THE BEACH BOYS: ENDLESS HARMONY(Capitol 72434-96391-2)
Capitol continues to mine the archives, and to excellent effect this time around. But beware -- there are two recent Beach Boys releases on Capitol, both apparently archival, and each with too-similar titles. One is the album under review. The other is called PERFECT HARMONY, an "essential" limited edition release in a series celebrating Capitol parent EMI's 100th anniversary in 1997 (but the series was released in 1998 -- go figure). This is the one with a flimsy slip-box and fifteen tracks. It's actually a greatest-hits collection, and easily skipable.The album you want -- and if you're at all a fan of Brian Wilson or the Beach Boys you will want it -- is the one with the cheesy cover, in a regular jewel box, that blares THE BEACH BOYS over the smaller ENDLESS HARMONY SOUNDTRACK, all of this above a black & white photo tinted with yellow of the sixties Beach Boys. This one has twenty five tracks, only two of which have been previously released on CD, one of them in a different mix.
It's a treasure trove, from the very first track, the 1969 "Soulful Old Man Sunshine (writing session excerpt)", which leads into the full "Soulful Old Man Sunshine." Never heard this one before? Me either -- but it's a fully realized Beach Boys recording, and one which should have been released twenty nine years ago. Written by Brian with Rick Henn (who taped the excerpt), and -- unusually -- with the backing track arranged by Henn, it has an unusual swing-jazz feel to it.
There are two absolute throw-aways on the album, both mercifully short: "Radio Concert Promo" 1 and 2. They consist of Dennis Wilson (#1) and Alan Jardine (#2) trying, and failing, to be funny. (The Beach Boys' attempts at recorded humor were always embarrassingly adolescent but these spots are even more lame.) Oddly, the liner notes say "and that's Brian poking fun at [Dennis], telling him he 'wouldn't pay two cents to see you,'" but in fact we never hear that in the promo.
I could also have done without "Medley: Surfin' Safari/Fun, Fun, Fun/Shut Down/Little Deuce Coupe/Surfin'
"Surfer Girl (Binaural Version)" is a new mix of Brian's first ballad, with the vocals and the backing track "separated as much as possible." It is one of the two previously-released tracks (albeit not in this mix). It's nice, but not special.
"Help Me, Rhonda (Alternate Single Version)" is special. It's a different version than any released previously, and one Brian discarded in favor of the actual version released as the single. I like it; it has differtent bells and whistles and sounds fresh. "Help Me, Rhonda" in any version is one of Brian's great hit songs.
This is followed by two "Stereo Remixes" of Beach Boys hits -- "Kiss Me, Baby," and "
At this point in the album we return to the live recordings, but far more interesting ones than the medley. "Good Vibrations" comes from a
"Heroes and Villains (Demo)" is unique -- and not on any of the bootlegs I have (such as HEROES AND VILLAINS SESSIONS PARTS 1 & 2). It's from very early in the song's history and has Brian playing the piano and singing lyrics, most of which never made the final cut. (They include "I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard" -- which concludes with Brian and Van Dyke Parks making chicken noises -- legendary "lost parts" of "Heroes and Villains.") This is stuff Beach Boys fans have been waiting for.
"Heroes and Villians (Live)" is from a late 1972 concert, and is notable for including the "Bicycle Rider" chorus which was not used in the originally released version of the song.
"God Only Knows (Live)" is a live-in-the-studio recording from 1967 with a very spare arrangement played by the Beach Boys. It's beautiful -- proof of the power of the melody of this song. The notes say other pieces were also recorded at the session and perhaps some day Capitol will dole them out to us too.
"Darlin' (Live)" is an odd one: Carl Wilson's vocal -- which is stunning -- is salvaged from a 1980 concert at Knebworth, but the backing vocals and instruments were replaced in a studio by Bruce Johnstone and engineer Stephen Desper. Without having heard the original concert recording I have no way of knowing to what extent this version is better, but it does sound like a live recording, and Carl tears it up vocally, justifying inclusion of the track here.
"Wonderful/Don't Worry, Bill (Live)" (1972) documents that brief period of a few years when the Beach Boys included two former members of the South African "coloured" group, The Flame -- Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin. Carl Wilson had discovered the group and produced their album, THE FLAME, for the Brother Records label. But for some reason the album, recorded in DynaQuad at about the same time as SUNFLOWER, was not distributed by Reprise (as the Beach Boys' Brother Records albums were) but rather by Starday-King. I have a promo copy, but I'm not sure the album was ever officially released -- ROLLING STONE claimed at the time that it was not. The Flame were very Beatleish in sound and approach and their album, while unambitious, is quite likeable. When the group broke up Fataar and Chaplin joined the Beach Boys. They contributed little in the way of material, but broadened the vocal pallet, and took solos on some songs. They were on several albums in the early seventies. Here "Wonderful" (one of the more successful songs from SMILEY SMILE) is segued into "Don't Worry, Bill," a song which first appeared in THE FLAME -- the only appearance (to date) of any material by The Flame on CD.
"Do It Again" was a getting-back-to-the-beach anthem of the early seventies. This is a rough early version (1968) with slightly different lyrics.
"Break Away (Demo)" (1969) is Brian teaching the Beach Boys their vocal parts by overdubbing his own voice on the finished instrumental track. But I'm glad to see it here for more than just that. "Break Away" was the Beach Boys' final single for Capitol, and was never collected on any albums until the two-album CDs with bonus tracks which Capitol issued a few years ago (and has since replaced with single-album CDs with no bonus tracks -- themselves soon to be replaced by single-album CDs with bonus tracks!) In its finished form it had a Four Seasons tinge to it that made me wonder at the time if it was, in part, a sly response to the Four Seasons' GENUINE IMITATION LIFE GAZETTE, in which a mock-feud is conducted with the Beach Boys in the cover material.
"Sail Plane Song" (1968) is an early version of the next track, "Loop de Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' In An Aeroplane)" (1969) which was extensively reworked by Alan Jardine (whose vocal was recorded recently, for this release). It's a fascinating piece, probably intended for SMILE (the legendary never-released album) since its bridge section makes use of musical themes from "Heroes and Villains," the intended centerpiece of SMILE. It was probably never released precisely because of that -- which is a shame because both versions are fascinating, and Jardine's version has many lovely production touches.
By now we've entered the most fascinating part of the album, as hinted by the opening two tracks: the totally new (for us) material. "Barbara" is Dennis Wilson's ode to his second wife, soulfully sung over a spare arrangement (probably a demo) played by Dennis and Daryl Dragon. It was recorded in 1971 in Brian's home studio.
"Til I Die (Alternate Mix)" is a 1970 remix by Stephen Desper for his own enjoyment of the SURF'S UP release. It's a gem. It opens with a carefully mixed version of the backing track, vibes in the lead, which cycles through completely before the vocals come in. It's sensitive and beautiful -- and a wholly new way to listen to this piece. (It's also my favorite of the many excellent tracks on this album.)
"All Alone" (1978) is another unreleased gem, this one intended for Dennis Wilson's second album, BAMBOO. His
"Brian's Back" is a 1978 Mike Love song, recorded for his first solo album, FIRST LOVE -- which was never released. Carl provides some of the background vocals and the guitar is by Fairport Convention's Jerry Donahue.
The final track is Bruce Johnston's title track, "Endless Harmony" (1980) -- the other previously released (on KEEPIN' THE SUMMER ALIVE) track.
Overall, this is one of the best yet of the Beach Boys archival releases (others include the GOOD VIBRATIONS and PET SOUNDS boxed sets). I am not keen to hear more live versions of Beach Boys songs -- unless they have historic significance -- but Capitol keeps finding more completely new, never before heard treasures in its vaults, and this album has a number of them, all of which I am grateful for. (Speaking of historical live recordings, I have a crappy copy-of-a-copy soundboard dub from the Beach Boys' jam with the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East, and I'd love to hear a proper release of that concert.)Beach Boys fans and collectors come with varying degrees of fanaticism. Those who are the most devoted want the release of every variant on every song (and have many already on boots of often dismal quality). Others who are less fanatic want only the totally unreleased songs -- of which there are a number here. And yet others concentrate on the concert recordings. There's something here for each of them in this album's 73+ minutes of music. This CD release is tied in with a VH-1 cable-TV special, which I haven't seen (thus the word "soundtrack" in the album title). If this is in fact the soundtrack of that special, it must be well worth seeing -- and perhaps may be released on video. In the meantime, I recommend THE BEACH BOYS -- AN AMERICAN BAND (which I have on Laserdisk), which includes the only extant recordings of the "Fire Music" intended for the "Elements Suite" on the ill-fated SMILE album (and a great deal more besides).
ENDLESS HARMONY is dedicated to Dennis and Carl Wilson. Their music lives on.
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