Album Reviews

The Beach Boys: 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow (Capitol Records)

The Beach Boys
1967: Sunshine Tomorrow
Capitol Records

By The Summer of Love, The Beach Boys were in the beginning of a professional free-fall. Their previous album, Pet Sounds, had been a critical and commercial flop; their single, “Good Vibrations” promised much for the forthcoming album, Smile—a druggy affair that found Brian Wilson growing increasingly self-indulgent about a concept album that should have been taken as a warning sign for both his drug use and his mental health. It wasn’t completed because Brian was too far gone to complete it, and when the band put the kibosh on the sessions, Wilson went into a mental breakdown. It didn’t help that they turned down an appearance at Monterey Pop, either—an odd move, as Wilson was on the board of directors—because doing so practically sealed their fate as washed-up. For the most part, Wilson spent the year alienating his band mates—who wanted to keep on making music. Thus, 1967 was a tragic year for Brian Wilson and an unfortunate one for The Beach Boys.

However, the band didn’t want to give up so easily, and they weren’t quite ready to give up on their leader, either. Wilson had begun to experience signs of agoraphobia, and the band agreed to put together a home studio for him, so he wouldn’t have to leave the house, and the band could continue to make music. Instead of totally scrapping Smile, they decided to redouble their efforts, take the various scraps and concepts that Brian had created, and over the Summer of Love they cobbled together Smiley Smile. Its release wasn’t well received, and that’s not surprising, because it’s a strange album. It didn’t have the vision of being the “Great American Comedy” record that Wilson envisioned; its songs split the difference between being strange, alluring, beautiful, and downright creepy.

But within days of its release, the band decided to regroup in Brian’s home studio, hunker down, and make a record together. No more of the Wrecking Crew involvement, no more of the multiple studios with a recording band that didn’t involve any members other than Brian—this was to be a real Beach Boys record, recorded as live as possible, and written as a band. It was intended as a measure to return the band to its roots, and in its way, it very much did; they recorded quickly, writing and recording an album’s worth of simple, no-frills material over a quick, six week period—and then releasing the album a month after completion.

Wild Honey was as different a Beach Boys album as Smile had been from Pet Sounds and from how Pet Sounds had been from Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), This time, it was all stripped-down rock that was influenced heavily by both Burt Bacharach and Motown, a surprisingly taut, live-sounding record that was both more soulful than anything before it and surprisingly a lot more aggressive as well. At twenty-three minutes, it was also extremely compact, which only added to the charm; it was the band proving it still had greatness, but not overstaying their welcome in the process. While Brian was still somewhat in control of the band, Wild Honey really brought brother Carl into the forefront, and the lead single, “Darlin’,” was an upbeat soul/rock combination that would become one of their most enduring post Pet Sounds classics.

Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. Though it fared better than Smiley Smile, it didn’t change the fact that the band had seemingly become irrelevant to the era—one where their All-American image seemed anathema to the prevailing countercultural movement that held them as being part of the problem. They were soon destined to wander in the wilderness in professional and personal matters, entering into a very dark time that wouldn’t cease until the mid 70s.

 

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1967: Sunshine Tomorrow is a two-disc archival examination of the post-Smile era, compiling over five dozen unreleased tracks from that culturally important year, and though the offering seems quite tantalizing, in fact, the whole package is largely up, save for one major, major flaw.

1967: Sunshine Tomorrow begins with a thorough examination of the Wild Honey era. First up is the very first true stereo mix of the entire album, and this remix is simply amazing. The album was already a near-perfect record, and this clean-up job only proves the point. Songs like “Darlin’,” their fantastic cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her,” and “Here Comes The Night” shimmer and shine bright, fantastic songs fifty years ago, and still fantastic fifty years later. What’s worth noting about Wild Honey was that in their own way, they were the first pre-psychedelic era rock band to disown their lofty, overwrought psychedelic recordings in favor of scrappy, stripped-down material consider: The Beatles would follow up Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with The Beatles; The Rolling Stones would follow up Their Satanic Majesty’s Request with Beggars Banquet, while Bob Dylan would follow up Blonde on Blonde with John Wesley Harding. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Though Wild Honey was recorded and written quickly, there were several ideas that were left over for later, and the outtakes featured here are equally of high quality. “Cool Cool Water” would appear on Sunflower, but this early version is the first iteration of it, taken as it was from the aborted Smile sessions. “Time To Get Alone” would appear on 20/20, and this version was offered to the band Redwood, who would become Three Dog Night. It’s not as polished as the version the band would release two years later, but it’s still quite lovely, while the run-through of ‘Can’t Wait Too Long” is a bit grittier than the versions that have appeared before. Alternate versions and rehearsal montages of Wild Honey tracks also offer a nice peek into the creative process; the hilarious “Mama Says” highlights show just how silly Brian could be, as he gets the band to sing “Poof” as the way to conclude the album.

It should also be noted that there are a handful of Smiley Smile outtakes featured here, but considering the glut of Smile material that was released, these songs don’t particularly feel all that new or as compelling; overkill—and the fact that many of these songs are mere snippets that barely break a minute in length—has made them seem more like curiosities than essential listens. though the recently discovered 1967 post-Smile sessions take on “Surf’s Up” shows that Brian still wasn’t quite done with this particular masterpiece.

The biggest disappointment here, though, is Lei’d In Hawaii. This “live album” was conceived and born over the summer of 1967, shortly after the Monterey Pop debacle, built around a live appearance in Hawaii that August–one noted for featuring Brian Wilson. But Lei’d In Hawaii is, in a word, dreadful. The album has been languishing in the vault for fifty years, save for covers of The Box Tops’ “The Letter” and The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” which originally appeared on a low-key compilation from 1983 entitle Beach Boys Rarities. There’s a good reason, too; their versions of “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “You’re So Good To Me” and “Good Vibrations” are languid, overwrought, and just plain dull. Better are “Surfer Girl,” “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring,” and a spirited take on The Mindbenders’ 1965 hit, “Game Of Love.” These numbers excel because these songs feature the band’s wonderful harmonies and don’t feature Brian’s godawful Baldwin organ that dominates and overwhelms like the previously mentioned numbers.

Complicating the frustration of the mediocre Lei’d In Hawaii is that the plethora of live tracks featured on 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow shows that the band was capable of so much better than that album’s terrible material. Live recordings from the Hawaii show might not have turned out well—that was the impetus for the recording sessions in the first place—but the material that did survive was fantastic; the run-through of “Surfin’” elicits Beatlemania-style screaming, and the band gives their all on, while their take on “Gettin’ Hungry” is funky fun. The recordings of Wild Honey tracks “Darlin’,” “Wild Honey,” and “Country Air” show that their new material translated quite wonderfully in live performance.

Yet 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow, for all its flaws, is still an enjoyable collection. It does prove that in some instances, unreleased material needs to stay that way; had the set offered the Smiley Smile album outtakes on disc one, eliminated all but the best moments of Lei’d In Hawaii, and put all of the live material on disc two, it would have been a much stronger collection. But then again, what would the Beach Boys’ story be, were it not for confusing, confounding, and frustrating archival releases? If you’re a fan of Wild Honey or the post-Smile material, then this set will definitely thrill you.

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