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Classic Album Reviews: The Beach Boys | Hawthorne, Ca. / Smiley Smile / Wild Honey / Friends / 20/20 / Party / Stack-O-Tracks / Concert / Live in London

Running down the second wave of two-disc reissues from the California icons.

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This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Between their beginnings as surf-rock pioneers in the early ’60s and their last hurrah with the ’80s hit Kokomo, The Beach Boys put out more than 30 albums full of sand, surf and fun, fun, fun in the sun. And over the past year or so, their label Capitol has reissued nearly all of them in a series of high-quality ‘twofer’ packages — two albums per disc with lengthy liner notes, original cover art and tons o’ extra tracks. The latest wave covers the years 1964 – ’70. To cap off the set, there’s also a new two-CD collection of rarities. Here’s an overview:

Party / Stack-O-Tracks

First Issued: 1965 / 1968.
You Could Call It: Killer Filler. Both of these oddball theme albums were put out to buy erratic songwriter Brian Wilson time between increasingly complex albums like Pet Sounds and the frustratingly elusive Smile. But for stopgaps and cash-ins, they’re still oddly endearing — and prized collectors’ items. Party is basically The Beach Boys unplugged, with the guys jamming in the studio on their own classics and covers like Hully Gully, Alley Oop and The BeatlesYou’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. Friends were brought in later to chatter, clap and sing along with the tracks to justify the title. That musta been weird. But not as weird as Stack-O-Tracks, which is an album of Beach Boys hits stripped of vocals, ostensibly so folks could hear what a songwriting genius Brian was. ’Cause, you know, you really couldn’t tell with all those words getting in the way.
Extras: Three more instrumentals. Yawn.


Smiley Smile / Wild Honey

First Issued: 1967.
You Could Call It: Grin and Bear It. Right from the git-go, Smiley Smile was tainted — it’s basically a cobbled-together mish-mash of songs from Smile, reshaped and/or re-recorded. It’s kind of a shame; on their own, the trippy, inventive pop psychedelia of Heroes and Villains and Vegetables (with the band munching carrots for percussion) is pretty amazing. And remember, Smile was to have included Good Vibrations, arguably Brian’s finest composition. But in the wake of the incomparable Pet Sounds, you can see why this was a dud — it’s as if The Beatles had followed Sgt. Pepper with Help! Wild Honey was a return to simplicity, with the band ditching the intricate studio trickery for a set of straightahead, surprisingly soulful pop. Again, out of context it’s fine — but in 1967, nobody wanted to hear this.
Extras: Alternate versions and more Smile-related outtakes


Friends / 20/20

First Issued: 1968 / 1969.
You Could Call It: Nice ’n’ Easy. The former adjective describes Friends, perhaps the group’s sweetest and most peaceful record, a lulling collection of quiet ballads, gentle pop and sweet sentiments. The fact that there’s a song called Transcendental Meditation might explain it better. The fact that it came out the same year as Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and Cream’s Wheels of Fire probably explains why nobody bought it. Meanwhile, easy is the word for 20/20, the band’s final album for Capitol — it’s your classic contractual obligation set of leftovers and filler, notable only for the song Never Learn Not to Love, based on a tune by Charles Manson, who was leeching off drummer Dennis Wilson at the time. Funny, the liner notes kinda gloss over that …
Extras: The band’s final Capitol single — aptly titled Break Away — and even more leftovers.


Concert / Live in London

First Issued: 1964 / 1970.
You Could Call It: Playing for Keeps. These two live albums document The Beach Boys’ early and mid-period performances. Concert is your basic early-’60s teen screamathon, with the guys bolting through their early hits like Fun, Fun, Fun and Little Old Lady From Pasedena. Live in London has later gems like Sloop John B., California Girls and Good Vibrations. Both (especially the second set) go a long way to refute the notion that the band were essentially a studio construct that couldn’t reproduce their hits in concert.
Extras: One unused cut from each era.


Hawthorne, Ca.

First Issued: 2001.
You Could Call It: Extras, Extras! This two-disc set is the mother lode of Beach Boys outtakes and rarities — around three dozen unreleased cuts sprinkled amid 57 rare tracks. There are Brian’s early home recordings, reminiscences from band members, rehearsal tapes, demos, live cuts, alternate versions, you name it. Admittedly, some are manufactured rarities: stereo remixes of old mono tracks, Stack-O-Tracks-style instrumentals and a cappella vocal mixes. But the track-by-track liner notes and true gems — like Brian’s 1962 piano demo of Surfin’ USA or Dennis’s remarkable solo number A Time to Live in Dreams — make this a must-have.