In 1970 The Beach Boys ended their long relationship with Capitol Records and struck distribution deals for their Brother Records label: first with Reprise — the label Frank Sinatra set up through Warner Brothers — and later with CBS, via its Caribou imprint (scarcely used for anyone else). Eventually the group returned to Capitol for retrospectives like Made In USA and the 1989 collection Still Cruisin’. The Brother catalogue — from Sunflower to 1985’s eponymous The Beach Boys — has been out of print for a decade, but Capitol will now be issuing the complete Beach Boys Brother catalogue.
A newly-created singles collection, Greatest Hits Volume Three: Best of the Brother Years 1970 - 1986, features some 7" mixes previously unissued on CD and number of key LP tracks from this underrated period. “Add Some Music To Your Day” was the group’s debut single for Brother-Reprise (coupled with Al Jardine’s “Susie Cincinnati,” which also appears here in its original single mix). Although “Add Some Music To Your Day” featured a democratically balanced mix of lead vocals plausibly ideal for reintroducing the group to radio and matched the provisional title for the Reprise debut (Add Some Music), the song is too reverent about its subject matter. It’s interesting to note that from their very first single for Reprise the Beach Boys were taking steps toward reference and introspection rather than forward-thinking.
“This Whole World” (circulated as a promo single) is one of those instantly satisfying pop concoctions Brian Wilson is renowned for. However, the group was continuing to evolve into a democratic entity, or at least a more self-indulgent one. Carl Wilson’s solo vocal composition “Long Promised Road” really is “ego music,” which is ironic considering all the resistance from the band when presented with Pet Sounds and SMiLE. On the other hand, “Marcella,” the single representing Carl and the Passions—So Tough, is shimmering and perfect, an adult version of “The Little Girl I Once Knew” and perhaps the best single the Beach Boys ever produced on Brother (perhaps even including the first Brother Records single from 1967, “Heroes and Villains”).
Dennis Wilson is too underrepresented on Best of the Brother Years. None of his songs were chosen for Beach Boys A-sides, which would otherwise be a sufficient explanation for his absence, but an exception was made for “sixth Beach Boy” Bruce Johnston’s “Disney Girls (1957),” a song which contains a lot of the elements that were remade into countless cloying ballads throughout the 1970s. Whether or not it was Johnston’s best composition for the Beach Boys (“Dierdre” and “Tears in the Morning” are slighted by this claim) is debatable but irrelevant: omitting the contributions Dennis made for Sunflower (particularly “Forever” and “Slip On Through”) is unforgivable given his later significance to the Beach Boys’ history.
Chronology makes for one unfortunate juxtaposition. “Disney Girls (1957)” is followed on Best of the Brother Years by Brian’s moving “’Til I Die.” “Surf’s Up,” begun in 1966, lost some of its intimacy when the group reconstructed it in 1971 for an LP that took the same name. 1970s Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin’s lead vocal makes Holland’s “Sail On, Sailor” unique in the set (originally it was designated for Dennis); that album’s autobiographical suite provides another unusual track, the rare single version of “California Saga (On My Way to Sunny Californ-I-A).”
The popularity of Capitol’s 1974 compilation Endless Summer caused a resurgence in popularity for the Beach Boys, in some ways to the group’s detriment, since from that point on their direction started to turn backward. The Beach Boys became overdependent on their own past accomplishments and on cover versions: the effect of “Rock and Roll Music” (from 15 Big Ones), “Peggy Sue” (from The MIU Album), and Al Jardine’s “Come Go With Me” (originally a track on The MIU Album but later issued as a single to promote the 1981 Brother best-of Ten Years of Harmony) and even “California Dreaming” (recorded for the 1986 Capitol retrospective Made In USA), makes the second half of the collection seem like a sequel to Beach Boys Party!
Two Brian Wilson productions spike the proceedings: “It’s O.K.” is probably the closest Mike Love has ever come to hip-hop, and “Honkin’ Down the Highway” has become timeless. When Brian recused himself from producing, the Beach Boys began to use up the last of their lifelines by resurrecting tracks like “Good Timin’” (which had previously been under consideration for 15 Big Ones) for L.A. (Light Album). They found themselves at a loss for direction at a time too soon for career restoration producers like Mitchell Froom or Don Was (or even Andy Paley) to be on the scene. Paint-by-numbers productions dominated the end of the Caribou period. “Goin’ On” and “Getcha Back” were both in compliance with the period’s contemporary style but the tracks instantly dated: the muted drum sound, dramatic vocal ascent and predictable saxophone solo of the former; the latter, an almost catchy but limited number from the post-Dennis LP The Beach Boys is disconcerting when you realize drum machines have taken his place (he drowned in 1983). Even Mike Love’s vocal sounds unusually restrained.
Roger McGuinn’s guitar work highlights the 1986 remake of “California Dreamin’” but the tempo runs too fast for what seemed at the time to be an epitaph. Few would have predicted that 2 years later, the Beach Boys would have a #1 single (“Kokomo,” which appears, as if to complete the circle, on Greatest Hits Volume One: 20 Good Vibrations).
©2000 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.