is the title of a 1999 documentary
about the Beach Boys
put together by musician
/filmmaker Alan Boyd
. While the documentary itself is fairly interesting, it has little that is not shown in The Beach Boys: An American Band
or I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
. The soundtrack album
on the other hand is a different matter...
Boyd and engineer Andrew Sandoval had access to the Beach Boys' tape vaults to put together what amounts to an alternate history of the band. While this may sound like a for-obsessives-only thing, the result is actually the best Beach Boys album since 1977's The Beach Boys Love You , and one of the best albums by anyone I've ever heard... In fact I'd recommend this as the perfect starting point for the BBs' music.
This review is of the first CD issue of the album - internal politics meant it was reissued in very slightly remixed form...
The album opens with Soulful Old Man Sunshine (Writing Session Excerpt) and Soulful Old Man Sunshine, a demo and a finished version of a Brian Wilson song (cowritten with Rick Henn of The Sunrays) from 1969 that had never even been bootlegged (although the sheet music had been knocking around for a while, leading to fans covering the song before the release). This is an absolutely stunning track, a stylistic mix of Motown and big band swing, which is one of the most enjoyable, up pop songs the band ever recorded, and would have gone to number one for a decade in a universe where the Beach Boys acted in their own best interests. However, this is the universe where Carl Wilson blocked the release of this track until his death because he sings 'shoulful old man shunshine' at one point...
Radio Concert Promo 1 is one of those annoying 'this is an archive release not a proper album' spoken tracks that blight this kind of release.
Medley: Surfin' Safari/Fun Fun Fun/Shut Down/Little Deuce Coupe/
Surfin' U.S.A. (Live) is a recording from 1966 of a quick hits medley, presumably to draw in the casual fans. This is quite badly out of tune, and Al Jardine is having problems covering the falsetto parts (this is in the days before the band hired Jeff Foskett, Matt Jardine or Adrian Baker to cover Brian Wilson's vocal parts on stage). The only reason for this is for the people who won't buy a Beach Boys album that doesn't have a surfing song on it.
Surfer Girl (Binaural Version) comes next, and is just a remix of Surfer Girl with the instrumental track in one channel and the vocal track in the other. Pointless, and at this point you'd be forgiven for thinking the album useless, but it gets better, trust me.
Help Me, Rhonda (Alternate Single Version) is much more interesting. A failed attempt at remaking the Help Me Ronda album track into the Help Me, Rhonda single, this sticks pretty closely to the single's arrangement, but has some interesting additions, notably a falsetto 'wah wah' backing vocal part in the chorus absent from all other versions.
Kiss Me, Baby (Stereo Remix) is a remix of Kiss Me Baby from The Beach Boys Today!, and the CD is worth getting for this track alone. The stereo remix opens the track up incredibly, making the backing vocal parts more audible, and generally making the track far less dense and cluttered. And anyone who feels the need to question Mike Love's importance to the band should listen to his vocal on this.
California Girls (Stereo Remix) seems a little pointless. While it's a great technical achievement (the instrumental track to California Girls was recorded on a four-track tape that was then bounced down to one track of the eight-track tape used for the vocals, so the two tapes had to be synched up to create the remix, as they did for Kiss Me Baby) it doesn't add much to the song.
Good Vibrations (Live) is actually a rehearsal take of Good Vibrations from before the show that was released as The Beach Boys Live In London. Not really all that interesting - I now have literally an hour's worth of versions of this song, just from legitimate releases. Maybe one day there'll be a new Beach Boys CD released that doesn't include a version of GV, but don't hold your breath....
Heroes and Villains (Demo) on the other hand, is almost like the Holy Grail to Beach Boys fans. This is a recording, never even bootlegged, of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks demoing parts of three songs from the legendary unreleased Smile album at the piano. Heroes & Villains comes first, and is followed by a song that had never even been heard before, I'm In Great Shape, one of the earliest signs of Brian's obsession with health food. This then segues into Barnyard, a song that had only been bootlegged as an instrumental backing track previously. Hearing stuff like this is like hearing Beethoven doodle ideas while working on the 9th symphony - even though the two unreleased songs are not particularly good, they throw light on Brian's working methods and the performances are so exuberant, this is essential listening.
Heroes and Villains (Live) is a live version of Heroes And Villains recorded during the shows taped for The Beach Boys In Concert, and is the same arrangement as on that album, with the Bicycle Rider lyrics from the Smile version of the song included. One of the major revelations of this set is just what a strong vocalist Al Jardine is, and he proves it here, adding a bluesy edge to the song that is in many ways far better than Brian Wilson's lead on the studio version.
God Only Knows (Live) is not really a live track, but rather a live-in-the-studio recording of God Only Knows done to 'sweeten' the sound on the unreleased Lei'd In Hawaii live album/film. Whatever the nature of it though, this is a beautiful performance, stripped down to a simple organ-led bnd performance, with Brian Wilson singing the french horn part in falsetto, and Carl Wilson giving one of his best vocal performances. Stunning.
Radio Concert Promo 2 is what you think it is.
Darlin' (Live) is another not-quite-live track - this time from the unreleased Knebworth 1980 concert film (which the band keep threatening to release on DVD but haven't got around to yet). Carl Wilson's lead vocal from the live versionn of Darlin' was kept, but many of the instrumental parts and backing vocals were replaced. This is an absolutely incredible performance - it's hard to believe the same man could sing R&B like this and a ballad like God Only Knows equally well, but he did, and you can hear the awe in Mike Love's voice when he asks at the end 'How's about that Carl Wilson ?' . This has become accepted as the definitive version of this song, to the extent that in the current Beach Boys splinter groups Carnie Wilson (in Al Jardine's Family & Friends band), Taylor Mills (in Brian Wilson's band) and John Cowsill (in Mike Love's touring 'Beach Boys') duplicate exactly every one of Wilson's vocal ad libs on this track.
Wonderful/Don't Worry Bill is a live track, a rather forced medley between Wonderful from the Smile album (a great song, sung beautifully by Carl Wilson) and a track from The Flame's eponymous album, sung by Blondie Chaplin. Both songs are excellent, but don't work as a medley. It's depressing though to hear Mike Love's intro, where he promises (in 1972) that Smile will be released 'this year'...
Do It Again (Early Version) is just an early mix of Do It Again, with very little special about it. Still a great song though.
Break Away (Demo) features the same backing track as the single version of Breakaway, a classic Beach Boys single shamefully neglected in the US, though a top 5 hit elsewhere, but rather than the Carl Wilson and Al Jardine leads of the finished version, this features a stunning guide vocal from Brian Wilson. The amount of emotion poured into just the line 'why change the part of me that cries to be free?' is unbelievable. Beautiful.
Sail Plane Song is another beautiful, unreleased Brian Wilson song (cowritten with Carl Wilson). Dominated by the organ part, this gorgeous little children's song would have fit perfectly on Smiley Smile or Friends but for some reason remained unreleased.
Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' in an Airplane) is Al Jardine's remake and partial rewrite of the previous track, which he spent 29 years tinkering with (originally recorded for the unreleased Landlocked album, this was finished in 1999). Joyless, over-produced, charmless and slathered in sound effects, this might have been fun to hear, if the infinitely superior original version hadn't preceded it.
Barbara is a simply beautiful Dennis Wilson song, unreleased because of his divorce from the subject of the song, his second wife. A simple demo by Wilson and Darryl Dragon (of The Captain And Tenneille), and possibly featuring Carl Wilson on guitar, this proves that Brian wasn't the only genius in that family.
'Til I Die (Alternate Mix) is the mix of 'Til I Die that features on most Landlocked bootlegs, put together by engineer Steve Desper and playing through the instrumental track in its entirety before going into the track proper. The introduction of the vocals is a bit jarring, but it's nice to hear the vibraphone part highlighted, and no mix of this song can be less than beautiful.
Long Promised Road (Live) is next, and this rendition of another Surf's Up track is OK, but Long Promised Road works best in the studio versions - the band seem to find the transitions between sections a little shaky. But not a weak track, by any means.
All Alone is a track recorded for Dennis Wilson's second, unfinished solo album, Bamboo, and is the only track from that album not to have been written by Wilson himself (it was written by BB touring member Carlos Munoz). While this is a great track, and Dennis Wilson turns in a wonderfully gruff Tom Waits-esque vocal, there are far better unreleased Dennis songs from this era (notably It's Not Too Late), and this was probably chosen at least in part to tug the heart strings with its 'If I could live my life again' lyric, given the singer's untimely death.
Brian's Back is horrible. Recorded for an unreleased Mike Love solo album, but featuring vocal cameos from Carl Wilson, this execrably bad song is written off the back of a publicity campaign about Love's then extremely mentally ill cousin ('they say Brian is back/well I never knew that he was gone'). If the fact that this is from an unreleased Mike Love solo album doesn't put you off, or the fact that it's a song referencing the band itself (always a bad sign), the lyrics "I still remember you sounding sweet and tender singing Danny Boy on grandma's lap/and those harmony highs could bring tears to my eyes, I guess I'm just a sentimental sap" should. Horrible.
Endless Harmony, the last track, is also the only one that had previously been released, on the album Keeping The Summer alive. This is a horribly schmaltzy Bruce Johnston song about the band themselves, and almost every line is quotably bad ("they're all cousins, friends and brothers, and they make their mothers cry/They're record making heart breaking just west coast boys"). The only reason this was included was so that every band member would have at least one song, but there are much better tracks that could have been included.
Buy this album, stick it in your CD player, and programme out the live medley, the concert promos, and the two last songs, and you will have one of the best listening experiences of your life. Trust me on this...