The Beach Boys Made In California 1962-2012
review by Jon Kanis
(Capitol Records) CD
CD review for issue #36 of Ugly Things magazine [filed on October 2, 2013]
It’s never been easy being a Beach Boys fan. Those hodads from Hawthorne were never the hippest dudes in the world and their relevance to contemporary music pretty much ceased over thirty years ago. That said, the surviving alumni of Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston celebrated the milestone of their 50th anniversary last year with a world tour and an irrelevant album of new material (That’s Why God Made The Radio), underscoring why Capitol records fiscally churns out a “best of” Beach Boys collection with the regularity of the summer solstice. And with easy corporate justification – because as long as there is a need to be transported to a mythically bygone era, unsullied by the demands of a modern-day world gone wacko, there will always be an audience for the simplistic, choirboy ear candy of the Beach Boys.
At first glance it would appear that Made In California is yet another exercise in fleecing a devoted fan base and continuing to cash in on the legacy of the Wilson brothers, their cousin Mike and their legions of devoted colleagues who have pitched in along the way (there are over 700 other musicians and collaborators listed in the accompanying credits to this 174 song collection). However, you might want to do a double take because looks can be deceiving. If you already own 1993’s Good Vibrations four-disc box set, then why would you want to shell out another 125 dollars to largely repeat the experience? Additionally, novices would be better served to look elsewhere for a road map to navigate the labyrinth of The Beach Boys mystifying musical output.
The undeniably great news about this six-disc package is that the sonics have never sounded more full and if you playback your music on equipment more upscale than a cellular phone then Made In California is an epiphany of immense proportions. As digital technology keeps improving, so does the luster and punch of these timeless classics. Many kudos to engineer/producer Mark Linett for his groundbreaking work remixing many of these songs from the original multi-tracks. Selections benefiting from the facelift the most are “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Do It Again,” “Country Air,” “Wild Honey,” “Darlin’,” “Let The Wind Blow” and “Meant For You” (with an additional section unique to the original version on Friends). Other rarities such as “Sail Plane Song” and “Soulful Old Man Sunshine” also sound great in the context of this collection.
The bad news is that if you are a Beach Boys completist, by definition you HAVE to own this set because many of the unreleased songs, alternate takes, remixes and rarities are an absolute godsend. Hardcore fans will also appreciate how Made In California offers up ample proof that the dark horse of The Beach Boys, middle brother Dennis Wilson, was as accomplished and expressive a singer and songwriter as his lionized older brother. Both sides of Dennis’s 1970 solo single (“Sound Of Free” b/w “Fallin’ In Love”) make their digital debut, as well as the previously unreleased gem “Wouldn’t It Be Nice (To Live Again),” that was incomprehensibly left off of 1971’s Surf’s Up.
The first two discs of Made In California cover the years between 1962 through 1967, where five yokels from the suburbs took the regional fad of surfing, added the teenage obsessions of cars, girls and uncomplicated fun, and managed to become an international sensation. Brian Wilson’s melodic gifts, together with his determination to beat both Phil Spector and The Beatles at their own games, pushed The Beach Boys music to the absolute zenith of emotional expressionism in mid-‘60s American pop. Disc two is pretty much immaculate, providing incontrovertible evidence as to why we should care about this group in perpetuity. After the artistic success of Pet Sounds and the delayed gratification of the SMiLE project, Brian became the proverbial Icarus, compromising his angelic characteristics by flying too damn close to the Sun. Forever afterwards The Beach Boys became a democracy and disc three (1967-1971) suggests that for a short time the new program of diversification was an unqualified success. Disc Four (1971-1979) starts off strong, but by 1973’s Holland the enterprise was becoming creatively bankrupt and save for 1977’s The Beach Boys Love You, the remainder of their back catalog (1978-2012) remains for the appreciation of fanatics who are incapable of recognizing a dead horse as it continues to be flogged.
The main justification for the existence of Made In California lies in the rarities to be found on discs five and six: 15 previously unreleased live tracks spanning 1965-1993, demonstrating that at their peak The Beach Boys were a great live ensemble (especially during the period of 1968-1973 with Carl Wilson at the helm). Disc six [From The Vaults…] contains studio outtakes, demos and remixes that are essential to the overall big picture (some of which will be familiar from bootlegs): an alternate vocal for “Don’t Worry Baby,” the backing track for “Guess I’m Dumb,” “Sherry She Needs Me,” “Mona Kana” and a demo for “Be With Me” (all 20/20 outtakes), “Where Is She?” (a great Sunflower outtake), “I Believe In Miracles” (a brief vocal snippet from Smiley Smile), a cappella mixes for “Slip On Through” and “This Whole World,” and two beautiful Dennis Wilson tracks from 1974 “Barnyard Blues” and “My Love Lives On.”
There are a bunch of cool, previously unpublished photographs in a well-designed book that cops the vibe of a high school annual, evoking the days when Brian, Mike, Dennis, Carl, Al and David all passed through Hawthorne High (“onward Cougars, onward Cougars”). Under the caption of “Never To Be Forgotten” are pictures of the late Dennis and Carl Wilson, bringing to mind the grand irony that of all the punishing self-abuse that Brian Wilson laid upon himself during the 1970s, that he should be the last man standing of the Wilson brothers.
Ultimately, Made In California is a mixed blessing for the true diehards who will really appreciate this material from the archives and yet are being asked to fork out once again for the greatest hits that they have likely purchased at least ten times before over the last 50 years. In spite of the undeniable genius of so much of their best work, THAT is ultimately why it isn’t easy being a Beach Boys fan.