There’s nothing quite nice as a kiss of wild honey…
Carl Wilson – the angelic voice from on high of “God Only Knows” – unleashed his inner soul man with a fury on “Wild Honey,” the title track of The Beach Boys’ second album of 1967. The funky, Theremin-driven ode to a “girl with the sweetness of a honey bee” opened the LP which turned out to be one of the most singular in the band’s storied catalogue. Its fusion of pulsating R&B and raw rock-and-roll, anchored by nine Brian Wilson/Mike Love originals and played almost entirely by the band, was never repeated by the group. The first-ever true stereo mix of Wild Honey is now the centerpiece of 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow, a new 2-CD chronicle of The Beach Boys’ year in music, with all its creativity and contradictions on mesmerizing display.
1967, of course, should have been the year of SMiLE. But The Beach Boys’ ambitious follow-up to Pet Sounds was not meant to be. SMiLE was destined to remain officially unheard for decades. Instead, the band delivered to Capitol Records for release in September 1967 (one year after work on SMiLE had commenced) the album famously described by Carl Wilson as “a bunt instead of a grand slam.” Smiley Smile reimagined Brian Wilson’s “teenage symphony to God” as a mélange of homemade recordings which systematically rejected the radical production techniques pioneered on SMiLE. As Brian wished to abdicate solo responsibility for the band’s output, 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, on which The Beach Boys pioneered the sound today recognized as “lo-fi.” SMiLE would have been anything but.
The endlessly fascinating if perennially heartbreaking Smiley Smile, however, isn’t the main focus of 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow. The album itself hasn’t been included on this collection, but ten tracks from its sessions do appear to open the second disc, including the backing tracks of “Heroes and Villains,” “Wonderful,” and the tropical “Little Pad.” Due to the fragmentary nature of these outtakes (half of the ten pieces are roughly one minute or less in length) and the fact that they’re not in context with the original album, they don’t register mightily on their own. What Sunshine Tomorrow does brilliantly prove, though, is that Brian Wilson hardly made a full retreat from the studio in the wake of the collapse of SMiLE. As well as his key role in deconstructing his would-be magnum opus for Smiley Smile, he quickly participated in an abortive live album, and then joined his brothers, cousins, and friends in crafting Wild Honey for December 1967 release.
Wild Honey is at the heart of Sunshine Tomorrow. With an abundance of energy, it’s the opposite of the laconic, lysergic Smiley Smile. Gone is the tight thematic continuity of Pet Sounds or even Smiley Smile; in under 25 minutes, Wild Honey showcases a new, raw Beach Boys sound. Like Smiley, it emphasized organ, piano, and electric bass over complex arrangements, and Brian Wilson largely eschewed the outside studio musicians who had elevated past records. Wild Honey, too, would be The Beach Boys’ final album for nearly a decade to consist primarily of Brian Wilson compositions.
The low-key “Aren’t You Glad,” with its Motown-inspired lyric, happily bouncy melody, and irresistible horn riff that wandered in from a Burt Bacharach production, epitomizes the breezier side of Wild Honey. Like the shifting sounds of “A Thing or Two,” it showcases multiple singers on the lead vocal. The Motown influence, of course, is more pronounced on the blazing cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her,” which continued the persuasive transformation of young Carl Wilson into blue-eyed soul shouter.
Brian brings a pure sweetness to Mike’s offbeat lyrics and risqué punchline to “I’d Love Just Once to See You,” while the wordless harmonies almost anticipate the rise of bubblegum pop. The acoustic guitar accompaniment adds a fresh texture. “Country Air” and “Let the Wind Blow,” with their quintessentially Brian Wilson changes (i.e. beautiful yet slightly unsettling), look forward to Friends and continue the blissed-out sound and style of Smiley Smile. The woozy harmonies and dark, pleading harmonies of “Let the Wind Blow” (its melody composed almost entirely of minor chords) are both beguiling and haunting.
Of the varied Wilson/Love tunes, none stood out more for hit potential than the infectious, driving “Darlin’,” passionately sung by Carl in front of the unmistakable Beach Boys harmonies. The most fleshed-out, “produced” song on Wild Honey, it was graced with a horn arrangement to add an extra touch of zing. Just as straight-ahead but even more stripped down, “Here Comes the Night” injects the album with rock-and-roll spirit, as does the loose “How She Boogalooed It,” written by all of the Beach Boys save Brian. But if there was any doubt that the ghost of SMiLE still lingered over the group, that notion would have been dispelled by the brief, a cappella chanted closer. “Mama Says” emerged from an aborted bridge of “Vega-Tables,” ending Wild Honey on a goofy if oddly beautiful note.
“Mama Says” is the only track on Wild Honey for which multitrack tapes could not be located, so it’s presented in mono. Happily, the remainder of the album dazzles in its new stereo mix by reissue producers Mark Linett and Alan Boyd. Subtle and faithful, the stereo version brings a new dimension to the recordings. The stereo mix will soon be available on a standalone vinyl edition due on July 21. The 180-gram LP is attractively designed in the style of a Capitol stereo release that never was, and features a period replica rainbow label. The warmth of the album’s production is ideally suited to the vinyl format; it vividly springs to natural life on the LP.
Fourteen previously unreleased session takes add tremendously to Wild Honey, as well. Of these finds, the most remarkable might be the early alternate version of Brian’s waltz-time composition “Time to Get Alone,” which was eventually released as finished by The Beach Boys in 1968 on 20/20. This version is densely orchestrated with moody and magnificent horns and strings. Though it would not have fit comfortably on Wild Honey, it’s haunting today to hear Brian sing the perhaps-semi-autobiographical lyrics over a background so redolent of his finest work. “Cool, Cool Water,” heard here, had its genesis in a SMiLE composition but didn’t appear on an album until 1970’s Sunflower; the version here opens yet another window on this deceptively simple paean’s development.
Other works-in-progress never made it to a proper album. The unfinished “Lonely Days,” introduced on 2001’s Hawthorne, California set, is presented in a longer, alternate version that begs the question of what could have been. (A definitive composer hasn’t even been identified, though Carl, Bruce, and Al sing prominently on it.) Brian’s “Can’t Wait Too Long” was likewise never finished by The Beach Boys, though the solo Wilson included a short version on his That Lucky Old Sun, and keen-eared listeners will recognize its bass riff, too. The piano-pounding “Hide Go Seek” and uptempo, lightly surf-flavored “Honey Get Home” are two more tantalizing snippets.
Session highlights are presented for the songs “Wild Honey,” “Aren’t You Glad,” “Darlin’,” “Mama Says,” and “Let the Wind Blow.” “Darlin’,” in particular, is a thrill in instrumental form, with its rip-roaring horns truly shining. An alternate take of “I’d Love Just Once to See You” shimmers before descending into a raucous close, while the doo-wop inserts for “I Was Made to Love Her” show The Beach Boys in touch with their close-harmony roots on an album that features less group singing than might have been expected. A brace of concert performances (including “Aren’t You Glad” with live horns) rounds out Sunshine’s exploration of Wild Honey.
Between Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, The Beach Boys attempted a live album that has remained officially unreleased until now. Performances and rehearsals in August 1967 in Hawaii were recorded but deemed of poor quality by Capitol, and so the band retreated to the studio to record a “live” album which would be punningly dubbed Lei’d in Hawaii. This album, too, was rejected. Sunshine Tomorrow offers five tracks from the original Hawaii performances, plus the original mono master tape for Lei’d, devoid of the audience sounds that would have been added had the album seen the light of day.
Alas, Lei’d is hardly a major revelation, even as it’s compelling to hear The Beach Boys reinvent their lush productions into raw garage stompers. The sound is wholly unadorned, with Brian’s carnival organ and Dennis’ ragged, rock-and-roll drums anchoring the songs. A languid air seems to hang over the recordings, with even the typically-brash Mike Love singing at a hush. The arrangements are lean and spare, but infrequently muscular, leading to a sluggish “Sloop John B” and listless “Help Me, Rhonda” (sung as “Help You, Rhonda”). The majesty of “California Girls” is even lost without its famous introduction. Lei’d isn’t without worthwhile moments, however. Bruce Johnston sings The Beatles’ freshly-minted “With a Little Help from My Friends” in attractively laconic style. The group harmonies are ravishing as ever on “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring.” And not even a skeletal arrangement can dull the beauty of “God Only Knows.” A deconstructed “Good Vibrations” is happily energetic. A couple of stereo alternates are added; the stereo version of the Box Tops cover “The Letter” offers much more power and presence than its mono counterpart.
The five actual-live-in-Hawaii performances aren’t bad at all, including “Getting Hungry” and the instrumental “Hawthorne Boulevard.” Three tracks from a Thanksgiving 1967 tour (from Washington, DC) and Boston add to Sunshine‘s portrait of the band onstage. Perhaps these full concerts – as well as the Detroit and Pittsburgh shows excerpted here featuring Wild Honey material – will be released this fall as part of the band’s series of digital copyright extension releases?
The coils of SMiLE extend through both discs of this captivating collection, so it’s appropriate that one of the final tracks is a November 1967 solo take by Brian at the piano of that album’s centerpiece, “Surf’s Up.” The affectingly tender recording, with a number of false starts before the singer-composer nails it, sounds akin to an exorcism, as if Wilson is trying to get the haunting song out of his system. It’s a powerful moment in a set filled with so many fascinating might-have-beens.
Sunshine Tomorrow boasts a lavishly illustrated 28-page booklet with an essay by Howie Edelson. His assessment of this largely-overlooked or misunderstood period of The Beach Boys’ career is both entertaining and illuminating. The only disappointment is the lack of track-by-track annotations and recording dates for the outtakes; this is kind of set that deserves such comprehensive details to place each track in the group’s canon.
This release, mastered for fine sonics by Mark Linett, is a worthy successor to such similarly collector-oriented collections as Hawthorne, California, and more recently, The SMiLE Sessions and the 50th anniversary presentation of Pet Sounds. Conventional wisdom has it that Brian Wilson abandoned his ambitions following the demise of SMiLE, but this release reveals that he instead channeled his considerable energies and remarkable musical instincts into a different but equally valid direction: one of apparent, back-to-basics simplicity – which is often the most difficult and complex quality to achieve. The creatively fertile music by Brian, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston on 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow was in many regards out of time, existing in a vacuum removed from the other sounds of The Summer of Love – hence, the original, poor chart placement of Wild Honey. Yet this rootsy, rocking, soulful, and quirky yet still unmistakable iteration of The Beach Boys has aged well in the context of the band’s entire career. Aren’t you glad for Sunshine Tomorrow?
The stereo mix of Wild Honey will be available on July 21 on vinyl at Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada Links TBD!