Friday 4 July 2008

The Beach Boys "Sunflower" (1970) ('Core' Review #36, Revised Edition 2014)

You can now buy 'Add Some Music To Your Day - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Beach Boys' in e-book form by clicking here

On which the Beach Boys add some typically glorious music to your day…
(Review first published in July 2008; Revised edition published on June 12th 2014)

Track Listing: Slip On Through/ This Whole World/ Add Some Music To Your Day/ Got To Know The Woman/ Deirdre/ It’s About Time// Tears In The Morning/ All I Wanna Do/ Forever/ Our Sweet Love/ At My Window/ Cool Cool Water (UK and US tracklisting)

For The Record:

Ones to watch out for: Slip On Through, Add Some Music To Your Day, It’s About Time, All I Wanna Do, Forever

Ones to skip: At My Window – which would have been an album highlight on most other post-Brian records, but here its not even close to the rest of Sunflower’s high standard.

The cover: The band posing with their newly-born children (Dennis and Bruce didn’t have any yet – well Dennis probably had dozens, just not with his wife(s)!) reflecting their growing maturity as the 70s began and the group’s new-found ‘togetherness’ (this is the first ‘band’ front cover since the last vaguely ’band’-made album Pet Sounds in 1966 and the last until 1976’s 15 Big Ones, where the band photos for the cover were all taken individually—very fitting given the fractured nature of those sessions despite the very public ‘we're back! Brian too!’ publicity campaigns that took place for it that year). Like Sunflower the album, its hard not to go ahhhhhh when you see the front cover fgor this album.

Key lyrics: “The Sunday morning gospel goes good with the soul, there’s blues folk and country and rock like a rolling stone, the world could come together as one, if everybody under the sun, could add some music to their day” “I used to be a famous artist, proud as I could be, struggling to express myself for the whole world to see, I used to blow my mind sky searching for that lost elation, little did I know the door I was to find knowing I am only me” “If every word I said could make you laugh, I’d talk forever” “In an ocean or in a glass, cool water is such a gas”

Singles: None, with Add Some Music To Your Day, Cool Cool Water (in a slightly different single mix) and This Whole World perhaps the best known thanks to their appearance on the compilation Ten Years Of Harmony.

Original UK chart position: #29 – always seen as a huge flop in the states, Sunflower actually charted better in the UK than most post-Pet Sounds LPs, albeit a huge comedown after its predecessor 20/20 made #3. Strange how songs about Californian beaches and summer sunshine always sold so well on these grey and rainy shores – hmm, then again, perhaps I can see the appeal of those songs now…

Official out-takes: As ever with this band, there are masses to choose from; unknown songs called Walkin’ Forever, Carnival and Fallin’ In Love which have yet to be released at all, two fine if rather rough and sketchy Brian Wilson out-takes, Games Two Can Play and I’ve Just Got My Pay (which can be heard on the Beach Boys 5 CD box-set 30 Years Of Good Vibrations), an early version of Al’s Take A Load Off Your Feet, Pete (later finished and included on 1971’s LP Surf’s Up), an early version of Brian and Mike’s When Girls Get Together (later remixed – and ruined – for the 1981 LP Keepin’ The Summer Alive), an early version of Brian’s Back Home (later released in basic just-got-out-of-bed-and-turned-the-microphone-on form on for 15 Big Ones, 1976), an early version of Al’s Susie Cincinatti released in almost identical form as first a B-side and then as an album track on !5 Big Ones, a Spanish-sounding rocker by Dennis but sung by Carl called San Miguel (available on the ‘Brother Records’ compilation 10 Years Of Harmony) and a similar, almost identical early version of Brian’s sweet pop song Good Time to the one released on The Beach Boys Love You (1977), plus ‘a capella’ (ie vocals-only) mixes of Add Some Music To Your Day and Forever can be heard on the out-takes set Hawthorne, California (2001). Brian and Rick Henn’s gorgeous 1969 song Soulful Old Man Sunshine might also have been in the running at one stage given its close proximity to the Sunflower sessions – although it’s not usually listed as a ‘Sunflower’ off-cut (you can hear it on the single CD out-takes compilation Endless Harmony – its also in the TV documentary of the same name) See the opening 30 seconds of Brian Wilson’s solo re-recording Blue Hawaii for how the chief creator of this album’s song Cool Cool Water originally intended the song to go (** see notes for more about these out-takes, because the history of this album gets confusing!)   

Availability: Part of Warner Brothers’ superlative two-fer-one CD reissues on a single CD with Surf’s Up as the album’s neighbour, although the two discs’ long-running time mean there are no bonus tracks this time around.

This album came between: The surprisingly tasty leftovers album ‘20/20’ (1969), highlighted by Dennis Wilson’s scary-songs-for-strings and the band’s first genuine Smile recordings; the follow-up was the same-successful-formula, less-inspiration LP Surf’s Up (1971), highlighted by Brian’s mournful but moving Til’ I Die and Carl Wilson’s pair of songs Long Promised Road and Feel Flows.

Line up: Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson (produced by The Beach Boys)

Putting The Album In Context:
BACK in those distant days of 1970, with Pet Sounds and the unfinished Smile behind them, the Beach Boys were thought by just about everybody except the band themselves to be finished. Most people probably thought the band were finished and would never make a good record again - but 'Sunflower' is judged by an awful lot of people to be the actual honest-to-goodness best album they ever made (it's just about my favourite too if 'Smile' is disallowed). 'Sunflower' might have roughly the same ratio of good, bad and great songs on it as the last few Capitol albums, but there's a crucial difference here: at long long last The Beach Boys have become a proper bona fide band. Now that might seem a strange statement to make for a band on their 16th studio album, but the fact is that for the first five years the band have had Brian Wilson as their driving force and for the next three the band have struggled to work out how to fill in the 'gaps', piecing together their albums as different members slowly take to writing, recording and production difficulties. Now in 1970, for a whole variety of reasons we'll be looking at, The Beach Boys are firing on all cylinders and even Brian seems more interested in making music than he had in a while. 'Sunflower' may not be as pioneering as some of the earlier Beach Boys with Brian at the helm, but it's mixture of consistency, strong production and general sense of hope and optimism make it arguably the most readily likeable in their back catalogue.

So why such joy here and not earlier? Well, Capitol records weren't exactly the world's most sympathetic employees when Brian first got poorly  - their response was to lessen the Beach Boys' contract to three albums a year from four; not great news for a band without a leader and who were having to learn on their feet throughout 1967 to 1969. Now, though, the end of this difficult period was in sight: although technically the first draft of 'Sunflower' at least was  a Capitol recording, the band chose to 'allow' the release of the 'Live In London' record instead (taped in 1968 without their knowledge), and kept their latest recordings for their new label Warner Brothers. The fact that the band were currently suing Capitol for unpaid royalties (a court case still dragging on from the 'Smile' days but which had not leapt into another gear) meant that the label gave them up with less of a fight than they would have done even a year earlier. Chances are Capitol thought the band would be dead and buried without them anyway because the band's sales had been slipping, but while the sales of 'Sunflower' did indeed hit a new low it wasn't true that the band were washed up. Warner Brothers president Mo Ostin was a huge Beach Boys fans and would have done near anything to lure them to his label, even with slipping sales - it's his enthusiasm that is one of the key ingredients of this album's feeling of optimism and togetherness - although sadly as things will turn out the Beach Boys aren't actually any happier at their new home in the long run. He wasn’t as afraid of Brian’s condition as many other record executives were either – heck, his label was still handling the Grateful Dead at this point so Brian seemed like someone they could handle!

The band's new confidence after proving that they could make a record largely by 'themselves' in Brian's absence on '20/20' further encouraged their confidence. Dennis Wilson especially blossoms in this period: the middle Wilson brother gets no less than four tracks on the album - he’d struggle to get even one per record in the years to come - and they’re all terrific but very different, showing what an under-rated musician and songwriter he was. Throughout his career, Dennis found it hard to win his brothers, cousin and band-mates over to his ideas and only really fulfilled his talent on his solo records—the others remembered all too well his reluctance to sing with the group in the early 60s and the fact that the other Wilsons were only given their mother’s blessing if they accepted Dennis too to ‘keep him out of mischief’. For the public, too, Dennis was the partying Beach Boy, the one who made the most publicly out of their success and so its perhaps no surprise that when Dennis ‘found’ he could write in the late 60s the others never took him seriously, except perhaps younger brother Carl—but then Carl was supportive to anyone with talent, not just his wayward brothers and even his stalwart support failed to win over the other Beach Boys to Dennis’ cause. Sadly for Dennis his peak creativity came at just the wrong moment for the band in commercial terms so few fans ever got to experience his talent, but with a new contract on the table and more ideas than anyone else 'Sunflower' is Dennis' album even more than '20/20' had been. It's a great shame that, just at the moment when the band's fortunes were reversing on next LP 'Surf's Up' Dennis had temporarily left the band to work on an aborted solo album and so never really reaped the rewards. Of his songs on this album 'Forever' has thankfully become something of a retrospective 'hit' (even Dennis' old adversary - his dad - told his son lovely the song was during one of his last phone-calls home), but the other three are ever so nearly as good, especially 'It's About Time' - the single most complex piece of music The Beach Boys had tried up till now without Brian Wilson.

The others aren't far behind either: by now Carl is very much in charge of the Beach Boys ship, even if he got poor reward for his work (Warner Brothers were keen that the album should have the production credit 'The Beach Boys' so that they could at least pretend Brian had had a role in making this record) and just one co-credit to his name. Mike gets three co-writes to his name: a far cry from the days when he and his cousin wrote everything but evidence of more interest than of late: all three of Love's co-writes are among the album highlights, especially the lovely 'All I Wanna Do' which shows a new softer streak in the singer's lyrics that will serve the band well in years to come.Al and Bruce have both taken on the role of coaxing Brian out of his shell just long enough to pass a few ideas around and their co-writes on this album (on 'Our Sweet Love' 'At My Widow' and 'Deirdre', a song Johnston based on a single Brian Wilson phrase) and they do a better job than earlier. The latter, especially, is really enjoying his status as an actual bona fide contibuting band member (both of his 'projects' on '20/20' had started as solo affairs before the group 'borrowed' them for the album) and 'Tears In The Morning' - his song without Brian's involvement - is one of his best. Brian actually sounds enthusiastic himself here, turning in one of his most gorgeous and serene melodies in 'Add Some Music To Your Day' as well as some genuinely excited sounding vocals on the opening  of 'At My Window' and gorgeous falsetto parts on 'Forever' and 'It's About Time' that are as great as any in the 'old days' ('Cool Cool Water' is 'rescued' from an old recording, although how much is new on this track and how much dates from 1966 is unknown). Part of the Warner Brothers deal had been that Brian would be more involved, but it became clear early on that Brian was only slightly more involved than he had been on '20/20' and his involvement with the band will wax and wane until 1976 (when poor Brian is basically frogmarched into a studio and told to work).

However things are never plain sailing for The Beach Boys in any period and this album is no exception. The band ended up submitting this album three times, even though both previous line-ups sounds like winners to me. For the record, the first draft - titled 'Add Some Music To Your Day' - would have looked like this: Slip On Through, Walkin’ Forever, Games Two Can Play, Add Some Music To Your Day, When Girls Get Together, Our Sweet Love, I Just Got My Pay, Carnival, Susie Cincinnati, Good Time, possibly with San Miguel and Soulful Old Man Sunshine in the running at one stage too. Of the songs that didn't make the album, seven of these have been released since and all are good, a couple of them fabulous (editor's note: these have been reviewed elsewhere in this book: 'Games Two Can Play' and 'I Just Got My Pay' came out on the '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' box set in 1993 and are reviewed immediately before this album; 'Susie Cincinatti' was remixed for the 1976 album '15 Big Ones'; 'Good Time' was remixed for 1977 album 'The Beach Boys Love You'; 'When Girls Get Together' was remixed for 1980 album 'Keepin' The Summer Alive'; 'San Miguel' turned up on 1981 compilation 'Ten Years Of Harmony' and 'Soulful Old Man Sunshine' is a highlight of 1998 rarities set 'Endless Harmony'). 'Walkin' Forever' and 'Carnival' have still yet to be released. A second version, still titled 'Add Some Music To Your Day' then ran as follows: Susie Cincinnati, Good Time, Our Sweet Love, Tears In The Morning, When Girls Get Together, Slip On Through, Add Some Music To Your Day, Take A Load Off Your Feet Pete, This Whole World, I Just Got My Pay, At My Window, Fallin’ In Love. As you can see, this version is closer to the finished 'Sunflower' album - of the 'new' songs 'Take A Load Off Your Feet' was remixed for use on next LP 'Surf's Up' and 'Fallin' In Love' is a moody and much-bootlegged Dennis Wilson song that finally found a home on the 2012 box set 'Made In California'. 'Where Is She?' - also released on 'Made In California' - was taped for these sessions but never actually submitted as part of either running order.

The remaining tracks—ie Got To Know The Woman, Deirdre, It’s About Time, All I Wanna Do, Forever and the overdubs on the 1967 version of Cool Cool Water -  were all recorded in the third batch of sessions held to make Sunflower, with the latter song in particular 're-recorded' from a Smile session tape to please Mo Ostin (there was already a buzz about the album after 'Our Prayer' and 'Cabinessence' were warmly received on '20/20' although 'Cool Cool Water' has an interesting history: the 'Smile' version includes this merely as a minute-long backing track as part of 'In Blue Hawaii' - Mike Love added new words for this version, or at least we think he did - like a lot of 'Smile' facts the story behind the song is rather vague). Pulling off one great album was no small achievement given the state of The Beach Boys; pulling off three (with a few repeats admittedly) is a towering accomplishment: truly any of these three albums could have come out and still have been in the top three Beach Boys records - all of them, with the possible exception of peculiar waltz 'When Girls Get Together', have a real fire, invention and enthusiasm the band never quite have again.

At their wits end, the group worked their socks off to come up with something so darned special, so spectacularly wonderful, something so inventive and adventurous, that no one could possibly turn it down.  Sunflower is such a record, majestic in its confidence and sudden burst of talent from all five members (with some strong cameos from Brian), the first truly ‘group’ record the Beach Boys had ever done, with each member pulling their weight equallyDespite the loss of Brian for much of the album (albeit at least he’s here, unlike the vast majority of later 70s albums So Tough and Holland)- the album somehow sounds terribly Beach Boys-ish, updating their sound for the 70s a la CSN without losing the magical effortless sunshine of their old selves. The album is dominated by block harmonies, always a good sign on a Beach Boys record, and Carl is already flexing the production muscles that are about to find the band their second stab at success. Just like its namesake, Sunflower is simple but beautiful, packed with the sunshine the Beach Boys always had but showing such impressive growth in such a short period of time that you can hear the group’s abilities  positively flower out from the speakers as well. Like the flower the album is named after, 'Sunflower' is an all-American plant with a rough, hairy stem (!) but some of the prettiest leaves in the natural kingdom, was worshipped by many tribes as evidence of a 'Sun-God' and gives the impression that after a long cold winter summer is here again. Sadly that wasn't quite to be - the Warner Brothers period turns out to be a bit of a rainy Autumn with sunny passages - but at the time The Beach Boys had every right to be optimistic: in short 'Sunflower' isn't just a good album, it's a great album!

However, in many ways The Beach Boys' 'Sunflower' suffered from the same fate as Van Gogh's famous 'Sunflowers' paintings: this brilliant work of art simply wasn't recognised in the artist's lifetime. After all that hard work, Sunflower came out to critical stony silence and the poorest sales in the group’s history (for some reason they bounced back commercially the next year with the vastly inferior Surf’s Up – very odd!)  That goes double for the first single 'Add Some Music To Your Day', which Mo Ostin loved so much he doubled up his usual amount of first pressings for a single - instead the song limped to #69 in the American charts (by contrast last Capitol single 'Break Away' had gone one better at #63 - the 'failure' of this single also meant it lost its coveted spot as the album's title). The world couldn’t see it in 1970, but despite the group being forced to split the writing chores between members of the group who’d almost never had their songs recorded before, Sunflower is a storming success. Long forgotten to all but the most supportive of Beach Boys fans, Sunflower has undergone something of a creative renaissance in recent years to become seen as the best album the band ever did without Brian in charge, more or less equal with 'Surf's Up' (which comes close but, in truth, not that close thanks mainly to the temporary loss of Dennis). Rolling Stone Magazine even picked at as one of their '500 greatest ever albums' in 2003: at 380 it's a good 300 places lower than where I'd put it but nevertheless that's impressive for a record few people even know about (there aren't that many albums on the list that didn't make the top 100). Even with that extra critical support and fan-led love for this album, however, it seems that Sunflower is forever doomed to be an under-appreciated record. Not for the first time on this list, forget the sales figures and go with the fans: Sunflower is a true delight from beginning to end, full of all the magical little nuts and bolts that make an extremely good album something very very special indeed.

Talking of special, another thing I love about this album is the front cover, shot by Dean Martin's son Ricci at his dad's private golf course. By 1970 the band knew that their records were only selling to a small bunch of faithful fans and rewarded them with one of their most intimate group shots: the band surrounded by their children. Given the close family status of four out of the six members, this gives the photo the feeling of a family shot: a next generation of brothers, friends and cousins. As it so happens four of the babies pictured here will have big impacts on the future of the Beach Boys: that's Matt Jardine posing like his dad (he'll join the band in 1987), Christian Love is holding sister Hayleigh's hand looked on by daddy Mike (also a part of the Beach Boys Band across 2006 and 2007), Jonah Wilson awkwardly balanced on daddy Carl's shoulders (a key figure on Beach Boys documentaries who now look just like his dad!) and Wendy Wilson - a future third of chart toppers 'Wilson Phillips - having her pink bonnet adjusted by daddy Brian (no one is quite sure where Carnie - who would have been two when this shot was taken - is). As well as hinting at the 'mature' sounds of the band, this photo makes them seem like 'real' human beings somehow: not the rock stars of old but parents trying to put the world as right as they could. Notably neither  Dennis or Bruce are pictured with offspring (although the former had plenty of illegitimate children by then!) The rather odd inner sleeve then depicts the Beach Boys as servants at a grand mansion (signifying their new relationship with Warner Brothers?) with Brian as an ice-cream seller with a 'good humour' hat on, Carl as a singing cowboy, Bruce as the chauffeur of a shiny rolls royce, Dennis as a motorbike rider and Al as a busker with an accordion! (One question, though: where is Mike? The inner inner sleeve simply has another shot of him sitting with his children!)
The Songs:

Slip On Through is the opener of the album and it’s a terrific power rocker, like the ones Dennis had written for the 20/20 album but more so, with the band opening their second recording contract by swapping lead vocals quicker than the time it takes for a surfer to catch a wave. Unusually, it’s arch rivals Dennis and Mike Love who swap lead vocals for most of  this song, with Love taking the understated verses and Dennis the shrieking powerful chorus, with Carl’s sweet meandering lead taking over at the end of each verse too. Dennis’ lyrics follow the song’s structure, with the narrator desperately trying to interest his loved one in a relationship only to hit a painful silence. Alternating between muted panic and wild raucous hollering, Dennis seems to be struggling to get any response from the object of his affections at all. Just a thought, but perhaps this song – long assumed to be another of Dennis’ many frustrated romance songs – is really about the band’s lack of recognition in the late 60s when they too could get no response from their old fans no matter how wildly or how well they performed. The song is woefully undeveloped (two short verses and a chorus repeated three times, plus the briefest of middle eights consisting of one line), but as a taster for all the album sounds to come (with block harmonies, melodic swagger and a confident charm typical of this album, but unusual for the Beach Boys in general as this style is the polar opposite of their ‘leader’ Brian Wilson’s more thoughtful approach), it’s invigorating, ear-catching stuff. Typically Dennis, this song is powerfully charged, filled with layer after layer of percussion, whose earthy sounds make for quite a contrast with the angelic Beach Boys choir on the chorus and will be later developed on his only ‘official’ album Pacific Ocean Blue.

This Whole World is the third of only a handful of songs Brian completely wrote solo for the group, although it’s Carl who gamely tries to lead his vocal through this brief song’s ridiculous amount of key changes. Indeed so many different chords, tempos and instruments does this song go through that it’s hard to believe it only lasts for barely two minutes. One of Brian’s better ‘symphonies in miniature’, it sounds exceedingly hard to pull off but somehow The Beach Boys - still unused to playing on sessions themselves - do so with ease. The lyrics, something still new to Brian at this point after years of working with collaborators, are terribly characteristic of the elder Wilson brother too – the narrator is simply sitting quietly, thinking about how big the world is and how many billions of relationships are unfolding out there somewhere at that very minute and not relating it to himself much at all. Most people would turn that thought into a romantic ballad but not Brian, he’s energised by the thought of so many people experiencing so many different things every minute of the day and this thought leaps over into the restless music which never sits still for a minute. People who hear about how Brian fell apart in 1967 and the countless stories of him staying in bed all day naturally assume the singer wasn’t doing anything at all in the 70s, never mind anything of importance. On the contrary, so many thoughts were running through Brian’s head that he’d never been busier, he just lacked the willpower to write them all down and work on all of them and see these thoughts through to an end result– so instead he settled for combining as many of his ideas as he possibly could on two minute masterpieces like this one.

Add Some Music To Your Day is even more stunning, being nothing less than a hymn to the soothing power of music in all its forms, and its churchlike atmosphere is no accident: for Brian, his piano and his songs were religion for him during this difficult period in his life, his spiritual link to the outside world which gave him the ‘brotherhood’ he didn’t really have with the band he founded in this period. Turning the song into something of a band manifesto, pretty much all of the Beach Boys takes a line or two at some point in the song (only Dennis is missing, not for the last time on one of the group’s records), with the band telling us all the places we can find music while out and about in our everyday lives and why it means so much to so many people. Mike Love’s clever clever lyrics are among his most heartfelt and Brian’s music among his most original and beautiful, sounding in awe at some powerful mysterious presence in the manner of God Only Knows. Rarely have the two worked better or more in tandem than on this track—usually Mike writes whatever he likes oblivious of what Brian’s music is suggesting he write, but here he picks up on Brian’s spiritual hymn-like aura perfectly, writing lyrics that were about the only thing the two cousins could truly agree on at this point in time. Carl’s heart-wringing vocal on the middle eight that so sums up this band and Brian Wilson in particular (‘music is like a companion for your lonely soul’) is a particularly special moment and the full band charge through the line ‘music is in my soul’ later in the song is the icing on a particularly sumptuous multi-layered cake. Heck, this song isn’t just great for the Beach Boys, it’s a great manifesto for this website too: go on everybody, add some music to your day! (Sunflower is a good place to start your search!)

Got To Know The Woman is even more of what you’d expect from Dennis, a churning bluesy rocker with so much going on in the mix it makes even Pink Floyd and Moody Blues records sound a bit basic, but that eventfulness only adds to the song’s charm. Dennis’ strutting narrator still isn’t taking no for an answer from his intended and circles his pleading vocal with a chanting nagging chorus and some of the most devilish vocal swoops the band ever put together, doing everything in his power to make the girl of his dreams give in and say ‘yes’. For all his bravado and cockiness, Dennis makes it clear he’s putting his soul on the line in this song and his vocal even breaks down in laughter at one point at the ridiculousness of the act he’s putting on to win his bride over. Dennis will make a point of saying what’s on his mind in his songs, however much of a cost it is to him and his reputation and never really returns to this sort of easy-going song again (‘I’m the kind of guy who likes to mess around’ he growls on his solo song Time, sounding deeply guilty in full contrast to the swashbuckling character he puts over so successfully in this song), but rarely have musical smokescreens sounded this good or been so convincing.

Deirdre is a song by Bruce Johnston, now a rather forgotten member of the band who was brought in as Brian’s replacement on tour (a stalwart of the band’s marvellous block harmonies and attention to detail production in this period, he has a similar silky smooth vocal style but his voice is not quite as high or as individual as Brian’s) who left the band in 1971 only to return again in 1979 (he still tours with Mike Love’s line-up of The Beach Boys today, the only other member of the group to do so). Like many a Johnston song, Deirdre is under-rated despite featuring another sumptuous string arrangement and yet another terrific chorus full of Beach Boys harmony heaven. The song’s co-credit to Brian (apparently he provided the two-note lick used in the title and nothing more) is more a nod to fool the record company that Brian was still working than any real collaboration, however – though thanks to this song’s dreamy melody, intricate and adventurous instrumentation (flutes and a full orchestra, well used to off-set the band’s flowing harmonies) and clever lyrics about a pretty red-haired girl’s quiet hold on the narrator for better and for worse, Bruce arguably doesn’t need any help from anyone. Like Bruce’s later best-known and best-loved track Disney Girls, Deirdre is a quiet, more traditional and rather cute adaptation of the familiar Beach Boys formula but none the worse for that and it makes for a nice contrast with the more adventurous pieces tucked either side of it.

It’s About Time is a third brooding rocker from Dennis, although brother Carl sings it this time. This song is also about the best of the three, with an even more sinister riff emphasised by just about every percussion instrument known to man (and Boys). The lyrics are impressively mature considering Dennis’ first published song wasn’t even two years old at this point and again focus on the Beach Boys being left behind in the public arena. Far from wringing his hands and feeling sorry for himself, though, Dennis tells us all how working so hard has made him humbler, better able to express himself and more certain of his need to put his own feelings forward in music. ‘I might not be the Rock God I once was’ says Dennis, ‘but at least by working hard for my new writing success I feel I deserve everything that comes my way from now on’. Well, OK, he doesn’t say it quite like that – this is still a Beach Boys record after all – but it’s still a song that’s about as wordy as the band ever got and an important stepping stone for Dennis getting in touch with his muse, bridging the cute-but-could-be-written-by-anyone-with-talent songs of the Friends and 20/20 albums and the highly personal and unique songs of his solo career later in the decade. Judging what we know about his later career, Dennis is also right when he tells us that – in contrast to singing for the chicks, fame and money, probably in that order seeing as it’s Dennis we’re talking about here – the middle Wilson brother is now singing because he’s got too much inside him not to write his thoughts down, whether people are buying his music or not. A forgotten testament to Dennis’ creative powers – and Carl’s rocking voice, doing his brother proud as always – this track is a true album archives lost gem, packing a great deal into its 150 seconds.

Tears In The Morning is another Johnston melodrama that shows just how closely he had been paying attention to Brian in the 60s. Strangely for someone who seemed to bring so much joy, enthusiasm and diplomacy back into the backbiting Beach Boys, this song is another large slab of melancholy, with an angry narrator doing his best to cover his true feelings of hurt at the end of a relationship – and failing. The arrangement, French accordions and all, is a little too OTT to work against the other, rather more quietly indignant songs on this album and the song’s verses and chorus don’t quite run into each other with the ease of his colleagues’ work, but it’s nevertheless another clever little song that deserves a much wider audience. The switch between the boisterous choruses and muted reflective verses is also a clever one, making this second ‘symphony in miniature’ far more in keeping with Brian Wilson’s traditional writing style than anything the others are writing for this album, maybe even Brian himself. Listen out for the brief quiet coda at the end to give a little breathing space between this song and the next one, a typical Johnston trick you can hear as early as his first true song for The Beach Boys, the instrumental The Nearest Faraway Place (from the album 20/20).

All I Wanna Do is the other most typically Beach Boys-like song on the album, but of their mid-rather than Smile-period this time, and would surely have become another much-loved Beach Boys ballad if it had come out at their peak. Like the next track Forever and fan favourite God Only Knows, the song just oozes romance and love, being a beautiful expression of devotion to a partner through thick and thin, complete with some of the cleverest arrangements on the whole record. Mike Love actually sings his own lyric like he means it for once, Brian contributes one of his most winningly simple tunes, the band turn in some more stunning block harmonies and the whole thing is 90% towards being a certified Beach Boys classic. However, the song is partly ruined by a weird mix that delays everything with so much echo it sounds like it was recorded in a bottomless swimming pool (an idea the Beach Boys are meant to have used on one of their Smile era records, actually!) As so much of the song depends on creating a mood of intimacy and emotion, the fact that this song’s gentle words and lovely tune are near-impossible to hear becomes really irritating! Somebody remix this song, please, you might well have a hit on your hands if you do!

Forever, however, is practically perfect in every way – a gentle hymn to Dennis’ biggest muse (Karen Lamm, who he married and divorced twice over!) with a storming tune and a lovely vocal from Dennis at his most soulful. The hard rocking Beach Boys outlaw had found peace (briefly) in this period and it shows—Dennis will never sing this in-tune again! Brian and Carl also do their brother proud with some soulful backing harmonies that make the song truly special. Magical stuff. There’s a story about this song in Brian’s autobiography (and like the rest of the book, there’s no reason we should believe it now he’s disowned it (!) but it rings true even so) that Dennis’ troubled relations with his even more troubled father Murry eased after Dennis played this song to his dad down the telephone and finally got the words of praise he had been searching for from his parents for 30-odd years. After spending 30-odd years at each other’s throats, the two most vocal members of the Wilson clan became the closest out of all the three brothers at the time of the elder Wilson’s death in the mid 70s. Listening to this song’s desperate yearning melody, its criss-crossing vocals from all three Wilsons and Mike Love’s sympathetic bass-lines and the over-powering feeling of love in the overwhelming chorus, you can really believe in this song’s capacity to heal. No one can possibly dismiss Dennis as a talent-less partying surfer who simply made up the numbers in his brother’s band (as so many people still do) after hearing this track, possibly the best and certainly the most loved composition Dennis ever wrote.

Surprisingly, given the future gems he wrote for the band and his virtually one-man steering of the Beach Boys ship in the rest of the 1970s, Carl is conspicuous by his absence for many of the Sunflower sessions. His sublime vocals are often used to flesh out his brothers’ songs – and he does them proud – but the next track Our Sweet Love is his only co-writing credit on the album. Bearing in mind that he wasn’t quite 23 when Sunflower came out and had spent years in the shadow of his big brother, Carl’s talents grew at a phenomenal rate in this period and he was pretty much the only reason why the band survived at all from here on in. Along with Al Jardine, Carl is honing his talents on an unfinished song by Brian here and yet it’s his trademark production that stands out the most. Crystal clear, shimmery and slightly echoey, it’s a sound that will stand the band in good stead over the next few years (you can hear the even earlier beginnings of this sound on 20/20 but it sounds even better on this album). As for the song itself, it’s one of Sunflower’s lesser moments but Our Sweet Love is still kind of, well, sweet and lovely: the sort of lazy empty song that doesn’t go anywhere and should be really irritating, but so fine are all the details - from the Beach Boy block harmonies to the delicate guitar-work - that somehow you’re content to admire the view instead of getting cross at the fact you aren’t actually getting anywhere interesting.

Al Jardine’s other co-write with Brian, At My Window, suffers from a similar plight. The most under-used member of the Beach Boys throughout their 30-odd year career as a recording band, Al Jardine similarly comes into his own in this period, taking up Brian’s mantle of simple jovial honesty and good-hearted fun even more than the other members did (see California on the Holland album, no 55 on the list, and so close to the real thing most people assume it is a Brian Wilson song!) However, Jardine hasn’t quite got going yet either in this period and his only other real contribution to the album is similarly slight but also similarly charming to Carl’s. For the first few playings anyway. Interestingly, neither of the song’s authors take the lead vocal – though Brian does have a cameo speaking in stilted French for no apparent reason – with Bruce Johnston instead doing his best to sing this song’s tale of a bird flying onto a windowsill while the narrator watches and gamely just about gets through the song without laughing. The song’s best feature is the haunting use of a flute for the bird-song, which sounds joyous and ghostly all at once, plus a gorgeous Beach Boys round of harmonies at the song’s tag.

That just leaves us with the closer, Cool Cool Water. One of several Smile leftovers to find a home on late 60s/ early 70s Beach Boys albums – much much more to come on that story at the end of the list—this song has been called one of the highlights of the Beach Boys’ canon for nearly as long as the oceans have been around. Or so it seems, anyway. Simplistic to the point of hardly doing anything, it’s a gorgeous little melodic rummage around a simple riff, with rather fitting and very typical Beach Boys lyrics tacked on about the delights of water, whatever form it comes and whatever your daily uses of it (the lyrics to this song are basically ‘add some water to your day’, with, err, dryly funny lyrics about how water soothes when ‘the heat’s got you down’). Apart from the quite scary middle section that is (full of atmospheric noises, mournful wordless vocals and incidentally the only section of the song genuinely taken from a Smile-period recording) which, like the sea often does, rises out of nowhere and takes us by surprise by its hugeness before the waves suddenly submerge again as if nothing had happened. Like the element of water itself, us Beach Boys nuts have become so used to this track that it’s hard to distance ourselves and appreciate its sparkling beauty and its incredible usefulness and variety as both refreshing tonic and charging tidal wave. Of course the most incredible, breath-taking and mind-boggling fact about this recording is that, thanks to the re-recording and completion of Smile in 2004, we now know that this gorgeous long-loved track was originally only ever meant in Brian Wilson’s mind to be a brief 30-second backing track to a separate song entirely. Aaaagh how the hell does Brain do that? Even his off-cuts have had whole books written about them!

As deep as an ocean and as calming as a bath, Sunflower washes its magic all over you like no other Beach Boys album. Forgotten for decades, Sunflower has rightly been enjoying a revival of mammoth proportions since the 90s and it has to be said it has aged a lot better than some of the other Beach Boys records of the 70s. There still aren’t enough people hooked by its spell, however, so if you want something interesting to grow in your spiritual garden then Sunflower might well be it. Not every single thing on it works, but Sunflower proves that when all the Beach Boys were pulling together they could still make songs of such towering impact and beauty that their critics and record company were so wrong when they wrote the band off in 1970 that it’s hard not to laugh. The Beach Boys have the last laugh: 'Sunflower' is now rightfully restored to the place it always should have occupied in Beach Boys history: somewhere near the top of the pile. 

Other Beach Boys reviews from this site you might be interested in:

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

Essay: The Beach Boys and The American Dream
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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