1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow
As a Beach Boys fanatic this is gold to me – and that’s what these sort of reissues are about, catering to the existing fans, fleshing out the story, giving added depth. Yes, there’s a cynical cash-grab (always) attached too. But this one fulfils its promise of giving the ‘full’ story of one year in the life of The Beach Boys; a pivotal year – 1967 is post-Pet Sounds and SMiLE has been abandoned; Smiley Smile is released instead, as is Wild Honey. This double disc collects those two albums and all of the b-sides, outtakes and some live rarities, the ephemera dotted around both albums. It’s also reflecting on a time when The Beach Boys was still a pop group – and still with hints of the a capella, white-gospel and surf sounds, but there was a move towards the burgeoning psychedelic pop sound. It was in fact the merging of two bands – Brian was in hiding, a self-taught studio boffin with stage-fright, the cousin and other brothers were starting to find their feet as not just a touring unit (with Bruce Johnston stepping in). Not only that they were growing more confident as co-writers and collaborators, Carl even growing as an arranger/producer.
So that version of The Beach Boys – the touring combo – hooks back up with Brian and we get all sorts of things, the splashes of hippy-colour that soak Smiley Smile, the wild ride of Wild Honey and lots of things in-between. This is a band that is both precise and utterly shambolic, sometimes lurching between the two across adjacent songs.
Wild Honey is just over 20 minutes long – a mere EP in today’s climate – so there’s lots that could have been added, and listening to it here and now a lot of it sounds fantastic.
Smiley Smile is the more compelling album – all up – and there are some fascinating studio outtakes of the songs and a few other leftovers.
Importantly – and The Beach Boys is a band that’s not just over-anthologised, there have been so many of these warts’n’all reissues/comps too – this never feels like a peek inside the redundant; studio banter is kept to a minimum and it’s more about hearing a tune grow organically, vocal a capellas, choral arrangements, instrumental treatments, warm-ups…
The covers are particularly warm and fascinating, a version of With A Little Help From My Friends from right around the time of its original release, same goes with The Boxtops’ gem, The Letter. The pick, for me, is this slowed rendition of Game of Love, a weird antecedent of the Pixies’ UK Surf mix of Wave of Mutilation perhaps?
And in a song like Darlin’ we get to hear it from shifting perspectives, clean as a whistle and slightly muddied.
There’s also some songs from the abandoned live album from Hawaii in August 1967. This was the last time Brian and the 66/67 version of the band would work together – and it’s strange (but invigorating) to hear these studio masterpieces sounding so tentative in first live outings (Heroes & Villains, raw – stripped of bells and whistles).
I Get Around is served up as a reminder of the simple rock’n’roll that informed the band’s surf pop daze.
The 1967 version of Surf’s Up is a revelation (it would eventually surface in 1971). It’s as magical and mystical in its false-steps as hearing Dylan’s piano-only demo of Like A Rolling Stone or his She’s Your Lover Now which quits before it ever ends.
There are 65 songs here, rolled out over nearly three hours and it all culminates in an a capella take of Surfer Girl, an ever more fucked-up version of the band still capable of sounding saintly despite the studio tensions; reminding us of the soft and simple, steady approach that started it all, those sun-kissed Californian days that inspired some of the best pop music of its era and continues to be a blueprint for many facets of indie music from the late-90s on to the present day.
It’s a bunch of strange worlds indeed. And it’s a must-have/must hear if you are a Beach Boys fan.