Almost a decade ago, Capitol Records started reissuing the Beach Boys titles in two-fer packages, and it was a great opportunity to remember what an incredible run this band had. Like most of the acts that were huge in the 60’s, it was all about pumping out the next hit single ninety days after the last one, so your hits would pass each other on the Top 40 charts and keep up that pulse of dominance.
But like most of those 60’s acts, their zenith came in a short period of time, and as they kept pounding the boards the hits slowed down or dried up, and the albums stopped charting as high – if they charted at all. The live shows, for those who could still muster them, revolved around the legacy of oldies rather than a current, vital presence. And for those who were able to keep the engine running, creativity transformed into sustenance and the compromises that it brings to art.
Sure, The Rolling Stones are still around, but look at their studio output of the past twenty years and you’ll find four albums, only one released in the last twelve years. Even my beloved Kinks haven’t release an album in sixteen years, but at least the band isn’t out there milking it. With Dennis and Carl sadly gone, The Beach Boys are now splintered, with Brian Wilson trying to patch the holes in his legacy, Al trying to make a living, and Mike doing what he does best – being an assclown. But this release was all about then, not now.
I loved all the releases, but this set held a special place in my heart, because I believe these two were a critical turning point in the band’s history and possibly the reason for their survival. Having grown up on their classic singles, I remember delving into Surf’s Up as a DJ and fielding calls from fans, some of whom were distraught at the direction the band was taking, some (like me) watching a band progress… like an adolescent grows into adulthood.
I wrote the following review for PopMatters in 1990…
Two of the more overlooked records in the Beach Boys canon (well, at least to those who swear by either Pet Sounds or the surf/car singles) get their due as part of the reissue of the Brother Records catalogue. Sunflower and Surf’s Up mark the point in time where Brian Wilson’s influence started to shift aside and the other band members began to assert themselves in the studio. Not that Brian is mis-represented; he’s credited on 10 of the 22 tracks, and his “This Whole World” and “Til I Die” might be the best track on each album, respectively (although I’d make a strong case for “Long Promised Road”).
Dennis Wilson is well represented on Sunflower, earning the leadoff track with the rocking “Slip on Through”. “Got to Know the Woman” takes a Jerry Lee Lewis template and slows it to a shuffle, adding doo-wop harmonies, and of course it’s about Dennis’ favorite sport. But “Forever” is simply beautiful, and probably surprised even his brothers. “Our Sweet Love” is a great showcase for Carl’svoice, and the sunny feeling of “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “At My Window” is irresistible. “Cool Cool Water” might be the strongest tie to Pet Sounds or Smile; ending the record with a reminder of just how much Brian has left in the well.
Bruce Johnston’ssongs have always sounded out of place to me—they’re pleasant but always seem to stick out thematically; Sunflower’s “Tears in the Morning” probably more so than “Disney Girls” from Surf’s Up. The ironic placement of “Disney Girls” beside Mike Love’s “Student Demonstration Time” (a lyrical adaptation of “Riot in Cell Block #9”) mirrored the emotions of the band as well as the rapidly-changing American culture as well. Johnston’s ode to the sweetly innocent neighborhood lifestyle of the post-war era was wistful remembrance; Love’s biting lyrics about getting your head cracked open was a bucket of ice water splashing across your face. (Although the band rocks, Brian Wilson stated that he never liked this song; Love probably enjoyed this moment as much as any other.) Al Jardine’s contributions are both child-like and psychedelic. “A Day in the Life of a Tree” still sounds like a funeral march, which in a way, it is. But Carl’s sweet “Feel Flows” and Brian’s introspective “Til I Die” dominate the second half of the record, capped off by the eloquent title track.
The packaging and liner notes are superb—lots of great photos, an informative essay by Timothy White, and faithful reproduction of the original cover art. Why Capitol decided to use the horrible green and purple logo for the CD instead of the superior Brother Records logo (or even the famous Capitol swirl!) is beyond me, but considering how much time this CD will spend inside my player, I guess it really doesn’t matter.