Reviews: The Beach Boys’ “Transitional” Year 1972 Gets An Expanded Examination

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The Beach Boys
Sail on Sailor 1972
(UMe)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The follow-up to the successful Feel Flows (2021) extensive examination of The Beach Boys’ 1969-’71 sessions around Sunflower and Surf’s Up, finds the band keeping busy in 1972. This six-CD compilation opens the vaults for more of the same, wrapped around two uneven (the notes call them “transitional”) albums recorded that year; Carl and the Passions and Holland.

Although pictured on the cover, Brian Wilson had generally checked out of the act he co-founded just over a decade earlier. Even the title, Carl and the Passions, the band’s 18th studio recording, implies that the other singer/songwriting Wilson was a central figure in this version of the outfit’s continuing saga.

There were other changes as Bruce Johnston departed (citing creative differences), replaced by two new full-time members found in the South African collective, The Flame (guitarist/bassist Blondie Chaplin and drummer Ricky Fataar), signed to the BBs’ Brother label. Brian doesn’t perform on the album and only contributes to three of the eight tracks as a co-writer.

A few gems like “Marcella” and Brian’s opening “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone” capture some of the old magic in a new bottle. But the songs are patchy with Dennis Wilson’s closing teary, orchestrated, emotional ballad, “Cuddle Up,” falling on the wrong side of sappy, especially as the strings well up at the end. While the playing is more organic as opposed to the heavily overdubbed Surf’s Up, this recording seldom taps into the sparkling harmonious drive that previously defined The Beach Boys.

For all the work and money spent to move their studio and families from California to Holland, ostensibly to provide a much-needed shot of inspiration, the resulting Holland never finds a consistent vibe. Certainly opening with the sumptuous future classic “Sail on Sailor” (Brian is listed as only one of six writers on it) was a good start, and Dennis Wilson’s relaxed “Steamboat” is a languid treat. But aside from Brian’s feather-light “Funky Pretty” and Carl’s “The Trader” which sounds like classic Beach Boys, the album lacks focus and vitality. The elder Wilson checks in with the five-part “Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairytale),” a predominantly spoken word story about a pied piper and a transistor radio, added to the album as a separate vinyl single, but goes nowhere. A three-part “California Saga” penned by Mike Love and Alan Jardine has its moments of The Beach Boys floating melodies, but also never gels. The joint-composed piano-based ballad “Leaving This Town” exudes promise, especially with an extended synth solo, something that was hardly expected from them at that time, yet doesn’t take flight.

Discs three and four are dedicated to a previously unreleased live performance, recorded on Thanksgiving Day, 1972 in NYC’s Carnegie Hall. Here the Brian-less six-piece, along with four supporting musicians, creates an enjoyable, professionally recorded, 24-song set successfully balancing the older surf-era hits with new music from Holland (not yet released at the time) and Carl and the Passions. While we could do without a credible but unnecessary closing of the Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash,” not a logical match for The Beach Boys’ typically mellower approach, it’s a terrific show. However, many songs also appear on the already available Beach Boys in Concert from the same tour, making this of interest to serious fans, ie: the ones who will drop nearly $150 for the collection.  

Disc five, titled 1972 Sessions, rounds up an hour’s worth of demos, work tapes, backing vocals, and instrumental tracks for C&TP and Holland that only diehards will need to hear more than once. The final platter collects six more live songs, Brian working in his home studio with Fairytale Sessions’ overdubs, and another look at the “California Saga Trilogy,” all unheard until now. An extensive book with essays, full documentation, and rare pictures creates the last word on this year in The Beach Boys’ timeline.

This wasn’t a tremendously fertile period for the group. Yet based on the animated gig and some inspired moments, they still sounded vital, and capable of writing impressive new music, albeit inconsistently and largely without Brian’s input. It winds down The Beach Boys’ influential career, one that soon found them floundering creatively and commercially, ultimately splintering into two or more bands content to reissue their hits in different configurations and grind out the oldies with little expectation of new material.   

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