Start Your Year With The Beach Boys

Start Your Year With The Beach Boys

Still from the “I Can Hear Music” video, 1968

By Howie Edelson

2024: A new year filled with hope, untapped potential, and unknown good graces to come. The perfect setting for an expansive deep dive into the hidden reaches of The Beach Boys’ sprawling and always inspiring catalogue. As we embark on another trip around the sun, this group’s music remains an excellent companion for the ride. A soundtrack, of sorts, for a clear mind and rejuvenated heart.

The Beach Boys’ “FOCUS” playlist delves into music the casual fan might never discover on their own, with a considerable amount of songs plucked from the sessions for 1967’s Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, 1968’s Friends, and the following year’s 20/20 collection. Many of these tracks have been previously spotlighted on the critically acclaimed archival releases -- 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow 1 & 2 (2017); The Studio Sessions - Wake The World: The Friends Sessions (2018); I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions (2018); Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf's Up Sessions 1969– 1971 (2021); and Sail On Sailor – 1972 (2022).
Still from the "I Can Hear Music" video
Still from the "I Can Hear Music" video, 1968

This catalogue has so many divergent paths, both commercial and artistic; sometimes morphing into one – but many times not. As history continues to prove, The Beach Boys were perhaps the most progressive American band of their time, producing music that was destined to be realized and celebrated a good half-century after its creation. As the archival releases have underscored, the artistic span of this body of work was barely mined during the band’s most intense era. How lucky for us now that so much astounding, fascinating, and breathtaking sound has been relinquished over the past dozen years. The sounds unearthed showcase both backing and vocal tracks that when presented apart from the rest of the master create separate, timeless, special art. Vocal lines that were buried; a rhythm, a beat, a guitar harmony line – pulled away from itself only shows how much music was actually IN all this music. Every passage is a gift.

Mike Love recalled the beginning of the “Bellagio era” in 1967 when for the most part, the mainstream L.A. studios were left behind to record at home at Brian Wilson’s Bel Air home: “Just prior to that, Brian had built up this production peak and then just completely reversed field, and (for Smiley Smile) did something so light and so airy and easy. . . That was an underground album, I figure for us. It was completely out of the mainstream of what was going on at that time, which was all hard rock, psychedelic music and here we come with a song called ‘Wind Chimes.’ It just didn't have anything to do with what was going on (in the charts) - - and that was the idea.”

Brian at Capitol Record, 1968
Brian at Capitol Record, 1968

Brian Wilson explained that after four years of recording in Hollywood’s top studios, he felt the vibe of the group’s new music called for a less clinical approach: “I wanted to have a home environment trip where we could record at my house. So, we had an engineer build a studio in our den and convert it into a studio. It was easier to function, the guys knew the house and the studio, so they were able to play good. . . I wanted to try something different, something new. I produced (Smiley Smile), but Mike inspired me. He said, 'Brian, let's make a really good, easygoing album.’”

Beach Boys archivist and co-producer Alan Boyd shed light on how after walking away from the highly pressured SMiLE project, Brian Wilson stayed true to his muse while downsizing and modifying his approach to modular recording for the group: “The recording that Brian was doing at his house during the whole Smiley Smile / Wild Honey-era, in many ways it was a homegrown version of what he was doing on SMiLE. He was recording segments – sections. . . riffs. . . partial tracks that would later be stitched together to make songs, very much, like, 'Heroes And Villains' and 'Good Vibrations' had been. It was all about (musical) feels, which is how Brian used to write songs. He would sit down and bang out a chord progression, get a feel for it and a song or a melody might come out of it.”

Still from the "I Can Hear Music" video
Still from the "I Can Hear Music" video, 1968

Al Jardine saw the post-SMiLE material as setting the course for where The Beach Boys were headed in the coming years: “'Country Air’ -- that was charming. Just a real breezy little tune. The songs (on Wild Honey) were more ethereal, in my opinion. They didn't have any big tracks. Musically, we devolved to a degree and went back to the basics and we were looking for that natural effect. Those kind of songs. . . they're more natural, easy listening. A whole different direction, a transcendent thing. We just took a direction that lent itself to the natural world.”

For both the connoisseur and novice, the music programed on the “FOCUS” playlist allows the beauty and ingenuity of The Beach Boys to rise to the top – with every member’s brilliance shining brightly. An absolute blessing is the long-unreleased full version of Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s Friends opener, “Meant For You” (which was criminally collecting dust for eons while it could’ve been soothing thousands of hearts across the decades); Dennis Wilson evolving before our ears on the groundbreaking 1971 “Medley: All Of My Love – Ecology,” a production that would’ve changed the color and dynamic of any album it graced (had it only been issued in its time). There’s so many moments like that on this Spotify set. The bare-bones basic tracks from the Smiley Smile sessions prove that the album was beautiful and majestic and unlike anything else (in its own way) – much the way these songs would’ve been on SMiLE. Same songs – entirely different pallet. Art is art just the same. Every tune here wins.

File Under: “Hits on a higher level.”
Photograph by Russ Mackie
Photograph by Russ Mackie at Brian's Home Studio, 1971

Amazingly, The Beach Boys are still snagging new listeners over 60 years on – and in the most modern of venues. Due to Dennis Wilson's legendary album-closing well wishes from the group's 1964 Christmas Album going viral via SnapChat, “Auld Lang Syne (1991 Remix)” is UMG’s 7th-highest track (per creations) on Snap as of first week of January -- including UMG’s frontline releases. It’s undeniable at this point that this band will always find a way to impact and influence each new generation.

Getting this music out to as large an audience as possible only makes the world a better place to be in. The more people hearing/thinking/feeling Beach Boys music means things are only getting better. That’s always been the case and hopefully always will be.

Take the time to share The Beach Boys’ music with everyone you know in ‘24.

Cuddle Up.
(Keep warm.)