Itâ€™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 bandâ€™s new Made in California six-disc box set, out tomorrow from Capitol, 2013 comes pretty darn close. Admittedly, itâ€™s hard to keep regenerating compilations under the guise of â€œgreatest hitsâ€ 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 – â€œSurfer Girl,â€ â€œGod Only Knows,â€ 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 â€œItâ€™s OKâ€ 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 â€œtreble up.â€ Previously unreleased tracks, like the â€˜70s toe-tapper â€œGoinâ€™ to the Beach,â€ 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 â€œSurfinâ€™â€ recording sessions in 1961, including a teenage Brian Wilson threatening to replace a hiccuping Dennis with â€œAlan Jardine.â€ 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 setâ€™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 â€œI Get Aroundâ€ to brilliantly selected cuts from 2011â€™s The Smile Sessions.
Each Beach Boy is represented in some form within the half-dozen discs, but the most profound highlight might be Dennisâ€™ lost cut â€œ(Wouldnâ€™t It Be Nice To) Live Again.â€ Sung with passion, the song stands shoulder-to-shoulder not only with Dennisâ€™ 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 Campbellâ€™s â€œGuess Iâ€™m Dumb,â€ after admitting he doesnâ€™t know the title; an acapella rendition of â€œThis Whole World;â€ and a trippy, gut-rumbling, synth-drenched re-imagining of the Righteous Brothersâ€™ â€œYouâ€™ve Lost that Lovinâ€™ Feeling.â€ Not to say that the rest of the box set doesnâ€™t have its gems. Particularly compelling are the nods to girl groups with covers of â€œDa Doo Ron Ron,â€ the Ronettesâ€™ â€œWhy Donâ€™t They Let Us Fall in Love,â€ and the inclusion of â€œThereâ€™s No Other (Like My Baby)â€ from the Beach Boysâ€™ Party! album.
Fact is, thereâ€™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 Boysâ€™ sound more substantially than the one before it (yes, even cuts from the â€˜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 â€œCoda.â€ In this snippet, dearly departed Carl Wilson ruminates on the Beach Boysâ€™ career and longevity, remembering that Brian once said the bandâ€™s music â€œcelebrated the direct joyfulness of life.â€ I can think of no better words to sum up this collection.
But wait, thereâ€™s more!
Although the Made in California box is certainly the crown jewel of new releases from Americaâ€™s band, donâ€™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 donâ€™t think my masterâ€™s thesis was this well-researched (sorry, NYU).
Even though itâ€™s a great tool to have on hand for reference, youâ€™ll find yourself flipping through the pages only to realize an hour later that youâ€™ve been engrossed in all the minute details and reviews — both glowing and uh, not-so-glowing — of the bandâ€™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.