It’s hard to dispute 2012 as the best summer to be a Beach Boys fan in the last quarter-century or so, but thanks to the band’s new Made in California six-disc box set, out tomorrow from Capitol, 2013 comes pretty darn close. Admittedly, it’s hard to keep regenerating compilations under the guise of “greatest hits” when a group already has 10,000 (give or take) of them.
To put it in Beach Boys terms, however, all this is not that.
(See what I did there?)
Given, Made in California has all the usual suspects – “Surfer Girl,” “God Only Knows,” every song about a car, etc. – but what makes it so drastically different are the fingerprints embedded within the tracks. Even the most beloved songs have a handmade touch, be it a slightly different mix (the alternate treatment of “It’s OK” is a personal favorite of mine), a rarely-heard live version, a radio tag in which each Boy identifies himself, or even an introductory soundbyte of infamous patriarch Murry Wilson urging guitarist David Marks to “treble up.” Previously unreleased tracks, like the ‘70s toe-tapper “Goin’ to the Beach,” and bootleg gems melt together, somehow creating a more complete picture of a band that could be considered over-complete.
Right off the block come highlights from the “Surfin’” recording sessions in 1961, including a teenage Brian Wilson threatening to replace a hiccuping Dennis with “Alan Jardine.” Even the most dedicated of Beach Boys fans can do with a reminder that Brian started as a boy with a remarkable gift. The essential beauty of the box set’s beginning is that it illustrates his growth as a songwriter and arranger. It offers tiny snapshots of life in the studio with him behind the controls, from his direction on “I Get Around” to brilliantly selected cuts from 2011’s The Smile Sessions.
Each Beach Boy is represented in some form within the half-dozen discs, but the most profound highlight might be Dennis’ lost cut “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again.” Sung with passion, the song stands shoulder-to-shoulder not only with Dennis’ masterpiece, Pacific Ocean Blue, but also with most anything his older brother ever created.
Finally, the buried treasure lies on disc six: Brian leading musicians through Glen Campbell’s “Guess I’m Dumb,” after admitting he doesn’t know the title; an acapella rendition of “This Whole World;” and a trippy, gut-rumbling, synth-drenched re-imagining of the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling.” Not to say that the rest of the box set doesn’t have its gems. Particularly compelling are the nods to girl groups with covers of “Da Doo Ron Ron,” the Ronettes’ “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love,” and the inclusion of “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” from the Beach Boys’ Party! album.
Fact is, there’s no way to thoroughly cover this extensive piece of art within a short blog review. Each track proves the brilliance and beauty of the Beach Boys’ sound more substantially than the one before it (yes, even cuts from the ‘70s). But, truly, the set saves the best for last. As a weirdo who routinely reads magazines back-to-front, I started the entire listening process with the final track of disc six, appropriately entitled “Coda.” In this snippet, dearly departed Carl Wilson ruminates on the Beach Boys’ career and longevity, remembering that Brian once said the band’s music “celebrated the direct joyfulness of life.” I can think of no better words to sum up this collection.
But wait, there’s more!
Although the Made in California box is certainly the crown jewel of new releases from America’s band, don’t put away your wallets just yet. New from veteran Beach Boys author Jon Stebbins, whose Beach Boys FAQ is a staple of my music bookshelf, and Ian Rusten comes The Beach Boys in Concert, a yearbook-sized diary of most every live date the band has played. Talk about painstaking; I don’t think my master’s thesis was this well-researched (sorry, NYU).
Even though it’s a great tool to have on hand for reference, you’ll find yourself flipping through the pages only to realize an hour later that you’ve been engrossed in all the minute details and reviews — both glowing and uh, not-so-glowing — of the band’s half-century on the road. In short, this book is addictive, and an absolutely must-have for every level of fan.
Win a copy of The Beach Boys in Concert – plus – a copy of The Beach Boys Live: The 50th Anniversary Tour 2-disc CD!
To enter, simply click here to check out my blog and follow the criteria. The contest ends on Labor Day, September 2.