Review: Beach Boys Fans Will Find a Treasure Trove of Rarities in the Expanded Editions of ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Surf’s Up’

The Beach Boys
Feel Flows—The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971
(Capitol/Ume)
4 out of 5 stars

There are two types of people in the world; those interested in how the sausage is made and others who just want to enjoy the final product. That concept extends to fans of The Beach Boys too.

Hardcore followers who hang on every last scrap of tape and studio chatter that went into creating a classic like “Good Vibrations” were thrilled by the 23 segments of the song included on The SMiLE Sessions in 2011. Ditto for the masterpiece Pet Sounds album that also had its own deluxe four-CD release in 1997, breaking down those classics into bite-sized pieces allowing sausage-making devotees to revel in how Brian Wilson’s masterpiece was constructed.

Welcome to another example of getting down into the nitty-gritty of The Beach Boys’ music. This five-disc collection features 135 remastered tracks (108 previously unreleased) presenting and dissecting the music of the titular albums. Other less inclusive (and less expensive) configurations are available for those who want to enjoy the music without all of the minutiae on its creation.

Both 1969’s Sunflower and its darker 1971 follow-up Surf’s Up appeared at a turning point in the band’s history. Even though they could profitably tour, raking in cash by rehashing their numerous early ‘60s radio hits, the group realized that times were changing and they needed to also.  Contemporary music was more politically and philosophically challenging than the contents of their Endless Summer compilation, ie; more songs about cars, girls, and surfing. Additionally, primary songwriter Brian Wilson was slowly fading into his well-documented psychological problems which left the band to their own devices in terms of creating new music.

The result is that the remaining members stepped it up on Sunflower (1969) to write or co-compose a dozen songs that captured the musical and brotherly spirit of camaraderie within the six-piece while expanding their ideas into more serious matters. While it’s no Pet Sounds, and there is nothing as musically adventurous as “Good Vibrations,” there are plenty of keepers. The Dennis Wilson co-written ballad “Forever” is an underappreciated highlight that even Brian felt was “the most harmonically beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.” Carl Wilson flexes his substantial voice on his brother’s flowing “This Whole World” with some typically sumptuous vocal harmonies. The sugar-coated “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “Deirdre,” both co-credited to Brian, are two more sweetly melodic gems. Along with the new Brother label created by the band and distributed by Warner Brothers/Reprise, Sunflower was proof that The Beach Boys were ready for the next decade. It was hailed as an artistic triumph, although one that didn’t connect commercially.

As its dour, murky cover art implies, Surf’s Up (1971) was, despite a deceptively innocent title that harkened back to simpler days, a stab into the more solemn territory. Songs such as Carl’s highlight “Long Promised Road” about the treacherous path forward through life, Brian’s “‘Til I Die” (How deep is the valley/It kills my soul), and the ecological warning of the opening “Don’t Go Near the Water” provide a clear indication that the Boys were leaving the sun and sand behind, headed into lyrically and musically darker territory. The now-iconic title track, dusted off from a 1966 demo, remains one the elder Wilson’s finest, most elegiac, and complex creations, contrasting with the sunny implication of its name.

Both albums are well worth diving into even if you’re not a BB fan. Each is expanded with bonus live material, different mixes, and songs that didn’t make the cut, which comprises the first two discs. Non-sausage-creating folks will be thrilled.

But two additional platters devoted to sifting through tapes for isolated instrumental and vocal takes are meant for those committed followers interested in the ingredients of the sausage. The fifth is more of the same, presenting demos, unreleased song snippets, session music, remixes, early and/or raw recordings and chatter never meant to be heard outside of the studio. A 47-page book included with the full box is beautifully laid out and expertly written. It includes interviews with all the participants and producers and provides a clear, comprehensive background about each selection.

Choose the edition based on your appetite for this remastered/reissued meal. In any version, these sonically refreshed songs are well worth hearing, or reacquainting yourself with, and are an integral chapter in the Beach Boys’ long, influential history.          

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