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The Beach Boys | Sunflower/Surfs Up - So Tough/Holland - In Concert - 15 Big Ones/Love You - MIU/L.A. Light - Keeping The Summer Alive/The Beach Boys (EMI)
1970 was a big year in rock. Witness the death of The Beatles, the embers of psychedelia, a robust country rock and the emergence of the singer-songwriter, glam and prog rock scenes. The Beach Boys began the decade that taste forgot by redefining themselves in a pretty hip way without feeling the need to tip their hats to any of the then avant garde. The first pairing in this re-issue series was the start of a second great creative era for the band and, although it's very tuneful and accessible, remains too vast to digest in one sitting. But take your time and reap the rewards. Despite the stories of Brian's physical and mental demise, it is still the adult child himselfwho lays the golden eggs - less than previously perhaps, but crown jewels nonetheless. Sunflower's This Whole World has an undulating, unpredictable melody full of layered voices, bells, love and joy. Another delight, All I Wanna Do, is so cool and laid-back yet so thrilling, you'll wonder why other bands bust a gut trying to excite to this degree. The penultimate track on Surfs Up is his 'Til I Die, a deep, spiritual, almost choral piece so beautiful you will know the state called Euphoria. Furthermore, the Smile box was still open to plunder and Surfs Up was reworked to enormous acclaim. Brian vacated the driver's seat for several years. To regain popularity, artistic respect and earn a crust, the band successfully explored each others' latent talents. The grit in the band, Dennis Wilson, submits the groovy Slip On Through, with its sexy tune and weird, slippery beats, and the famously tender Forever. Carl Wilson's heavenly Feel Flows leads what was once side two of Surfs Up - some of the greatest rock music ever made. Even the workmanlike Al Jardine pulls it off with Looking at Tomorrow, a brooding look at a man's struggle to fulfill himself and contribute his best to society!
The real surprise of this historic trawl is So Tough, credited to Carl and the Passions, perhaps the most berated and underrated Beach Boys record ever. It has recently begun to garner respect from fans and those with scant regard for the perceived notions of what the Beach Boys 'should' sound like. Admittedly, for a group who invented sophisticated production techniques, half of it sounds like a garden shed demo, but who cares? The new black, South African members offer a couple of songs that infamously resemble a rickety Traffic, whilst Dennis presents two colossal Mantovani-meets-Bernstein orchestral tour-de-force (play your partner Cuddle Up). Elsewhere, Carl and Mike deliver religion; a blissed out All This Is That and the gospel rave-up He Come Down. Only Brian's 60s sounding Marcella hints at the band who once sang California Girls. His other number, the succinctly titled You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone is another honky-tonk bar rocker. The album doesn't remotely hang together but remains a favourite. It's more famous and celebrated package-sharing partner Holland contains what many consider to be Brian's last great song, Sail On Sailor. Epic. Overall the record presents the pinnacle of their creativity, everyone stands tall. Consider Dennis' Steamboat; the sheer cleverness of recreating a Mississippi steamboat from treated guitars and drums a match for anything from George Martin or the Floyd. Astonishing.
In Concert sees the Beach Boys finally out there, rocking as hard as the music could merit. Many gems from Sunflower through to Holland are presented sans gloss but with balls and bags of confidence. Don't Worry Baby and Fun, Fun, Fun are electric and essential Beach Boys.
The fourth pairing presents the kind of shift in style and direction only the Beach Boys were capable of. 15 Big Ones contains eight rock'n'roll standards you'd only hear in Ed's Diner but two Brian originals, Back Home and It's OK, cut the proverbial mustard. Love You is a BB's classic. Fourteen Brian tunes most of which have more than touch of inspiration despite him having to be bullied and bribed into penning them. Like 15 Big Ones, the band sound like they did it all in one take with varying degrees of success and sore throats. Bizarre but, again, essential.
The remaining two pacakges represent rewarding value for money for those who wouldn't class themselves Beach Boys obsessives. Brian and Dennis are less prominent so we're cruising with Mike Love's Radio two-friendly money machine. Many wonderful tunes heard on bootlegs from this period seem to have been overlooked. Let's hope they reappeara on the Brother Years Rarities box set said to appear in due course. In the meantime, this little lot should keep you busy.

Stephen Ridley
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000

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