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The Beach Boys | 1.Surfin' Safari/Surfin' USA, 2.Surfer Girl/Shut Down, 3.Little Deuce Coupe/All Summer Long, 4.Today/Summer Days, 5.Party/Stack of Tracks, 6.Smiley Smile/Wild Honey 7.Concert/Live in London, 8.Friends/20/20 (Capitol)
EMI continue their everlasting Beach Boys reissue programme with sixteen (!) newly remastered albums spread over eight CDs, the so-called twofers. The first package (1) may appear a collectors only job (though there sure are a lot of them). The Boys' voices have barely broken, the sound is mostly skiffle-light and the song selection features several simple surf and rock'n'roll standards. Primitive stuff but the energy of youth is contagious and surprisingly enjoyable. The appearance of (2) & (3) sees some voices break yet get even higher to blend into the most blissful harmonies outside heaven. It also sees the advent of Brian Wilson the Beethoven of Bel-Air. Surfer Girl is still garage fun but getting better while Shut Down contains two great - and I mean McCartney/Mancini great - Wilson songs: the academically revered Warmth of the Sun, written the night Kennedy died, deals with the seeming loss of innocence of a man in troubled love, reflecting the nation's loss of innocence. Whatever, a masterpiece as is Don't Worry Baby, a James Dean car race kind of showdown moment. It is full of edgy verve and the 'empty guitar instrumental break' truly makes time stand still. Turn it up and close your eyes. If those songs were to become classics All Summer Long's I Get Around immediately looked the Beatles in the eye. If you believe, as a confirmed terminal trendy, that Pet Sounds is the only BBs album to own (whether you actually play it or not) think again. The (4) collection is a kind of lead up to Pet Sounds in the way that Revolver and Rubber Soul prefaced the Pepper. It is certainly easier to grasp - brighter, far thinner on melancholy and generally more stylistically varied than Pet Sounds. During a lengthy Abba TV special Benny explained just how inspiring the sound is on Do You Wanna Dance - intense, cavernous and colossal. One master on another. He's right. It's great. Another Today gem is Good To My Baby, one of the most overlooked BBs songs ever. It may be the perfect blend of rock attitude with the awesome richness of melody, tenderness and beauty found on Pet Sounds. It also has one of rock's greatest guitar riffs as has the far simpler You're So Good To Me (remember that one?). Kiss Me Baby is very, very beautiful, Girl Don't Tell Me and Salt Lake City are tuneful, rugged and satisfying. If you have no problems with 60s music then this will be special. Whoa! Around 1970 in a popularity revival the BBs developed the hard hitting beefy live sound that contemporary rock had embraced. It was much needed. The 1964 and 1968 outings on (7) are thin and tinny, the voices desperately so as the recorded versions come to mind. They both lack serious sonic augmentation and only the reading of Aren't You Glad challenges the studio version. Disc (5) must also rank as a collectors number: an obviously contrived party that never was, lots of party frolics, some flat singing, dodgy song choice...nah. The karaoke Stack of Tracks reveals how little backing there was on most 60s BBs work. Its all layers of vocals which is very challenging if you sit down to sing along and probably a lot of fun. Discs (6) and (8) however would be highly recommended as four single purchases but as twofers (with several bonus cuts of real interest) they are treasures. If Smiley Smile was the famous apology - a hastily contrived replacement for Smile, Brian's aborted, projected opus -  then it's nonetheless an appreciated offering whether you love or leave its numerous lunatic moments. Someone called it 'avant-garde bubble gum,' which will do fine. Think of all the different little sections that make up those two great pocket symphonies Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains and then imagine a hundred more. The band recorded much of this lying on their backs after a bulk purchase of very strong hashish (or so the story goes). Sure sounds like it. All these twofers have been coupled together either chronologically or thematically and generally it works quite nicely but Wild Honey is not soft psychedelia a la Smiley Smile but a BBs version of R'n'B and very simple rock. At this time many in the rock intelligentsia needed to cool out after the late 60s binge and the BBs had some clearing out to do for sure. Like the Beatles Get Back, Lady Madonna, and Dylan's New Morning and Nashville Skyline this record saw a band going back to basics to create a less musically polluted atmosphere. Darlin' and Wild Honey were the lead singles and the album abounds with energy and honest musical invention and, at times, lyrical fun (the BBs could do it when they really tried without Gary Usher or the gifted Van Dyke Parks). Check out the little joke at the end of the sweet and sexy I'd Love Just Once To See You. The BBs version of I Was Made To Love Her is a gas and one of their best ever covers. Its piano sound seems to bubble up through water increasing the buoyancy of it all whilst Country Air contains loads of happy humming to convey the well being engendered by bucolic living. Friends (8) is the work of a prodigy like Wilson being true to his vision while completely aware of the contrast between his, by then, unfashionable music and the likes of the Jefferson Airplane, Free, Cream etc and not giving a monkey's. It is frequently wacky to the point of questioning everyone's sanity and mostly as sweet and as soft as marshmallow (or Smiley Smile). 20/20 is a great, interesting and varied album. It saw the entire band masterfully writing and producing in the stead of a tired and troubled Brian and the appearance of two Smile works: Cabinessence is another of those four minute pocket symphonies, an American Gothic soundscape that portrays the toil and loneliness of pioneer life and the scandal of the railroads. It does, as the liner notes suggest, defy description. Our Prayer is an ethereal prayer in sound, ghostly and beautiful. Six really nice bonus cuts include a surreal one-minute attempt at Walk On By and an early Dennis Wilson rare B- side. In fact Dennis shines throughout this bumper pack. With one Charles Manson he wrote Never Learn Not To Love which features the coolest fadeout and sort of Red Indian drums and beats as well as penning other little gems. The (8) package is all in all astonishing and perhaps too much to digest in one sitting but of 29 tracks only 3 seem crass or dull or dated. To this day much of its experimentation in sound has confounded musicians and producers as well as providing material for inventive samplers. Indispensable.

Stephen Ridley
June-July 2001

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