Forget the hyperbole. The music was always (and remains) solid and this reissue has been orchestrated by the record label that rejected it to begin with.
Photo: Iconic Artists Group LLC / Brother Records Inc
27 August 2021 | James Porteous | Clipper Media
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll but it is also big business more than anything else.
It is worth noting that this collection is being released by Capitol Records/Universal Music and it was some version of the former of those two that rejected and controlled and screwed up the original releases to begin with!
Also of interest are the stream of media narratives that erupted at the time and have of course stood the test of time. The Manson ‘connection,’ the apparent lack of ‘hits,’ the media ‘rejection’ in the US. They were touring Europe at the time but they were hardly dead in the water in North America. I saw them play at Massey Hall in Toronto touring their Live album (released November 1973) and it was one of the best live shows I have ever seen.
So looking forward by looking at the past, once again.
See below for a complete track listing.
James Porteous | Clipper Media
“Add some music to your day,” the Beach Boys urged in their song of the same name, from their 1970 album Sunflower. There’s far more than a day’s worth of music included on this immense five-CD package, which scrutinises the turn-of-the Seventies Beach Boys in miniscule detail as they made the awkward transition from their California surf-and-sand past to a more diffuse, more democratic and in many ways more interesting group.
They would never repeat the scorching streak they enjoyed in the first half of the Sixties when everything they released shot to the top end of the charts – their high-water mark was the 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds – but the best of the music included here is some of their most fascinating work.
The Feel Flows set presents complete versions of Sunflower and its 1971 follow-up Surf’s Up, spruced up and sharpened to a punchy full-spectrum clarity noticeably superior to the 2009 remasters available on Spotify.
On top of that there are complementary live and unreleased tracks from both albums, a cappella versions of pieces both released and unreleased, radio ads, and a cluster of backing tracks and unfinished fragments of songs either on or written in the same period as the albums in question. You’d have to be nursing a serious Beach Boys habit to shell out for the full five-disc set plus hardcover book with photos, lyric sheets, comprehensive but not terribly critical essay by Howie Edelson etc, though the chill wind through your wallet can be ameliorated somewhat by opting for the various CD, vinyl or MP3 versions.
The end of the 1960s was a time of turmoil for the Beach Boys (pictured left, young Beach Boys). They’d defined a unique blend of intricate vocal harmonies and melodic brilliance with the likes of “California Girls”, “Good Vibrations” and the peerless “God Only Knows”, but their star was waning in the USA, even though they were still pulling crowds around the world. They were prisoners of the “surf-pop” tag from their “Surfin’ Safari”/ “Surfin’ USA” era, but the group had inevitably grown older and gone through changes, as indeed had the wider society around them. Original mastermind Brian Wilson had lapsed into a twilight zone of mental illness, exacerbated by drugs and over-eating.
Their album 20/20 from early 1969, much of it older material dusted off for the occasion, didn’t make the Top 50 in the States, though they scraped a Top 20 hit with “Do It Again” (a chart-topper in the UK). Another of the album tracks was “Never Learn Not To Love”, Dennis Wilson’s reworking of Charles Manson’s composition, “Cease To Exist”. The Sharon Tate killings perpetrated later in 1969 by Manson and his “family” threw a ghastly light over Dennis’s ill-judged friendship with the murderous cultist, and further clouded the image of his band.
All this coincided with the end of the Boys’ contract with Capitol Records on 30 June 1969. Battling a pile of debts, partly caused by a catastrophic tour with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, where most of the 29 dates were cancelled after the Maharishi quit, they’d already been shopping unsuccessfully for a new label. They were eventually rescued by a deal with Warners executive Mo Ostin, who signed them to the company’s Reprise imprint. The agreement also resurrected the group’s own label, Brother Records.
Sunflower was the first album under the new deal. Though a poor seller (it peaked at 151 on the US chart), it pleased the critics. After the disappointment of 20/20, which Dennis Wilson assessed as “the only letdown of the Beach Boys’ career … the first album the group made that was completely disjointed”, Sunflower represents a kind of renaissance, reflecting the way the group were adapting and evolving now that Brian Wilson was still on the team but not the dominant creative force.
Reprise rejected early versions of Sunflower, but it was finally ready in late July 1970, and the “disjointedness” Dennis complained of has been replaced by a harmoniousness of mood and arrangement that makes its dozen tracks flow together like the “Cool, Cool Water” hymned in the closing track (“in an ocean or in a glass, cool water is such a gas”). If it’s hard rockin’ you crave, the Boys may not be your go-to destination, though they warm it up a bit on “It’s About Time” and “This Whole World”.
The heart of the matter, though, is their natural feel for glowing melodies and peerless vocal arrangements, as on Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s mantra-ish “All I Wanna Do” and Bruce Johnston’s dreamily sentimental ballads “Deirdre” and “Tears in the Morning” (forerunners of his “Disney Girls” from Surf’s Up). It’s not much of a stretch to imagine Herb Alpert rearranging “Deirdre” for his Tijuana Brass. Instructive extras included here include Dennis’s “San Miguel” and the intriguingly circular “Celebrate the News”, while the carnival-esque “Loop de Loop” would sit nicely on the soundtrack of aviator drama The Great Waldo Pepper.
The process that brought about Sunflower elided into the creation of Surf’s Up (1971), which became their first Top 40 album in three years, helped find them a new audience, and occupies a niche of its own as one of the group’s most haunting creations. New manager Jack Rieley was encouraging the Boys to get loose, grow beards and even jam with the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East, and they were tapping into the turbulent, exploratory mood of the age. Considering issues of life, death, spirituality and (in “Don’t Go Near the Water” and “A Day in the Life of a Tree”) ecology, Surf’s Up was capped by its title track, originally written by Brian Wilson and Dyke Parks for the mythical lost Smile album (pictured below, the Boys in New York’s Central Park, 1971).
Finally completed, the song is its own mini-universe, and hovers over the album like a self-contained journey from decadence and despair to shining rebirth… though Parks’s allusive, illusory lyrics could be interpreted in an infinite number of ways. There are various iterations of “Surf’s Up” here, including a 2019 mix which changes the vocal balance around, a live recording from 1973, a complete a cappella take, and an unfinished version of the first section from 1971.
Elsewhere, one notable rarity is Mike Love’s previously unreleased original 1970 version of “Big Sur”, a song which was reworked for Holland in 1973. Outtakes from the Surf’s Up sessions, however, generally make it plain why they didn’t appear on the album. The bizarre “H.E.L.P. Is on the Way” is a warning about eating junk food and getting fat, while Brian Wilson’s “My Solution” finds him impersonating a mad scientist accompanied by doomy sci-fi music.
Especially queasy is a version of “Seasons in the Sun”, originally by Jacques Brel, of which Love observed that “it was so wimpy we had to throw it out”. However, the co-producer on the track, Terry Jacks, recorded his own version, which topped the US chart and sold 14 million copies. Go figure.
Feel Flows is a sonic labyrinth in which Beach Boys aficionados might lose themselves ad infinitum, though the mainstream listener might wonder what on earth is the point of all these fragments and unfinished takes. I suppose you could use the vocals-less backing tracks to host your own Beach Boys karaoke nights. But if it’s for you, you’ll know.
Review: Beach Boys Fans Will Find a Treasure Trove of Rarities in the Expanded Editions of ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Surf’s Up’
The Beach Boys
Feel Flows—The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971
4 out of 5 stars
There are two types of people in the world; those interested in how the sausage is made and others who just want to enjoy the final product. That concept extends to fans of The Beach Boys too.
Hardcore followers who hang on every last scrap of tape and studio chatter that went into creating a classic like “Good Vibrations” were thrilled by the 23 segments of the song included on The SMiLE Sessions in 2011. Ditto for the masterpiece Pet Sounds album that also had its own deluxe four-CD release in 1997, breaking down those classics into bite-sized pieces allowing sausage-making devotees to revel in how Brian Wilson’s masterpiece was constructed.
Welcome to another example of getting down into the nitty-gritty of The Beach Boys’ music. This five-disc collection features 135 remastered tracks (108 previously unreleased) presenting and dissecting the music of the titular albums. Other less inclusive (and less expensive) configurations are available for those who want to enjoy the music without all of the minutiae on its creation.
Both 1969’s Sunflower and its darker 1971 follow-up Surf’s Up appeared at a turning point in the band’s history. Even though they could profitably tour, raking in cash by rehashing their numerous early ‘60s radio hits, the group realized that times were changing and they needed to also.
Contemporary music was more politically and philosophically challenging than the contents of their Endless Summer compilation, ie; more songs about cars, girls, and surfing. Additionally, primary songwriter Brian Wilson was slowly fading into his well-documented psychological problems which left the band to their own devices in terms of creating new music.
The result is that the remaining members stepped it up on Sunflower (1969) to write or co-compose a dozen songs that captured the musical and brotherly spirit of camaraderie within the six-piece while expanding their ideas into more serious matters. While it’s no Pet Sounds, and there is nothing as musically adventurous as “Good Vibrations,” there are plenty of keepers.
The Dennis Wilson co-written ballad “Forever” is an underappreciated highlight that even Brian felt was “the most harmonically beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.” Carl Wilson flexes his substantial voice on his brother’s flowing “This Whole World” with some typically sumptuous vocal harmonies. The sugar-coated “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “Deirdre,” both co-credited to Brian, are two more sweetly melodic gems. Along with the new Brother label created by the band and distributed by Warner Brothers/Reprise, Sunflower was proof that The Beach Boys were ready for the next decade. It was hailed as an artistic triumph, although one that didn’t connect commercially.
As its dour, murky cover art implies, Surf’s Up (1971) was, despite a deceptively innocent title that harkened back to simpler days, a stab into the more solemn territory. Songs such as Carl’s highlight “Long Promised Road” about the treacherous path forward through life, Brian’s “‘Til I Die” (How deep is the valley/It kills my soul), and the ecological warning of the opening “Don’t Go Near the Water” provide a clear indication that the Boys were leaving the sun and sand behind, headed into lyrically and musically darker territory. The now-iconic title track, dusted off from a 1966 demo, remains one the elder Wilson’s finest, most elegiac, and complex creations, contrasting with the sunny implication of its name.
Both albums are well worth diving into even if you’re not a BB fan. Each is expanded with bonus live material, different mixes, and songs that didn’t make the cut, which comprises the first two discs. Non-sausage-creating folks will be thrilled.
But two additional platters devoted to sifting through tapes for isolated instrumental and vocal takes are meant for those committed followers interested in the ingredients of the sausage. The fifth is more of the same, presenting demos, unreleased song snippets, session music, remixes, early and/or raw recordings and chatter never meant to be heard outside of the studio. A 47-page book included with the full box is beautifully laid out and expertly written. It includes interviews with all the participants and producers and provides a clear, comprehensive background about each selection.
Choose the edition based on your appetite for this remastered/reissued meal. In any version, these sonically refreshed songs are well worth hearing, or reacquainting yourself with, and are an integral chapter in the Beach Boys’ long, influential history.
The second featurette in the Beach Boys’ Feel Flows video series, White Hot Glistening, is now live, setting the scene for the Feel Flows – The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971 box set, to be released tomorrow (27).
The short films are described as “a visual exploration of this metamorphic and highly influential 1969-1971 period of the band’s legendary career.” The second installment continues the theme of the group’s transition from their pop sound of earlier years to the experimental, but no less melodic, era of the Sunflower and Surf‘s Up albums. “In one of the great tales of rock evolution,” it says, “the Beach Boys come of age.”
“White Hot Glistening” is a lyric from “Feel Flows” itself, the Carl Wilson/Jack Rieley composition from 1971’s Surf’s Up. Rieley, also the band’s manager of the time, later described the creation of the song as “one of the finest experiences in a studio that I had.” The track reached a new and young audience when it was featured twice by director Cameron Crowe in his 2000 film Almost Famous.
The new featurette includes archive footage of Brian Wilson talking about his songwriting, and confiding that he really took full credit for his work “because I knew that a higher force was with me when I was writing…so I was very humble to God, and at the same time was really proud of my songs.” Mike Love adds: “There have always been changes, but the constant is the music. That is the spirit of the Beach Boys.”
There is also a focus on the late-flowering songwriting talent of Dennis Wilson, and in particular on his beautiful composition “Forever,” written with Gregg Jakobsen and one of Dennis’ many contributions to the Sunflower album. His brother Brian described the song as “a rock’n’roll prayer.” Says Al Jardine of Dennis in the clip: “He just had that intuitive instinct about music and lyrics. He was the kind of guy that could get straight to the point without beating about the bush.”
White Hot Glistening also recognizes Carl Wilson’s key creative role during this era, and Brian describes him as “a gentleman, a cool person, and a great artist, all in one.” The clip also features vintage footage of the Beach Boys on stage during this seminal turn-of-the-70s period.
Promo material: Available across a number of formats – including five-CD deluxe set and 4LP vinyl box – Feel Flows features newly remastered versions of Sunflower (1970) and Surf’s Up (1971) and boasts up to 108 previously unreleased tracks, including live recordings, radio promos, alternate versions, alternate mixes, isolated backing tracks and a cappella versions.
The five-CD deluxe edition features 135 tracks in total, and comes packaged as a 48-page hardcover book, which includes unreleased photos, lyric sheets, tape box images and new sleeve notes by Howie Edelson and new and archival interviews from Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and others.
Abbreviated versions of Feel Flows are offered as 4LP vinyl box sets (black and coloured variants) and 2LP and 2CD editions.
This release has been assembled by Mark Linett and Alan Boyd, the team behind the SMiLE Sessions reissue from a decade ago.
Feel Flows – The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971 will be released on 27 August 2021 (was 30 July). (This date changed many times but it was finally released 27 August 2021. ed )
Below are the details for the full edition.