write those really soppy romantic songs everyone else was - he was already on the hit single conveyor belt when he met Marilyn.
'Saturday Morning In The City' is a complete misfire; a novelty song complete with swannee whistle, it's annoying nursery rhyme melody is guaranteed to get stuck in your head where the title track should be instead. This co-write with Andy Paley tries hard to sound like a city that's all hustle and bustle and activity; instead it sounds like the kind of place you get up early to avoid having to speak to any of the clearly insanely happy inhabitants. The weakest song on the album.
'Fairy Tale' is pretty sweet though, another love song from Brian and David Foster that sounds like it could happily appeared on a past Beach Boys album. Another tale of Brian's whirlwind romance with Melinda, the lyrics have Brian as a fairytale hero hoping against hope that the tale will end happily with the pair together 'forever after' - but he's not all sure he can defeat the 'dragon' who guards her. Given Brian's love of metaphors the dragon is surely the evil voices in his head with true love his prize if he can somehow get them to shut up. An under-rated song.
'Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel' would have been the highlight of 'Sweet Insanity' from the songs I've heard from the project; even here on a rather better album it sounds mightily impressive. As if to remind himself how far he's come compared to the jitterbug of 'You've Touched Me', the 1990 Brian 'isn't even sure what love means', unsure whether action or caution would help him in love.
'The Waltz' is another 'Sweet Insanity' composition, a typically oddball collaboration with Can Dyke Parks which has all of the intellect and unique rhyming patterns of the pair's 'Smile' songs ('Back at that high school cotillion chances were one in a million') without any of the beauty or scale. A rather disappointing finale, with even BRian's ability to create the best waltzes around apparently deserting him.
Overall, then, 'Gettin' In Over My Head' is another curious collection of half-baked and beautifully cooked songs, with five genuinely great additions to the Brian Wilson canon - and eight songs that come nowhere close. The saving grace of this album is that The Wondermints play on it throughout, their ability to play practically any instrument coming in very handy for the most elaborately made Brian Wilson project in years. It's just a shame that the songs weren't up to it - had Brian combined the best of this work and 'That Lucky Old Sun' and kept the guest appearances for B sides then this might have been a truly essential album, instead of just a partly essential album.
Brian Wilson: "What I Really Want For Christmas"
(Arista, October 18th 2005)
The Man With All The Toys/What I Really Want For Christmas/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/O Holy Night/We Wish You A Merry Christmas/Hark The Herald Angels Sing/It Came Upon A Midnight Clear/The First Noel/Christmassey/Little Saint Nick/Deck The Halls/Auld Lang Syne (CD Bonus Tracks: On Christmas Day/Joy To The World/Silent Night)
What is it with the Beach Boys and Christmas? Here we go again with the fourth festive record in this book - and like all the others the response is more 'you shouldn't have' than 'awww, you shouldn't have'. If the first Beach Boys record was rushed, the second (unreleased) misguided and the third (weith Wilson Phillips) pointless then at least the best you can say about attempt number four is that iot's heart is in the right place. There are, at least, sleighbells, actual carols you know and love and a feeling that this record is at least partly infused with the spirit of Christmas, rather than recorded in a dusty recording studio in a blazing hot summer. That's partly down to the Wondermints (whose percussion and backing vocal heavy arrangements are perfect for these sort of songs), partly down to the choice of songs (no songs re-writtenin a hurry to sound festive this time, thank goodness) and partly thanks to Brian. The elder Wilson has been gradually adjusting to his newer voice more and more with every solo album and he's finally clicked with it here, audibly bouncing around the songs with an enthusiasm that hasn't been there since at least 1970. Yes there are still things I'd change: why re-record so many songs from the other three albums (even the non-originals, which at least make a kind of sense) when there are so many carols out there begging to have the Beach Boys treatment (surely Holst's 'In The Bleak Midwinter' and 'I Wonder As I Wonder' are more suited for that mixture of purity, melancholia and hblock harmonies than yet another go at 'Auld Lang Syne' (which isn't even a Chjristmas song anyway but a new year's one! Yes, and a pedantic Christmas holidays to you too!) Also, perhaps it's just my Christmas holidays, but it seems odd that Brian should make such a sad and unhappy Christmas record in 1964 ('Beach Boys' Chirstmas') and such a relentless upbeat and happy one in 2005. It's almost as if he's proving to someone (Himsef? Us?) that he really is in a happy place, no honest he is (another important development since the last record: Brian has become a father again and the videos for this album's singles all feature his children heavily - perhaps that's what's inspired the happier tone; back in 1964 of course Brian was a childless 22 year old who wasn't even married and spent that year's Christmas flying between gigs).
There aren't many new songs on this album (three to be exact) and they aren't exactly the greatest gifts to unwrap - even compared to the under-par songs from 'Beach Boys Christmas'. 'What I Really Want For Christmas' - a much discussed collaboration with Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin - was in fact so awful when I got it as a single that I've only just got hold of the full album. Sadly this song sounds more like a clunky Elton non-song than a Brian Wilson number (I'm willing to bet the tune came after the lyrics too). What I really want for Christmas is never to hear this song again. 'Christmassey' is just 'Fairy Tale' (see Brian's last CD) with a fasttalkingfornoapparentreasoncrammingasmanywordsintoonelineasyoucan chorus that doesn't work too well except to sum up what an overstmulated chiold is feeling by around dinnertime on Christmas Day all too well, struggling to sit through the Queen's Speech so they can watch the Dr Who Christmas Special after. 'On Christmas Day' (originally available only as a downloadable extra) is much better: The Wondermints harmonies are amongst their most complex on album and the lyrics are better: the narrator is looking out of his window, watching the snowman he made melt away and seeing the decorations being taken down but in his heart he's happy because he knows he'll still be with his beloved family next year to do it all over again. A pretty series of chords makes you wish that this song had been kept for a 'proper' album actually.
The old faithful carols are a much more likeable bunch though: 'Deck The Halls' has some nice surf guitar draped around the song, 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' features more of Brtian's love of unusual textures (the bass harmonicas from 'Pet Sounds' set against a flute), 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing' is given a funky a capella treatment ('Hark the Herald...ooh ooh ooh Merry Christmas!'), an even funkier coda and Brian even does the rare last verse you hardly ever hear sung ('Light and life to all he brings, Christ the feeling in his wings'), 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' sounds surprisingly sober, 'The First Noel' surprisingly drunk. Oh and the re-recording of 'Little Saint Nick' - which was a standard by 2005 even if Brian wrote it - is a lot of fun, with Brian now several octaves lower but sounding like more of a kid than ever. I'm less sure about reviving 'The Man With All The Toys' though: if that song can't work with prime time Beach Boys harmonies then this version melst quicker than a snowman in a microwave. Throughout, though, all these songs (except the two worst new ones) have a little something about them - a lightness of step, a little nugget of arrangement there - that makes this album a lot more enjoyable and much more suitable festive entertainment than 'Beach Boys Chirstmas', never mind what on earth was going on in 1977. Best of all, there are no soppy children's choirs or modern synthesisers (as per the Wilson Phillips Christmas LP). Forty-five years on from the release of Phil Spector's 'A Chirstmas Gift For You' and at the fourth go, Brian finally delivers a Christmas record worth playing past Boxing Day that at last sounds as if it wishes a good night to all and to all a good night.
"Songs From Here and Back"
(Hallmark, May 15th 2009)
Intro/Dance Dance Dance/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Surfer Girl/Kokomo/Car Medley Intro/Little Deuce Coupe/I Get Around/Good Vibrations/(Brian Wilson): Spirit Of Rock and Roll/ (Al Jardine): PT Cruiser/ (Mike Love): Cool Head, Warm Heart
'Happy Father's Day, dad!' 'Gee thanks son! Gosh I wonder what you've me this year? A surfing holiday in Hawaii? A 'Brian Wilson is a Genius' T-shirt?! Concerts to see the Spice Girls Musical die an ugly death?!? Oh, why how - err- thoughtful of you, a limited edition compilation of various live and solo Beach Boys recordings released exclusively in greetings card chain Hallmark's stores across a two-year period. Ah just look at that tag: 'This is how Much I love you' - and to think I didn't even know that I'd scarred you for life that badly! You know, I just look at that track listing and it all brings those many wonderful years of fatherhood back to me: 'Dance Dance Dance' when I stood on one of your pointy toys, 'Little Deuce Coupe' for the old jalopy I had to sell to get a bigger car when my family came along and 'Kokomo' for that rather odd holiday I must have taken in Japan but obviously can't remember. Why, how did Hallmark think of putting all these songs that aren't the favourites of any Beach Boys fan that I know of together on a single disc?! Why are there only half an hour's worth when clearly there's a whole hour-plus show sitting in the vaults somewhere (and if these are the bits that were considered good enough to use them *shudder* what are the rest like?!) And fancy choosing to include just a few live performances too: it's as if I was really there, watching the 1989 vintage post-Brian and Dennis Wilson Beach Boys and screaming - boy did I scream that night I can tell you, I still have nightmares! (there's a couple of tracks from 1974 as well, apparently, not that you can really tell). And as for the three exclusive solo Beach Boy tracks, well what a treat it is to have three songs not deemed good enough for release on such vapid albums as 'Looking Back With Love' and Brian's unfinished 'Sweet Insanity' project, abandoned for being too flipping awful. How thoughtful of you son but, between you and me, what say we give this father's day malarkey a miss next year eh?'
Al Jardine: "A Postcard From California"
A Postcard From California/California Feelin'/Looking Down The Coast/Don't Fight The Sea/Tidepool Interlude/Campfire Scene/California Saga: California/Help Me, Rhonda/Sam Simeon/Drivin'/Honkin' Down The Highway/California Dreamin'/And I Always Will/Waves Of Love/Sloop John B
"...On stilts against the landscape...Wish you were here?"
Poor Al Jardine. He'd waited so long to make this record (many of the songs date back to the 1980s, with recording starting seriously in 2008) and clearly thought long and hard about making it: there's some fan-pleasing cameos (including Crosby Stills Nash and Young on one track - these guys don't hang around long enough to make their own records so how did Al get them all in the same place for long enough to appear on his?), some fan-pleasing re-recordings of old songs and best of all two bona fide unreleased (and even unbootlegged) Beach Boys recordings. The background harmonies are hard to cover without the Wondermints but Al does the next big thing, hiring members of America (Dewey Bunnell), semi-Beach Boy Glenn Campbell and his old pal Bruce Johnston to fill in the sound - and it ever so nearly works (actually this faux Beach Boys is a more convincing one than the version on 1992's 'Summertime In Paradise'). Al made his big move slowly, releasing the album digitally first of all in 2010 (the date we've decided to follow in our chornology), building up a real word-of-mouth until the album was finally released 'properly' on CD in 2012. What should have been the biggest single most important Beach Boys release since Brian's re-recording of 'Smile' is then wiped off the map by the news that the band are getting back together again for their 50th.
While no classic, 'A Postcard From California' is a lot more enjoyable than reunion record 'That's Why God Made The Radio' and a lot more suitable to the Beach Boys sound. Al cleverly manages to include something for everyone from every Beach Boys era: 'Drivin' is a kicking 'Little Deuce Coupe' era car song, 'Waves Of Love' sounds like a 'Summer Days' era outtake (instead of a 1980s recording featuring Carl on lead), 'Sam Simeon' is Al's stab at doing a 'Pet Sounds' (the song's a tad treacly but then isn't most of 'Pet Sounds' anyway?!) and 'California Coast' would have fitted into the 'california Trilogy' on 1973's 'Holand' without any trouble whatsoever. There's even some re-recordings of fan favourites Help Me, Rhonda' 'California' 'Honkin' Down The Highway' and 'California Dreamin' (a song the Beach Boys covered with Al on lead in 1986) - which again brings up the old 'why bother when you can just play the original when the singer sang better' excuse but do at least offer more than just another run through of 'Good Vibrations' and co (woth bonus points for avoiding the temptatuon for re-doing 'Cottonfields'). Yes Al's not the prolific writer that even the modern Brian Wilson is (never mind the Brian of half a century ago) but he's held out for long enough to come up with a full album of 13 songs (15 on the version with bonus tracks) with less filler than any of the more recent Beach Boys albums.
All that said, while there's nothing that bad here, there's nothing that absolutely knocks my socks off either. Although not my favourite Beach Boy writer Jardine was in many ways the groups' dark horse: his songs 'Lookin' For Tomorrow' 'All This Is That' 'California' 'Lady Lynda' 'Santa Ana Winds' are all Beach Boys classics that deserve to be better known by fans - and yet there's nothing remotely that good on this album; the songs are closer to the 'nearly' songs of 'Don't Go Near The Water' 'The Beaks Of Eagles' and the not-quite-so-wretched songs from 'MIU' instead.This album is aptly titled in fact: it really is a postcard rather than a book, with songs that only scratch the surface of emotions rather than dive in deep as even a few years before and doesn't compare to even Brian's solo records, never mind the band records of the past. So much of this record comnes so close to working but is lacking that extra oomph to get there: The 'California Trilogy'-like suite ought to be terrific: there are sound effects, a heavy production and CSN harmonies - the best backing band you can have if the Beach Boys don't come calling. But alas Neil is on a slurring vocal day (he clearly doesn't get the lyrics and seem a tad embarrassed singing them: perhaps he's thinking about how he ripped off part of this song's tune for the Beach Boys criticising 'Long May You Run' in 1976?), the intoning narrator vocals from actor Alec Baldwin are even more gauche than when Mike Love did it and the end result is a song less about the beauty of California than trying not to tell an old friend he ought to go for another take. As for the 'Beach Boys' starring songsm 'California Feelin' is a song receiving it's second of four official releases in different versions: it's more built up than Brian's demo, less trite than the full band version (both from the box set 'Made In California') and sounds a little more Beach Boysy than Brian's re-recording for the 'Classics' compilation - but its still a minor work by Brian's standards, best left alone. 'Drivin' is more successful, featuring Al alongside both Brian Wilson and Dave Marks - the latter's fiery guitar is the highlight on a song that would have made a fine Beach Boys B-side.
More successful are the two songs featuring archive appearances from Carl Wilson. 'Waves Of Love', which cheekily nicks the riff from 'California Girls' for the opening, is re-structured and rebuilt around a 1980s backing track that Carl once sang on (a very shaky vocal by his standards). The song's lyrics namecheck just about every Beach Boys song ever made but sound like a lovesong to Carl in many ways: as if Al never realised until his old pal was gone how much he missed him and the fact that Carl replies in kind (or near enough) should be the tackiest moment on what's quite a teacky record - but thanks to a great 'Little Saint Nick' style beat and some clever ideas, it's one of the best moments instead. That's beaten by 'Don't Fight The Sea' however, a moody eulogy about going with the flow and rolling with the punches. Al sings an energetic lead with a ghostly Carl and modern vocals from Brian, Mike and Bruce offering responses to him: the result is a song that badly needs an extra lyrics (twenty repeats of the title phrase is at least fifteen too many) but works well as both a fine track in it's own right and as a great unfinished near-enough Beach Boys recording that beats anything the band have put out under the family name since at least 1980. If you're a Beach Boys fan you need to own this record for these two songs - and if you treat everything else as a bonus rather than the release of the century you'll do alright with the rest too.
Brian Wilson: "Re-Imagines Gershwin"
(Walt Disney Records, August 17th 2010)
Rhapsody In Blue (Intro)/The Like In I Love You/Summertime/I Love You Porgy/I Got Plenty Of Nuttin'/It Ain't Necessarily So/'S Wonderful/They Can't Take That Away From Me/Love Is Here To Stay/I've Got A Crush On You/I Got Rhythm/Someone To Watch Over Me/Nothing But Love/Rhapsody In Blue (Reprise)/Let's Call The Whole Thing Off
"You say cash-in, and I say proper bona fide release, you say record contract filler, I say proper Gershwin-estate enhanced completion of old mansucripts, neither, either, let's call the whole thing...odd"
When Brian lost his record contract help came from the most unlikely source possible: Walt Disney Records! Walt and Wilson weren't exactly perfect fits despite being two of the most Californians of the 20th century; everything released on the label prior to 2010 had been either child friendly tweeny-somethings like Hilary Duff or the Doodlebops or soundtracks to the increasingly less entertaining company films. The front cover of the next record says it all: a surfing woodie heading out into a sunset shaped into Mickey Mouse's ears - it just looks all wrong. This isn't at all the future we had mapped out for the Beach Boy leader but in many ways it's a good job Disney was there: Brian had simply used up all his money during his years 'in bed' and had to keep working into the 21st century with a new family to support; sadly Brian simply isn't as prolific as he used to be and a series of original albums were out of the question too. Disney probably weren't expecting him to say 'yes' when they asked him either (The best laid plans of mice and Beach Boys...)
Disney naturally wanted an album of Disney cover songs - and duly got it the following year. First, however, Brian was eager to continue with a project he and his backing band The Wondermints had been tinkering with: an album of George Gershwin cover songs. Brian had of course been obsessed with 'Rhapsody In Blue', one of a holy trilogy of pieces he would play over and over across the 1970s (along with Randy Newman's 'Sail Away' and the traditional song 'Shortenin' Bread' released on 'LA Light Album' in 1979) much to the annoyance and concern of anyone in earshot but whose structure and beauty helped keep him sane. What's more Wilson shared with Gershwin a tongue in cheek glance at the American dream, a love of melody and a knack for writing harmonies; had George been born 50 years or so later he might have been a Beach Boy (although quite what a surfing Gershwin song might sound like is a moot point). Disney, surprisingly, were excited with the idea and got Brian in touch with Gershwin's estate, who agreed to pass over a collection of a hundred manuscripts form their collection, many of which contained unfinished or alternate songs (the Disney company have so much influence they can pull more strings than Gepetto when they really want something!)
This resulted in by far the two most interesting pieces, 'The Like In I Love You' and 'Nothing But Love', perhaps because Brian was able to have more input into them (they're not surprisingly the most Beach Boys sounding tracks here) or perhaps because we simply don't have so many famous interpretations running through our heads when we play them. These two tracks are so much better, in fact, that it's a shame that more time couldn't be taken to sift through Gershwin's manuscripts and make a whole Brian-George collaboration (surely there must have been an album's worth out of 100 manuscripts?!) The former is the highlight of the album, a song that blends Brian's love of singing hymns to the art of creativity which also manages to sound like Brian tipping his hat to his inspirer ('You reached into my heart and found the music of my soul') but maintains just enough of the clever Van Dyke Parks-like Gershwin wordplay ('The pain in painting, the muse in music, the like in I love you'). 'Nothing But Love' is only slightly further behind: an all-out Gershwin rock song! Music-wise this song could be 'Little Deuce Coupe' for the modern era, but the lyrics naturally cut a little deeper: 'She shows me the art of how to use time and let me believe that the ideas are mine'. The song then ends with a tease from 'An American In Paris' to wrap things up - a reminder that the man who used to make collages out of his songs is still beating strong whenever he's allowed to come out and play. These two songs are hardly up to that 'An American In Paris' (Gershwin's best and most complete work) or Brian's own masterpieces (say, Surf's Up' ) but this pair alone make the album a worthwhile purchase for those curious to know what a Beach Boys Gershwin album might sound like.
Alas the rest of the album is a tad more ordinary. I'm not sure whether it was the Disney pressure or whether Brian had always intended the album this way, but there's nothing unusual or particularly difficult here: if you were to draw up a 'top ten' of Gershwin songs then they would pretty much all be here. The Brian of the 1960s would have had a fine time adding his own stamp to such classics as 'Porgy and Bess' 'S Wonderful' 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' and 'Summertime' (even if he'd have to go a long way to beat the Janis Joplin version!); alas the 2010 model doesn't have quite the range or power and the 'covering' for this from the Wondermints doesn't seem as successful as normal (even if the full on multiple Brian Wilson harmony attack on the two versions of 'Rhapsody In Blue' is still way better than any 68-year-old who'd lived the life that Brian had should sound). The most interesting remaining songs are those that really tax Brian's arranging skill: 'Plenty Of Nuttin' starts off as a duet for banjo and bass harmonica before moving onto trumpet and strings on an instrumental that could have come straight out of the sessions for 'Pet Sounds' or 'Smile'. 'It Ain't Necessarily So' features a wonderful brass section, a whole lot of booming percussion and Brian's prettiest and most confident vocal in some time. The self-deprecating 'Someone To Watch Over Me' could easily have been a Beach Boy song from the first half of the 1960s. Everything else however, sounds ordinary - a kind of Gershwin painting-by-numbers set filled in on auto-pilot that you'd expect someone with half the talents that Brian Wilson has to do better with (even 'Rhapsody In Blue', a piece Brian knows better than most of his own songs). A frustrated lost opportunity, but with some good bits thrown in too. A bonus track was added to the album when it became available on iTunes: 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off', which was one of Gershwin's most irritating songs anyway but sounds especially so here
Brian Wilson: "In The Key Of Disney"
(Walt Disney Records, October 25th 2011)
You've Got A Friend In Me/The Bear Necessities/Baby Mine/Kiss The Girl/Colours Of The Wind/Can You Feel The Love Tonight?/We Belong Together/I Just Can't Wait To Be King!/Stay Awake/Medley: Heigh-Ho!-Whistle While You Work-A Pirate's Life For Me!/When You Wish Upon A Star//A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes/Peace On Earth
"Heigh-Ho Heigh-Ho It's off to fill a contract with Disney Records we go! Hey who got me this record deal? Goofy?!"
Brian finally got round to recording that Disney record - and a surprisingly daring record it was too! Yes of course, it's no substitute for that new Brian Wilson record of original material we were hoping for but the Beach Boys and Disney are more sympathetic bedfellows than you might imagine: it was hearing 'When You Wish Upon A Star' (from Disney's first film 'Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs') that inspired him to write: starting with 'Surfer Girl', which lifts that every same tune (oops - though the fact that Brian is now on the Disney label suggests they've forgiven him!) At the risk of losing the little self respect I still have with you, dear reader, I've often thought that there's a really great album's worth of material spread across the entire Disney range and Brian could have recorded the album of his career (well second half of it anyway): there's 'Candle On The Water' from 'Pete's Dragon' (1977) - the greatest Disney film bar none - which is the delicate Beach Boys ballad of the 1970s that should have been; the exotic 'Baia' from the second best Disney film nobody knows 'The Three Cabelleros'; 'Tuppence A Bag' from 'Mary Poppins' (1964) is 'In My Room' with pigeons and 'I Wanna Be Like You-hoo-hoo' ('Jungle Book' 1966) ('I'm the king of the swingers, the Jungle VIP, I've reached top of the Disney shop and got too big for my tree!') is the Beach Boys rocker that never was (KIng Louis, clearly, is the star of the entire Disney franchise, although I might just be saying that because there's a soft toy of him sitting on my knee right now!) I'd also have paid good money to hear Brian sing the theme tunes from 'The Gummi Bears' 'The Whuzzles' 'Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers' or 'Ducktales' ('woo-ooh!')
Sadly, it's not to be and Brian again goes down the road of the bleeding obvious a little too often ('Upon A Star' is back along with some of the lesser moments from modern Disney films, including - inevitably - Randy Newman's 'You've Got A Friend In Me' from 'Toy Story' (the weakest link in all three films are the songs) and two songs from Elton John's horrid film score for 'The Lion King' (although at least only one of them is obvious - the song you might not know is Prince Charles' ring-tone 'I Just Can't Wait To Be King!') To be fair there are some good choices here too, though, that really suit both Brian's voice and give him enough scope for putting his own stamp on proceedings: the gorgeous 'Baby Mine' from 'Dumbo' sounds like the long lost stepping stone from 'Surfer Girl' to 'California Girls' and the Wondermints get the song's complex bouncy lullaby feel right on; the words pleading for tolerance are very 1960s, too, despite being written in the 1940s ('If they knew sweet little you they'd end up loving you too, all those people who scold you what they'd give just for the right to hold you...' excuse me, I think there's something in my eye). 'Bear Necessities' may be an obvious choice but it's a welcome one nonetheless with a sea of xylophones and Brian doing a surprisingly fair copy of Phil Harris' brilliant original (what's more, there's no irritating Mowgli to get in the way - when will Disney learn that humans are the weakest link in their films? Talking panthers are so much more believable somehow!) Finally 'Stay Awake' isn't the most obvious song from 'Mary Poppins' but Brian does a good song justice, reprising the 'feel; of the classic Beach Boys song 'And Your Dreams Come True'.
However, there's no getting away from it. This is a minor work, albeit one that's better than you might suppose, and it rather leaves you wondering what might be coming next: Brian Wilson sings the phone book? Brian Wilson sings the Looney Tunes theme song?! ('Bugs Bunny rides an old jalopy, it's his loony tunes coupe, you don't know what he got!, one more thing - he's got the pink slip Daffy!') Brian Wilson does Shakespeare?!? ('To be at the beach or not to be at the beach?' 'Little surfer girl Lady MacBeth, she tried to get revenge but turned into a wreck...') or perhaps Brian Wilson sings the outer planets ('I wish they all could be Halifbrydhastic ghouls!') Maybe - and I'm after royalties if this one happens, it's so obvious - Brian Wilson's zoo album 'Pet Sounds II' ('I Know There's An Aardvark', 'Hare Today' 'Don't Squawk (Put Your Head On My Antlers)' 'Goat Only Knows', 'Sloop John Seal' 'Let's Go Away For A Whale' and 'Caroline, Gnu'). Recording this stuff and getting extra sales is all very well - but this last decade is beginning to make Neil Young's genre-hopping years at Geffen in the 1980s look sensible and planned!
There are currently two bonus tracks doing the rounds, although you can't buy both of them on the same edition (what? You mean Disney take us for fools? Oh alright then, yes I have bought three different copies of '101 Dalmatians for three separate sets of extra features!) Thankfully both of them are from the old (i.e. proper!) Disney days: 'A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes' from 'Cindarella' (complete with 'Sail On Sailor' style piano!) and a harmony-heavy 'Peace On Earth' from 'Lady and the Tramp'
"50 Big Ones - Greatest Hits"
(Capitol, October 9th 2012)
CD One: California Girls/Do It Again/Surfin' Safari/Catch A Wave/Little Honda/Surfin' USA/Surfer Girl/Don't Worry Baby/Little Deuce Coupe/Shut Down/I Get Around/Warmth Of The Sun/Please Let Me Wonder/Wendy/Getcha Back/The Little Girl I Once Knew/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/It's OK/Dance Dance Dance/Do You Wanna Dance?/Rock and Roll Music/Barbara Ann/All Summer Long/Help Me, Rhonda/Fun Fun Fun//
CD Two: Kokomo/You're So Good To Me/Wild Honey/Darlin'/In My Room/All This Is That/This Whole World/Add Some Music To Your Day/Cotton Fields/I Just Wasn't Made For These Times/Sail On Sailor/Surf's Up/Friends/Heroes and Villains/I Can Hear Music/Good Timin'/California Saga: California/Isn't It About Time?/Kiss Me Baby/That's Why God Made The Radio/Forever/God Only Knows/Sloop John B/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Good Vibrations
*Sigh* If only The Beach Boys had released this double-disc set for their 40th anniversary or waited till their 60th this compilation might have been perfect. You see, it's ever so nearly there. Almost all the songs you'd expect to see are here (although I'm surprised that top twenty UK or US hits 'Be True To Your School' 'Lady Lynda' 'Here Comes The Night' 'Come Go With Me' and even 'Heroes and Villains' have gone awol) almost in the right order (this goes a bit sometimes though, putting 1980s' 'Getcha Back' right in the middle of the fun, sun, surf and car songs on disc one for instance or starting the second disc with 1988's 'Kokomo' and ends up with 1966's 'Pet Sounds' - although on the place side that means you can skip 'Kokomo' when you put the second disc on!) I also have a big problem with bands (or at least their record labels) insisting that a brand new release is already 'the best of' a certain band: doubly so in this case as both 'That's Why God Made The Radio' and 'Isn't It Time?' are easily the worst things here (the band could at least have closed with 'Summer's Gone'?!)
Capitol also effectively have 20 holes to fill because the Beach Boys only really had 30 hits (including the ones listed above) and choose to fill it with some very varied choices. Near-misses 'The Little Girl I Once Knew' and 'Sail On sailor are both here, where most fans would put them, but there's no 'Let Him Run Wild' or 'Long Promised Road'. Dennis gets his most popular song 'Forever' onto the album, but none of his almost-as-popular songs. Carl doesn't even do that well, with just the co-credit on 'Friends' to his name. Some of my favourite personal picks like 'The Warmth Of The Sun' 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' and 'Add Some Music To Your Day' made the list - but other decisions are more questionable: is 'All This Is That' and 'Wendy' really in the top 50 Beach Boys songs (ie the top 10% of their entire catalogue?) . Almost all albums are catered for somewhere - but there's nothing from either 'Beach Boys Love You' or 'MIU' (who said 'good'?!), which means '50 Big Ones' is almost comprehensive of every Beach Boys era - but isn't quite. The album is also a hodgepodge of songs that were remixed into stereo for compilations in the 1990s, the 2000s and some newly for this compilation - along with a few that aren't. The end result is a 'nearly' compilation, that almost manages to be definitive but gets it wrong just enough to convince me that there'll be another even more 'definitive' compilation out sometime in the future. Still, at the time of writing '50 Big Ones' is the best Beach Boys compilation out on the market with the exception of the two box sets and at two and a quarter hours is about as full as two CDs can get, offering up real value for money. Full marks too to Capitol for having the guts to secure the rights to the band's troubled back catalogue (which includes periods on Warner Brothers and Caribou).
"Live - the 50th Anniversary Tour"
(Capitol, May 21st 2013)
Do It Again/Little Honda/Catch A Wave/Hawaii/Don't Back Down/Surfin' Safari/Surfer Girl/The Little Girl I Once Knew/Wendy/Getcha Back/Then I Kissed Her/Marcella/Isn't It Time?/Why Do Fools Fall In Love?/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/Disney Girls/Be True To Your School/Little Deuce Coupe/409/Shut Down/I Get Around//Pet Sounds/Add Some Music To Your Day/Heroes and Villains/Sail On Sailor/California Saga: California Saga/In My Room/All This Is That/That's Why God Made The Radio/Forever/God Only Knows/Sloop John B/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Good Vibrations/California Girls/Help Me, Rhonda/Rock and Roll Music/Surfin' USA/Kokomo/Barbara Ann/Fun Fun Fun
"Let's get back together and do it again!"
With that very fitting line - actually written 45 years ago - the Beach Boys took to the stage for a number of firsts: astonishingly,despite the sheer amount of years (and pages!) between the two events, this is the first live album to feature Brian Wilson as a full member of the Beach Boys touring band since 'Beach Boys Concert' in 1964.Brian hadn't been with the band on record since 1995 and was last with them on stage a long time before that (1986, I think!) What's more he's brought his backing group The Wondermints with him, which leaves the Beach Boys the space to sing rather than simply play and for their vocals to sound as full as ever with the support behind them. Dave Marks, meanwhile, appears on his first live Beach Boys album ever - and his first tour alongside Brian. Al also rejoins the group for the first time since leaving in 1998. Astonishingly this is only Bruce's second live Beach Boys album, after the dodgy didn't-know-it-was-being-taped 'Live In London'. Given that only a few years before this Brian had been telling interviewers 'there's no way I'll ever step on stage again with Mike Love' (2002 in the UK documentary 'Woudln't It Be Nice?') this 50th anniversary seemed an unexpected treat.
As sceptical as I am about the reunion record, the band genuinely seem to be having fun in each other's company (especially on the live clips I've seen; oddly there hasn't been an official DVD of this tour - yet!) Dave Marks, particularly, is a revelation, playing some wild guitar licks that really lift the music: yes he'd been with the band off and on since 1997 (when Carl first got poorly) but this is the first truly 'proper' Beach Boys release to feature him (the Nascar casette doesn't count!) Yes the band can't sing as well as they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago and their vocal leads badly need the rest to 'fill' the gaps', but for a band now all in their 60s and 70s (Dave, the youngest, bring a mere 64) 'The 50th Anniversary Tour' is both powerful and pleasing.
Thankfully The Wondermints are on hand to 'cover' both vocally and instrumentally ands they're a lot more sensitive to the Beach Boys' arrnagements than the 1980s and 1990s touring band had been. What's more the band didn't just bring their skills - they brought their usual ideas for a setlist along too and the result is a revelation: the 1980s and 1990s era Beach Boys were notorious for just sticking rigidly to the hits but this set features a whole host of rare and obscure songs, some of which the band haven't even played live with Brian: 'Little Honda' 'Catch A Wave' and 'All This Is That' (the latter wasn't even performed live by the 'Flame' era Beach Boys!) The result is an album qwhere everyone gets a chance to shine somewhere. Brian still looks a tad miserable at times and has to concentrate hard on his vocals (turning in a particularly sweet part on 'In My Room') and thanks to not having to sing lead throughout an entire show (a stretch for him even now) his voice sounds better than it has in a long time too. Best, for the first time in goodness hows many pages, Mike Love sounds like a new man: back to his best fronting a grooving live band and having a whale of a time basking in the euphoria he must have felt would never come round again. The band even perform two tribute songs: backing Carl on 'God Only Knows' (thanks to video trickery and his perfrormance from 'Knewbworth') and singing 'Forever' for 'Dennis'. The result isn't quite as respectful as, say Paul McCartney's in concert tributes to John and George (which started the current trend for doing 'tribute' songs) but it's a sweet gesture nonetheless. At 41 songs and 2 hours 2 minutes - a mere nine songs and 12 minutes short of the two CD best-of the band were promoting - this set is also generous in terms of playing time. Even the songs from the 'Radio' reunion album (thankfully restricted to the two singles) don't sound quite as bad here, although it's a shame the first half doesn't end with 'Summer's Gone'. Otherwise all the expected hits are here with just the right mixture of everything else - only a superflous instrumental ('Pet Sounds', basically a showcase for The Wondermints that leaves the band nothing to do) gets in the way.
Of course, this being The Beach Boys, there had to be an unhappy twist in the tale somewhere along the way. The band split as planned to take a rest - but found to their shock that Mike and Bruce were continuing to tour as 'The Beach Boys'. The fallout from this depends on who you believe: that this always the intention (as Mike asserted), that the gigs had been booked in advance of the 50th anniversary ones and that any other band members were welcome at any one time but had declined. Or were Brian, Dave and Al effectively 'fired' from the group despite all those good vibrations, the rekindled interest in the band simply becoming the springboard to more success for the 'old' touring band? (Their faces were all used on the posters even though they wouldn't be appearing). The truth is probably somewhere in the middle - that a series of gigs were booked by the 'old' band at a series of smaller arenas which were 'honoured' by the smaller band despite the fact the entire band had spoken about wanting to extend their tour; the use of their faces was probably a bit of over eager marketing. Whatever the reason - and whatever the future might bring in the way of more Beach Boys reunions and revivals - it made for an unpleasant aftertaste to what had been the best received Beach Boys shows in years, neatly summing up what had been a very mixed 50 years of friendship, heartbreak and reunions. A box set reminding us of just what a rollercoaster ride it had been was released just three months later and is coming up on your list very soo- why here it is!
"Made In California"
(Capitol, August 27th 2013)
CD One: Surfin' (Rehearsal)/Surfin'/Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring (Demo)/Surfin' Safari/409/Lonely Sea/Surfin' USA/Shut Down/Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe/Catch A Wave/Our Car Club/Surfers Rule (with unreleased chat)*/In My Room/Back Home (First Version)*/Be True To Your School/The Ballad Of Ole Betsy/Little Saint Nick/Fun Fun Fun/Little Honda/Don't Worry Baby/Why Do Fools Fall In Love?/Warmth Of The Sun/I Get Around (with unreleased chat)*/Wendy/All Summer Long/Girls On The Beach/Don't Back Down/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)/All Dressed Up For School/Please Let Me Wonder/Kiss Me Baby/In The Back Of My Mind/Dance Dance Dance
CD Two: Do You Wanna Dance?/Help Me, Rhonda/California Girls/Amusement Parks USA (Alternate Version)*/Salt Lake City/Let Him Run Wild/Graduation Day (Session Extract* and Finished Take)/The Little Girl I Once Knew/There's No Other (Like My Baby) (Partly Without Overdubs)/Barbara Ann/Radio Spot #1*/Sloop John B/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/God Only Knows/I Just Wasn't Made For These Times/Caroline, No/Good Vibrations/ Our Prayer/Heroes and Villains x 2/Vege-Tables/Wind Chimes/ Fire/Cabinessence/Heroes and Villains 3/Wonderful/Country Air/Wild Honey
CD Three: Darlin'/Let The Wind Blow/Meant For You (Unedited)* /Friends/Little Bird/Busy Doin' Nothin'/Sail PLane Song/We're Together Again/Radio Spot #2*/Do It Again/Ol' Man River/Be With Me/I Can Hear Music/Time To Get Alone/I Went To Sleep/ Can't Wait Too Long/Break Away/Celebrate The News/ Cottonfields/Susie Cincinatti/Good Time/Slip On Through/Add Some Music To Your Day/This Whole World/Forever/It's About Time/Soulful Old Man Sunshine/Fallin' In Love/Sound Of Free/Til' I Die/Surf's Up
CD Four: Don't Go Near The Water/Disney Girls/Feel Flows/(Wouldn't It Be Nice To) Live Again?*/Marcella/All This Is That/Sail On Sailor/The Trader/California Saga: California/Rock and Roll Music (with 'missing' verse)*/It's OK/Had To Phone Ya/Let Us Go On This Way/I'll Bet He's Nice/Solar System/The Night Was So Young/It's Over Now/Come Go With Me/California Feelin'*/Brian Is Back/Good Timin'/Angel Come Home/Baby Blue/It's A Beautiful Day/Goin' To The Beach*
CD Five: Goin' On/Why Don't They Let Us Fall In Love?*/Da Doo Ron Ron*/Getcha Back/California Dreamin'/Kokomo/Soul Searchin'*/You're Still A Mystery*/That's Why God Made The Radio/Isn't It Time?/Runaway (Live 1965)*/You're So Good To Me (Live 1966)*/The Letter/Friends (Live 1968)*/Little Bird (Live 1968)*/All I Want To Do (Live 1968)/Help Me, Rhonda (Live 1972)*/Wild Honey (Live 1972)*/Only With You (Live 1972)*/It's About Time (Live 1973)*/I Can Hear Music (Live 1975)*/Vege-Tables (Live 1993)*/Wonderful (Live 1993)*/Sail On Sailor (Live 1995)*/Summer In Paradise (Live 1993)
CD Six: Radio Spot #3*/Don't Worry Baby (Alternate Version)* /Pom Pom Playgirl (Session Excerpt)*/Guess I'm Dumb (Backing Track)/Sherry She Needs Me*/Mona Kana*/This Whole World (Vocals Only Mix)/Where Is She?*/Had To Phone Ya (Backing Track)*/Smile Vocal Montage/Good Vibrations (Session Excerpts)/Be With Me (Demo)*/I Believe In Mircales (Vocal Extract)*/Why? (Backing Track)*/Barnyard Blues*/Don't Go Near The Water (Backing Track)/You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'*/Transcendental Meditation (Backing Track)/Our Sweet Love (Vocals and Strings Mix)/Back Home (Second Version)*/California Feelin' (Demo)*/California Girls (Rehearsal)*/Help Me, Rhonda (Rehearsal)*/Surf's Up (Hybrid Mix)/My Love Lives On*/Radio Spot #4*/Wendy (BBC Session 1964)*/When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) (BBC Session 1964)*/Hushabye (BBC Session 1964)*/Coda
"Hi Rog, this is Brian again, it's been 50 years but I still haven't got to the end of that announcement thanking you for playing our records without chuckling yet..."
The Beach Boys had already made one of the very best AAA markets with their superb '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' set in 1993.But by 2013, with a new album recebtly released, Capitol decided that this set should be as different as it can be. A new selection of tracks from the Beach Boys' back archives are included, featuring several great choices not part of the 'old' set ('Lonely Sea' 'Busy Doin' Nothin' 'Baby Blue' 'Solar System' and 'Angel Come Home', classics all) and a whole host of outtakes previously unreleased - even more than on the first box. However sequels often fail to live up to debut releases and so it is with these two sets: the 'hits' were included in full before but are now here only in part and the excitement of having a full two hours of unreleased material palls when you realise that most of them are ropey live versions of songs already heard in materful form in the studio across most of the set anyway and even the dozen or so previously unheard in any form songs are a poor substitute for half an hour of unheard 'Smile'. Again the set is more or less in crhonological order and does a great job at showing all the varied forms of the many Beach Boys styles down the years - but yet again things come unstuck with the presence of the second half of the fifth and all the sixth CD made up of completely unreleased material, which goes through the whole Beach Boys story in order, again, despite te fact that a few rarities that didn't fit are sprinkled across the first four discs anyway. Given that many of these 'rarities' are simply new mixes or the usual deeply random selection of backing tracks and vocal mixes (the whole of the Beach Boys canon to choose from and you went for the one-note horn backing from 'Trasncendental Meditation'?!) that just seems odd, especially as the set ends not with 'God Made The Radio' in 2012 but a BBC take of 'Hushabye' in 1964, barring a last archice word from Carl (apparently Capitol were asked to do that by Mike Love, whose not exactly known for his help in aiding and abetting Beach Boys box sets down the years). What surprises me, too, is how little material there is here from the 'fringes' of Beach Boys releases that have themselves become hard to find or obselete: just one song from the 'two-fer-one' bonus tracks ('All Dressed Up For School', not exactly my first choice), nothing from the 'Flame' album or 'American Spring', nothing from 'Stack O Tracks' or 'Live At London', the bare minimum from the 'Lost and Found' tapes or 'Beach Boys Rarities', still no appearance for the studio take of 'We Got Love' (booted off Holland at the last minute and appearing on some early pressings of the record) and the two unreleased Beach Boys records of the 1970s ('Adult Child' and 'Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys') are left untouched, except for a single song already included on the first box. What's more there's no solo material on this record at all: how great would a disc of the best hard-to-find songs by Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al, Bruce and even that under-rated Mike Love solo album highlights have been?
The end result, then, is a bit off: more 'Hawthorne, CA' than 'Endless Harmony' in terms of the balance between rarities and rip-offs. And yet, like the first box, some of this stuff is fabulous. 'Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again?' is a Dennis Wilson leftover from that first abandoned album he worked on in 1971 and has understandably been the track most fans have talked about: a pumped up version of Dennis' solo recordings, but with a higher, sweeter tone and a marvellous Mike-and-Carl vocal tag that grooves along like nothing in the Beach Boys history, it's almost worth the price of the set alone (it is still far too expensive at present, though, so bear ibn mind we said 'almost'). The unedited version of 'Meant For You' is a joy, turning a beautiful 30 second fragment into a bona fide song about maternal instincts. An alternate stab at 'Amusement Parks USA' is an even wilder and more fenetic ride, with =out the band's silly shlock in the middle eight and drummer Hal Blaine's carnival barker part getting ever more risque ('Come on in and see Stella the snake dancer, she walks, she talks, she wiggles on her belly like a reptile, she got the biggest ass that I've ever known...') The 'No Other Baby' without the 'Party' overdubs and a minute-long intro of the band setting up shop is the best 'unplugged' mix yet: the harmonies so pure and the band spouting comedy gold (Carl Wilson even spoofs the band's recent 'Our Recording Sessions' patter by introducing it with the words 'this is Alan Jardine ands this is what takes place at a typical Beach Boys party...' before Brian does his best 'annoyed elder parent voice' telling the band to 'shut up!' and Bruce adds 'hi Brian - here to make another hit record!' Mike then does a rather good comedy drunk, inspiring his cousin to say he'll call 'the cops!' before tuning his guitar and busking a few bars from 'Ticket To Ride'). The 1995 last-recordings-with-Carl song 'You're Still A Mystery' is an intriguing way to say goodbye too, sounding very much like a solo Brian Wilson song with big reverberation echo chambers and his wilder modern arrangements but with the other Beach Boys on the vocals instead of The Wondermints. All of this adds up to a very impressive selection of oddities and rarities collected as part of the main set.Throughout the usual songs we know and love are often surrounded by false starts or studio chatter, too, which is very interesting (though not made for repeated listening!)
Thereafter, though, the live tracks on disc five and the new mixes, BBC sessions and paraphenelia on disc six just doesn't cut it. The highlight of the whole lot comes at the beginning with a live Al Jardine-led cover of Del Shannon's 'Runaway' which really rocks (the band so shoukld have put this out on the concert album instead of 'Long Tall Texan'!) There's a funky 'Flame' era 'It's About Time', a Blonide Chaplin sung 'Wild HOney' and even a Dennis Wilson version of 'Help Me, Rhonda', but really the live selections are just filler and some of the 1990s recordings show how painfully poor the band's performances were getting in that decade. Of the last 'studio' rarities disc the ones that shine out are a very wobbly alternate Brian Wiklson vocal on 'Don't Worry Baby', the backing track for the sublime 'Guess I'm Dumb' song given away to Glenn Campbel as a 'thankyou' for filling in for Brian on tour, a moody childlike Brian Wilson song named 'Where Is She?'that isn't that great on its own but could have been with more time, effort and concentration, a homely Dennis Wilson song about loving the country which gets the band to re-create their animal sound effects from 'Barnyard' (which still features some appaling lyrics though) and best of all a terrific piano demo for 'Be With Me' with Dennis still clearly working through his ideas. However the rest of these songs are scraping the barrel: there's a 'Pom Pom Playgirl' session that goes on forever (the band getting it wrong over and over), an apalling '15 Big Ones' era 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' that sounds even weirder and synth heavy than the Human League version and three BBC session songs that are so sowy and woolly you'd take your bootleg back and demand a refund - never mind a pricey box set (fair enough if that's the only condition theys till exist in but surely something would have improved them or at least corrected the pitch of 'When I Grow Up?) The packaging too isn't quite as special as on 'Good Vibrations', even if it does include a nice Brian Wilson essay that's less scatterbrained than his album re-issue essays. Overall, our advice is if you own all the Beach Boys CDs already then you won't miss this - but if you loved the first box set and don't know anything else then this would make a fine companion set.
You could argue that the Beach Boys deserve better, that fans have already got almost everything here and that we'd much rather the complete sixth disc of rarities had been released in a 2 CD pack with the outtakes spread across the rest of the set, and you'd be right. And yet box sets are a tricky thing to get right: most bands never get them right once (The Byrds have released two now and they're both missed opportunities) - the fact that the first Beach Boys set is so good simply set the bar for this second volume that bit too high. The fact that the band still get an almost totally different box set half right (that's 11 full discs now) despote featuring the bare minimum of repeats between the two sets is a testmanet to just how many greast Beach Boys recordings there are out there - both released and - till this set - unreleased. You do wonder though: in 20 years when both box sets are long deleted and a third box set comes out (perhaps entitled '70 Years Of Ever Changing Vibrations' or 'Made In California, Now Living At The Old Rocker's Rest Home') containing the best of both sets: now that will be the one to get!
CD One: The Surfin' Safari Album/Luau (Demo Tape)/Surfin' (Demo Tape)/Barbie (Demo Tape, credited to 'Kenny and the Cadets')/What Is A Young Girl Made Of? (Demo Tape credited to 'Kenny and the Cadets')/Surfin' Safari (German Mix)/Mr Moto-Interview*/Revo-Lution ('Rachel and the Revolvers', produced by Brian Wilson)*/Number One ('Rachel and the Revolvers', produced by Brian Wilson)*/The Surfer Moon ('Bob and Sherri', written and produced by Brian Wilson)/Humpty Dumpty ('Bob and Sherri', produced by Brian Wilson)
CD Two: Heads You Win, Tails I Lose (Overdubs Takes 13,14 and 17)/County Fair (Backing and Overdubs Take 13)/Cuckoo Clock (Backing ands Overdubs Take 12)/Summertime Blues (Backing Takes 1-4, Overdubs Takes 5-12)/Land Ahoy (Backing and Overdubs Takes 2-5)/Little Girl (You're My Miss America) Backing Takes 1-11, 13 and 15)/Surfer Moon ('Bob and Sherri' Version) Backing Takes 1-3/Cindy Oh Cindy (Backing Takes 1-7 and Final Version)
"The 1988 Copyright Designs and Patent Act states the duration of copyright as ii) Sound Recordings and Broadcasts: 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which thr work was created or if the work is released within that time: 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first released"
...Which legal jargon made this set possible. In a nutshell, despite several high-profile attempts to get the law changed, any recording from 1962 which hadn't been released or was released in that year was fair game - creating a series of unofficial and unsanctioned but just about legal CDs in 2013. The two-disc set basically comprises the entire first album, a whopping 33 tracks of outtakes (mainly the Beach Boys trying to overdub their vocals on top of backing tracks and failing), some Brian Wilson production jobs for friends and associates released that year and a few select parts from the 'Lost and Found' demo tape of 1961 (although the compilers are only legally allowed to use what came out at the time - not what was issued for the first time in 1991 (by the time those recordings are liable in 2041 we predict this book will be on it's 30th set of re-prints and that an android Beach Boys are currently touring, just as long as the band's surfing doubles don't get wet!) Most fans will probably not count it as an 'official' part of the canon - and yet it's still a fascinating listen at times as well as neatly taking us full circle at the end of our 'main section', discussing the songs from the demo tape and first album that we started with umpteen-hundred pages ago.
Like all of these sets, some of these tracks are more essential than others. The interview with a surprisngly self-confident Brian ('this guys a comedian!') is a nice time capsule, showing the band really going places in the wake of 'Surfin' Safari', with Brian commenting that they've got six songs ready and the next single is going to be....'Chug-A-Lug' (a track which got swapped at the last minute for 'Ten Little Indians'). The noisy 'Rachel and the Revolutions' - actually a session singer named Betty Willis - shows Brian and room-mate and lyricist Gary Usher coming up with a much more complex arrangement than any of the tracks on the first Beach Boys album (with backing from Dennis according to the session sheets). 'Number One' is better known to fans as 'Visions' - a Brian Wilson demo of which used to be a favourite on Beach Boys bootlegs. Bob and Sheri - ie Bob Norberg, another Brian Wilson collaborator - were never going to have much of a career singing slow soppy stuff like these two tracks; however 'Surfer Moon' is a particularly interesting bit of slow soppy stuff for fans: a faster and frankly much better version all round was re-recorded for the third Beach Boys album 'Surfer Girl'.
As for the outtakes, full box sets of each Beach Boys album up to 'Today' did the rounds in the 1990s, peaking for some reason with 'The Christmas Album' (sitting through those 11 repetitive CDs was not inducive to a festive mood I can tell you!) For whatever reason less of the mastertapes for 'Surfin' Safari' haven't survived in one piece like many of the others. What we do have mainly seems to have been taped on the last session for the album on September 6th 1962 (featuring sessions for five songs thatmade the debut record, plus 'Land Ahoy' an outtake taped the same day but left in the vaults until the 'two-fer' re-issue of the album in the year 2000) plus a solo one for 'Cindy Oh Cindy' on September 13th 1962 (which wasn't strictly part of the album sessions - the Beach Boys left this one alone until that 2000 CD re-issue too). Along the way we get such interesting oddities as Mike getting confused over whether ist 'heads I win, tails you lose' or vice versa, pausing mid-take and a 'full' ending to 'County Fair' that features the band and guesting Andrea Carlo (as the shallow 'girlfriend') getting the giggles. There are also some terrific backing tracks that really show off Dave and Carl's guitar interplay ('County Fair' 'Cuckoo Clock 'Little Girl' and an interminable cover of 'Summertime Blues' that the band just can't seem to get right, going through some 12 takes across 10 tracks). All very interesting, but like a lot of these 'as it happened' sets you'll find yourself glancing at your watch as much as revelling in the magic happneing in front of you.
Is this set essential? No, probably not - you can quite happily lead your lives without hearing the band trip over their big surfing feet again and again on 'Summertime Blues' or playing near enough 13 identical variations on 'You're My Miss America'. It's true, too, that this 1962 set is less essential than any others that might be coming: any sets from later years will have much more to offer whereas these incomplete master tapes don't even include any outtake of 'Surfin' Safari' (by far the best known song here). Strangely, though, this doesn't reflect badly on the band at all: hearing them stumble merely reminds us that they're a group of teenagers with the eldest at 21 with no prior experience - the fact that they come away with anything useable is a credit in itself. This is also the closest you and I will ever get to being in the recording studio with the band, living through their mistakes and sudden moments of inspiration in real time and building up a sound that will run for 50 years and counting; if you have the patience to sit through all of that lot then 'Surfin' 62' is a mesmerising, almost hypnotic experience and one that will leave you feeling closer to the band than ever. Roll on 'Surfin' 63'!
The Big Beat
(Capitol, December 17th 2013)
The Big Beat (Bob and Sherri)/1st Rock and Roll Dance (Brian Wilson)*/Gonna Hustle You (Brian Wilson)*/Ride Away (Bob and Sherri)*/Funny Boy (The Honeys)/Marie (The Honeys)/Mother May*/I Do (Demo)*/Bobby Left Me (Brian Wilson)*/If It Can't Be You (Gary Usher)/You Brought It All On Yourself (The Honeys)/Make The Night A Little Longer (The Honeys)/Rabbit's Foot (The Honeys)/Summer Moon (Bob Norberg)/Side Two (Brian Wilson)*/The Ballad Of Ole' Betsy (Demo)*/Thank Him (For Our Love) (Brian Wilson)*/Once You've Got Him (The Honeys)/For Always and Forever (The Honeys)/Little Dirt Bike (The Honeys)/Darling I'm Not Stepping Out On You (The Honeys)/When I Think About You (The Honeys)
Similarly this official set of 1962 vintage recordings from Capitol was the label's attempt to re-claim copyright on their recordings for another half-century; although an official release this set came out without fanfare and was quietly buried to the point where many fans didn't know it was out, with as minimal packaging and time and effort as they could get away with (there isn't one picture of the Beach Boys on the cover). A cornucopia of unused Brian Wilson demos, Brian Wilson productions for collaborators Bob Norberg and Gary Usher and a whole host of recordings (mainly unreleased demos) by Brian's wife Marilyn and sisters-in-law Diane and Ginger. The Beach Boys recordings are clearly the highlights: who'd have guessed that 'The Ballad Of Ole Betsy' was written two full years before its appearance on 'Little Deuce Coupe' (why leave it behind when the band clearly needed material - it would have been better than any of the five surfing 'jams' on 'Surfin' USA'!); similarly the demo for 'I Do' is every bit as lovely as the finished product (recorded by the band but ultimately left off the 'Surfer Girl' album; like the finsihed version the reponse is 'why?' - this sweet and mature Brian Wlson song is better than most of a similar vintage; also why did such lovely pieces as 'Thank Him For Our Love' and the fun 'Gonna Hustle You' (another of Brian's early competitive songs) get passed by for such gems as, err, 'Chug-A-Lug' and 'Honky Tonk'?! Best of all though might be 'Mother May' - we're not quite sure how seriously this Beach Boys track was being taken but its one of the band's funnier comedy spoofs, with Mike Love rather convincing in his portrayal as the sweet old granny. The rest is largely dispensible: the Brian Wilson productions could be made by any half-decent surfing act and don't contain that Brian Wikson production 'gold' while the Honeys recordings are particularly disappointing: before their reinvention as 'American Spring' their act as a 'female Beach Boys' is already wearing a bit thin this early in the band's career. Still, a set like this is nice to have and it's certainly a lot better for these tracks to be out in the light of day rather than sitting in a dusty vault, even if Capitol have for the moment decided to cover the set up as much as they possibly can...