To celebrate the recent release of the new Beach Boys box set, Made In California, I asked my friend Mark Dillon if he would join me in picking ten must-hear songs you can find in the collection. Mark is a certifiable expert on the band, having written the award-winning book, Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys (you can read our interview from last year here). As an added bonus, if you tell us what your favourite Beach Boys song is in the comment section below, you’ll be entered to win cd copies of two Beach Boys classics – Pet Sounds and Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys! Do have some fun fun fun and start reading after the jump!
1) Mark Dillon – The Lonely Sea (Original Mono Mix- 1962) I’m so glad this one was included on the set. When greatest-hits package Endless Summer arrived in 1974, it established a canon of the group’s 1962-1965 output. Many fans weren’t aware of deep-cut gems on those earlier albums, and this is certainly one of them. A stark, melancholy ballad, it offers very minimal instrumentation, but is carried by a young Brian Wilson’s pained vocal. What is most amazing about this track is that it dates all the way back to the group’s 1962 Capitol Records demo tape. Already, Brian showed he was able to convey the deep well of sad emotions that characterize much of his best work. The cut finally showed up on the following year’s Surfin’ U.S.A. LP. Gary Usher, Brian’s friend and future producer of The Byrds, took the lead in writing it. They would collaborate more famously in a similar mode on “In My Room.” Usher seems to have helped Brian form a template for his moodier ballads. “The Lonely Sea” is where it all begins. Trivia: Brian lip-syncs this song in the forgettable 1965 teen movie The Girls on the Beach.
2) Mark Dillon – Don’t Worry Baby (2009 Stereo Mix – 1964) Speaking of ballads, it doesn’t get much better than this. Another one of Brian’s early lyric collaborators was DJ Roger Christian, who co-wrote a number of car-themed songs with Brian. This one fits that genre, as it’s about the ultimate automotive showdown, but the song focuses on our protagonist-driver’s fear of the race. His girlfriend reassures him with the title refrain. Brian’s daughter Carnie Wilson told me her dad would come home after a day at the studio thinking what he had done was not good enough, and his wife Marilyn—Carnie’s mother—would tell him, “Don’t worry baby—it’ll be great.” Musically, the song was inspired by Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound opus “Be My Baby” for The Ronettes. The Beach Boys’ song is softer but just as affecting. Historical note: the master session tapes for Shut Down Vol. 2—the album from which the song originates—had gone missing and had been presumed destroyed before turning up five years ago in the hands of collector Lance Robison. A budding musician, he traded them into Capitol Records for studio time with Brian’s engineer Mark Linett, who also coproduced Made in California. The unearthed masters allowed Linett to produce a true stereo mix of “Don’t Worry Baby” for the first time, and that version is on the box. Feel The Beach Boys beautiful cascading harmonies envelop you in stereo sound! The set’s sixth disc also includes an alternate take of Brian’s lead vocal, which illustrates how simple changes in phrasing can affect a record.
3) Andy Burns – Let Him Run Wild (2007 Stereo Mix – 1965) – This gorgeous track from the Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) album was curiously left off the 1993 Good Vibrations box set, allegedly at Brian Wilson’s request. Perhaps he was already planning to recut it for his 1998 solo album, Imagination. Whatever the reason, it’s wonderful to have it in its rightful place amongst so many classic Beach Boys tracks. It highlights Brian’s amazing falsetto vocals and feels like a song that would have fit right in with the material that would come on Pet Sounds. Interestingly, the song wasn’t performed it live until 2008, when musical director Scott Totten would take the lead vocal in the touring Beach Boys band and in the 50th Anniversary band as well. Brian must have enjoyed performing it live, as he’s added it to his band’s repertoire, with Jeffery Foskett handling the vocals.
4) Andy Burns – The Little Girl I Once Knew (Mono/Remaster/2012 – 1965) – This is another unheralded Beach Boys classic that deserves its place on a massive compilation (especially since it wasn’t released on an official album back in the day). Brian Wilson used this track to open his first tour as a solo artist, and it also made its way into the 50th Anniversary tour set list as well. It’s another musically heavy production, and a should-have been hit. However, the fact that there were moments of silence before the chorus wouldn’t have sat well with radio programmers back in 1965, though it did manage to make the Billboard top 20, not too shabby, but not quite the hit song other Beach Boys classics would become.
5) Andy Burns – Break Away (Alternate Version/Digital Remaster/2013 – 1969) – One of my all-time favourite Beach Boys songs, and one I was lucky enough to hear Brian sing at a fantastic gig in Montreal back in 2005. This was supposed to have been a comeback single for the band after the post-Smiley Smile lean years; it was co-written by Brian and his dad, Murray, and has a fantastic verse and chorus; the problem with the original is the extro, with its pretty silly, ‘oh boy, you’ll jump for joy’ lyrics. Many have argued that Brian was simply to lazy to finish the song with a proper ending, and I’m apt to agree with that observation. This alternate version feels more energetic than the original, and the coda is significantly stronger than the released version. It’s a shame this wasn’t the hit that it should have been.
6) Mark Dillon – Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Live Again (Previously Unreleased -1971) – For fans, this long-unreleased track was the set’s most anticipated aspect. It is composed and produced by Dennis Wilson, who to many was simply the group’s hunky surfing drummer. But he actually developed into a sensitive, eclectic record-making force. As Brian stepped back from his leadership role in the late 60s, all the other members stepped up their musical output—none more than Dennis.
The 1971 Surf’s Up album went far in building a bridge between the group and the hippies, who had in large part written off the group as irrelevant four years earlier. But tensions within the group were high at this point. Each member was going off and recording his own stuff, and one theory here is that the non-Wilson brothers contingent (Mike Love, Alan Jardine and Bruce Johnston) wanted there to be as many non-Wilson songs as Wilson songs on this important release. Unfortunately, for this to have happened, two Dennis songs had to go: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Live Again” and the great, political “Fourth of July.” “Live Again,” by the way, bears only a titular resemblance to the 1966 hit “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” It is a slow-burning ballad reflecting on a failed relationship yet hopeful for a reunion. It’s also further evidence of Dennis’s talent, and shows how he could soar as a vocalist before drugs, alcohol and cigarettes took their toll.
7) Mark Dillon – Wild Honey (Live In New Jersey – 1972) “Wild Honey” was a minor hit for the band back in 1967 — an R&B flavored gem and title track of great little white-soul album. Wilson baby brother Carl gives a great Stevie Wonderesque vocal on that one, which appears on the boxed set in an echoing stereo-fied mix. Meanwhile, disc five of Made in California contains a number of excellent live performances. If you went this year to one of the shows featuring Mike and Bruce or one of those featuring Brian, Alan and founding rhythm guitarist David Marks, no doubt you had a great time. But many people don’t realize what a live force the band was in the early 70s, particularly with the addition of short-term members Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, who came over from black South African R&B combo The Flame. Blondie has a great voice, best remembered on “Sail on Sailor,” the group’s best single of the 70s, but he also took over the live lead vocal on “Wild Honey,” transforming it into something different altogether. He effortlessly brings it more in line with the R&B flavor that was intended. This version has a big, hard-rocking sound to it. While Ricky pounded away on the drums—replacing an injured Dennis—Blondie also brought his guitar and bass chops to the table. This cut is an invaluable document of a great, often overlooked era in band history.
8) Andy Burns – Wonderful (Live in New York 1993) – This live gem was recorded as the band (Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston) were promoting the 1993 Good Vibrations box set, which featured the first official release of music from the Smile sessions. There’s a pristine bootleg floating around out there that features this entire show, one that found the band digging deep into their catalogue for an amazing look back at their career. Wonderful features a wonderful Carl Wilson vocal, and the backing musicians deliver a solid approximation of the Smile/Smiley Smile sounds. For all the talk of the band being a pure nostalgia act by the late 80s.early 90s, this performance shows that there was still something creative left in them. Brian would eventually rerecord a version of Wonderful for his SMiLe album, and while it’s beautiful as well, listening to Carl nail a live vocal on this song is something special indeed.
9) Mark Dillon – Soul Searchin’ (1995) Following the 1992 album Summer in Paradise, which was mostly a Mike Love project, it seemed the band would never come together to record some new material, let alone anything great. But Brian had some songwriting momentum with collaborator Andy Paley, who had worked on Brian’s eponymous 1988 solo album. They had a stash of songs at the ready. Enter superstar producer Don Was, who became transfixed with Brian’s music and shot the documentary I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times and recorded the accompanying soundtrack with Brian. The eldest Wilson brother saw Was as the right person to reunite him in the studio with the other Beach Boys, which he did. They listened to the songs Brian and Paley had come up with, and chose to record “Soul Searchin’” and “You’re Still a Mystery,” which also appears on this set. Unfortunately, the band didn’t record any more material at that time. Maybe Carl didn’t find the material commercial enough, and of course, he became ill with cancer. Was similarly thought the material wasn’t as good as what Brian did in his mid-60s peak. But in retrospect, these are great tracks, “Soul Searchin’” being the more high-profile. Its first official release was in a version recorded by the late great R&B singer Solomon Burke, and Brian would resurrect the track and perform a duet with a posthumous Carl on his 2004 solo album Gettin’ In Over My Head. But the original 1995 version with Carl’s lead vocal is the real deal. It’s familiar New Orleans R&B with simple enough lyrics, but is a powerful track with good harmony parts for all the guys and is a nice return to “Sail on Sailor” territory. Thankfully, it and “You’re Still a Mystery” are finally out there for public consumption. And thankfully they weren’t the last things the surviving members recorded, either. Although the group has fractured into two separate touring units, that distinction goes to last year’s well-received That’s Why God Made the Radio.
10) Andy Burns – Sail On Sailor (Live In Louisville 1995) – Mark talks about the great version that Blondie Chaplin does on “Wild Honey”, so fairs fare when Carl takes over Blondie’s vocal on this solid version of “Sail On Sailor”, a song that Brian Wilson said he didn’t think he’d ever perform live in the 2000s but which is now a staple of his various tours (he nailed this and “Marcella” at the aforementioned Montreal gig). There are a whole bunch of writers credited with this one; alongside Brian’s name, you’ll also find names like Tandyn Almer, Ray Kennedy, Jack Rieley and Brian’s Smile collaborator Van Dyke Parks, who famously told Brian during their writing session to “cut the shit” when Wilson begged Parks to hypnotize him. You might have to look past the slightly obnoxious synthesizer sound on this 1995 live version, but if you can, you’re in for some serious good listening. It may not be as purely rocking as the The Beach Boys In Concert version, but it’s definitely stronger than the one that the 50th Anniversary band still ably delivered.
Thanks to my friend Mark Dillon for participating in this article. You can order his fantastic book, Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys, here. You can order The Beach Boys Made In California right here. Now, before you go, tell us your favourite Beach Boys song and you’ll be entered to win cd copies of Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds!