Is there another rock band whose glory days have been packaged, re-packaged, recycled, reissed, and remixed more than The Beach Boys? Consider there were already three – count ‘em, three “Best Of” releases by 1969, and that was before Capitol Records really hit the paydirt with the wildly-successful Endless Summer (1974) and Spirit of America (1975). Since that time Beach Boys fans have been the subject of a seemingly-endless stream of CD releases and various compilations (I count no less than 32 from The Beach Boys Complete Guide website), most highlighting the surf/car years from 1962-66, all featuring songs previously released in one form or another, precious few containing music not previously released or alternate-mixed in an interesting way.
What’s frustrating to a fan and collector as myself and many others is that there are few groups who have been bootlegged as much as The Beach Boys, and even with their most recent and “final” career-spanning box, Made In California, there still remains a huge amount of unreleased music in the Beach Boys catalog, primarily the result of albums planned but never released – the “Landlocked” period beween 1969′s 20/20 and 1971′s Surf’s Up, the “Brian is Back” period between 1976′s 15 Big Ones and 1979′s LA (Light Album), and the late ’80s to mid ’90s where the group’s official output was limited by contractual issues and, ultimately, Carl Wilson’s failing health.
This latest attempt by Capitol Records to cash in on the group’s 50th anniversary is a big and expensive 6-CD compilation of group’s career with just enough previously unreleased material to make it worth the avid collector’s time and money to purchase, but, upon listen, just barely. The quality of the recordings are, given the digital technology available to engineers and producers today, impeccable, but would it be noticeable to the casual fan’s ear? I doubt it. They can get the hits on plenty of other earlier releases. The coffee table book that comes with the set is interesting enough, but there’s an awful lot of empty space in those pages.
In the end, I guess it all comes down to this: would you pay north of $150 to hear the following songs never before “officially” released:
* Dennis Wilson’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Live Again” (originally planned for 1971′s Surf’s Up)
* California Feelin’ (a legendary Brian composition recorded between 1974-77)
* “Soul Searchin’” and “She’s A Mystery” (two unreleased tracks from the abandoned Don Was-produced sessions of 1993)
* “Goin’ To The Beach” (an outtake from 1980′s Keepin The Summer Alive)
* “It’s A Beautiful Day” (from 1979, previously available only on the Americathon movie soundtrack)
* “Sail Plane Song” (a psychedelic pre-rendering of the still-unreleased Alan Jardine classic “Loop De Loop” from 1970)
* “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love” (Brian’s rendering of a Phil Spector classic from 1980)
* “Back Home” (an outtake from the original Sunflower sessions of 1970)
* “Mona Kana” (a Dennis Wilson orchstral track from 1968)
* “My Love Lives On” (a sparse Dennis Wilson piano piece circa 1977′s Pacific Ocean Blue)
* “Barnyard Blues” (a rough Dennis Wilson throwaway track from the mid-70s)
…because that’s really all that is worthy of note on Made In California. Oh, there are some interesting live recordings from over the years (Dennis leading a rousing “Help Me, Rhonda” in 1972 is pretty cool to hear), but there are too many previously-released tracks heard too many times before, curiosities and oddities that have already been released in better formats (i.e., the SMiLE-era tracks, which all seem out of place here), and familiar tunes in alternate or remixed forms (for example, the original backing track for “Had To Phone Ya” and a busy remix of “Rock And Roll Music”, both from 15 Big Ones) that just aren’t interesting enough. With so much other unreleased material out there there just seems to be a lot of filler.
Following on the heels of the band’s wildly-successful 2012 this seems like a great opportunity missed. Beach Boys afficianados know, for example, that there’s at least 2-3 albums worth of live material from the ’70s when the Beach Boys were the hottest act out there, including recordings made during the historic “Beachago” tour with Chicago in 1975. Why couldn’t they have made a CD of hard-to-find songs only available on movie soundtracks or previous compilations now out of print? Or a couple of truly new songs from the “That’s Why God Made The Radio” sessions? It seems to me this would have made for a helluva lot more interesting – not to mention cost-effective release. It would have been nice, for example, to see the following tracks included – I know they’re out there because I have the bootlegs to prove it:
* Michael, Row The Boat Ashore – an interesting Brian track left off 15 Big Ones
* Big Sur – an early, alternate version of the 1973 Holland album track
* We Got Love – the studio version of the live Beach Boys In Concert track dropped from Holland to make way for “Sail On, Sailor”
* Carry Me Home – a haunting Dennis Wilson track recorded during the Holland sessions
* Barbara – a Dennis Wilson classic only available on the Endless Harmony soundtrack
* Rock And Roll To The Rescue – a rousing 1987 track from the now-unavailable Made In USA compilation
* Chasin’ The Sky – a Carl Wilson-sung track from the mid-80s “Up The Creek” movie soundtrack
* (On My Way To Sunny) Californ-I-A) – the single version of the Holland LP track
The one thing that stands out on Made in California is just how hot Brian Wilson was as a composer in the years 1964 through the SMiLE meltdown of 1967. In those three years – a period most see as arguably the greatest in rock history featuring the best the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Motown, etc. had to offer, the Beach Boys work shimmers with a brilliant creativity and sound that no one else had. What this compilation also shows is that, while Brian gradually disappeared from the scene starting in 1968, the band was able to regroup and produce a truly different, yet unique sound all the way up to 1976 when it was swallowed up in the wake of Endless Summer. This period, from Wild Honey through 15 Big Ones may not be the most accessible or even finest work the band ever produced, but as the period when my brother Mark and I were first introduced to their music, to me it’s the most enjoyable to listen to and the most endearing.
Finally, what Made in California demonstrates is just how much a monster talent Dennis Wilson became in the band. If the Beach Boys’ 1960s sound belonged to Brian and his creative muse, their 1970s sound relied on Dennis for its earthiness, raw passion, and uniqueness. It’s a shame the band’s internal politics and Dennis’ own unreliability and excesses prevented him from taking a more prominent role as the band developed its post-Brian sound. Nevertheless you can’t listen to the post-1967 tracks and not find your ears perked up when a Dennis Wilson composition plays.
I’ll grudgingly give this set a B grade, but only as a companion piece to 1993′s Good Vibrations – Best of The Beach Boys box set, which remains a must-hve for any serious collector and the rest of my collection (legitimate and otherwise). There’s simply too much music left in the Beach Boys vaults for future releases not to be planned. But one can only hope that if/when it happens, they truly do one for the collector fan and give the hits a well-deserved rest.
Note to frequent commentor Jana: don’t worry, I’ve got you covered on this. Wait till you see the “Made In California” set I have planned for you! It’s a fall task on my to-do list.