We'll be havin' fun all summer long...
For nearly sixty years, the sun-drenched harmonies of The Beach Boys have provided the soundtrack for summer - from those welcome first days and first rays through the season's bittersweet final moments as autumn's chill approaches. They're the rare band whose compilations, beginning with 1974's chart-topping Endless Summer, have become nearly as key to their legacy as the core studio albums. 2003's Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys became their highest-charting album since 15 Big Ones (1976) and highest-charting collection since Spirit of America (1975), the immediate follow-up to Endless Summer. It remained on the charts for 104 weeks and has since been certified 4x Platinum, scoring countless barbecues, tailgate parties, picnics, and parties. But longtime fans know that there are many more colors to the music of The Beach Boys than just the warm yellows and oranges as seen on the now-familiar cover. With the group's 60th anniversary approaching - their first album, Surfin' Safari, was released in October 1962 - the collection has been reissued and reimagined in a variety of formats. Its original 30 tracks have been re-presented and remastered (and in some cases, remixed) in 1 CD and 2 LP editions while an expanded 80-song selection features on 3-CD and 6-LP box sets. Among the digital versions is a new mix of the core songs in Dolby Atmos surround.
The original 2003 Sounds of Summer was the most comprehensive single-disc anthology of Beach Boys classics to that point. The CD contained every U.S. top 40 Pop hit, save two, from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, and their bandmates including Bruce Johnston, David Marks, Blondie Chaplin, and Ricky Fataar. (The two missing tracks? "The Little Girl I Once Knew" and "It's O.K.") Crucially, a number of the songs were heard in alternate versions, whether single mixes or remixes by producer-engineer/longtime band associate Mark Linett.
The songs spanning 1962-1988 were sequenced out of order almost in the manner of a setlist, beginning with the goosebump-inducing orchestral introduction to "California Girls" and ending with the blissed-out final fade of "Good Vibrations." Most of the original 30 tracks, reflecting their appearances on the pop charts, were the band's feel-good anthems about cars ("I Get Around," "Little Deuce Coupe," "Shut Down," "Fun, Fun, Fun"), surfing ("Surfin' USA," "Surfin' Safari"), and girls ("Surfer Girl," "Help Me, Rhonda," "Barbara Ann") - or a combination of any of the above ("Don't Worry Baby"). But the set also included those beautifully introspective moments in which Brian Wilson's musical soul was truly exposed ("God Only Knows," "In My Room," even "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice") and a hint of the more experimental sounds Wilson and co. pursued in the era of SMiLE and beyond ("Heroes and Villains," "Wild Honey"). A more compelling Beach Boys playlist would be hard to find.
Happily, that original 30-track sequence has been retained for the 2022 reissues although many of the mixes are quite different from those heard almost twenty years on the original disc. Sixteen were newly created in 2021 while others date from various projects over the years. For the couple of tracks that previously only existed in mono, digital extraction technology has been used to present them in stereo. Most of the mixes by Linett, Alan Boyd, and The Beach Boys on this disc are respectful of the original sound while still opening up the soundstage for additional detail in the instruments and vocals. Still, there are some very noticeable tweaks. The Dennis-led "Do You Wanna Dance" leans into its rock-and-roll origins; the drums hit harder and the rhythm is more aggressively throbbing. "Do It Again" also gets an edgier feel in its drums and electric guitar while newly-discovered intricacies in the vocal harmonies sparkle. The horns, always present but relatively low in "Darlin'," gain newfound prominence. (Only the original mono single of "Be True to Your School" and stereo album versions of "Getcha Back," "Come Go with Me," "Good Timin'," "Kokomo," and "I Can Hear Music" are untouched.)
That sampler might well be enough for the casual fan but the 3-CD or 6-LP iteration ups the ante with an additional 50 songs on Discs 2-3 (CD) or LPs 3-6 (vinyl). All told, the complete collection boasts 26 all-new stereo mixes and 22 upgraded ones. The 80-song version still spans the same time period; unfortunately, none of the band's three albums after 1989's Still Cruisin' are represented at all. The most conspicuous absence is that of the acclaimed 50th anniversary album, 2012's That's Why God Made the Radio, which yielded a top 30 AC hit with the lush title track co-written by Brian Wilson, producer Joe Thomas, and The Ides of March's Jim Peterik and Larry Millas.
The additional songs, encompassing deep cuts, fan favorites, and some just plain offbeat choices, further highlight the bandmates' journey as they navigated the rapidly changing landscape of pop and as Carl, Dennis, and co. emerged from Brian's shadow to become creative leaders in their own right. Mention should be made, too, of the band's many significant collaborators in the studio and/or onstage during the era covered on the box set including Gary Usher, Roger Christian, Tony Asher, Van Dyke Parks, Billy Hinsche, Jeffrey Foskett, and Terry Melcher.
Despite gaining 50 tracks, Sounds of Summer is still curiously missing "The Little Girl I Once Knew," Brian's irresistible top 20 hit from 1965 and still a mainstay of his concert setlists. Brian and Mike's buoyant 1976 "It's O.K." did make the cut this time around along with such other worthy perennials as "All Summer Long," "Sail On, Sailor," "Disney Girls (1957)," "The Warmth of the Sun," "Wendy," "You're So Good to Me," and "Forever." (It's not coincidental that all of the above, and others, were collected by Capitol on a de facto 28-song sequel to Sounds of Summer in 2007 titled The Warmth of the Sun.)
The question this new expanded edition most begs to ask is, just what constitutes a summer song? The tunestack here broadens the category. The majestically melancholy "'Til I Die," haunting "Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)," achingly vulnerable "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," loopy "Vegetables," and wrenching "(Wouldn't It Be Nice to) Live Again" all seem out of place, to one degree or another, with the 30 original selections. The happiest byproduct of the additional two discs is the new emphasis on the band's seventies output ("This Whole World," "Feel Flows," "Long Promised Road," the completed "Surf's Up," "The Night Is So Young," and a radically remixed, considerably heavier "Marcella") with hidden gems coming to light from the 1960s ("Aren't You Glad," "Time to Get Alone," "Friends") and 1980s ("Goin' On," "Where I Belong"). The mixes are bolder on these additional songs, too. Like "Marcella," Dennis' lusty "All I Want to Do" gains muscularity in its new mix - in this case, of an alternate take. The least successful of the new mixes might well be that of Dennis' "Baby Blue," marred by excessive hiss.
Of course, any compilation comes down to matters of personal taste. It's fair to ask why "Catch a Wave," "Little Girl I Once Knew," "Caroline No," and "Hawaii" are all absent while the featherweight "Pom Pom Play Girl" and a cover - albeit a beautiful one - of The Everly Brothers' Felice and Boudleaux Bryant-penned ballad "Devoted to You" have instead been included. The tantalizing post-SMiLE fragment "Can't Wait Too Long" has appeared in various forms over the years; it's as stunning as ever in a new, very different edit/mix created from the "Sections" first issued on I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions, but does it warrant inclusion on a greatest-hits collection? Yet no two Beach Boys aficionados would come up with the exact same selection of fan favorites and deep cuts, and Sounds of Summer is an effective cross-section of what makes their rich, diverse body of work so special and indeed, so enduring. Not every song necessarily plays ideally next to a song from a different period, but the non-chronological sequence and quirky transitions keep the listener engaged throughout.
The vinyl box set is available in a standard version while a Beach Boys store/uDiscover-exclusive package adds rainbow foil to the slipcase as well as a quartet of nearly LP-size lithographs. Within the sturdy slipcase - like the 3-CD edition, the striking cover has no typography or logos - the 6 vinyl LPs are housed in three individual gatefold jackets, two LPs apiece. The first jacket echoes the original 2003 CD cover but with Dean Torrence's original, hand-drawn band logo (introduced on 15 Big Ones, designed by Torrence and first airbrushed by Jim Evins) replaced with a similar, newly computer-generated version. Sadly, this iteration of the logo seems to have supplanted the original on Beach Boys products, but it lacks the energy and dynamism of Torrence's work in favor of a more generic look. The first gatefold offers the album credits and Howie Edelson's liner notes. The second and third gatefolds feature bold, colorful new cover collages in the style of the original All Summer Long album but with the current logo rendering moot any notion of period authenticity.
In a nice touch, the LP labels on the black vinyl pressings each evoke a different era: the Capitol swirl logo for LPs 1 & 2 (or CD 1), green and purple Capitol for LPs 3 & 4 (or CD 2), and yellow Brother logos for LPs 5 & 6 (or CD 3). Note that Side Two of LP 6 has an etching of the new logo and no music. The protective inner sleeves also recapture a bygone era with images of other Beach Boys releases including the recent year-by-year collections. The 180-gram black vinyl pressings are clean and quiet and well showcase Mark Linett's mastering. The CDs are housed within an eight-panel digipak also containing a 20-page booklet (replicating the contents of the vinyl box).
Today, the songs of The Beach Boys are as inevitable and as rejuvenating as the warmth of the sun itself. They evoke powerful emotions and memories, always revealing new layers with each listen. Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys is a fresh look at some of the greatest pop music of the second half of the twentieth century, and while the boldest of the new mixes may prove divisive to some listeners, it's important to remember that the originals are all still very much available. There's still more to come in 2022 from America's Band including a follow-up box set to last year's Feel Flows: The Sunflower and Surf's Up Sessions 1969-1971 which will dig deep into the era of Carl and the Passions - So Tough and Holland. Surf's up, once again.
Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys (Expanded Edition) is available now at:
3CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
6LP Standard: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
1CD (contains CD 1 of below only): Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
2LP Standard: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
All Formats (including exclusives): The Beach Boys Official Store