Thursday, 14 July 2016

"Sunflower/Surf's Up" by THE BEACH BOYS (2000 Capitol/Brother '2LPs on 1CD' Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Get Yourself Some Cool, Cool Water..."

In 2016 - both 1970's "Sunflower" and 1971's "Surf's Up" are considered the best of The Beach Boys 70's output - and rightly so. But at the time America’s Joe Public couldn't have cared less about the first and showed only casual interest in the second - especially considering how big and influential the band had been only years earlier.

Having jumped contractual ship from their spiritual home since 1962 (Capitol Records) - and especially given the melodic strength of the new material - big things was expected of The Beach Boys and their clean break to Brother Records in 1970 (distributed by the then mighty Warner Brothers). But it just didn't happen. Released Monday 31 August 1970 - "Sunflower" lasted only four weeks on Billboard's Top 200 peaking at a miserable No. 151. Apparently its sales figures were embarrassing in the USA (it fared better in the UK on EMI's Stateside label where it made No. 29 on the LP charts). 

Maybe "Sunflower" was perceived as being out-of-sync girly surfin' music - their Beach Boys sound 'old hat' against the emerging Hard Rock explosion that was engulfing music towards the end of the Sixties and into the first two years of that redefining decade - the Seventies. 

At least 1971's follow through "Surf's Up" cracked the USA Top 30 - finally landing at No. 29 - and managed a four months stay on the LP charts as opposed to one. With a weary warrior crouched over his beaten horse on the front cover and song titles like "Student Demonstration Time" and "Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)" - at least "Surf's Up" seemed more in step with a fractured and hurting America - so it did better.

Whatever way you interpret history - re-listening to these two remarkable albums on this wickedly good CD Remaster and I’m reminded in emphatic style that sometimes Joe Public needs to be just that - reminded. I say knob to those original embarrassing sales numbers – the musical brilliance on display here is indeed embarrassing - but for all the right reasons. Let's break down those brilliant harmonies...

UK released 14 August 2000 - "Sunflower/Surf's Up" by THE BEACH BOYS on Capitol/Brother 525 6922 (Barcode 724352569229) offers up 2LPs Remastered onto 1CD and plays out as follows (70:22 minutes):

1. Slip On Through
2. This Whole World
3. Add Some Music To Your Day
4. Got To Know The Woman
5. Deirdre
6. It's About Time
7. Tears In The Morning [Side 2]
8. All I Wanna Do
9. Forever
10. Our Sweet Love
11. At My Window
12. Cool, Cool Water
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "Sunflower" - released 31 August 1970 in the USA on Brother Records/Reprise RS 6382 and November 1970 in the UK on Stateside SSL 8251.

13. Don't Go Near The Water
14. Long Promised Road
15. Take A Load Off Your Feet
16. Disney Girls (1957)
17. Student Demonstration Time
18. Feel Flows [Side 2]
19. Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)
20. A Day In The Life Of A Tree
21. 'Til I Die
22. Surf's Up
Tracks 13 to 22 are their album "Surf's Up" - released 30 August 1971 in the USA on Brother/Reprise RS 6453 and November 1971 in the UK on Stateside SSL 10313.

The properly chunky 22-page booklet offers fans liner notes from Beach Boys authority TIMOTHY WHITE adapted from his acclaimed book "The Nearest Far Away Place: Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys And The Southern California Experience". His song-by-song analysis and critique is both honest and affectionate and much of it peppered with Brian's 'selective' memories. There's the inner gatefold sleeve for "Sunflower" (no lyrics unfortunately), period photos, alternate artwork, original recording and reissue credits as well as lyrics to the "Surf's Up" album. But the big news is 24-Bit Digital Remasters from original tapes by two hugely respected Audio Engineers - ANDREW SANDOVAL and DAN HERSCH. Sandoval handled the acclaimed 2CD 'Deluxe Editions' of The Kinks and Small Faces (amongst many others) - whilst Dan Hersch (along with Bill Inglot) has been at the heart of Rhino's Vinyl and CD Reissue machine for over two decades - having handled literally hundreds of prestigious catalogues across a huge range of genres. These guys know their way around tape boxes and it shows. Beautifully and carefully recorded at the time - all that technical expertise and innovation comes shining through on these wonderful-sounding transfers. Top stuff...

Released towards the end of June 1970 on Brother 0929 - the second 45 from the "Sunflower" LP was the Side 1 openers "Slip On Through" b/w "This Whole World" - Dennis Wilson writing the A and Brian the flip-side (no UK issue). But despite the edgy groove - it tanked. Earlier in February 1970 - Brother had issued the Beach Boys debut 45 on the label - the pretty "Add Some Music To Your Day" b/w "Susie Cincinnati". At one point it appears that "Add Some Music..." was considered as an album title. Even better is the gorgeous "Deirdre" - a happy song with wonderful layered vocals and an almost jingle-bells Christmas feel to it (when Brother put out "Long Promised Road" in June 1971 as a single off "Surf's Up" - they used "Deirdre" as its B-side). The straight up bopper and "...I used to throw my mind sky high..." confessions of "It's About Time" (the Side 1 ender) give it incredible edge - and that Bass/Vocal middle-eight break is pure Beach Boys genius (Dennis Wilson, Bob Burchman and Alan Jardine wrote it).

Side 2 opens just as strongly with Bruce Johnston's hurting but beautiful "Tears In The Morning" where he keeps a hold on his sorrow as those string arrangements soar behind his 'missing you' vocal pleading. Brian Wilson and Mike Love's "All I Wanna Do" is the closest the LP gets to a "Pet Sounds" outtake (Todd Rundgren was surely listening to this). "Forever" is probably the album's most revered and beloved song - yet when Brother Records put out another 45 in February 1971 (Brother 0998) - they relegated "Forever" to the flip-side of "Cool, Cool Water" - a commercial mistake methinks. The 'sparrow came flying down' song "At My Window" is a fitting lead-in to the amazing "Cool, Cool Water" - a song that's synonymous with Beach Boys melodic brilliance. That build-up of trippy voices as the song makes its way to those ‘now now now’ chants – like Sigur Ros 30 years before the event - wow...

The Surf's Up" opener "Don't Go Near The Water" warns of polluted oceans and the same pouring out of your facet. An animated Carl Wilson fronts "Long Promised Land" wanting to throw off 'shackles that are binding me down' (lyrics he sings with a passion and desperation you can literally feel). The hippy wistful 'take good care of your feet' and 'watch what you eat' lyrics in "Take A Load Off Your Feet" feel like the theme song to a Californian whole-food store that sells any manner of mushrooms. Better is "Disney Girls (1957)" - a genuinely lovely melody beautifully played and sung by Brian Johnston where he pines for 'Patti Page and summer days...' Things take a decidedly heavy turn with the out-and-out Neil Young guitar rock of "Student Demonstration Time" where they incorporate 'there's a riot going on' and change 'cell block number nine' into 'student demonstration time'. It's brilliant and the kind of song CSYN might have produced on a third studio album if they'd made one...

Side 2 opens with the fazed vocals of "Feel Flows" where we're 'unbending never-ending tablets of time' - a fab yeah man moment with brilliant guitar laced with flute. I often cite "Feel Flows" as one of the album's layered masterpieces. The hurt disconnectedness of returning war-vets fills the equally trippy and acoustic-driven "Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)" - where men can't find work sweeping floors but can find substances on the street corner to dull the ache. Tweeting birds and a seaside/church organ fill the equally trippy "A Day In The Life Of A Tree" - a plea for the environment choking on 'pollution and slow death'. The beautiful but damaged "'Til I Die" has Brian wondering 'how long will the wind blow' before something darker takes him (he fought to have the song's dark subject matter on the album). The 'Smile Sessions' 2CD set showed us four variants of the album's centrepiece "Surf's Up" - one of them stretching back to a lovely 1967 piano demo. The finished "Surf's Up' is simply exquisite in its arrangement and delivery - where you can 'so' hear Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates and so many other melody giants in its 4:11 minutes.

For me "Surf's Up" is a huge leap forward and "Sunflower" was great anyway - so any listener is on a winner either way. In fact some have argued that this Beach Boys twofer may indeed be the best '2LPs onto 1CD' value-for-money remaster ever released. And damn - but I think they're absolutely on the harmony money...

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