Review: ‘The Very Best of the Beach Boys’—A Remarkable Return to the American Dream

The Beach Boys/The Very Best of the Beach Boys – Sounds of Summer/Capitol/UME
Five out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

It would seem merely logical that only two things need be said to preface this review:

1) It’s about The Beach Boys, and 
2) It’s The Very Best of the Beach Boys.

Given the fact that they’re America’s most enduring and iconic band, even now, more than 60 years after their initial incarnation, their remarkable legacy still retains the singular staying power of the California Dream, with all its romance, mystique, and possibility. This was, after all, the band that provided the soundtrack for those that came of age at the dawn of the ‘60s, experienced the trauma of the JFK assassination, the contentious division of the Vietnam War, the full brunt of the Beatles-led British Invasion, the Summer of Love, and the culmination of it all when Woodstock sealed the era with circumspect and celebration. 

Still, philosophical insight takes second place to the music, and with 80 tracks, The Very Best of the Beach Boys – Sounds of Summer provides all the evidence needed. Granted, there’s been an abundance of Beach Boys greatest hits compilations over the past several decades, even beginning early on, and each served as a summation of the enormous accomplishments that allowed Brian Wilson and his intimate circle of family and friends to influence the entire trajectory of rock and roll, even to the point that the Beatles were counted among their strongest disciples. Given those precedents, one may simply yawn in reaction to yet another best-of offering, especially one that doesn’t include any bonfire rarities.

On the other hand, even if a few otherwise obscure offerings, not to mention the sheer weight of this particular collection, weren’t enough to dissuade the skeptics, the sonic range ought to do the trick. It draws from every era of Beach Boys’ history and though it doesn’t do so in chronological order like the usual anthology might, it highlights the sonic diversity and absolute ingenuity that The Beach Boys had at their command. Running the gamut from “Surfin’ Safari” (1962), “Shut Down” (1963), “Surfin’ USA” (1963), and “Surfer Girl” (1963), through the mid-’60s peak of “God Only Knows” (1966), “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (1966) and “Good Vibrations” (1966), and then on to later triumphs such as “Surf’s Up” (1971) “Feel Flows” (1971) “Disney Girls” (1971), and yes, “Kokomo” (1988), “California Feeling” (1978) and “Goin’ On” (1980), there’s no end to awe-inspiring moments capable of leaving the listener breathless while experiencing the seamless harmonies, the exacting arrangements and the absolute genius with which Brian Wilson plied his “Teenage Symphonies to God.”

The effect is further heightened courtesy of a new stereo mix and the addition of lesser-known tracks along with more obvious choices. So too, Howie Edelson’s liner notes add insight into the band’s creative process. Comments from Brian and his seemingly estranged cousins Mike Love go a long way towards healing the tattered edges of a relationship that was later fraught with ego, animosity, and an enduring divide while bringing the full saga into focus. So too, the track listings give lead vocal credits and fuller appreciation of the remarkable talents each member brought to the fore. 

An essential collection, it can never be bested. Never mind the nostalgia, consider these sounds of summer an excursion fit for all seasons.

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