Review: The Beach Boys Remasters, Part Two: The Album-by-Album Guide
It’s about time now! Don’t you know now? It’s about time we get together to be out front and love one another…
- Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, Bob Burchman and Al Jardine (1970)
Isn’t it time we danced the night away? How about doing it just like yesterday?
- Brian Wilson, Joe Thomas, Jim Peterik, Larry Millas and Mike Love (2012)
No, Mike Love didn’t fire Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. But that didn’t stop the Beach Boys’ leader, producer and chief songwriter from telling The Los Angeles Times last week, “It sort of feels like we’re [he, David Marks and Al Jardine] are being fired.” Wilson was replying to Love’s announcement that he would pursue small-venue dates with longtime member Bruce Johnston and a band including son Christian Love, John Cowsill and Scott Totten rather than continue the group’s well-received 50th anniversary tour. With Wilson, Jardine and Love playing out their business disagreements in the pages of the Times (Wilson: “I welcome Mike to call me”), surf’s up once again on the offstage turmoil that has marked the 50-year career of The Beach Boys, a group whose joyous sounds of harmony onstage have long been juxtaposed with unease and turmoil behind the curtain. Both Wilson and Love took pains to stress family ties; Love’s daughter Ambha even joined the fray online in defense of her dad. Is blood thicker than the water that inspired “Surfin’ USA” and the rest? What remains, ultimately, is the music. In conjunction with a 1-CD Greatest Hits and 2-CD 50 Big Ones: Greatest Hits, both reviewed in Part One, Capitol Records has just reissued twelve of The Beach Boys’ classic albums in new, remastered editions. All have been encoded in HDCD (for those with HDCD capabilities).
Covering the period between 1963’s sophomore LP Surfin’ USA and 1971’s Surf’s Up, the new program doesn’t (yet) encompass every one of The Beach Boys’ seminal original LPs. From their first decade, the series omits the band’s very first album Surfin’ Safari (1962) plus The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964, currently available in a reshuffled edition entitled Christmas Harmonies), The Beach Boys’ Concert (1964) and a trio of late-1960s, post-SMiLE underrated classics: Wild Honey (1967), Friends (1968) and 20/20 (1969). Of course, any of these titles could be addressed in a second wave of releases, along with some beloved post-Surf’s Up albums that found the band stretching out artistically (1972’s Carl and the Passions: So Tough, 1973’s Holland and In Concert), returning to their rock-and-roll roots (1976’s 15 Big Ones) and pioneering lo-fi pop (1977’s The Beach Boys Love You). Ideally, each one of the band’s catalogue titles might be remastered to the highest, most advanced standard. What sets this reissue campaign apart from past efforts, however, is the presence of both mono and stereo versions on ten of the twelve albums.
True stereo versions are premiering of Today, Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!), Party! and Smiley Smile. And for the first time, both mono and stereo programs are being included for every title except the stereo-only Sunflower and Surf’s Up. It’s eye-opening to hear the original, punchy mono mixes of every beloved song as you might have remembered them from an AM radio alongside sparkling stereo versions, some newly created for this wave of titles. All have been remastered by Brian Wilson associate Mark Linett, and there’s plenty to rediscover on these twelve albums – particularly for those who only know the Beach Boys’ rich catalogue of radio staples.
After the jump: come rediscover these albums with us, via our Back Tracks-style album-by-album guide including information as to what’s new with each mix!
Surfin’ USA (1963, Mono & Stereo) – The boys from Hawthorne followed up 1962’s debut Surfin’ Safari with another surf-themed LP. Group leader Brian Wilson’s songwriting and arranging prowess had both grown in just the few months since Safari’s release, although production was still credited to Capitol’s Nick Venet. Along with three cover recordings (“Misirlou,” “Honky Tonk” and “Let’s Go Trippin’”), Wilson supplied an array of original songs, solo and in collaboration with Mike Love (“Farmer’s Daughter,” “Noble Surfer,” “Finders Keepers”), Roger Christian (“Shut Down”) and Gary Usher (“Lonely Sea”). The title song rewrote Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” but today might be more recognizable than its source. Wilson’s pristine falsetto received an early showcase on “Farmer’s Daughter” and “Lana,” and his moody, melancholic side was first indulged on the evocative “Lonely Sea.” A full five tracks here are instrumentals, including Carl Wilson’s first songwriting credit, “Surf Jam.” Glimmers of creativity abound on this energetic set that’s still influenced by Dick Dale and the surf guitar craze. The mono album mix makes its first appearance on CD here.
Surfer Girl (1963, Mono & Stereo) – The Beach Boys took a giant step forward with Surfer Girl, released later the same year as Surfin’ USA. Brian Wilson received his first production credit on a Beach Boys LP, and sought to expand the sound of the group. The sweetly ravishing “Surfer Girl,” the ebullient “Catch a Wave,” the supremely introspective “In My Room” and the upbeat automobile ode “Little Deuce Coupe” all remain cherished part of the band’s repertoire today, with the soaring “Hawaii” not far behind. Wilson experimented with strings for the first time on the often-overlooked ballad “The Surfer Moon,” while the gentle “Your Summer Dream” proved he could create an atmospheric soundscape with a simple arrangement, both vocally and instrumentally. A full six song titles refer to surfing, including the Stephen Foster rewrite “South Bay Surfer,” while a seventh title was devoted to “Boogie Woodie” (one of the album’s two instrumental pieces.) But soon, the sport would take a backseat to the subject celebrated on “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Our Car Club” (the former with lyrics by Roger Christian, the latter by Mike Love): automobiles. The mono album mix makes its first appearance on CD here.
Little Deuce Coupe (1963, Mono & Stereo) – Sound familiar? Brian Wilson hurriedly recorded Little Deuce Coupe for release just one month following Surfer Girl, supplementing “Little Deuce Coupe” (originally on Surfer Girl) with eleven other cuts primarily about cars, most of them co-written with friend and deejay Roger Christian. “409” and “Shut Down” too were recycled from previous albums. The new material wasn’t without merit; Christian and Wilson wrote an unusual paean to a car in “Ballad of Ole Betsy” (“She was born in ’32 and was she ever pretty/She rode a freight train west/All the way from Detroit City…”) and Wilson’s Four Freshmen-gone-rock approach to vocal arranging immeasurably enhanced songs like “No-Go Showboat.” Of the non-“car songs,” Mike Love wrote the lyrics to “Be True to Your School,” heard here in its original album version sans the backing vocals/cheerleading of The Honeys. Little Deuce Coupe also marked the last Beach Boys album to feature David Marks, vocalist and rhythm guitarist, until 2012’s That’s Why God Made the Radio. Founding member Al Jardine had returned to the band just prior to the recording of the new material for this LP. The mono album mix makes its first appearance on CD here, although the stunning a cappella version of Bobby Troup’s mournful “A Young Man is Gone” has appeared on CD before in mono. New stereo extraction mixes were created for “409” and “A Young Man is Gone.”
Shut Down Vol.2 (1964, Mono & Stereo) – Cars were still in vogue for Shut Down Vol. 2, the sequel to the 1963 hot rod compilation Shut Down on which Capitol joined Beach Boys songs with those by other artists. But a change was in the air. The tale of a rebellious young girl who wishes to have “fun, fun, fun, till her daddy takes the T-Bird away” (surely Mike Love’s most felicitous turn of phrase!) married a Chuck Berry riff to multi-layered production and irresistibly catchy melodic hook, and in the process created a summer anthem. That might be enough for most albums, and it sat comfortably alongside more car-themed songs (Wilson and Christian’s “In the Parking Lot,” Wilson and Love’s “This Car of Mine”), instrumentals (Dennis Wilson’s drum showcase “Denny’s Drums,” Carl Wilson’s guitar-driven “Shut Down, Part II”), a nostalgic teenage reflection (“Keep an Eye on Summer”) and even a track of spoken-word nonsense (“’Cassius’ Love vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson”) in which “a feud breaks out between Brian and Mike.” (Really.) “Pom Pom Play Girl” is notable as Carl Wilson’s first lead vocal. But the heart of the album comes in two most unusual songs. Written in the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, “The Warmth of the Sun” shows Brian and Mike in perfect sync, turning pain into a source of comfort for all who listened. Then there’s “Don’t Worry Baby,” a Wilson/Christian song which is surely the most wistful, gorgeous song ever written about car racing. Wilson took everything he knew from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and crafted a textured production to rival not only Spector’s best work, but anybody else’s. The mono album mix makes its first appearance on CD. The stereo mix of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” is identical to Mark Linett’s 2009 mix prepared for Summer Love Songs minus the extended introduction. “Denny’s Drums” was recorded in mono, and so appears in mono even on the stereo portion of the disc.
All Summer Long (1964, Mono & Stereo) – All Summer Long continues in the style of its grab-bag predecessor, but with Brian Wilson’s production skills continuing to grow at quite a clip. A period of productivity from composer Wilson yielded the most complex songs yet recorded by the group. “I Get Around,” penned by Wilson and Love, earned the band their first No. 1 and another all-time anthem. “Wendy” and “All Summer Long” were arguably even more sophisticated, with the latter epitomizing Wilson’s style. The vocal lines are imbued with a wistful yearning (“Won’t be long till summertime is through…”) and stunning harmony parts, while the track swirls with unusual flourishes (a xylophone!). Wilson was deploying Los Angeles’ Wrecking Crew to realize his musical visions, rendering other albums tracks like “Little Honda” and “Drive-In” as throwbacks. “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” was another throwaway comic sketch. “Do You Remember?” is a 1950s rock-and-roll tribute and “Girls on the Beach” another lovely ballad from Wilson at his sweetest. “Carl’s Big Chance” really wasn’t that, with his big chance undoubtedly the lead vocal on “God Only Knows” a couple of years later. But it’s another Beach Boy instrumental, all but forgotten today. A fine take on Pomus and Shuman’s “Hushabye” shows off those vocal harmonies again. The mono album mix makes its first appearance on CD; “I Get Around” and “All Summer Long” have been newly mixed into stereo. The former was accomplished via digital extraction, the latter from the original multi-tracks.
The Beach Boys Today! (1965, Mono & Stereo) – Today! is one of the most important of the new reissues, as a full stereo version of the album has never appeared until now. Mark Linett has created true stereo mixes for the album, giving new dimension to the many classics contained within its grooves: “Do You Wanna Dance?” with its Dennis Wilson lead; “Dance, Dance, Dance;” “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man);” the original version of “Help Me, Ronda [sic]” minus the “Come on, Rhonda”s and the other production touches that turned the song into a hit single. Today! famously was the first Beach Boys album to truly anticipate Pet Sounds; while the first side was filled with upbeat rock and roll, the second showed an increasingly melancholic side of Brian Wilson. Tension, sadness and beauty permeate “Please Let Me Wonder,” while “She Knows Me Too Well” (both co-written with Mike Love) was another quantum leap forward, with Wilson’s pained falsetto soaring above a complex background of group vocals and instrumentation. “In the Back of My Mind,” endearingly sung by Dennis, is another dark-hued song (“In the back of my mind, I still have my fears…”) touching on a relationship, with prominent orchestration and a jagged, almost nervous sound. After these revelatory production accomplishments, the album-closing comic relief dialogue of “Bull Session with ‘Big Daddy’” is anticlimactic. The best was still yet to come for The Beach Boys. (“Bull Session” was recorded in mono and appears that way even on the stereo portion.)
Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) (1965, Mono & Stereo) – How to follow Today? Capitol reportedly felt that the Beach Boys should embrace fun and sun for their next release, so Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine and new addition Bruce Johnston (though still not as an official member) complied with Summer Days. But even jaunty tracks like “The Girl from New York City,” “Salt Lake City” and “Amusement Parks U.S.A.” were intricately arranged. Producer Wilson again doffed his hat to Phil Spector on “Then I Kissed Her,” sung by Al Jardine, but Jardine had his best moment on the album with the re-recorded single version of “Help Me, Rhonda.” A folk-rock influence marks “Girl, Don’t Tell Me,” written by Brian and sung by Carl in a rare Beach Boys song with no backing vocals. “Let Him Run Wild,” sung and composed by Brian with lyrics by Mike, was Brian’s attempt at channeling Burt Bacharach, but the result was pure, adult Wilson, with its tricky, hesitant melody that veers off into the stratosphere with the title phrase. The Boys supplied ethereal harmonies alongside Brian’s impassioned falsetto, the Wrecking Crew’s adrenaline bursts of brass and the insistent percussion. “You’re So Good to Me” scored Wilson and Love another hit, and “Summer Means New Love” showed Brian applying his newly honed production techniques to a self-composed romantic instrumental. The spare “I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man” was a jokey effort (“Why did he sell my surfboard? He cut off my hair last night in my sleep!”). But the album’s centerpiece was the song that would change The Beach Boys forever: “California Girls.” Wilson’s drug-inspired symphonic introduction signaled that he had moved past typical pop conventions as a composer, while the harmonies were transcendent. Mike Love’s lyrics perfectly crystallized a culture that may or may not have ever truly existed, but forever will in the American consciousness. The album’s crisp new stereo mix premieres here, with stereo extraction mixes having been created for “Girl Don’t Tell Me” and “Help Me, Rhonda” to capture overdubs originally made to the mono mixes. Next stop: Pet Sounds – with one detour.
Beach Boys’ Party!(1965, Mono & Stereo) – One step forward, two steps back. Eager to have more Beach Boys music available for the ’65 holiday season, Capitol urged Brian and the Boys into the studio to record Party!, a novelty-style album filled with loose versions of familiar favorites, complete with laughter and background talk. The band tore through Beatles songs (“I Should Have Known Better,” “Tell Me Why,” You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), Spector classics (“There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”), goofy novelties (“Alley-Oop,” “Hully Gully,” “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”), a Dylan instant standard (“The Times They Are A-Changin’”) and even two of their own songs in a silly spoof (“I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe”). But the standout was Fred Fassert’s “Barbara Ann,” featuring a moonlighting Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean on vocals. It was plucked as a single and quickly became another Beach Boys staple. The stereo mix of Party! makes its first appearance here. It may be surprising, but the more natural stereo soundscape brings the party closer to you than ever before, making this reissue one of the series’ more essential releases.
Pet Sounds (1966, Mono & Stereo) – “I figure no one is educated musically ‘til they’ve heard [Pet Sounds],” Paul McCartney once said of The Beach Boys’ classic released on May 16, 1966. George Martin concurred: “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened.” And Wilson has indicated that without Rubber Soul raising the bar for a unified pop album, Pet Sounds wouldn’t have happened. Brian Wilson poured his musical heart into the album’s thirteen tracks; in less than thirty-five minutes, he delivered an entire spectrum of emotions in a song cycle of striking sensitivity. Pet Sounds may initially have been conceived by Wilson as an answer to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, but it functions as an elegy to lost innocence (“Caroline, No”), a hope for the promise of brighter days ahead (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”) and an expression of one young man’s innermost soul laid bare (“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” “That’s Not Me,” “You Still Believe in Me”) in such a way that it was universal. Oh yeah, and it just might have the greatest pop love song ever written (“God Only Knows”) which begins with a potentially shocking lyrical conceit: “I may not always love you…” Wilson and lyricist Tony Asher (with an assist from Love) captured the zeitgeist on Pet Sounds, and every few years have brought another reissue of the album which initially was ahead of its time. (It wasn’t certified platinum until early 2000, and only rose as far as No. 10 on the Billboard album chart at the time of its original release.) The 2012 Pet Sounds has been remastered by Mark Linett but its mono/stereo programs are otherwise similar to those released on previous issues. (A stereo mix of the album first appeared as part of The Pet Sounds Sessions box set.)
Smiley Smile (1967, Mono & Stereo) – Following the release of Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson began work on his magnum opus: an ambitious musical mélange to be entitled SMiLE. Please check out our three part series dedicated to that album for the whole story. The short version, though, is that Wilson famously aborted SMiLE, and The Beach Boys instead released the infamous Smiley Smile. Described as “a bunt instead of a grand slam” by Carl Wilson, it arrived in September 1967, one year after work on SMiLE had commenced. It systematically rejected the radical production techniques pioneered on SMiLE, and as Brian wished to abdicate responsibility for the band’s productions, Smiley bore the label “Produced by The Beach Boys,” rather than “Produced by Brian Wilson.” Various SMiLE tracks appeared on Smiley Smile, including its thematic heart, “Heroes and Villains,” in a much-simplified recording. The bass line of “Fire (Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow)” was grafted onto a new track entitled “Fall Breaks and Back to Winter,” with its musical phrase quoting the laugh of Woody Woodpecker (!). “Wind Chimes” was recast in a bizarre version devoid of the SMiLE original’s delicate power. A couple more SMiLE fragments (backwards laughs on the tag of “Vega-Tables,” an unused “Heroes” progression on an eerie arrangement of “Wonderful”) survived to the new album, which can only be described as “lo-fi.” SMiLE would have been anything but. Was Smiley Smile, with its frankly creepy moments, intended as a final riposte from Brian Wilson to the industry and to the band that he perceived as having derailed his greatest work ever? Wilson told Harvey Kubernik, though, that Smiley Smile was “a good album” and “one of the most peaceful albums I ever heard.” The album does possess a certain blissed-out (read: stoned) feel that is only pointed up by the inclusion of the grand production of “Good Vibrations,” standing apart from the other tracks. It, of course, would have featured prominently on SMiLE. Despite the presence of that hit single, Smiley Smile ended the Beach Boys’ streak of six consecutive Top 10 albums, and it only lasted on the charts for a disappointing 21 weeks. A golden age was over. The true stereo mix on this CD is making its first appearance; “Good Vibrations” required digital extraction as multi-tracks were missing for vocal overdubs.
Sunflower (1970, Stereo) – The Beach Boys finished out their tenure on Capitol Records with Wild Honey (1967), Friends (1968) and 20/20 (1969), and greeted the new decade with a new record label: their own reactivated Brother imprint via Warner/Reprise. After some wrangling with Reprise executives, the group released the great lost album of their career: Sunflower. Though it was the group’s lowest charting album to date (No. 151 in the U.S.), its diverse, rock-oriented songs hold up well today. The band was working together harmoniously to create an organic album from a variety of voices. It was their most cohesive in years, and a step away from the spare productions that dominated their most recent albums. The group’s shimmering harmonies again took flight, even if the musical style was still far rawer than the ornate Wrecking Crew-enhanced productions of the 1960s. Dennis Wilson came into his own as a songwriter with the carnal rockers “Slip On Through” and “Got to Know the Woman” and the hauntingly sensual “Forever.” Bruce Johnston teamed with Brian Wilson for the reflective “Deirdre” and wrote the baroque “Tears in the Morning” on his own. (Both have string arrangements by Michel Colombier.) Brian and Mike Love made sweet music together on the uplifting “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “All I Wanna Do,” and reworked a SMiLE fragment into “Cool, Cool Water” (a portent of things to come). Brian’s tight, exquisitely-arranged “This Whole World” showed that his creative spark hadn’t dimmed. Sunflower blooms anew in this remastered stereo edition.
Surf’s Up (1971, Stereo) – This reissue series concludes with 1971’s Surf’s Up, a dark, almost schizophrenic album with flashes of psychedelia, surrealism, soul, pop and rock, wrapped up with two of the greatest songs ever written by Brian Wilson. But that’s not all. Carl Wilson’s “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows” are impressionistic R&B, unlike anything the Beach Boys had recorded before. Bruce Johnston’s warmly nostalgic “Disney Girls (1957)” might be the best song he ever composed, a rose-colored answer to the prevalent excesses he observed in the Beach Boys’ fans. Mike Love and Al Jardine offered up an environmental warning in “Don’t Go Near the Water” – could the group of just a few short years earlier have imagined a song with that title? Love rewrote Leiber and Stoller’s “Riot in Cell Block No. 9” as another socially conscious track, “Student Demonstration Time.” With new manager Jack Rieley, Brian indulged his offbeat sensibility with “A Day in the Life of a Tree,” but then, he’d saved the best for last. “’Til I Die” was a return to the lush productions of the past, a haunting, personal and painfully beautiful statement that appeared to foreshadow Brian’s farewell from active life. The album closes with “Surf’s Up,” one of the abandoned masterworks from SMiLE. Carl Wilson stepped up to the plate to record the first half of the song, which then segues into an original section with a Brian vocal. The triumphant, majestic result – a ballad of exquisite despair – was the most vivid reminder yet of what SMiLE could have been, and it was rendered even more touching by the fact that Brian came out of his self-imposed exile to see the new version to its completion. With its truly ironic title, Surf’s Up closed the book (for a short period, at least!) on one era of The Beach Boys’ history. Soon, there would be new members, even more far-out sounds and eventually a return to tried and true “oldies.” Surf’s Up, too, has been newly remastered for this new edition.
The 2012 remasters are housed in simple digipaks reminiscent of those designed for EMI’s Beatles remasters series (and adopted by Paul McCartney over at Hear Music). A white vertical stripe along the side of the album cover is simply emblazoned with the Capitol logo and the band name. Each CD face is adorned with an era-appropriate label, whether the Capitol “rainbow” or the yellow Brother Records design. Somewhat unbelievably, the booklets are the least informative ever accorded a Beach Boys reissue. A simple insert replicates the album’s front and rear cover artwork, while black typeface on a white background indicates the track number, title, composer/lyricist and publisher, plus perfunctory credits for remastering and the original producer. There is no musician, recording or discographical information, and no liner notes whatsoever. All of these titles boasted fine notes in Capitol’s previous editions; their absence here does a great disservice to the Beach Boys and their fans. The pre-Reprise era albums were released by Capitol as two-fers, first in 1990 and then in 2001 with a sonic upgrade. All of these two-fers boasted fascinating bonus tracks in addition to thick booklets; much like the booklets, the bonus tracks have all been jettisoned.
Which titles should you purchase? The original mono mixes on the earliest albums will surely be an enticement for some; for others, the brand-new stereo mixes on the 1965-1967 albums will offer a completely new view into those old favorites. Mark Linett’s remastering is tasteful, and those in possession of the last round of remasters will hear audible differences, with new clarity brought to an instrumental part here, a vocal harmony there. A Beach Boys box set is promised by Capitol for the not-too-distant future; will more unreleased material surface? Stay tuned. Longtime fans know to expect the unexpected from The Beach Boys, something proven this year with the reunion tour and subsequent splintering. In the meantime, I don’t know where, but the music of The Beach Boys surely will send me there.