Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Essentials: The Beach Boys - overview & introduction

1. Surfin' Safari (Capitol 1962) [r]
2. Surfin' U.S.A. (Capitol 1963)
3. Surfer Girl (Capitol 1963) [hr]
4. Little Deuce Coupe (Capitol 1963) [r]
5. Shut Down Volume 2 (Capitol 1964) [r]
6. All Summer Long (Capitol 1964) [hr]
7. Christmas Album (Capitol 1964)
8. Today! (Capitol 1965) [hr]
9. Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) (Capitol 1965) [A+]
10. Party! (Capitol 1965) [r]
11. Pet Sounds (Capitol 1966) [A+]
12. Smiley Smile (Capitol 1967) [A+]
13. Wild Honey (Capitol 1967) [A+]
14. Friends (Capitol 1968) [A+]
15. 20/20 (Capitol 1969) [hr]
16. Sunflower (Reprise 1970) [r]
17. Surf's Up (Reprise 1971) [r]
18. Carl & the Passions: So Tough (Reprise 1972) [r]
19. Holland (Reprise 1973) [hr]
20. 15 Big Ones (Reprise 1976)
21. Love You (Reprise 1977) [A+]
22. MIU Album (Reprise 1978) [c]
23. L.A. (Light Album) (CBS 1979)
24. Keepin' the Summer Alive (CBS 1980) [NO]
25. The Beach Boys (CBS 1985)
26. Still Cruisin' (Capitol 1989) [NO] {capsule review}
27. Summer in Paradise (Brother 1992) [NO] {cap}
28. That's Why God Made the Radio (Capitol 2012) [NO] {cap}
Four by the Beach Boys (Capitol 1964) [r] {cap}
Mount Vernon and Fairway (Reprise 1973) [r] {cap}
Pet Sounds Sessions/Sub Pop Singles Club EP (Sub Pop 1966/1996) [r] {cap}
Good Vibrations: 40th Anniversary Edition (Capitol 1966/2006) {cap}
Concert (Capitol 1964) {cap}
Live in London (Capitol 1968/1970/1976) [r] {cap}
In Concert (Reprise 1972-73/1974) [hr]
Good Timin': Live at Knebworth, England 1980 (Eagle 1980/2003) {cap}
Songs from Here and Back (Hallmark 1974-2005/2006) {cap}
Live: The 50th Anniversary Tour (Capitol 2012/2013) [c] {cap}
Live in Sacramento 1964 (Capitol 1964/2014) {cap}
Live in Chicago 1965 (Capitol 1965/2015) [c] {cap}
Graduation Day 1966: Live at the University of Michigan (Capitol 1966/2016) {cap}
1967: Live Sunshine (Capitol 1967/2017) {cap}
On Tour: 1968 (Capitol 1968/2018) {cap}
Best Of (Capitol 1963-65/1966) [c] {cap}
Best Of, Vol. 2 (Capitol 1962-65/1967) [c] {cap}
Best Of, Vol. 3 (Capitol 1961-67/1968) [c] {cap}
Stack-o-Tracks (Capitol 1963-68/1968) [r] {cap}
Endless Summer (Capitol 1962-65/1974) [A+]
Spirit of America (Capitol 1962-69/1975) [r] {cap}
Good Vibrations: Best Of (Reprise 1965-72/1975) [c] {cap}
20 Golden Greats (Capitol 1963-69/1976) {cap}
Ten Years of Harmony (CBS 1970-80/1982) {cap}
Sunshine Dream (Capitol 1964-69/1982) [r] {cap}
Rarities (Capitol 1962-70/1983) [r] {cap}
Made in U.S.A. (Capitol 1962-86/1986) {cap}
[Twofer Bonus Tracks] (Capitol 1962-70/1990) [r]
Lost & Found 1961-62 (DCC 1961-62/1991) [r] {cap}
Greatest Hits Vol. 1: 20 Good Vibrations (Capitol 1962-88/1995/1999) {cap}
Endless Harmony (Capitol 1963-98/1998) [hr]
Ultimate Christmas (Capitol 1963-77/1998) [r] {cap}
Greatest Hits Vol. 2: 20 More Good Vibrations (Capitol 1963-70/1999) [r] {cap}
Surfin' (Varese Sarabande 1961-62/2000) [r] {cap}
Greatest Hits Vol. 3: Best of the Brother Years (Capitol 1970-86/2000) {cap}
Very Best of (EMI 1962-88/2001) {cap}
Hawthorne, CA (Capitol 1960-99/2001) {cap}
Classics, Selected by Brian Wilson (Capitol 1963-2002/2002) [r] {cap}
Sounds of Summer (Capitol 1962-88/2003) [hr]
The Warmth of the Sun (Capitol 1962-86/2007) [r] {cap}
Summer Love Songs (Capitol 1963-71/2009)
Fifty Big Ones (Capitol 1962-2012/2012) [r] {cap}
The Big Beat 1963 (Capitol 1963/2013) [r] {cap}
Keep an Eye on Summer - Sessions 1964 (Capitol 1964/2014) {cap}
Party! Uncovered and Unplugged (Capitol 1965/2015) [r] {cap}
Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions (Omnivore 1961-62/2016) [r] {cap}
1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow (Capitol 1967/2017) [hr]
1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow 2: The Studio Sessions (Capitol 1967/2017) [r] {cap}
1968 - Wake the World: The Friends Sessions (Capitol 1968/2018) [r] {cap}
1968 - I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions (Capitol 1968/2018) [r] {cap}
The Capitol Years (Capitol 1961-69/1980/1999) {cap}
Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys (Capitol 1961-88/1993) [hr]
The Pet Sounds Sessions (Capitol 1966/1997) [hr]
The Platinum Collection (Capitol 1961-88/2005) {cap}
The Original U.S. Singles Collection (Capitol 1962-65/2008) {cap}
The Smile Sessions (Capitol 1965-67/2011)
Made in California (Capitol 1960-2012/2013) [c] {cap}
Pet Sounds: 50th Anniversary Edition (Capitol 1966/2016) {cap}

+ Christmas Sessions (bootleg 1964)

THE CAPITOL-ERA SINGLES * = non-album track / ** = non-album version (not incl. alt mixes)
Surfin'/*Luau (Candix 1961)
Surfin' Safari/409 (Capitol 1962)
Ten Little Indians/County Fair (Capitol 1962)
Surfin' U.S.A./Shut Down (Capitol 1963)
Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe (Capitol 1963)
**Be True to Your School/In My Room (Capitol 1963)
Little Saint Nick/*The Lord's Prayer (Capitol 1963)
Fun, Fun, Fun/Why Do Fools Fall in Love? (Capitol 1964)
I Get Around/Don't Worry, Baby (Capitol 1964)
When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)/She Knows Me Too Well (Capitol 1964)
Dance, Dance, Dance/The Warmth of the Sun (Capitol 1964)
Do You Wanna Dance/Please Let Me Wonder (Capitol 1965)
Help Me Rhonda/Kiss Me Baby (Capitol 1965)
California Girls/Let Him Run Wild (Capitol 1965)
*The Little Girl I Once Knew/There's No Other (Like My Baby) (Capitol 1965)
Barbara Ann/Girl Don't Tell Me (Capitol 1965)
[Brian Wilson solo:] Caroline, No/Summer Means New Love (Capitol 1966)
Sloop John B/You're So Good to Me (Capitol 1966)
Wouldn't It Be Nice/God Only Knows (Capitol 1966)
Good Vibrations/Let's Go Away for Awhile (Capitol 1966)
Heroes and Villains/*You're Welcome (Brother/Capitol 1967)
["Brian & Mike":] Gettin' Hungry/Devoted to You (Brother/Capitol 1967)
Wild Honey/Wind Chimes (Capitol 1967)
Darlin'/Here Today (Capitol 1967)
Friends/Little Bird (Capitol 1968)
Do It Again/Wake the World (Capitol 1968)
Bluebirds Over the Mountain/Never Learn Not to Love (Capitol 1968)
I Can Hear Music/All I Want to Do (Capitol 1969)
*Break Away/*Celebrate the News (Capitol 1969)
**Cotton Fields/The Nearest Faraway Place (Capitol 1970)


At the heart of the Beach Boys' legacy lies what could be termed a massive contradiction. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of their sixth single, which backed the innocently cocky "Be True to Your School" with the meditative "In My Room." An obnoxious wall of sound -- replete with cheerleading, baseball stadium sound effects, and lyrics about school decals, pom-poms, and being jacked up on the football game -- paired with a gorgeous ode to alienation, simple in many ways but inordinately complex in others, describing the most private of adolescent moments with gorgeous vocals resembling not so much the Four Freshmen as a Gregorian chant, painlessly and urgently begging to communicate with the listener. Reconciling these two images of teenage life requires a kind of knowing pain that was the defining facet of Brian Wilson's nearly unique sensibility, and his self-made mythology.

The same tension manifests itself throughout the band's catalog. On their earliest albums, the nasal voice of Mike Love is there in abundance, explaining, with the concise, worldly lyrical style of Chuck Berry, the pleasures of adolescence, from surfing to making out in the parking lot to seeing a movie at the drive-in. Never before was rock & roll, the music of danger, rebellion, and fucking, so universal and relatively safe insofar as it projected "suburban" values, but there was another side to the Beach Boys' coin. "In My Room" is an early example, but not the first. Indeed, Brian Wilson's crushing honesty and virtually flawless understanding of tortured emotion (teenage and otherwise) gave him the ability to create music that spoke with a kind of nakedness generally impossible to acheive in a pop arena without the advent of Spector schlock. The majority of the Beach Boys' fifty years of work doesn't support the myths of sun, surf and the American dream so much as sing their pleasures while doubting their existence in some scarcely audible undercurrent. The key to their longevity is the understanding that both worlds coexist in even the brightest and darkest of these multifaceted recordings; never comes a sky with no dark cloud, and never does an appreciation for joy, true joy, disappear in this music.

Their personal lives are irrelevant. Indeed, the Beach Boys' chaotic career was such that their music did not create problems for them so much as the music existed in spite of their problems. In the midst of turmoil, not to mention faltering airplay and sales, they careened forward, time and time again, until it was finally deemed not worthwhile. In the end, the music is what matters, and the music is all that matters. Who punched who, who married who, and who stayed in bed for a year has no bearing on the work that has survived the ensuing decades. But the broad story is the stuff of great Americana, for better or worse, and should be quickly addressed. Brothers Brian (bass, piano, vocals), Carl (guitar, vocals) and Dennis (drums, vocals) Wilson and their cousin Mike Love (vocals) formed the band at a moment when family patriarch Murry Wilson, a frustrated songwriter, happened to be away from their home in Hawthorne, California, long enough for them to illegitimately rent equipment and hash out a song about surfing, a trend for which only Dennis showed much enthusiasm. For the others, including family friend and rhythm guitarist Al Jardine, a novelty single about surfing was just a means to an end of having a record made.

Brian Wilson was the nexus of the group in its prime years, and he'd spent much of his teenage life dissecting Four Freshmen records and becoming something of a musical prodigy, especially in regard to vocal arrangements. When they signed to Capitol Records and began having success on a national level -- which eventually transcended novelty and became a remarkably consistent and long-lived kind of pop notoriety -- quickly the Beach Boys' trademark became less the surf-and-sand subject matter of their songs, the cars and beach themes falling away soon enough anyway, and more their impressively full harmony vocals and tricky, elaborate compositions. Brian wrote most of the band's music and would almost immediately begin to dominate recording sessions as a producer, soon enough stepping away from his day-to-day role as the group's bassist in order to concentrate increasingly on the creation of elaborate studio recordings, which made extensive use of overdubbing and, by the mid-'60s, the augmentation of session musicians (though contrary to popular belief, the actual Beach Boys did indeed play instruments on the vast majority of their records, including the perpetually underrated Dennis); his right-hand man, engineer Chuck Britz, would remember that the Beach Boys' harmony vocals would sound like shit while they worked out their parts with Brian, but as if by magic, when he put everything together the effect was nearly always sublime. His ear was all but unique in rock & roll, as was his attention to detail, and he was unquestionably the band's creative driving force during their best and most successful years.

Nevertheless, it's not true that Brian Wilson ever was the Beach Boys in a strict sense, nor is it true that they were a fully democratic band even after Brian retreated in the late '60s, at which time they'd remain permanently in his shadow. Rather, as Dennis himself would explain, they functioned above all as Brian's messengers. But Brian was never built for a rock star lifestyle; when Jardine temporarily left early in the group's career, the lineup was rounded out until late 1963 by David Marks (rhythm guitarist), and even after Jardine returned the extra member allowed Brian a chance to stay off the road and produce records, for the Beach Boys as well as other groups. He was an idiosyncratic producer who took inspiration from the massive, elaborate arrangements on Phil Spector's singles, as well as Spector's interest in combining instruments -- say, a guitar and a tack piano, or a tower of accordions -- to create a new sound. Where Brian departed with Spector was in his sincerity; though he felt himself inarticulate and generally used collaborators as his lyrical surrogates, he was not simply an entrepreneur for the common tears of bummed-out teens. He meant the sound of his best records to evoke something deep in the soul, and as a result turned the writing and production of the Beach Boys' records into a catharsis both for him and for his audience.

Such loftiness doesn't tell a satisfyingly full version of the story. The Beach Boys were all very young in the '60s, and the fact of being young is the primary state communicated by their music. What you hear on "I Get Around" or "Fun, Fun, Fun" -- crunchy, feverishly enthusiastic rock & roll -- is a feeling of infinity, the deliberately and wonderfully naive notion that none of this is ever going to change. It might seem logical enough to pronounce all this as Baby Boomer nostalgia, of which there's quite an overload, but the Beach Boys' best work has resonated strongly with subsequent generations because it actually speaks to something that is permanent, a freedom and abandon that isn't grounded to the early '60s at all. In exactly the same way, their legacy as a California band is vitally important to their impact on the surface, but in truth California and its exaggerated glories are just a stand-in for, yet again, freedom itself. They didn't particularly need to underline the poignance of this fallacy by singing about a creeping feeling of hollowness ("gettin' bugged drivin' up and down the same old strip") when they had to know that images of their unlined, smooth faces would inevitably be one day laid against the years that had harshly laid their dominion down upon them -- Brian, Mike and Al are old men now, a beautiful chance denied to both Dennis and Carl -- but they did so anyway, unforgettably, on their "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)," which with the pull and sweep of Greek tragedy watches youth fall away in just over two minutes.

Hearing the early Beach Boys singles up through 1965 or so is a transcendent experience; as with the Beatles' concurrent 45's, each seems to build on the last, constantly adding excitement, energy and artistry. Their stasis as artifacts of the past seems to melt when they're played loud; in particular, Dennis' drums come alive on a record like "Surfin' Safari" when you hear them on good speakers. Brian hated hi-hats and cymbals, and so Dennis can become buried in the mono mixes if you don't turn them up and let them breathe, but his pounding, unorthodox percussion patterns on "When I Grow Up" demonstrate Brian's meticulousness, and the Beach Boys' veracity as his collaborators. Such details were almost irreconciliable with the labored existence of a popular band on the road in the mid-'60s. For one reason or another, it wrecked Brian and he suffered a serious mental breakdown aboard a plane in late 1964, consumed by the pressure of expectations -- a new marriage, coping with Murry as a business manager and general meddler, being seen as the major breadwinner for his entire family in more ways than one, and all the while playing bass with the touring band. His decision to stop touring regularly with the Beach Boys is easily as momentous to rock & roll as the Beatles' similar ultimatum two years later.

In retrospect, things unraveled quickly, though at first the flood of hits continued and Brian reached new heights as a sonic magician, though his best works -- Pet Sounds, "Let Him Run Wild" -- seem to serve as evidence of both a man trying his best not to fall apart and of a growing distance in intent between Brian and his band. Bruce Johnston (bass, keyboards, vocals) replaced him at the live shows and soon became a full-fledged sixth Beach Boy, his voice extremely prominent on landmark songs like "The Little Girl I Once Knew" and "God Only Knows." Throughout 1965 and 1966, Brian reached an untouchable peak as a one-man force of pop bliss, but his gobsmackingly brilliant records from this period, from "Let Him Run Wild" to "Wouldn't It Be Nice," are suffused with despair and doubt. Doubt and regret, in fact, became the great themes of the Beach Boys' work in the mid-'60s, when Brian in particular seemed to focus on the precariousness of happiness, as well as how quickly a moment of contentment can turn. Again there is the contradiction: in the studio Brian was as controlled, professional and confident an artist as Orson Welles around the same age; but under the thumb of his dad, suffering from paranoia and the crushing pressure of being in charge of one of America's most successful performing units, he was still a scared kid. The turmoil of a spirited, popular, cool young professional articulating and recording the darkest thoughts of a stunted adult is what makes the likes of "God Only Knows," "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and even "Don't Worry Baby" so unspeakably moving. It's as though Brian Wilson was somehow recording the act of growing up in all its rapidity and compromise. As in "Don't Worry Baby," he sometimes imagined a happy ending, a redemption, for the story; usually he couldn't. Pet Sounds, his magnum opus, ends with the sound of a passing train, a symbol of what? Stagnation? Escape? Suicide? The implications are chilling, regardless, after a record full of songs about doubt, dread, resentment and fear in the context of a romantic relationship and a general search for fulfullment.

But Pet Sounds also sounded incredible -- fresh, strange, gorgeous, sophisticated, but also beautiful in a manner arrived at painstakingly, passionately. It sold respectably but Brian was understandably disappointed that its depth and detail went mostly unnoticed (except in the UK, where it was widely lauded for its lyrical maturity and musical innovation); he went for something flashier with the incrementally recorded, sparkling "Good Vibrations," a wildly ambitious single boasting cheery, politely psychedelic Mike Love lyrics that went #1 and thereby validated Brian sufficiently that he set about recording an album of psychedelic Americana in the same piecemeal fashion, now with the lyrical assistance of Southern intellectual and slight blowhard Van Dyke Parks. Famously, this project grew in scale over several months until it became impossible to fulfill its creator's expectations, at which point it blew up in everyone's face. Capitol had already printed cover slicks when Brian took the project in a drastic new direction, first concentrating strictly on crafting an equally artsy follow-up to "Good Vibrations" called "Heroes and Villains" (which, again, was a sizable hit, but not at a level to satisfy Brian or his group) then to rerecord some of the Smile songs, ideas and fragments in a comically primitive, minimalist manner on a record called Smiley Smile. Though that album can now be heard as a tossed-off, singular masterpiece, it was met with confusion in 1967 and, combined with the abandonment of Smile and the cancellation of a potentially watershed appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, indicated strongly that the Beach Boys' moment riding the wave of the '60s had finally passed.

As a result of this massive derailment, Smile's relatively well-documented history has been pored over for decades, with entire books and -- eventually -- internet forums devoted to endless theorizing about the full extent of its contents and its conceptual breadth. The scrapping of the record has been attributed (sometimes through nothing beyond conventional wisdom) at various times to Capitol Records and, most famously, to Brian's bandmates, in particular Mike Love. The point of contention seems not to have been anything musical but rather the words Parks contributed and that Brian expected Mike and the other Beach Boys to sing. In interviews from the time, Dennis expresses awe at the quality of Smile, and Carl -- the band's musical leader on stage, so likely the most vital tastemaker in the group behind Brian -- is on the record as being in favor of the new direction as well, but legend has it that Al and Mike both detested the new, more ambitious songs Brian was writing and producing. This isn't really borne out by session tapes, which record a band quite willing to submit to its leader's whims, and why not? It had taken them to so much success in the past.

Undoubtedly there's some truth in the accusation that Love was Smile's undoing. He and Parks didn't get along and there was a widely remembered blow-up over the words to the song "Cabin Essence" specifically, but one must consider that Mike was acting to some extent on self-preservation. It's very easy to hate Mike Love, largely because he's made it easy; he's widely seen in and outside of the business as an asshole, his bullish talk in interviews and in meltdown moments like his speech at the band's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction are embarrassing to witness, and as a frontman full of bad jokes and ill-advised political commentary he's at best amusingly incompetent and at worst intolerably smug and witless, and it's hard to see how he's done the Beach Boys any real favors apart from some of his songwriting. But before the Beach Boys formed, his destiny was already laid out for him, having married young and already fathered a child -- which in turn led to estrangement from his family -- before reaching even the smallest scale of commercial success, with a career underway as a gas station attendant. The Beach Boys were Mike's livelihood, a ticket out of precisely the everyday drudgery whose existence the Beach Boys' biggest hits seemed intended to deny; lyrics about "sunny down snuff" and Chinese peasants watching crows fly overhead sounded false to him. Frankly, he wasn't wholly incorrect -- Parks was an uneven if not altogether misguided match for the Beach Boys' music, and this among other things (drugs, feeling overwhelmed, a general sense of frustration with the massiveness of the project) led Brian himself to wipe the slate clean and start over, unaware that he'd be hounded for the rest of his life over a project he left incomplete at age 24.

Smile's incomplete, unreleased status would haunt the Beach Boys permanently; it derailed their career, and its replacement with a trio of brilliant but, it seems, deliberately uncommercial, even anti-commercial albums -- Smiley Smile, Wild Honey and Friends -- has long been a subject of bemusement. These records were purportedly produced by the Beach Boys collectively but in fact remained primarily Brian's work, shedding the excess that had haunted Smile in favor of an inspired spontaneity. Modern interpretation seems to imply that Brian was content to allow the band to exist separately from the pressures of being a top-selling, commercially ambitious group. They began recording privately in his home studio and their music got increasingly funny, idiosyncratic and weird -- though no less adventurous than ever -- until the rest of the band began to play more of a role in composition and production starting in 1969. Brian was still a formidable writer and producer, but he was now strictly interested in recording music that interested him at the moment; on certain rare occasions, as when he shepherded the song "Darlin'" into existence via Redwood (the future Three Dog Night) and eventually the Beach Boys, his sensibility matched up with potential radio success, but far more often he was creating music without an eye toward what the outside world would think. Nearly invariably, this unchecked impulsiveness would result from then on in Brian's strongest work: the last four Capitol Beach Boys albums, "Til I Die," the Mt. Vernon and Fairway EP, the Love You album in 1977, and the Andy Paley sessions in the '90s.

The Beach Boys would continue to progress artistically for several years, if not always in the uncompromised fashion demonstrated by their '60s albums from Pet Sounds onward. Escaping their Capitol contract and signing to Reprise under their own resurrected Brother Records imprint, they issued work that was democratic and solid but also self-consciously "serious," making a sometimes vain attempt to sound "current" in a vastly different music industry than the one they'd entered. Sunflower, Surf's Up and Holland announced their forward-looking ambition, spearheaded in large part by Carl and new manager Jack Rieley (who, mortifyingly enough, was also a lyricist), on their front covers as much as in the music. If you're cynical, you can look upon it as the Beach Boys' fear of their own banality (exemplified by the ragtag humor and glorious smallness of "Busy Doin' Nothin'," "I Went to Sleep" and such) wrecking their artistic strength, but if so the ploy worked. Their declining commercial presence began to quietly reverse itself in the new and not unwelcome form of an FM-driven, solid mainstream rock band, which acquired an interesting texture when South African musicians Ricky Fataar (drums, percussion, keyboards, vocals) and Blondie Chaplin (guitars, vocals) joined. Fataar and Chaplin were in an Anglophile power pop band called the Flame that had captured Carl's attention; they were strongly influenced by the Beatles and the Stones, but also by Stevie Wonder, funk and prog rock. On top of offering a few of their own songs to the Beach Boys, they rounded out the lineup and gave it a fuller, meatier sound, contributing to the band's best and most freewheeling years as a stage act (captured on the sublime In Concert from 1974).

Throughout this period, Brian -- following an officially unexplained retreat from producing during 1968, often attributed to another psychological breakdown -- functioned more as simply a surrogate, sideline Beach Boy, but his sporadic songs nearly invariably were still their best: the haunting, shattered "Til I Die" demonstrates the gravity of his mindset as depression and drug use began to dominate his life, "Time to Get Alone" is one of the warmest love songs ever recorded, the Mike Love collaboration "All I Wanna Do" is like stepping into some sort of blissful alternate dimension, singles "Marcella" and "Sail on, Sailor" (despite awful lyrics on the latter) proved that he could retain the classic Beach Boys sound while pressing forward with it, and 1970's manic, restless, breakneck "This Whole World" is as brilliant as anything he ever wrote. The only other Beach Boy to approach this material in his compositions was Dennis, who'd started to come into his own during the Friends period and would eventually prove himself a formidable talent, crafting masterful, towering, terminally pained ballads like "Be with Me," "Forever," "Only with You," "Celebrate the News," "Lady" and "River Song," as well as "Slip on Through," one of the best pure rock & roll songs the band ever laid down. Carl, Al, Bruce and Mike had their moments as well, as did Ricky and Blondie, but in every sense they were still doing their best to fill Brian's shoes, with the oldest Wilson brother's involvement a prerequisite in their recording contracts. Perhaps that's why, even as they seemed to be steadily improving in their second life as a fully functional band on stage and record, the retreat into nostalgia began.

It really started with the devilishly catchy "Do It Again," one of the Beach Boys' last Capitol singles and the first of an embarrassing number whose entire premise is taking a "look back" to the glory days of surf and sand, California girls and a beautiful coastline. Once again, it's made clear that it was never about surfing but always about being young; everything Mike names in the lyrics as something he now longs to revisit is theoretically still available to him, but we know as well as he does that the "suntanned bodies and waves of sunshine" won't look the same way to him now. Given that this was already the case before the '60s had even ended (before they'd even ended by Joan Didion's definition with the Tate-LaBianca murders, a drama in which the Beach Boys played an uncomfortable role, culminating in one of Charles Manson's compositions appearing on the same LP as "Do It Again"), it would have seemed absurd at the time to contemplate that Mike would be espousing exactly the same sentiments fifty years later.

After Holland, with Brian in poor health and the band fragmented, Capitol released a stunning double-album hits package called Endless Summer, and this action more than any other signalled the end of the Beach Boys as a growing band. They'd release one more great album, Love You, which was part of a widely hyped two-record comeback for Brian as a producer that didn't last. Concert audiences were coming to see the band trot out the old hits, not new stuff, and now as the group aged the hits would come to sound increasingly hollow and desperate. In turn, the studio work began to dramatically suffer, first courting adult contemporary audiences, then shooting for empty-headed nostalgia, making one last bid for a current pop audience, then sinking once and for all into anachronistic claptrap before giving up completely. This isn't necessarily what any of the Beach Boys had expected or wanted. Compressed down to their classic five-man lineup in 1976, with Bruce rejoining a few years later after a long hiatus during which he gave the schmaltzy "I Write the Songs" to Barry Manilow, they toured as a well-oiled if sometimes under-rehearsed machine. There were many near-breakups, many all too public demonstrations of their regrettable dysfunction. Carl quit in the early '80s out of frustration with the band's artistic stagnation and strained relationship, then returned after a solo career failed to take off. On the few occasions when Brian was trotted out with them, he looked terrified and broken, showing the world the ravages of trauma and illness with which he'd never been given a chance to deal, save through recreational drugs. The group lost its heart when Dennis drowned in December 1983, though in a terrible way this loss briefly snapped them back into focus, and under Carl's leadership they played Live Aid, got some videos on MTV and recorded a not entirely embarrassing synth-heavy record with then-hot producer Steve Levine.

Brian was by now under the constant supervision of quack psychiatrist Eugene Landy, who got him off drugs and helped him shed his weight, then proceeded to abuse the relationship by shoehorning himself into every aspect of Brian's life, up to and including sharing songwriting credits and videotaping him 24 hours a day. In Brian's absence in 1988, one of the Beach Boys' many frivolous soundtrack contributions unexpectedly hit the big time, assisted by a Tom Cruise vehicle called Cocktail; "Kokomo" returned the Beach Boys to the top of the charts for the first time since 1966. Yet again, it was an empty, overproduced piece of Vegas-by-way-of-Florida sleaze with one hell of a swooning vocal hook from Carl (always and still the Beach Boys' greatest voice), and while it's undeniably an earworm, it's also an unfathomably empty final eulogy for the band, who'd never achieve so much radio play again.

Only two further albums followed before Carl succumbed to lung cancer in 1998, at which point the Beach Boys broke into three factions. Brian had escaped Landy's clutches in the early '90s and began to tour under his own name to widespread acclaim in the last year of the century; Mike fired Al, recruited David Marks and continued touring with Bruce Johnston under the legally allowed but vaguely sleazy moniker "the Beach Boys"; and Al formed his own band comprised of Beach Boys peripheral figures and family members. All three stage acts continued playing the old hits, with only Brian consistently recording new material, but even much of his solo work has its origins in discarded bits and pieces from long ago. The pull of seeing a living legend like Brian Wilson was irresistible to many, though, despite his voice's obvious demise; there were times, as in the year after he completed a version of Smile with his own band, when he looked exuberant and happy on stage, but there were far more times when it seemed questionable that he had much interest in continuing to do this. Meanwhile Mike and Bruce's Beach Boys still pack crowds into venues, even if the crowds skew older and older with each passing year and even if sometimes said venues are strictly county fairs and casinos on the oldies circuit (which, to be fair, is also true of Brian's band); Mike's obsessive protection of his own perceived legacy extends to the tyrannical precision of the group's stage act. Marks would remember not being allowed to improvise on solos when he rejoined the Beach Boys in 1997, and this more than perhaps any other factoid indicates how much had changed since the early '70s. Mike and Brian are both millionaires. One wonders how much longer either will press on.

One brief interlude to this narrative occurred in 2012, when the "original" Beach Boys (Mike, Al, Brian, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, so missing two of the three most vital members, therefore not "original" anything, but whatever) pulled their shit together for a so-called reunion tour and new album. The shows were well-received, and the album did better than could have been expected with critics and listeners. For this longtime fan, the entire affair was monstrous, an artificial extension of a half century-spanning decay, but I am very much in the minority on this point. And it doesn't matter anyway, because the whole affair quickly corrected itself after Mike, with the usual decorum, declined to continue the gig past the initially agreed-upon point and everyone continued their lives as though nothing had happened. Really, nothing had.

Clearly the arc of the Beach Boys is, for all their attempts at forging individual identities, part and parcel with the arc of Brian Wilson. Brian isn't infallible; in the last thirty years, he's written no more than a handful of songs of any value, and he's long passed any real sense of vitality as a performer. One must respect him for continuing to try to remain a working artist, but it also has to be questioned how much such fervently maintained market presence is necessary from even his perspective. Somehow the last Wilson standing despite everything that happened to him, Brian can on even his best days be hard to reconcile with the young, eager, fiery superstar on session tapes from the mid-'60s, effortlessly dictating his ideas to rooms full of musicians and parsing out every intricacy with an intensity that seems awe-inspiringly effortless. Trying to even match up the Brian Wilson of those days with the Brian Wilson who made Love You or his 1988 solo debut or even the one ranting about smog under the influence of god knows what substance in 1966 can be jarring, but when one looks hard at his story there's really no mystery to his decline. Many things played a role -- LSD, therapy gone awry, the turbulence and pressure of being at the helm of not only a popular band but one that involved most of his immediate family, the growth-stunting of becoming a major celebrity, idol and eventually a widely-proclaimed genius at such a young age, and the disturbing number of people who let him down and took advantage of him over the years -- and I personally once thought that drugs were entirely to blame for the Brian Wilson tragedy.

But as I've grown older and have become more aware of the delibitation caused by anxiety and depression, my feeling, admittedly from a great distance, is that in the end Brian Wilson is just another brilliant artist who suffered from mental illness (schizoaffective disorder is the official diagnosis), certainly shepherded along and perhaps even sparked by growing up in an abusive home. As he put it once: "In my life, being scared has been probably the most driving force that I have. Because I'm so afraid of life and the people in it." When he could ignore it and sometimes when he couldn't, he produced some of the greatest American pop music in history, music that will stand the test of time more than he would have ever predicted, but we can't expect even our greatest minds to suffer silently forever. Brian famously hated the water and didn't really know anything about surfing, the beach or cars, so for him these symbols of American youth always represented something else. Why does a simple boy-girl ballad like "Surfer Girl" have such resonance to a broad number of people who rarely or never set foot in or near an ocean? Of course the lovely melody and the stirring harmonies are a large part of the answer, and a large part of the Beach Boys' appeal in general, but maybe it's also because Brian wrote about these things in a way that made them seem hazy and unattainable, a longing for something far more distant than a beach. Maybe that's why these songs now seem to be about escaping to one's memories, because in truth what they're about is just escape itself, something Brian was longing for well before the Beach Boys were a going concern. We really don't have to wonder much at what Brian was telling us he needed, because he told us himself -- love and mercy, or better yet (with Roger Christian):

She told me, baby, when you race today just take along my love with you
And if you knew how much I loved you, baby, nothing could go wrong with you
Oh, what she does to me, when she makes love to me
And she says "Don't worry, baby, everything will turn out all right."


Like a lot of people I came to love the Beach Boys when I was a kid of 3 or 4, prompted specifically by "Little Honda" and David Lee Roth's cover of "California Girls," both of which were on a compilation LP called Beach Blow Out that I picked out at a discount store because I thought the painted girls on the front were pretty. This sounds made up but it isn't. In tandem with this, my brother was a gigantic fan and played Beach Boys tapes regularly, and kindly dubbed them for me. I played them over and over and over again for years. When I got a little older I found out he had most of the group's albums on either cassette or vinyl; in need of space at his apartment he left a box of LPs with us that contained the bulk. (As far as I can remember, he didn't have Smiley Smile, Friends or Love You; hard to imagine what I would have made of them as a child.) I listened to some a lot more than others and paid less attention to the '70s material, but they all got played a few times. One album that wasn't in the box was Pet Sounds, which I'm guessing he felt significant enough to keep with him. I found a duophonic copy at a yard sale around 1990 and it was my first time actually hearing "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which my dad had been singing since I was in the womb. The record did make an impression on me in that it seemed to have a different texture and a certain importance and melancholy -- it occurs to me now that one of the album's strengths is that it doesn't really announce itself as a break in tradition the way Sgt. Pepper does -- but I had no idea of its significance and didn't listen to it very much.

All roads lead back to the Beatles. I got bored with the Beach Boys in my early teens; I ended up with Endless Summer and Pet Sounds on CD as presents because they were the only non-budget releases by the band in print at the time. Sometime in 1997 I learned from a Beatles book about the Smile fiasco; to say the least, it intrigued me and I took to the library's internet connection to learn more. Eventually I ended up with some cassettes of Smile material sent to me by a kind person on the web -- my dad, still convinced that anyone you met online was going to come murder you if they had your mailing address, was livid -- and set about trying to put together my own interpretation of the structure of the record. I got Domenic Priore's splendid, fanzine-like text Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! through inter-library loan and bought fully into its mythos and crazy theories (since proven inaccurate but still wildly entertaining, and essential for the many key contemporary texts and pieces of evidence it gathers). I was becoming obsessed, like many before me, with the idea of Brian Wilson as some eccentric wunderkind and with Smile as a lost masterpiece that could somehow be pieced together by its far-flung acolytes.

As I found again when preparing this series of posts about the Beach Boys, Smile can really suck you in, but it's also exhausting. I reached a point when my fatigue would maybe have prompted me to put the matter at rest permanently, but then I remembered I had those two Beach Boys CDs stuffed in a box somewhere and decided to reinvestigate them, now that I'd learned a great deal about the legend surrounding their body of work -- until not long beforehand, I'd really thought of them as a sort of empty teen idol phenomenon, a version of the Beatles that never progressed beyond Please Please Me (now, of course, I'd contest both the idea that empty teen idols are a bad thing and the idea that Please Please Me isn't already a masterful album, but I was a surly teenager and that was my thinking then). About half of Endless Summer fell into place for me, and parts of Pet Sounds really intrigued me too; over the next few months I listened to them more and more. I also became invested in reading forums and learning everything I could about the band; regardless of everything else, they were and are a damned interesting phenomenon and I couldn't get enough. I've been on and off of Beach Boys forums ever since and, despite the rampant bitchery and the rather melodramatic pack mentality between the Brian and the Mike people, I greatly enjoy them.

It was probably another year -- during which, it's probably pertinent to note, I fell pretty hard into a crush on a close friend whose interest I never worked up the courage to gauge -- before I started thinking of Pet Sounds as one of my favorite albums. But "God Only Knows" didn't even take that long, and it was swirling around me constantly at the same time I was learning about the work Carl Wilson had done over the years to try and keep the group together, and was coming to think of him as sort of the hero of the story. I pulled out some of the old records I still had -- giving my turntable its first workout in many years -- and started listening specifically for Carl's lead vocals, and I gathered up the Smile tapes I had and realized that the reason "Wind Chimes" was my favorite song almost from the beginning was that Carl sang it. I tried to special order Carl's two solo albums from a music store but was told they were impossible to find. Right in the middle of all this Carl Wilson died; it was the first celebrity death that affected me so strongly, likely just because of timing. I was literally trying to convince a friend to care about which Beach Boy was which a day before I heard the news. It was before the internet was totally ubiquitous in my life, so I'd had no idea he was even ill.

My world was dominated by another favorite band, R.E.M., for most of 1998 and when I read an interview with Mike Mills singing the praises of Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, I got my brother to lend me a cassette he had of the twofer with both, and this specific event probably gave me the last kick into lifelong hardcore fandom. When the '70s reissues happened in 2000 I picked them up one by one; the twofers of the Capitol albums followed a year later, and then all the peripheral stuff like compilations. One moment I won't ever forget in the annals of my physical music consumption was when I got the Good Vibrations box for free, having joined BMG specifically for that purpose; the excitement of owning something so "big" was hard to describe, tempered only slightly by the knowledge that I was in my junior year of high school and should maybe have been doing something more with my youth, but that's okay. "Catch a Wave" came over my headphones in mono and at the instrumental break I was made a true believer permanently. There have still been interludes and caveats when I wanted nothing to do with them, and I can't say they are still my favorite band or even my favorite American band, but by and large they remain major for me, as CDs have graduated to files and files have graduated to sought-after near mint copies of the vinyl records. More than anything, what's prompted me to re-immerse myself in the Beach Boys this summer has been how easy it is. Their work is second-nature to me, and falling back into it is like revisiting a very comfortable childhood home, evoked so easily by those yellow and orange Capitol swirl 45s. A childhood home with lots of terrifying stories of corrupt psychiatrists, familial betrayals and serial killers... but maybe that's only appropriate.


One last note before we head into the depths of minutiae: I'm ordinary irritated when writers refer to famous people by their first names; during the Democratic primary this year I refused to say I was a "Bernie supporter" and I don't know why that was such a celebrated parlance. But with the Beach Boys, things are different; having three Wilsons in the band, plus a manager named Wilson, forces my hand in referring to Brian, Carl and Dennis (and Audree and Murry) by their given names, and for sake of consistency this generally requires me to also refer to the other two original members of the band as Al and Mike, and on occasion, Bruce, Ricky, Blondie and David. Thanks for understanding.


When I first wrote a version of this discography over a decade ago, it was a fair bet that virtually everyone reading had at least a passing familiarity with the Beach Boys' music. As the culture has fractured, for better or worse, that's no longer necessarily the case; they remain a more famous band than the lion's share of American rock groups from the '60s, but interest in them has skewed older and older apart from a brief period in the mid- to late-2000s when their influence on college and indie rock outstripped the Beatles. These days there's no point in assuming anyone has some sort of monolithic hold on people's consciousness, and besides, being exposed to music is very different from hearing it completely. Luckily, the streaming era makes it very easy to send someone in the right direction on getting to know the Beach Boys. Everyone with even the tiniest modicum of interest in pop or rock music should be familiar with Pet Sounds, but if there is some way you can learn to live with the record for a while instead of approaching it with its pedestal in mind, you're likely to understand it far more than you will if you reach it expecting to be immediately blown away. The actual greatness of Pet Sounds lies in its malleability and how its emotional grace notes achieve a synchronicity to day-to-day life. Equally important is a representation of the Beach Boys' sunnier but almost invariably brilliant radio singles. There's no simple, complete collection of their hits but thematically, Endless Summer is the best of them all -- a wonderful, cohesive listen -- and it's now readily available on the streaming sites, physically easy to find (though not in print). Sounds of Summer is a more complete collection of their hits and will work nearly as well to explain the band in a concise way. If you love this material, my strong suggestion is to dive into the boxed set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys, a much easier suggestion to make now that you can hear it for free through a Spotify account.

At that point, you're likely to know whether you're on the verge of becoming a huge fan or not. If so, all of the '60s albums except Christmas Album are essential in some capacity, and most will want to stretch forward up through at least Holland, probably through Love You; apart from a song or two, everything after 1977 is skippable unless you become so fascinated you're some sort of sick, obsessive hardcore, in which case the rest of their work is covered at length in these pages. If you're liking the boxed set but are more inclined to keep things casual, I'd advocate a smattering of studio albums instead of exposing yourself to more of the numerous compilations: the truly crucial early Beach Boys albums are Surfer Girl, All Summer Long, Today! and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). If you're a bit more adventurous, Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends and 20/20 as well as Love You are delightful records and among the most unashamedly eccentric works of any major rock band. Holland is a conventional classic rock LP that requires fewer apologies than most of the band's early '70s material, though it's even more convincing on stage as heard on the fine live record In Concert, which proves that this often fractured and troubled band was at least briefly a dynamic and engrossing stage act.

Now for the availability question. In the vinyl era, every Beach Boys album through Wild Honey was mixed in mono; Surfin' U.S.A., Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down Vol. 2, All Summer Long, Concert and Christmas Album also had stereo mixes available. In 2012 Capitol issued much but not all of the '60s catalog on CDs that included mono and stereo mixes of these albums except Concert and Christmas Album, and added new stereo versions of the formerly mono-only records except Wild Honey, released on its own in stereo on the excellent 2017 set Sunshine Tomorrow, now streaming. Finally having a nearly complete catalog of the band's '60s output in mono available digitally (all of them also on Spotify) is a great relief after years of only being able to listen to Surfer Girl as its creator intended on vinyl, but the new stereo mixes are mostly disappointing; and worse yet, the truly definitive CD issues of the Beach Boys' albums are the 1990 twofer CDs of the Capitol albums, reissued in 2001 and joined in 2000 by similar sets dedicated to the Warner/CBS period. These discs used the stereo mixes when they existed, a bad decision cancelled out by the inclusion of often excellent bonus tracks on the '60s albums.

Throughout this discography I've tried to make careful mention of what officially released Beach Boys songs that you would actually want to hear have not made it to the streaming sites; the primary gap is the aforementioned bonus material included on the 1990 twofer CDs. The two latter-day albums Still Cruisin' and Summer in Paradise are absent from streaming and out of print on disc but you really don't want either of them.

Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston have all issued solo albums; Mike even has several unreleased records in the vault that are trainwreck terrible. None of these have very broad interest; Mike also had a side-project band called Celebration in the late '70s that never really caught on, though their sunny soundalike vibe and the occasional involvement of other Beach Boys might make them worthwhile for some. Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin's group the Flame released several albums in South Africa, but their key item is the Carl Wilson-produced The Flame, which has a few gems such as the Billy Preston-like "Get Your Mind Made Up." David Marks has recorded and self-released a number of solo albums and was also a member of a cult psychedelic outfit called Moon not long after departing the Beach Boys. I have not heard Marks' work alone or with Moon as of yet.

Carl Wilson's two albums, Carl Wilson and Youngblood are slick, professional affairs that suffer from lousy production and overwrought songwriting, despite occasional good moments and of course some wonderful singing. I have never heard Like a Brother, the album he recorded in the years before his death with AM blandos Gerry Beckley (America) and Robert Lamm (Chicago), but it features five lead vocals from him as well as four songs he cowrote, so it's likely worth a gander.

By far the best solo record issued by any of the Beach Boys is Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, a masterpiece too heavy to explore in any depth here; it will easily warrant its own lengthy essay, but any Beach Boys fan -- or fan of '70s pop, period -- who's not heard it is in for a treat. Bits and pieces of unreleased solo Dennis from throughout the '70s and early '80s have made their way down the pike in piecemeal fashion over the years on Beach Boys archival releases, but the 2008 reissue of Pacific Ocean Blue gathers the bulk of the music he completed for his prospective second solo LP, Bambu; it's the definitive study of this fine, underrated singer-songwriter.

Inevitably, Brian Wilson's work requires the most space. The unreleased record that was variously called Brian's in Love and Adult Child is covered in part four of our bootlegs section, though it feels even less like a Beach Boys album than Love You. 1988's Brian Wilson has a couple of knockouts -- "Love and Mercy" and "Melt Away" -- and generally works as a sort of distant cousin to Love You, though the pervading sonic influences of the day do have their way with some of the songs, as does the iron fist of Dr. Landy. The follow-up, Sweet Insanity, was rejected twice by Sire Records and brings forth all of Brian's eccentricities without the balance of charm provided on its predecessor; much of its material was eventually reworked. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times is an enjoyable, Unplugged-like record of an older Brian singing some of his old classics in a subdued, stripped-back setting. His collaboration with Van Dyke Parks, Orange Crate Art, sounds like Brian Wilson singing a bunch of Van Dyke Parks' songs, so your appreciation will depend on whether you can stand Parks more than I can. (Far as I'm concerned, the best thing he ever did was arrange strings for Joanna Newsom's Ys.)

The famous "Paley sessions" from the early '90s are a heap of fun, though erratic, but instead Brian copped to pressure and adult contemporary drudgery with the disappointing Imagination, an album that suffers even more than the 1988 Sire debut for its dire sonic trendiness, especially when the incomprehensible decision is made to "revise" two Beach Boys songs, "Keep an Eye on Summer" and "Let Him Run Wild." Outside of a couple of decent live releases, the next original record from Brian was the perfectly dreadful Gettin' In Over My Head, followed by his version of Smile in 2004, which is dissected in part 3 of our bootleg rundown. There were further stopgaps: a Christmas album that I've not heard, a serviceable Gershwin "reimagining," and a worthless album of Disney songs, but there have also been two further full-fledged studio releases: the ambitious That Lucky Old Sun is a bit overstuffed and annoyingly arty but sometimes impressive, while No Pier Pressure is a weird, confused bid for wide appeal that simply shouldn't have happened.

But the very best Brian Wilson solo disc you can buy isn't a studio or live album at all, it's the compilation Pet Projects, which collects most of the wonderful singles he produced for other artists during his mid-'60s peak. Not only is it a terrific listen and a great supplement for Beach Boys fans, it actually makes a strong case that he was as strong a producer for outside talent as Phil Spector and that this might well have been a lucrative and fulfilling future for him, had the pressure to continue with the band not been too great. Attempts to concentrate on such a career were sabotaged on multiple occasions by Murry and by other Beach Boys -- again, in a probable act of self-preservation -- and so this potentially life-altering change of pace for Brian never took off.

During preparation for this discography I tried to read every major, serious examination of the Beach Boys I could. By no means is this a complete or canonical listing, and chances are it will be updated in the future with further additions.

The two best pieces of critical writing about the Beach Boys I have read are in short form. The first is Jim Miller's remarkably perceptive overview of the band in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, which has long been a strong influence on my way of thinking about them and certainly on everything you'll read here. The other is the late Paul Williams' fine, impassioned essay about the Good Vibrations boxed set from Crawdaddy, also included in his book How Deep Is the Ocean?.

The definitive biography of the Beach Boys has yet to be written or published. Each existing volume has its advantages and shortcomings and none can be unreservedly recommended. Two come very close, however. Peter Ames Carlin's Catch a Wave is a biography of Brian Wilson rather than the band but as a well-crafted overview of the story as it's best understood, with solid writing and few factual inaccuracies or unnecessary tangents, it's difficult to fault. I'd direct anyone interested to delve into it before any other book. For the more seasoned fan, James B. Murphy's Becoming the Beach Boys stands as likely the most strongly researched and consistently surprising volume on the band's history yet to be published; unfortunately, like Mark Lewisohn's Beatles bio Tune In it ends at the beginning (somewhere in 1963) and unlike Lewisohn, Murphy -- a veterinarian by day -- has no plans to continue the story. Murphy's book altered Beach Boys scholarship like nothing else that's been published in many years, dredging up information, consulting new primary sources and correcting rumors and myths at a breathtaking rate, and it lays out once and for all a complete portrait of how the band came into existence. It's a bit dryly written, but when no one has even attempted to parse out the truth on such a scale, how can you really object? Again, the book is probably of interest only to hardcores, but if you are one it will quickly become one of the most essential texts.

As to the other major biographies: Stephen Gaines' infamously salacious Heroes and Villains is useful if you need insight into the Beach Boys' long string of bad luck re falling in with terrible people and their bizarre business and management choices, as its grasp of the facts on this front is solid enough, but Gaines loves to write the most lurid stories he comes across, and in most other areas the book should be taken as entertainment rather than as presentation of fact, given how many simple and easily verifiable errors it makes. Gaines also doesn't seem to possess much actual passion or interest in the Beach Boys' music, which feels like it should have been a prerequisite. The more worshipful The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White is sadly little better, especially considering that he's likely the writer who had the most complete access to now-deceased primary sources like Dennis and Audree, but the late White was unfortunately cursed with a turgid, pretentious prose style, and the book is oddly structured, with vast overemphasis on the background of California's history and the Wilsons' ancestry and quite a lot of other material that has little to do with the supposed subject of the book. There are several pages of skateboarding history thrown into the narrative, and he will pivot seemingly at random from talking about the Watts riots or the moon landing to the Beach Boys singing a new contract, or similar. It's an incredibly frustrating book, and rather poor as both narrative and scholarship.

Finally there is David Leaf's The Beach Boys and the California Myth, formatted in that hybrid text and picture-book format so popular in the 1970s, and now very difficult to track down despite being the first serious, unauthorized book to attempt to put together a definitive Beach Boys history. Leaf is unfortunately the source of a rather shocking number of long-pervasive myths about the Beach Boys, perhaps most infamously that they didn't play on most of their records, and the book is written with the unhidden agenda of putting across an idea that Brian Wilson was the entirety of the group's appeal and that they held him back from accomplishing all that he could have. Even if there is a bit of truth in this argument, Leaf's strong bias toward and almost sycophantic attitude toward Brian -- which could continue to manifest for the next couple of decades -- is hard to take.

More telling and unfiltered than almost any of the books is this harrowing letter to Brian from his father Murry in 1964, as clear and concise a vision of what abuse looks like as I've ever seen. You should be warned that if you read it, it will sour your day considerably, but you'll also come away marveling at how much Brian did manage to achieve.

Now for reference books. We've already discussed Domenic Priore's Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile in the essay above, but it should be considered essential. A brief, critical discography with good notes and a lot of wit, The Beach Boys: The Complete Guide to Their Music by Andrew G. Doe and John Tobler is a good rundown of the band's individual songs, covering everything up through 2004 including solo records, though there are a few since-disproven statements (like that Glen Campbell plays the intro of "Fun, Fun, Fun") and the book as a whole, while nice to have, is largely superseded by Doe's excellent website, Bellagio 10452, by far the most extensive gathering of hard information about the Beach Boys anywhere. That website lays waste to Keith Badman's The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary, a handsome book and attempted chronology that's unfortunately riddled with glaring mistakes and omissions. It's nice to have it for the illustrations, but its ignorance of facts and apparently incompetent research team render it largely useless. As Doe has pointed out several times, it plagiarizes large parts of his website and, most embarrassingly, spends the introduction laying out a history of Hawthorne... Hawthorne, New Jersey! Johnny Morgan's recent The Beach Boys: America's Band is another beautifully illustrated volume that serves no actual purpose.

Autobiographies exist for three Beach Boys, all semi-ghostwritten as is typical for the business. Jon Stebbins shepherded David Marks' The Lost Beach Boy, an enjoyably conversational rundown of his years in and out of the group, with a surprising number of revelations (Marks' parents kept very good records). Todd Gold, making heavy use of other people's existing books and under the thumb of Eugene Landy, threw together the shitshow Brian Wilson memoir Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story, which was quickly disowned by Brian and is best avoided, though it shows up in seemingly every thrift store in the country even now. As I was preparing this discography, Mike Love and Brian Wilson were both on the verge of publishing new memoirs, previewed by two excellent modern profiles of the former bandmates in Rolling Stone: Erik Hedegaard's of Mike and Jason Fine's of Brian. Having read both books in 2017 I can report that the only major surprise is how engaging and readable Brian's I Am Brian Wilson is -- written in stream of consciousness with real evidence of his personality throughout. There's equal evidence of who Mike really is deep down in his sniping, superficial Good Vibrations, a tedious litany of excuses and thin justifications for his often reprehensible behavior and just generally irritating attitude, though there are valuable insights into his character here and there. Most fans will probably want to read both books, and despite the coauthors' obvious presences, if nothing else they certainly are accurate reflections of what we know of their authors' outlooks and temperaments.

You'll find a much more exhaustive critical bibliography -- and a lot of other great stuff -- on Bret Wheadon's long-running, a deeper and more extensive exploration of the Beach Boys' career with reviews of every relevant album, compilation, solo record, book, film, DVD, on and on and on. Wheadon's site was a great help to me when I was first getting seriously interested in the band and it's still a phenomenal resource, and extremely tough-minded and well-written.

Most of the most dedicated, involved Beach Boys research goes on in the forums, but as the group has splintered, so has its fanbase. Log in to the Smiley Smile or Pet Sounds Message Boards and you'll see a whole lot of sometimes melodramatic bickering before you find anything useful; it's so toxic it actually put me in a rush to put this whole thing to bed, but I can't not mention what a great time I had on Usenet and on the old Cabinessence and Smile Shop boards way back when, exploring and obsessing when I had so much more time to do that sort of thing. The gold standard of Beach Boys scholarship these days -- and the person I most want to write a book -- is Craig Slowinski, whose session research has given us formerly impossible enlightenment about who played what on these records. You'll find some of his work here and a lot more of it in his capacity now as de facto Beach Boys historian with the notes he contributed to the Smile Sessions and (still in progress) Made in California boxes.

Four large-scale documentaries about the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson have been made to date, each of them equally interesting for different reasons. The Beach Boys: An American Band is a bizarre, cornball affair with Brian interviewed literally from his bed, Al badly reenacting a football game at Hawthorne High, and Mike schmoozing through "Okie from Muskogee." The Brian-centric I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, directed by Don Was, is out on a DVD that also includes American Band and offers a low-key glimpse at Brian on the upswing circa 1995, with some very good and unusual interviews. Endless Harmony is the band-sanctioned response to The Beatles Anthology, only much (much) shorter; it's currently out of print but is notable for including interviews with all surviving members, including Carl just before his death. The best audiovisual overview of the Beach Boys' story is the A&E Biography episode about Brian, with well-chosen music and a sympathetic but balanced view laid out just ahead of his emergence as a major touring act. Bruce and Al give new interviews for that piece as well, as do many Beach Boys luminaries, like their former road manager Fred Vail and Brian's first wife Marilyn Rovell Wilson.

2015 brought Bill Pohland's Love and Mercy, a good biopic of Brian Wilson starring Paul Dano and John Cusack, and with the Carlin book as its primary source, it serves also as a nice introduction to the band's history and, more importantly, their music, with an excellent interweaving of their classics reconfigured as scoring. I have yet to see Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, but it's available from Criterion and is an essential artifact because it features Dennis Wilson's lone acting performance.

The Beach Boys are represented on DVD as a live band on the 1980 concert Live at Knebworth 1980, but while all five original members are present, it's not an exceptionally great show and everyone seems very tired. On the other hand, The Lost Concert finds them at the beginning of their career, wily and fresh-faced, but you're better off experiencing this via their wonderful sequence in Steve Binder's The T.A.M.I. Show, which offers numerous other great performances as well (against which it's quite impressive that they hold their own).

There's more Beach Boys material, good and bad, on Youtube than could reasonably be dealt with in a blog post. But some of the highlights I encountered while working on all this are:
- a wonderful 1969 concert that starts here
- performing "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone" on The Old Grey Whistle Test
- playing "Wild Honey" with Chaplin and Fataar in tow, 1972
- the only long audio interview with Dennis I've come across, from 1976
- a fairly lengthy 1984 video interview with Carl

Nosing around in the related videos for those should keep you busy for some time.


Rather than simply converting, correcting and posting my old Beach Boys commentaries from 2003, I decided it was necessary to wholly rewrite them for the most part, and in doing so I did my very best to ensure that I was reporting the facts related to the music as correctly as possible. I should thank Craig Slowinski, Andrew Doe and fellow North Carolina-based fan Lee Dempsey for answering strange questions I had during preparation of this storm of posts via the Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile Message Boards, and I'd also like to say that if any inaccuracy still made it through I would very much like to hear about it. Please comment or email me; my address is at the top of the blog.


The Beach Boys capsules: Bootlegs, part 4 of 4 (The Brother Years)

Now at last we come to the point when the Beach Boys' ability to select the best material they had worked up for annual release in LP format began to waver terribly. In outtakes from 1967 to 1980 -- some of which eventually found release on packages like Hawthorne, CA and Made in California -- you'll find many examples of vaulted material stronger than what made the cut of the band's official releases. Brother and Capitol have promised several times to dip into this wealth of treasures but we've only ever received marginal bits at a time. In this final bootleg post we'll try to touch on the best "lost" music from the Beach Boys' waning years as a creative force.

The Beach Boys: Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 19: Wild Honey (bootleg 1967) [2CD] [r]
Between Smiley Smile and Wild Honey there were the Lei'd in Hawaii rehearsals and a good bit of experimentation in Brian Wilson's home studio. Much of the latter is captured on this generous set's first disc, which is comprised of numerous overdubbed takes of "Cool, Cool Water," a track derived from Smile that would be worked on further and finally released a few years later, and "Can't Wait Too Long," a hypnotic, mantra-like piece that, despite a vocal track that's charmingly incomplete (a breathtaking lead from Carl on the final section notwithstanding), would stand for many years as one of the best unissued Beach Boys cuts, though it made it to the twofer bonus cuts in 1990; the only "official" song to which it can really be compared is probably the impressive, zoned-out "All This Is That" from So Tough. Finally, when the band ultimately settles on a "white soul" approach to the new record, we get a lot of session material related to the Stevie Wonder cover "I Was Made to Love Her," which sparkles in stereo with the elements separated. Similar dissections of other cuts from Wild Honey round out the second disc and are equally interesting; "Here Comes the Night" is analyzed to within an inch of its life, which is a handy example of how layered and elaboate Brian Wilson's later productions still were despite outward appearances and scaled-down instrumentation. "A Thing or Two," "Darlin'" and "Wild Honey" are also represented, casting the muddy sound quality on the finished album in a negative light; unlike every other mono-only Beach Boys album, Wild Honey has never had a complete stereo mix prepared, and it's the one that could actually really benefit from such treatment. [2017 note: This is no longer true with Capitol's release of the compilation 1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow, and as I predicted, Wild Honey is the best of the revisionist stereo BB albums apart from Pet Sounds.] Because the next and final Sea of Tunes set is something of a letdown and because this captures the twilight of Brian's days as the Beach Boys' primary creative force, this one represents a good swansong for the series and can be seen as the capper on an incredibly involved examination of a remarkable run of music.

The Beach Boys: Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 20: Friends etc. (bootleg 1968-69) [2CD]
The end of the Unsurpassed Masters series unfortunately doesn't reveal much about the sessions for the Beach Boys' second-best '60s album Friends, as it's strictly represented (albeit at length) by the title track and lead single. The rest of this disjointed collection gathers up late '60s odds and ends. Sessions for "Do It Again" reveal how close that song came to being unforgivably awful. "I Can Hear Music" offers an opportunity to witness Carl's budding skills as a producer, and you can tell he'd been paying attention for all those years; in this respect and this respect alone, this set is a logical conclusion to the series since it records the passing of the torch, so to speak, but apart from some rehearsal and overdub material from "Time to Get Alone" and "Break Away" and an errant presentation of "Sherry, She Needs Me," this peters out with yet another example of one of rock's most vocally evocative groups' bizarre attraction to terrible outside singers ("A Day in the Life of a Tree," "Teeter Totter Love," Gary Usher, Dick Reynolds, etc.) in the form of a comedy duo called the Pickle Brothers, whose pair of cuts here have nothing to do with anything and aren't funny; what is funny is Steve Kalinich's psychotic poetry reading "America, I Know You," but that's not supposed to be funny and seems to be a sort of covert fuck-you to the Beach Boys by Brian after he was shut out of several opportunities to follow his own creative direction. From 1968 onward, Brian's best work would strictly be that which had no commercial aspiration at all, and this would cause a permanent rift with the rest of the band. It was also during this period that Murry sold the publishing rights to Brian's songs, and that Brian was sent to some sort of invasive therapy during a bout of depression that apparently changed him permanently and turned him into the Brian Wilson we know now as opposed to the sprightlier man who made so many terrific records and had such great command of the studio in the '60s. Up to now, even when Brian wasn't fully in control he was always a breathtaking creative force. But things were changing in the Beach Boys' world, and with the transition from the '60s to the '70s and from Capitol to Reprise, nothing would ever be quite the same.

The Beach Boys: All This Is That (bootleg 1967-80)
After Sea of Tunes wrapped up its Beach Boys series, the label emerged again eventually with a sort of approximation of the much-hyped and never completed or issued "Brother Rarities" collection, which had been projected to gather rare and unreleased Beach Boys music from the '70s and '80s. This is more of a hodgepodge unfortunately, built a bit like one of Capitol's weird catch-all discs of strange variations (a vocals-only "Cotton Fields," a stereo mix of "Country Air," the backing track of "Had to Phone Ya," that sort of thing). And the last half, which runs from 15 Big Ones onward, will quickly try the patience of most anyone who doesn't have an unhealthy fixation on this group. An incomplete take of "Slip on Through" and a totally different version of "All This Is That" offer some insight into the creation of those songs, but the only real listening pleasure comes from a pair of heretofore (and officially still) unavailable So Tough-Holland era songs. "It's a New Day" was written by Dennis and sung by Blondie Chaplin, and is in keeping with Dennis' early '70s work like "Sound of Free." It's quite good, but "Hard Time" -- a Ricky/Blondie cut along the lines of "Here She Comes" and "We Got Love" but much more frenetic, similar to their Abbey Road-inspired hard power pop in the Flame -- is in my opinion the best song still sitting in the Beach Boys' vault. It's possible you have to like the Fataar-Chaplin material as much as I do to really dig it, but I can say that it's probably the best song they wrote for the band, and also that when I very illegally snuck it into my sets as a bar DJ, multiple people queried me about it (and it was fun to see how incredulous they were when I told them the artist, less fun to tell them it was not available to buy). My preferred setting for these two songs is the fan-made expanded albums (see below) but this bootleg deserves some attention because it brought those tracks to our ears in the first place, however unethically.

The Beach Boys: Landlocked (bootleg 1969-71) [c]
Thanks to a number of legitimate sources alleging its existence, it was believed for a number of years that the Beach Boys recorded an album called Landlocked, submitted it for release by Reprise and had it rejected. It seems that the story was conflated with the rejections of early versions of Sunflower and Holland as well as a proposed catch-all "last Capitol album" consisting of finished odds and ends, abandoned in favor of delivering Live in London. What we know as Landlocked is really just a sort of working reel for what would turn into Surf's Up. All of its listenable music has been issued elsewhere, and these days the thing is just a curio.

The Beach Boys & the Flame: The Beach Boys Meet the Flame (bootleg 1970)
The Beach Boys: Do It Again (bootleg 1971) [r]
A pair of interesting live shows from the Beach Boys' best period as a concert attraction. The former was recorded on November 6, 1970 during the band's legendary homecoming residency at the Whisky-a-Go-Go; this was the third show of the week (the first without Brian, alas) and the South African band the Flame (which included future Beach Boys Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin) opened and closed the show; their fine set is included on the disc. Unfortunately the recording quality is rather dire, but both bands seem to be in strong form. Do It Again captures the group at a similar level of enthusiasm on the following May 11 in Syracuse, NY, sans Dennis Wilson (away promoting Two-Lane Blacktop, the Monte Hellman film in which he costarred with James Taylor), with a good taste of the band's endearingly odd setlists from this period: "Vegetables," "Cool, Cool Water," a hybrid of "Riot in Cell Block #9" and its unholy stepchild "Student Demonstration Time," plus an irony-overload cover of Merle Haggard's square anthem "Okie from Muskogee." To state the (probably) obvious: despite Mike Love's unbearable banter, the Beach Boys were a damn good live band in their prime.

As mentioned elsewhere, I'm interested in any Beach Boys live boots from 1969 to 1973 that aren't already available in full on Youtube, if anyone feels like being generous.

The Beach Boys: Sunflower: Bonus Tracks (bootleg 1969-70) [r]
This and the other bonus "expanded" editions below of the '70-'80 Brother Records albums were compiled for the late, lamented Warnakey's Beach Boys Blog back around 2009. Prior to this Purple Chick-caliber task of consolidation, you had to gather up all sorts of disorganized bootlegs to put together a comprehensive collection of the unissued material from the post-Capitol years. Warnakey gathered the rarities and non-album tracks together in the best quality he could find and offered them as MP3 downloads intended to be applied as "bonus tracks" to the corresponding albums. Although these compilations are now difficult to find, it does give us an easy way to tackle the later obscurities. In a deviation from the format elsewhere in these reviews, I'll be providing quick notes on the individual tracks.

1) San Miguel - officially released on Ten Years of Harmony and Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
2) Celebrate the News - officially released as b-side to "Break Away"
3) Loop de Loop [early mix] - a version of the song without the finishing touches added by Al for Endless Harmony
4) Break Away - officially released as a single
5) Rock 'n' Roll Woman - a solid live cover (from the spring of 1969) of Buffalo Springfield's song
6) Slip on Through [alternate track] - this instrumental take on the song is a wonderful listen
7) I'm Going Your Way - a soulful, propulsive unreleased Dennis Wilson track
8) Cotton Fields [stereo single version] - officially released as a single
9) Walkin' - a Brian song from the Friends era that its composer grew frustrated with in the middle of recording the vocal; it's not bad, but definitely in the lower tier of material from the period
10) Games Two Can Play - officially released on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
11) Soulful Old Man Sunshine [edit] - not actually an edit, this is a faster mix of the song than the one released on Endless Harmony; apparently it's the version initially assembled by Dennis Dragon in 1969, revised and probably speed-corrected by Mark Linett with a Carl Wilson scratch vocal for the '93 box. Carl vetoed its inclusion then because he didn't like his vocal.
12) Add Some Music [alternate lyrics] - these lyrics are even dopier than those on the released song
13) Back Home [1970 version] - officially released on Made in California, this is very different from both the 1963 and (released) 1976 versions; rhythmically the same but with completely different, somewhat less childlike lyrics; a fine performance, though so are the other two
14) I Just Got My pay - officially released on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
15) Carnival [aka Over the Waves] - a rather distressingly ominous Beach Boys take on "Sobre las Olas" that sounds like it could find a home on the Night of the Living Dead soundtrack
16) Our Sweet Love [track & backing vocals] - just what it implies, different from a vocals and strings mix on Made in California; nice to hear once but that's about it

The Beach Boys: Surf's Up: Bonus Tracks (bootleg 1970-71)
A lot of commonly available material here, but it's nice to have it gathered in one logical place -- and it's hard not to notice how much of it is superior to what actually made it to Surf's Up.

1) 4th of July - officially released on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
2) Barbara - officially released on Endless Harmony
3) Big Sur [1970 version] - one of Mike's very best compositions, in its original 4/4 incarnation before being repurposed for Holland; both versions are quite beautiful
4) H.E.L.P. Is on the Way - officially released on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
5) Sound of Free - A-side of Dennis Wilson & Rumbo single, officially released under the Beach Boys name on Made in California
6) Lady - the (even better) b-side of "Sound of Free," officially released under the Beach Boys name on Summer Love Songs and Made in California
7) Seasons in the Sun - Terry Jacks produced this Beach Boys recording of the dreadful Rod McKuen-Jacques Brel composition, then recorded it himself and made it a huge smash when they decided thankfully not to move forward with it
8) My Solution - one of the most unique unissued Beach Boys songs, a demented Flaming Lips-like Halloween narrative about a reanimated dog, or something; hilarious, scary and nearly indescribable
9) It's a New Day - magnificent Dennis song sung by Blondie Chaplin
10) Searchin' - the Beach Boys onstage with the Grateful Dead; everyone sounds stoned and off-key
11) Okie from Muskogee - Merle Haggard's tongue-in-cheek anthem was a live favorite for the Beach Boys in the early '70s; god knows why, but they do a decent job with it
12) Your Song - Bruce singing an Elton John song on stage; monstrously unappealing
13) Til I Die [alternate mix] - officially released on Endless Harmony

The Beach Boys: Holland: Bonus Tracks (bootleg 1972-74) [r]
Superb, essential complement to the studio record, with several of the best unreleased songs in the Beach Boys' vault (and a few of the best sort-of-released ones), plus at least one of the most fascinatingly horrible things they ever attempted.

1) [Holland radio promo spot] - interesting chance to hear how Reprise promoted the Beach Boys during their lite-funk/prog-ish period
2) We Got Love - actually released on early presses of the album, the Ricky/Blondie-led song left off in favor of "Sail on, Sailor" but included on In Concert; that version is stronger, but this one is worth hearing
3) Carry Me Home - chilling Dennis number, among his most mournful and mature ballads; probably the most beloved song the Beach Boys haven't yet released, vetoed from inclusion on the boxed set, likely because of its grim lyrical content
4) Out in the Country - serviceable Al Jardine song (though he has no recollection of writing it), with a nice minimal production
5) Hard Time - as noted in the writeup of All This Is That, probably my favorite still-unissued Beach Boys, a genuinely gripping and fresh-sounding rocker from Blondie and Rickie's corner
6) Shortenin' Bread - Brian Wilson was somewhat obsessed with this nursery rhyme in the '70s; Iggy Pop recalled being freaked out beyond repair by a Brian-led extended party singalong of it that stretched into the maniacal. This version is better than the one on L.A. (Light Album exclusively by virtue of Carl performing the lead, but the "WTF" factor remains
7) River Song - several years ahead of Dennis' solo album Pacific Ocean Blue, here's its most famous track in incomplete form, meant at the time as a Beach Boys song, meant for the unissued Caribou album (as were the next two cuts on this collection); it did eventually see release on a Beach Boys compilation, Ten Years of Harmony, but in the POB version
8) Good Timin' - the original, somewhat skeletal and brief 1974 take is quite a bit better -- and less audibly synthesized -- than the L.A. (Light Album) single
9) Battle Hymn of the Republic - it's long been rumored that Brian insisted on covering this because he knew it would make Mike, trying desperately to keep up with the rhythm track, sound like a knucklehead; if so, the track is a complete success
10) Rollin' Up to Heaven - accounts differ on the origin date for this X-rated "Ding Dang" variant, but it's unreleasable by default and mostly just annoying

The Beach Boys: 15 Big Ones: Bonus Tracks (bootleg 1975-78) [c]
Most of the outtakes from this album are additional oldies in the style of those that made the cut; at one point it was floated as a double album that would consist of a whole LP's worth covers, then one of just originals. These Brian productions have the same issues of sterility and laziness that mark the familiar tunes. Not to be too pointed about this but good lord, this is some bad music; Brian himself was bored to death by these sessions.

1) Sea Cruise - officially released on Ten Years of Harmony, now out of print
2) Shake, Rattle and Roll - actually not a bad version, with a good Al Jardine lead
3) Michael, Row the Boat Ashore - uh...
4) Honkin' Down the Highway [early version] - this sounds like a demo with a guide vocal
5) Don't Worry Baby [California Music] - the hilariously terrible "revised" version of the song with partially rewritten lyrics by Bruce's sideline project California Music, which involved Brian for a time; this was released as a single in 1975
6) On Broadway - godawful Drifters cover forecasts the band's equally terrible 1992 version of "Under the Boardwalk"
7) Running Bear - see "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore"
8) Mony Mony - also terrible
9) Short Skirts - yeah, still terrible
10) Come Go with Me [version 1] - I slightly prefer this to the MIU Version that later became a minor hit; it was accidentally released on Caribou's 1990 CDs of both MIU and Ten Years of Harmony but is otherwise unavailable
11) Carl's Song - a primitive instrumental attempt at what became "Angel Come Home," one of Carl's best later songs
12) Ten Years Harmony [California Music] - this is "Endless Harmony," only scaled down a bit; released as a single in 1975
13) Brian's Back [early version] - even worse than the final version
14) (Carl interview)/Rock & Roll Music [alternate mix] - this much livelier alternate mix of the lead single from 15 Big Ones finally saw release in better quality on the Made in California box

Brian Wilson / The Beach Boys: Adult Child (bootleg 1976-77)
Unreleaseable, schlocky immersion into Brian Wilson's inner world as of 1976, with several songs boasting elaborate big band arrangements from Dick Reynolds, the same agent Brian had used under very different circumstances for Christmas Album. The best of those, "It's Over Now" and "Still I Dream of It," have since been released; the former in particular shows how incredibly adaptable Brian remained as a composer, effectively appropriating the composition and lyrical style of the crooners that were then influencing him. The version of Adult Child presented to Reprise and rejected was rounded out with a few older cuts ("H.E.L.P. Is on the Way," "On Broadway," "Games Two Can Play"), while the Beach Boys would subsequently revisit "Shortenin' Bread" and (shudder) "Hey Little Tomboy." That leaves five songs, two of which show Reynolds' involvement: "Deep Purple" is just the standard, and Brian's voice isn't really suited to it; "Life Is for the Living" is kind of great, a swinging music-hall extravaganza with Carl chiding you for sitting "around on your ass / smoking grass" before it devolves into a weird commentary on exercise. "Everybody Wants to Live" is an organ and synth-driven midtempo number that's fairly respectable, if too long; maybe they should have taken this all the way. Dennis sings "It's Trying to Say (Baseball)," a mild rocker that benefits from his ever-dependable enthusiasm. "Lines" is somewhat in the vein of Love You but not at all on its quality level. Generally Adult Child feels like a half-finished idea for an album, and not a bad one, but without enough material -- and with too much filler -- to make it really work.

Two Brian songs from this period should be quickly addressed here:
- "Marilyn Rovell" is a song written for Brian's then-wife, from the "oversharing" department, and it strikes me as vaguely sarcastic, knowing how stressful that marriage had become by the mid-'70s (though Marilyn from all available evidence is one hell of a champ), culminating in a disturbing cry of "look at that little child sing!"; some fans like this a lot, but I prefer "Let's Keep Our Hearts Together," a duet with Marilyn that's personal without seeming so self-absorbed
- "Lazy Lizzie" is a terrifying pedophile anthem along the lines of "Hey Little Tomboy" about stalking a schoolgirl; further evidence that Brian needed a filter lyrically (and a lot of therapy), though he and the band wisely kept his more salacious ideas off Love You

The Beach Boys: Alternate Love You (bootleg 1977)
Conveniently gathers most of the outtakes and potential supplements for Love You that have surfaced over the years. The alternate versions are mostly just different mixes (possibly the "rawer" versions Brian completed before Carl polished the record) or vocal takes, or sometimes are just missing finishing touches. I'll only comment on the tracks that require explanation.

1) Roller Skating Child [alternate take]
2) Mona [alternate take]
3) Honkin' Down the Highway [early] - same as the 15 Big Ones outtake above
4) Ding Dang [alternate take] - goes far beyond the fade on the released version
5) The Night Was So Young [alternate take] - instrumentation slightly different, also a different, incomplete vocal take; also has a very nice instrumental tag
6) Let's Put Our Hearts Together [alternate take #1]
7) I Wanna Pick You Up [alternate version]
8) Mona [demo] - Brian alone, singing and playing piano
9) I'll Bet He's Nice [demo] - ibid; we can debate Mike Love's merits as a human being till the end of time, but hearing his reaction to the bridge of this is inescapably moving
10) Let's Put Our Hearts Together [alternate take #2] - a beautiful piano-driven rendition, with Brian doing both parts of the duet; this might be a demo, but it isn't labeled as such
11) Airplane [demo] - Brian alone with a piano again; it sounds like this might be reproduced at the wrong speed
12) Love Is a Woman [demo] - same
13) Roller Skating Child [live 1977]
14) Honkin' Down the Highway [alternate take]
15) Airplane [live 1977]
16) Love Is a Woman [live 1977]
17) Ding Dang [TV special rehearsal]
18) Love Is a Woman [SNL version] - Brian alone; not great but not nearly as bad as it's reputed to be, and it certainly can't be accused of misrepresenting the nature of the concurrent album

The Beach Boys: MIU Album: Bonus Tracks (bootleg 1977)
1) Our Team - officially released on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
2) How's About a Little Bit of Your Sweet Lovin' - a Brian/Mike collaboration, simple and obnoxious, better than most of what's on MIU
3) Lady Lynda [1977 version] - somewhat less florid than the L.A. version, otherwise extremely similar; by the way, can we talk about how fucking weird the line "evolution is drawing us near" is?
4) Life Is for the Living - see Adult Child above
5) Everybody Wants to Live - see Adult Child above
6) It's Over Now - see Adult Child above; officially released on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys and with speed corrected on Made in California
7) Deep Purple - see Adult Child above
8) It's Trying to Say (Baseball) - see Adult Child above
9) Lines - see Adult Child above
10) Still I Dream of It - see Adult Child above; officially released on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
11) New England Waltz - a Brian instrumental that is just what it sounds like; sounds like an Adult Child outtake but evidently isn't
12) California Feeling - one of many versions of this awful song, this one with vocals from violent prick Rocky Pamplin and Brian vocal proteges Spring
13) Airplane [live 7/30/77] - some snark against Reprise from Mike here about their failure to promote Love You, a nice show of solidarity
14) Go and Get That Girl - sounds like about a hundred early '80s power pop outfits, which in a way is impressive
15) Alone on Christmas Day - one of the many discarded medicore songs from the MIU/Christmas hybrid sessions; Mike rewrote and released this in 2015
16) Santa's on His Way - dumb Christmas vocals laid over the track for "H.E.L.P. Is on the Way"
17) I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - a bunch of kids are on this; a revised version was officially released on Ultimate Christmas and the other discs that are just Ultimate Christmas with a different cover
18) Christmas Medley - a bunch of kids and Beach Boys singing Christmas songs as a choir for some reason

The Beach Boys: L.A.: Bonus Tracks (bootleg 1978-79)
1) It's a Beautiful Day - released on the Americathon soundtrack and on Made in California; at least they seem to be awake on it
2) California Feeling - this again, only slower; Carl sings lead this time
3) Santa Ana Winds [version 1] - Al's Keepin' the Summer Alive cut in a scrappier arrangement
4) Looking Down the Coast/Monterey - another tolerable Al song, this one about women's breasts I think?
5) Country Pie [live Feb 1978] - maybe the loosest Mike has ever been on stage, a Ron Altbach song written for Celebration
6) It Could Be Anything - written and sung by Carl, in the vein of his mostly very MOR work from these years
7) I'm Begging You Please - Brian's voice cracks on this demo but good grief, the man could write a song even in his most "off" years
8) A Little Somethin' - another Brian demo, this one childish and pointless in an "All Together Now" vein
9) Almost Summer [liev 9/3/78] - Brian seems to be playing with Celebration here, the only noteworthy aspect of this recording
10) Calendar Girl - lots of synths, sounds more like a 15 Big Ones discard but it's not
11) Skatetown USA - an Al/Mike cowrote that shows their perception of what direction the band should be taking; you wonder how this coexisted with stuff like "Baby Blue" even in theory
12) Why Didn't I Tell You? - actually from the Keepin' the Summer Alive outtake; a very weird Brian thing, basically "Goin' On" with incongrously psychotic drum fills
13) Angel Come Home [live May 1979] - this is actually splendid, and probably better -- certainly rawer -- than the album cut
14) Good Timin' [live May 1979] - Dennis sings lead here ("Carl chickened out")

The Beach Boys: Keepin' the Summer Alive: Bonus Tracks (bootleg 1979-83) [NO]
1) Little Girl - very incomplete cover; only the first couple of lines of the vocal are on it
2) Da Doo Ron Ron - pretty lame version of the Crystals' song (changing "Bill" to "Jill," natch) from Brian's very short-lived return to the production booth in advance of KTSA
3) Oh Darlin' [Brian vocal] - interesting to hear once, though this song is so turgid
4) Goin' to the Beach - just a backing track
5) Merry Minuet [live 7/4/80] - this should be buried someplace where it can never be found
6) Be My Baby - as should this; Mike singing this is a crime against the universe
7) River Deep Mountain High - this at least has the benefit of being very weird
8) Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love? - Brian's undying Spector obsession here manifests at least in a cover that's slightly more suited to the Beach Boys than the above, but what's the point?
9) My Solution [1980 version] - a shitty synthesizer-based revision of the Halloween 1970 gem, with no vocals
10) Shortenin' Bread [alternate version] - this again, after Brian had already managed to get a version of the damn thing on an album
11) Stevie - the sole redeeming studio cut on this boot, Brian's infectious 1981 valentine to Stevie Nicks; it's too bad about the horns
12) Walkin' on Water - frivolous possible improvisation, but wouldn't it be funny if this was part of The Elements Suite?
13) I Thank You [live April 1981] - surprisingly credible, raucous version of the Sam & Dave song; why didn't Carl tap into his voice's soulful reserves more?
14) Back in the USSR [live 7/4/81] - a weird choice for one of the 4th of July shows; also note that Mike finds another excuse to bring up hanging around with the Beatles in Rishikesh
15) Runaway [live 1981] - Al does a good job on this but it's a very sterile arrangement
16) Rockin' All Over the World [live 11/26/82] - "generic" is the only word
17) California Dreamin' [first version] - sold with a cassette you could buy exclusively at Radio Shack, later overdubbed for the single; blasphemous I know, but I actually slightly prefer this to the arid high school glee club style of the Mamas and the Papas, though I still wouldn't call it good
18) The Boogie's Back in Town - a Brian song that was performed live exactly once; the best part is Brian's spoken introduction

Brian Wilson / Dennis Wilson: The Cocaine Sessions (bootleg 1981)
I'm including this here, tasteless name and all, because it involves the two most musically gifted Beach Boys; unfortunately, this is clearly just about the lowest ebb of both their lives. Basically: tape rolls while the brothers noodle around on organ and piano; there are eight "tracks," only some of which are really songs per se. There are fragments of something worthwhile in "Oh Lord," but it's nearly seven minutes of plodding misery. That said, the driving "City Blues" is very good, eventually revised and released by Brian solo, as was an untitled piano fragment that turned into "This Isn't Love," performed live but unrecorded. "You've Been" is a bit of a Buddy Holly burlesque, ditto "I Feel So Fine" for the Chords' "Sh-Boom." There's also a minute of Brian vamping on the "Heroes and Villains" chorus. All this might attract people seeking audio documents of people on the brink of train-wreck psychological despondency, and it's indeed rather creepy and troubling, but it's also duller than you'd think, not unlike some of Brian's solo piano recordings from the mid-'70s. Those who are big enough fans to be used to sifting through garbage might like it, though! But these two were capable of such greatness, and this is a sad documentary of mutual enabling.

The Beach Boys: [latter-day odds and ends] (bootleg 1984-91) [NO]
I put this together myself back in the Napster / Kazaa era. None of it is any good, but I was a completist and couldn't justify paying $35 for Summer in Paradise unless I had absolutely everything. The disc includes the following uncollected Beach Boys tidbits -- b-sides and soundtrack contributions, mostly -- from the post-Dennis years:

1) Chasing the Sky - one of the slim handful of fairly good post-1979 Beach Boys songs, this one for the Up the Creek soundtrack
2) East Meets West - a collaboration with the Four Seasons, presumably resolving the old "Surfers Rule" rivalry, though I think you might have to actually dig the Four Seasons to appreciate it
3) Happy Endings - my choice for the absolute worst, most embarrassing, most totally wrongheaded and stupid Beach Boys song ever released, and tainting the great Little Richard in the process (as if being on the b-side of "Kokomo" wasn't enough); an unlistenable Diane Warren-like '80s ballad about the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaster bunny
4) Lady Liberty - "Lady Lynda," rewritten with new lyrics about the Statue of Liberty, because of either patriotism or divorce
5) Problem Child - like "Make It Big," a latter-day BBs song for a movie made slightly palatable via Carl Wilson
6) Crocodile Rock - one of the few Elton John songs I don't mind (yes, I'm showing my deficiencies here), but a totally superfluous cover
7) Kokomo [Spanish] - probably better than the original; also, Brian's on it!