Monday, October 4, 2010

The Beach Boys: Summer Love Songs (1963-71)

(Capitol 2009)

Summer Love Songs is the fifth major Beach Boys hit compilation of the last ten years, following two that were a response to catch-all mass popularity collections like the Beatles' industry-shaker 1 and Elvis Presley's Number Ones. In years of old, EMI's "themed" Beach Boys records and cassettes were everywhere, gathering ten songs here and there about "cars" or "surf" or "girls." Let's hope the balladeering here, which cuts off at a more generous twenty songs but still isn't remotely as long and extensive as the last two discs, isn't a harbinger of similar foolishness to come.

The idea seems to be to gather a set of songs that define the Beach Boys at their most "romantic"; it's hard to take issue with this, because they are among the most romantic of rock groups. And some of the songs selected are divinely good examples of just that -- "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Keep an Eye on Summer," and especially the woefully underappreciated "Your Summer Dream," a 1963 expectation of the nerd-rock prom turn. But then there are the baffling inclusions, such as "Girls on the Beach," "Help Me, Rhonda," and "California Girls," that seem to promote rather the opposite of romance.

At least the "theme" in this case seems to make actual sonic sense. The songs blend together quite well and will hopefully remind listeners of the depth of the Beach Boys' catalog, thanks to unusual choices like the shatteringly grand "In the Parkin' Lot," never a single but among the band's most evocative productions. The problem is that there are already CDs on the marketplace that serve the same purpose; the best of these is the fine Greatest Hits Vol. 2: 20 More Good Vibrations, a set guaranteed not to make even the hardest BB skeptic cringe, packed with graceful, lovely, often brilliant songs that concentrate on reflection and introspection, easily as noble an idea as Twenty Songs About Girls.

Who is the target audience, then? Chances are even the most casual Beach Boys follower already owns "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows," and "California Girls," perhaps multiple times, and I can't imagine anyone recommending this as an across-the-board introduction (for which purpose Sounds of Summer remains the strongest CD on the market, although I still prefer Endless Summer, in print only on vinyl). Beach Boys expert Bret Wheadon commented some time ago that Capitol's packages of previously-unreleased Beach Boy material were feeling increasingly like bootlegs; in a similar vein, their greatest-hits packages are starting to seem more like fan-made mixtapes. "Here's a few of my favorite Beach Boys songs; maybe now you'll stop bitching about how they're surfing Doris Days. Love, Mark Linett." In that vein, the CD is a fun listen, but that's largely because it has one of the world's greatest catalogs to draw on, and it's hard to screw that up; I grew up on those terrible EMI Special Markets cassettes and they certainly made me a lifer.

Of course, hardcore fans are attracted differently, via the ever-continuing painfully slow trickle down of new Beach Boys stereo mixes. As on Sounds of Summer and The Warmth of the Sun, many of the new offerings are mere revisions for tracks that already existed in stereo, which strikes me as excessive. The Beach Boys' '60s work is almost universally better in mono, and even when it's not, the mono mixes contain touches and subtleties that should be part of the canon and no longer are: on this disc, the primary example is Brian's lead in to the final chorus and fadeout of "God Only Knows," a jarring enough change that I can't for the life of me understand why they continue to use the stereo GOK on every compilation. I'm sorry, but that's not the song, folks.

"Why Do Fools Fall in Love" comes with a newly discovered Brian Wilson introduction, which is quite pretty, and is vastly superior to the older stereo mix; "Fools" was the first full-on Wrecking Crew production made explicitly for the band, and one wonders why this elaborate intro was cut off. (It's been said that tyrannical dad and former manager Murry Wilson wanted Brian to ditch the legendary opening moments of "California Girls"; perhaps therein lies an explanation.) "Don't Worry Baby" fixes the harsh channel separation on old copies and attempts to approximate the emotional punch of the mono version -- it's close, but not quite there. After listening to the new mix of "Girls on the Beach" a couple of times, I'm having trouble working out the difference. Neither "Hushabye" nor "Time to Get Alone" needed a remix in the least; the former was already (no longer, here!) one of the few early songs that worked better in stereo, and the latter is from the extremely well-recorded 20/20 LP. Overall, I don't recommend plunking down cash for any of these except maybe "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," which wasn't a fabulous cover to begin with.

The major bait, of course -- there's even a sticker on the shrinkwrap! -- is the "new Dennis Wilson song" called "Fallin' in Love," or "Lady" if you like. The track offers a double serving of Capitol Records lies: it's not previously unreleased, nor is it actually a Beach Boys song, though you wouldn't know either of these things from any of the information offered. "Lady" was actually issued along with another fine Dennis composition, "Sound of Free," as a solo single in the UK in 1971 under the name Dennis Wilson and Rumbo. There is a new string arrangement, which sounds rather nice, but it'd sure be a lot nicer to have the original back on the marketplace. Capitol's intent was clearly to establish a market connection to Sony's massive, unsurprsing-to-everyone-except-the-boneheaded-music-industry triumph with their reissue of Dennis' solo album Pacific Ocean Blue. It's a great song. I recommend Lush's cover version. Or buying the track on its own. Anything to avoid having to pay money for this pointless compilation.

Fans groaned at the precedent Summer Love Songs seemed poised to set. Next: Summer Car Songs, Summer Songs About Summer, Songs About the Sun, Beach Songs for Summer, Songs About Divorce, Songs About Personality Disorders, Songs That Become Creepy When You Learn More About Brian Wilson, Songs That May or May Not Have Been Cowritten by Charles Manson, Songs Mike Love Sued Over, Songs on Which Mike Love Doesn't Sound Like a Total Fucking Douche? But in just one year, the market for compact discs has shrunken to such microscopic size that we may never have to sort through the one or two New Mixes populating each of these potential classics. Maybe someday the surviving Beach Boys' fragmented consensus will allow for the release of actually substantive new material. But I doubt it.

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