Sunday, October 9, 2016
The Beach Boys: (twofer bonus tracks, 1962-69)
The first of the many incremental Beach Boys archive dumps happened when their Capitol catalog initially came to CD in 1990. This was a surprisingly generous and consumer-friendly campaign for the time, especially in comparison to the uninspired treatment handed to the Beatles' work, with generally two albums on a disc plus relevant non-album and unreleased material for the period documented filling out the runtime. The discs were reprinted after a few years of limbo in 2001. They pair the '60s albums chronologically except with Party! joined up by Stack-o-Tracks, Concert with Live in London, and both Pet Sounds and Christmas Album released on their own (but still with bonus tracks). The chronology is also futzed with a bit so that the four old songs on Little Deuce Coupe aren't duplicated on the same disc. The added-value materials for the two single-album releases have now been superseded by The Pet Sounds Sessions (and its progeny) and Ultimate Christmas (ibid) so they won't be covered here, though it's worth noting that the unissued "Trombone Dixie" is better than most of the instrumentals the band actually released, and that "Auld Lang Syne" is stunningly moving without Denny's awkward voiceover.
The band's '70s and '80s albums, originally released by Reprise and Caribou, were first issued on compact disc individually by CBS in the early '90s. Only one of them, the 1985 self-titled album, contained an extra song, the b-side "Male Ego." When these albums were licensed to Capitol in 2000 and became part of the twofer campaign, "Male Ego" remained the only bonus cut from that era, for complicated reasons that to this day no one has quite parsed out. (That's assuming you don't count Holland's supplemental EP, Mt. Vernon and Fairway, as a bonus.) "Male Ego" is Brian in deep Landy-era psychobabble brainwash mode and it isn't really worth the trouble of noticing that it's part of the package despite being unlisted.
As for the rest, it functions well as an 86-minute rarities package; you'll need the actual discs, as apart from single versions and some material that was later placed on boxed sets or other compilations which I will try to note here, the twofers are often the only way to get these tracks and they aren't replicated on the streaming services (as of this writing). Here, with the few tweaks, are the summaries I wrote of the bonus materials on the twofers back in 2003:
Surfin' Safari/Surfin' U.S.A.: Even though one of three cuts here is previously released -- the great "Land Ahoy" off Rarities, later redone as the equally great "Cherry, Cherry Coupe" -- it still functions as a flawless complement to the first two albums. "Cindy, Oh Cindy" is a pleasant cover, "The Baker Man" an original similar to the version of "Hully Gully" from Party!. Worth a listen.
Surfer Girl/Shut Down Vol. 2: The break in album chronology due to song repetition make this twofer and the one that follows a mildly odd listen, but you take what you can get, and the leap is understandable. Nearly all fans already own the single mix of "Fun, Fun, Fun," while the only people interested in hearing "In My Room" in German would surely have picked up Rarities by now. All is forgiven because of the unreleased "I Do," one of Brian's greatest productions, a shimmering rewrite of "County Fair." It's a perfect example of the unceasing romance in his songcraft.
Little Deuce Coupe/All Summer Long: I could live without another copy of "Be True to Your School," placed here in its drastically different single version, but otherwise this is another happy addition to the canon, with the unreleased "All Dressed Up for School" (streaming in mono on the singles box) proving enjoyably lecherous. The "Little Honda" outtake (streaming via Keep an Eye on Summer: Sessions 1964) was actually recorded after the original version, and it more closely resembles the Hondells' cover version; an early studio runthrough of "Don't Back Down" (also on Summer), with a completely different melody and lyrics, tops the original.
Today!/Summer Days: Sounding today almost like a model for the Beatles' Anthology discs, the fun extra cuts here dive headlong into alternate versions of released material. Beach Boys Concert buffs will enjoy the long-lost studio version of "Graduation Day" (streaming on the Made in California box) while alternative studio renditions of "Dance, Dance, Dance," "I'm So Young" (ditto, on the singles box) and "Let Him Run Wild" prove fascinating. The classic non-LP single "The Little Girl I Once Knew" is the best addition almost by default, but that's not to discount the other four selections.
Smiley Smile/Wild Honey: An almost voyeuristic glimpse into Brian Wilson's recording habits, the ten-odd minutes of "Good Vibrations" sessions here (mostly replicated on the 2006 "Good Vibrations" anniversary EP, plus the Good Vibrations boxed set, both streaming) were an unheard-of inclusion in 1990, though obviously we've heard much more officially and otherwise since then. This marks the first commercial appearance of one of the most astounding unreleased songs in the Beach Boys' canon, the head-spinning "Can't Wait Too Long." In this guise it's actually a bit overlong; the track was cleaned up, edited, and remixed to perfection on the Good Vibrations box. A chrous-free edit of the Smile version of "Heroes and Villains" is here and runs circles around both the released single and the lengthy variant on the Smile Sessions box, with the swooning "in the cantina" section that I'm convinced could melt just about anybody... it's up there with the excised verse in "Sweet Jane." The Lei'd in Hawaii take of "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" and the immortal b-side "You're Welcome" (available most conveniently on The Smile Sessions), a tiny but engaging and propulsive slice of mantra-like mid-'60s Brian Wilson invention, round out a virtually flawless CD.
Friends/20/20: One of the strongest and most cohesive twofers also includes some terrific bonus material, but like everything on Friends, the three unreleased tracks are painfully short. "We're Together Again" (which, if added to Friends along with "Lonely Days" could have made that album potentially even more of a masterpiece) is a jewel, while Bacharach's "Walk on By" fades too quickly for greatness, but what's there is ecstatic. The "Old Folks at Home"/"Old Man River" medley that ends the disc is fun but obviously unfinished. What makes the last portion of the disc really special is the inclusion of both sides of the unbeatable 1969 single. "Break Away" and its b-side "Celebrate the News," a splendidly unconventional and warm Dennis song, remained obscure but both are legendary among fans and fit perfectly in with the albums of material presented here. "We're Together Again" is readily available on Classics, Selected by Brian Wilson and Made in California; the "Old Man River" fragment is fleshed out somewhat on Hawthorne, CA (and was used brilliantly by Wes Anderson in Fantastic Mr. Fox). "Celebrate the News" is on Made in California and make sure you stick to the original released version of "Break Away," despite Al Jardine's issues with the ending, on Greatest Hits Vol. 2 or one of the other pre-2001 compilations. One big debit is the absence of the single version of "Cotton Fields," also available on Greatest Hits Vol. 2.
Concert/Live in London: The twofers could easily have rendered the old Rarities album outdated if they'd stayed consistent; instead they frequently fell short with the streamlining of outtakes, likely because of band objections to some of the available materials... but then, we were lucky to get bonus tracks to start with. My complaint here stems from the criminal omission of the bruising Live in London outtake "All I Want to Do" presented on the 1983 compilation. What's here is good, though: one of the numerous Concert outtakes, "Don't Worry Baby" (quoth Mike: "Y'all are bitchin' as usual"), and a low-key 1967 interpretation of "Heroes and Villains," in an arrangement that could probably have made that song a bit less jarring on Smiley Smile.
Party!/Stack-o-Tracks: Doing nothing to build on the Party! theme (an outtake eventually surfaced on the boxed set, joined by a whole three-disc package full of 'em in 2015), the last CD in Capitol's twofer series concentrates on adding some choice cuts to Stack-o-Tacks. The choices are spot on -- "California Girls" and the single version of "Help Me Rhonda" are more impressive without their vocals, a rarity for Beach Boys material. "Our Car Club" is particularly fascinating, though I do miss the fun lyrics and singing.
In essence: apart from academic concerns (meaning that if you're the sort of person who would listen to Stack-o-Tracks in the first place you'll love the added tracks), the most essential addition available on the twofers and not elsewhere is easily "I Do," which is as good as or better than many classic Beach Boys singles. Make sure that your core collection of the albums is supplemented in some way or another by the '60s-era non-album singles and b-sides, though: "Luau" (b-side to "Surfin'"), "The Lord's Prayer" (b-side to "Little Saint Nick"), "The Little Girl I Once Knew," "You're Welcome" (b-side to "Heroes and Villains"), and "Break Away"/"Celebrate the News," plus the 7" rerecordings and variations of "Be True to Your School," "Little Saint Nick," "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Cotton Fields." (Other differences on singles, like "Caroline, No" and "Do It Again," are just edits.)