It should look beautiful, for it houses six discs of some of the finest music put to record. Maybe it would be fun and preferable to own all the albums individually (on vinyl) but there are an impressive 60 unreleased tracks on Made in California. Some of them are wonderful, although many are radio jingles, slightly tweaked mixes and live tracks.
The collection goes chronologically; the surf sound, Brian’s renaissance, the cracks of uncertainty and drug abuse, the garbled an often stunning attempts to carry on regardless and then the band becoming an institution, both commercially and mentally. The Beach Boys are a history of the music industry, the artist, the band.
The breadth of the collection highlights two noteworthy points. Firstly, despite the change in sounds over the time, the evolution is surprisingly subtle, such is the underpinning strength of the vocal blend. Sure ‘The Night Is So young’ is brilliant and brilliantly ‘power-produced’, but then play it next to ‘Salt Lake City’ and then ‘Sail On Sailor’ and all the tracks can sit next together. Playing it on random setting shows a surprising coherency, which the size of this release points out.
Secondly it shows that Dennis Wilson was a genius equal to Brian. When Brian tired of writing superb surfer ballads and moved on to orchestral masterpieces, Dennis picked up the mantle, adding a sense of wisdom that replaced Brian’s wide-eyed balladry. Discs three and four give Dennis plenty of slots and rightly so. On disc four, from the Surf’s Up/Sunflower/Holland period there is a fantastic composition ‘(Wouldn’t It Be Nice) To Live Again’. It’s Dennis stacked with rugged heartbreak and regret. ‘Be With Me’ shimmers (it was the B-Side to Breakaway’), ‘Celebrate The News’ trips in the verses before plateau-ing beautifully and dramatically and ‘Forever’ has to be considered one of the finest Beach Boys songs.
Similarly on disc six, a disc of rarities, Dennis’s previously unreleased composition of piano and solo vocal ‘My Love Lives On’ is breathtaking. Dennis’s gruffer voice radiates his world weariness, his voice sounds paternal and his instrumental unreleased cut ‘Mona Kana’, recorded in the 20/20 sessions and undoubtedly with a vocal penned, has the finesse of a John Barry composition. The only thing missing from this collection would have been cuts and exclusives of Dennis’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ (and possibly any alternative versions of Brian’s solo ‘Love And Mercy’).
People will take from this what they will and therein lies its beauty, that so much can be taken away. This collection provides years of Beach Boys fun and suitably celebrates their 50 years.
Bob Stanley assesses their career-spanning new collection…
Someone once wrote that Brian Wilson’s legend was largely based on music almost no one had heard. You could see their point for a long time, but since the release of ‘The Smile Sessions’ box this no longer holds true. In spite of the multitude of abandoned projects and, even now, entire unreleased albums, in 2013 his music is almost universally loved.
A side effect of his elevation to international treasure is that The Beach Boys‘ Story has become the Brian Wilson Story for the last decade, which is maybe not surprising given the continued antics of the saga’s Dick Dastardly, Mike Love – his latest dirty deed was to sack Brian and the rest of the original line-up after last year's 50th anniversary shows.
Still, they are a group: Mike Love’s chief role was as on-stage showman, Dennis Wilson’s as their wild man with a tender heart, and Carl Wilson’s as a white soul singer without equal.
Two decades on from 1993’s ‘Good Vibrations’ box, the six-disc ‘Made In California’, covering 1962 to 2012, is neatly balanced between the various Boys and their different eras.
The real meat of the set, though, is in the main catalogue – this is a proper overview. Just as it has become fashionable to overlook the other Beach Boys, it’s also become easy to underrate the majesty of the pre-‘Pet Sounds’ era, which to the American public is basically their entire catalogue.
Songs as harmonically rich and gorgeous as ‘The Lonely Sea’ (1962), ‘Wendy’ (1964) and ‘In The Back Of My Mind’ (1965, presented here in a clearer, better mix than ever before) are evidence of how this band blossomed after The Beatles arrived in the States, while almost all of their contemporaries withered.
To remind you that their catalogue is far from flawless, ‘Made In California’ includes some clunkers (ecological fingerwag ‘Don't Go Near The Water’, lame-ass kids song ‘Solar System’) at the expense of solid 10-out-of-10s like Carl Wilson’s ‘Long Promised Road’, or Brian’s ‘Still I Dream Of It’, worthy of Rodgers and Hart.
Unreleased tracks for the hardcore? Well, there's still no place for Dennis Wilson’s ‘Carry Me Home’ (covered by Primal Scream on their 1992 ‘Dixie Narco’ EP) or Brian’s lovelorn tribute to Stevie Nicks, the terrific ‘Stevie’.
But there are tracks here that next to nobody has ever heard of, let alone heard – Dennis has a pair of five-star rarities: ‘Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again’ and ‘My Love Lives On’, both incredibly sad and quite beautiful, and a match for anything on his sole solo LP, 1977’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’. A Brian-written ‘Sunflower’ outtake, ‘Where Is She’, is incomplete but another heart-stopper.
They may have behaved like animals, sometimes resembling a pop equivalent of Lord Of The Flies, and yet The Beach Boys still stir more emotions in me than any other group. This box covers all bases while still leaving enough unfinished business for a 60th anniversary set.
Words: Bob Stanley