I need a whole lot of sunshine to keep my sundial advancing...
Who were The Beach Boys? Hawthorne, California's favorite sons might have been asking themselves that very question in 1972. Their creative leader was withdrawing further into himself and musical tastes were changing: where did that leave them? This period of adjustment was first chronicled on last year's superlative Feel Flows: The Sunflower and Surf's Up Sessions 1969-1971 box set. The story begun on that collection continues on the new Sail on Sailor: 1972. Adorned with a striking cover, it's been released in formats including 6CD; 5LP+7" single (standard); 5LP+7" single (with lithographs); 2CD; 2LP+7" (standard); 2LP+7" (with Holland replica book); and digitally.
The 6CD box boasts newly-remastered versions of both albums recorded by The Beach Boys in 1972: Carl and the Passions - So Tough and Holland as well as the Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairytale) EP originally packaged with Holland. Additionally, the box premieres the band's concert at New York's Carnegie Hall recorded on Thanksgiving 1972 - the first time a concert from this era has been presented in full with the original setlist. The box is rounded out by various alternative mixes, a cappella vocals, backing tracks, more live cuts, and copious session material: a total of 105 tracks, 80 of which are previously unreleased.
The title of Carl and the Passions - "So Tough" was birthed at a concert The Beach Boys played with baby brother Carl at Hawthorne High in or around 1961: "Just to make him the big man on campus," Mike Love recalls in the liner notes, "we called ourselves Carl and the Passions." The moniker took on new significance, though, when applied to The Beach Boys' 1972 album. Carl's role as the band's creative leader was growing in the wake of Brian Wilson's retreat. The LP was recorded between December 4, 1971 and April 13, 1972 at various California studios including Brian's Bellagio Road home, and reflected the group's new status quo. Bruce Johnston was out, Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar were in. Much of the album was recorded, piecemeal, by different factions: Carl with Chaplin and Fataar; Mike Love and Al Jardine; and Dennis Wilson and his main collaborator, Daryl Dragon. The result was a leaner, rougher, more stylistically diverse, and yes, tougher album than anything previously recorded by The Beach Boys.
Carl Wilson encouraged the band's newest members to contribute fully, hence the earthy, Traffic-meets-early Steely Dan-esque jazz-blues "Here She Comes" with Alex Del Zoppo's rollicking piano and Fataar's own killer drums; and "Hold On, Dear Brother," a loping ballad with a heartfelt lead by Chaplin which has a whiff of The Band in its sound and arrangement. Love and Jardine's hypnotic chant "All This Is That" and their rousing gospel rave-up (and Brian co-write) "He Come Down" were both inspired by their experiences with Transcendental Meditation. In his first major vocal turn with the group, Blondie deftly shared the lead on "He Come Down" with Mike.
Brian's most notable contribution, "Marcella" (co-written with Jack Rieley and Tandyn Almer), successfully updated the classic Beach Boys harmony-pop sound with an irresistible, driving, and hard-hitting groove. At various points, Brian credited George Harrison and The Rolling Stones for the inspiration to write one of his strongest rockers - as well as the massage therapist immortalized as the song's title lady. Carl shared the lead with Mike on "Marcella" and soloed out front on the twangy country rocker and first single, "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone."
Dennis Wilson teamed with Daryl Dragon to pen the dramatic pair of "Make It Good" and "Cuddle Up," both featuring his vulnerable, whiskey-soaked vocals. Though his sound was heavier and tinged with darkness, Dennis carried on Brian's tradition of orchestrated balladry, largely eschewed by the rest of the band during this period. "Cuddle Up," in particular, showcases Dennis' ambition as it transforms from intimacy to cinematic splendor. Both songs point the way toward Dennis' later solo masterwork, Pacific Ocean Blue.
Carl and the Passions reached a peak of No. 50 in the U.S. where it was paired as a 2-LP set with Pet Sounds and naturally suffered in comparison to the 1966 album. (A radio commercial for the two-for-one release is heard among the bonus material on Disc One.) It fared better in the U.K. (No. 25) but remains a largely overlooked gem in the band's catalogue.
A clutch of bonus tracks have been appended to Carl and the Passions on the first disc of the box set. An alternate mix of "Make It Good" boasts an orchestral introduction but is otherwise spare, bringing forward the almost painfully wounded quality of Dennis' voice. A similarly stripped-down version of "Cuddle Up" is here too, but the original single mix is curiously absent. Both mixes heighten the songs' intimacy and delicacy.
New a cappella mixes of "All This Is That" and "Marcella" highlight the intricacy and beauty of The Beach Boys' vocal blend, while a new mix of "He Come Down" similarly emphasizes the voices by bringing them up in the soundscape (along with other, previously subtler elements such as the organ). "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone" is heard in crisp, primarily instrumental form with the background harmonies retained; it's a solid reminder of the musicianship of a group most noted for their vocals. In Howie Edelson's liner notes, Al Jardine recalls Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" inspiring "All This Is That." Jardine's original acoustic demo of a musical setting of the Frost poem is included here, too.
Seldom stumble, never crumble, try to tumble, life's a rumble...
The Beach Boys next sought inspiration in a most unlikely place: a ramshackle barn in Baambrugge outside Amsterdam in Holland. Carl and manager Jack Rieley spearheaded the European move in summer 1972, intended to spark creativity for a new record. Even the reluctant Brian Wilson was convinced to come along. The group's entire California studio was dismantled, shipped across the ocean, and rebuilt in Holland by engineer Stephen Moffitt while the band members and their families were relocated for roughly six months in various Dutch towns.
The change of scenery yielded strong material for the album that became known simply as Holland. Once again, Brian largely sat out the album proper, singing no leads and only co-writing one track recorded in the country. The other Beach Boys stepped up, though, to fill the artistic void. The result was a more organic, band-oriented album than Carl and the Passions, and one with a spirit of collaboration and adventure that once again pushed The Beach Boys' sound into new territory.
Dennis Wilson certainly took his music in a new direction in Holland, co-writing two of the LP's tracks. He teamed with Jack Rieley for the trippy "Steamboat," marrying impressionistic lyrics (which, at one point, name-check Robert Fulton, developer of the steamboat!) with a slowly churning melody. A quirky highlight of the album, it found Dennis tapping into a different side of his musical persona, lacking the deep reservoir of anguish and emotion that fueled much of his writing. He turned to cousin Mike Love to add lyrics to "Only with You." Though the Dennis Wilson/Love team only wrote three songs over the years, the cousins' individual styles proved surprisingly complementary on every occasion. Rather than sing "Only with You" himself, Dennis opted to have Carl take the sweet lead on the moving, piano-driven ballad. Dennis wasn't the only Wilson with whom Mike wrote in Holland; he rekindled his collaboration with Brian for the light and loose "Funky Pretty," sharing vocals with Carl, Al, and Blondie.
Perhaps homesickness informed the three-part "California Saga," a true collaborative effort. Mike Love wrote and sang the beautiful country waltz "Big Sur," trading his usual swagger for gentle contemplation. Al Jardine followed "Big Sur" with "The Beaks of Eagles," a musical setting of a Robinson Jeffers poem, before launching into the suite's most familiar segment, the bouncy, ebullient "California." Writer-producer Jardine engaged Brian for the opening vocals, giving this most "Beach Boys-esque" melody an extra helping of verisimilitude. Carl and Jack Rieley looked to a different aspect of Americana for their evocative "The Trader." The song ambitiously tackled colonialism, with its dense lyrics set to uptempo rock that shifts into lusher, more meditative terrain.
Blondie Chaplin took the lead vocal on the moody "Leaving This Town," a deeply felt co-write with Ricky, Mike, and Carl, but he would ultimately become the voice of the album's most famous track - and one recorded at the behest of the Warner/Reprise label brass once the band got back to Los Angeles: the thrilling "Sail on Sailor." Excerpts of the original writing session between Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks can finally be heard in authorized form on the fifth disc of the box set; Tandyn Almer, Ray Kennedy, and Jack Rieley all earned credit on the finished recording. Whatever its convoluted provenance, "Sail on Sailor" had both the Beach Boys' familiar sparkle and the rock-and-roll grit of the band's more recent recordings, brought together by an anthemic chorus. Warner was looking for a stronger single than anything recorded in Holland, and Parks and Wilson delivered. Today, "Sail on Sailor" is still the only song from The Beach Boys' '70s rock period to remain a staple of the classic rock format.
Though "Sail on Sailor" is Brian's most distinguished contribution to Holland, his most personal may well be Mount Vernon and Fairway: A Fairy Tale. Written and composed by Brian with help from Carl and Jack Rieley (who also narrated), the 12-minute, multi-part musical story about a young prince and a magical Pied Piper who lives within a transistor radio (portrayed by Brian, naturally) was rejected for inclusion on Holland but packaged with the album on its own EP. It's childlike, offbeat, whimsical, and pure Brian Wilson. Upon its release in January 1973, Holland reached No. 37 on the Billboard 200, bolstered by the strength of "Sail on Sailor" on FM radio.
Seven bonus cuts have been added to Holland on Disc 2, including plenty for fans of the Blondie and Ricky faction. They're represented with the previously unreleased "Hard Time," a tight little rocker, and with a new 2022 mix of "We Got Love." With its stirring lead by Ricky closely supported by Blondie, "We Got Love" remains most familiar from its appearance on 1974's In Concert album; the original studio version was shuffled off Holland in favor of "Sail On, Sailor" (though a few hundred copies of a German mispressing made it into the marketplace). It's one of the strongest songs from the Fataar/Chaplin team, with lyrical contributions from Mike Love and trademark Beach Boys harmonies over a funky soul backing. Blondie also joins Dennis Wilson on the poignant "Carry Me Home," finally seeing release for the first time. Mournful piano and eerie pedal steel accompany this haunting, raw lament from the perspective of a soldier in Vietnam.
The original 1973 single mix of "California Saga - California" is joined by a previously unreleased mix of "On the Beaks of Eagles" prepared for, but unreleased on, 45 RPM. Linett and Boyd have also remixed an instrumental-only version of "Sail On, Sailor" with a stunning a cappella closing section.
Let's get together and do it again...
Unlike last year's Feel Flows collection, Sail on Sailor presents an entire Beach Boys concert from the era. The Beach Boys Live at Carnegie Hall, on Discs 3-4, was captured by a remote unit on 16 tracks. It documents Mike, Carl, Al, Dennis, Blondie, and Ricky at the famed New York City venue on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1972, with a substantially different setlist than the one from the same lineup as released on The Beach Boys In Concert. That album was recorded at various venues in 1972-1973 including a show at Passaic, New Jersey's Capitol Theatre just four days before the Carnegie Hall concert. Jack Rieley, who had spearheaded the group's embrace of a more contemporary sensibility, was on hand to introduce both sets.
Joined by musicians including "Captain" Daryl Dragon, Ed Carter, Mike Kowalski, and background singer Toni Tennille, The Beach Boys successfully balanced their earlier hits with then-recent material from Surf's Up, Carl and the Passions, and the soon-to-be-released Holland to give a spirited performance that owed less to the sound of the original recordings than to what was happening in the moment. The structure of the setlist was almost entirely unlike what one would expect of a Beach Boys show today, beginning not with "California Girls" or "Do It Again" but with Pet Sounds' "Sloop John B" and ending with a lean, mean, Mike Love-led cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash." In short, The Beach Boys showed they could rock.
Gleefully traveling from one musical era to another - one sequence goes from "Heroes and Villains" to "Long Promised Road" to "Don't Worry Baby" - the band sounds revitalized, confident, and animated throughout. The presence of Chaplin and Fataar added a muscularity and a renewed energy to the Beach Boys' sound, with Carl and Mike neatly splitting the lead vocals duties for the night. Carl's bona fides as a rock singer have never been more evident than on the thrilling "Long Promised Road" here. Love vividly recreates the likes of "I Get Around," "Surfin' USA," "California Girls," and "Fun, Fun, Fun" with immediacy and barely a whiff of nostalgia at a time when the band was celebrating a mere 10 years. "Help Me, Rhonda," "Good Vibrations," and "Heroes and Villains" are among the tunes stripped of studio gloss and sung in a rough-hewn style. Blondie and Ricky revisited their back pages, too, as they grafted "Don't Worry Bill" (recorded on their Carl Wilson-produced debut album as The Flames) onto SMiLE's "Wonderful." Chaplin is scorching on a raucous "Wild Honey," which he was singing as recently as this summer on Brian Wilson's solo tour with a similarly wild abandon.
The Boys' energy is all the more impressive considering this was the band's 23rd show in as many days. "Marcella, "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone," and "Do It Again" crackle and pulsate, raising the roof at the venerable hall. One imagines a pin could have been heard dropping during the more mellow songs such as the tender "Only with You," pretty "Don't Worry Baby," and beguiling waltz "Let the Wind Blow." Carl's sweet, subtle "God Only Knows" is expectedly touching.
There are fun moments of stage patter, too. Mike scolds a "dummy" in the audience for requesting "Sloop John B" after it's already been performed and gets heated with another loud "punk" later on; at a calmer point, he introduces Charles Lloyd in the crowd and directs the audience to resources for TM. There's also an assurance that SMiLE "should be out this coming year." It only took another 39 years to make good on that promise!
The final two discs of Sail on Sailor are dedicated to various sessions and live material. Much of the fifth disc consists of various a cappella and instrumental mixes of songs from Carl and the Passions and Holland; as always with The Beach Boys, there's a thrill to hearing the raw background harmonies on songs such as "Hold On, Dear Brother." One can easily draw a straight line from SMiLE to "Steamboat" after hearing the quirky, idiosyncratic backing track in this new mix; similarly, the various colors of "California Saga - California" pop anew in this track-and-backing-vocals remix while a Beatles influence seems apparent on the isolated vocals for the second section of "The Trader." A strain of psychedelia in "Funky Pretty," too, becomes more evident.
Most remarkable may be that four-minute excerpt of a (longer) work tape of "Sail on Sailor" in which we hear Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks creating the song at the piano. The tape opens with Brian imploring his collaborator, "Hypnotize me and tell me that I ain't crazy...I'm insane" before he introduces the pounding, captivating melody that he can't quite shape into a full song. The half-written lyrics heard here, with references to cocaine ("I need to try some/I've got to buy some") and the touring life, would almost all be jettisoned by the time of the final recording (though the title was already there).
Oh, sweet something(s)!
Though there's not as great an abundance of riches as on Feel Flows, there are a few work-in-progress songs deserving of attention. Four songs were produced by Brian Wilson in early 1972, a time when he was experiencing difficulty bringing a composition to fruition. "Out in the Country," not the Paul Williams/Roger Nichols song but rather an original tune, co-written by Brian and Dan Goldberg, is heard twice: once in uptempo instrumental form and once in an unfinished, dramatically different ballad form with an Al Jardine lead and dreamy harmonies. "Spark in the Dark," "Rooftop Harry," and "Body Talk (Grease Job)" apparently never got as far as lyrics, but their melodies certainly leave you wanting more. The chunky, organ-driven "Spark" doesn't sound too far off from the style Brian would pursue later on Beach Boys Love You. "Rooftop Harry" and "Body Talk (Grease Job)" are even more tantalizing, the former with its delightfully upbeat piano bounce and the latter with its jazz undercurrent. "Oh Sweet Something" is another Blondie/Ricky outtake, co-produced by the duo with Carl Wilson. While not as strong as "Hard Time," it's a breezy, easygoing track with a bit of a carefree Wings feeling.
The sixth and final disc opens with a half dozen concert cuts from various shows. "Funky Pretty" was livelier on the concert stage than in the studio based on the version here from April 1973 in Norfolk, Virginia. "The Trader" and "Sail on Sailor" were recorded by Phil Ramone on June 26, 1975 at Largo, Maryland's Capital Centre as part of the band's Beachago tour with Chicago. The Chicago set was released in 2015 sans the joint set which concluded each concert. With the vault doors having cracked ever so slightly open, perhaps a release of the Beach Boys' set could finally be in the offing - or better yet, a complete Beachago show. Billy Hinsche takes the lead on the smoking "Sail on Sailor" with Blondie (and Ricky) having departed the band by then. The outlier is a pretty 1993 live version of "All This Is That" from New York City, with Al, Mike, and Carl joined by Al's son Matt Jardine.
Mileage will vary on the session material from "California Saga" and the eccentric Mount Vernon and Fairway. Most peculiar is the inclusion of an edited version of "California Saga" which, at Al Jardine's request, removes a stanza of the Robinson Jeffers poem to get more quickly into the third section of the suite. This disc also contains a handful of random tracks including home recordings from Holland of Brian at the piano for a song of his called "Little Child (Daddy Dear)" and a snippet of Al's "Susie Cincinnati." From earlier in the year, there's also a fun home recording of Brian, his then-wife Marilyn, and David Sandler jamming on The Spencer David Group's hit "Gimme Some Lovin'."
Get yourself in that cool, clear water...
Like most Beach Boys archival releases before it, Sail on Sailor has been produced by the team of Mark Linett and Alan Boyd. Linett has also mixed and mastered the audio here, including the Carnegie Hall show. The audio is comparable in feel and style to that of Feel Flows and this year's reissue of The Very Best of The Beach Boys: Sounds of Summer and there have been reports of studio sweetening to the Carnegie show (as might well have been the case had it been released at the time). The remasters of Carl and the Passions and Holland are not as subtle as previous editions.
The packaging is quite similar to Feel Flows, too, with the CDs housed within a 48-page hardcover book. Like that set, it features an essay written by Howie Edelson. Though the prose is stylish and the information solid, with quotes from The Beach Boys peppered throughout, the notes don't delve into the previously unreleased tracks or the live show. (Co-producer Mark Linett does go into some detail about the genesis of the Carnegie Hall recording in his Producer's Note.) Frustratingly, the song-by-song credits include only songwriters, producers, lead vocalists, and dates; detailed personnel information is absent. Surely The Beach Boys deserve the same level of comprehensive annotation afforded recent archival releases from The Beatles and David Bowie, just to name two. The six discs, housed in slots in the book, are nicely adorned with Brother Records labels.
After releasing (at least) an album a year since 1962, The Beach Boys' follow-up to Holland didn't arrive on store shelves until July 5, 1976 - more than three years later. By that point, the group had irrevocably changed, in large part due to the runaway success of the 1974 compilation Endless Summer. Riding the wave of fifties nostalgia rekindled by the 1973 film American Graffiti that also rippled to television (Happy Days) and the stage (Grease), The Beach Boys were now being viewed as a feel-good oldies act, and felt pressure to "do it again" with sunshine, girls, surf, and cars. Sail on Sailor is so valuable, then, for shedding some light onto the band's most adventurous period. Sure, there was more great music to come, but never again did the group aim so squarely for the brass ring of contemporary rock. Funky, pretty, original, spiritual, searching, and altogether underrated, this music remains excitingly fresh.
The Beach Boys' Sail on Sailor: 1972 is available now:
6CD Super Deluxe: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
2CD Highlights (Remastered Albums plus bonus tracks): Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
5LP+7" Super Deluxe Vinyl Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
5LP+7" Super Deluxe Vinyl Edition (Limited Edition): Beach Boys Store
2LP+7" Remastered Albums Vinyl: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
2LP+7" Remastered Albums Vinyl (Limited Edition): Beach Boys Store