Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this music junkie as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. Compact Discs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no files.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Beach Boys - Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys (1993)

Nothing says summer like some Beach Boys music. Definitely the best US pop/rock group in the 1960s and they certainly make a good argument for being the best American group of all-time: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1988), 100+ million records sold, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2001), and on and on. Rolling Stone ranked them at #12 on their list of 100 Greatest Artists in 2010 and no US groups were listed above them so, for once, Rolling Stone and I are in agreement (as is the Ultimate Classic Rock website).

Here we have a 134 track, five-disc box set that collects 33 of the band's 35 top 40 hits from Surfin' Safari (1962) through Kokomo (1988) plus some album cuts, radio jingles, live cuts, demos, and other previously unreleased tracks. The two top 40 hits missing here? The 1981 Beach Boys Medley (#12) and the group's collaboration with The Fat Boys on a remake of Wipeout (#12, 1987). The former would have been a welcome addition to this set; nothing need be said of the latter. Back in '93, the box set was priced around $60 (around $125 in 2023 dollars). As pictured above, the contents were packaged in a 6-by-12 inch box to fit in store displays alongside longboxes (did somebody say "Beach Boys longbox?").

As stated in a Billboard article from May 1993, Capitol attempted to design a package that attracted 1) casual fans "who may only want to have one Beach Boys package in their collection," 2) people who already own the music but who, "given the opportunity, might want to hear a wider selection," and 3) the "core fan" who is looking for the aforementioned unreleased tracks, particularly 20 minutes of music from the scrapped 1967 album, Smile. As you can probably guess from that description, the set is a mixed bag, at best, and doesn't beg for top-to-bottom sequential listening. But the good stuff (particularly on the first two discs) is oh-so-good and includes God Only Knows which I kinda like, to wit:

That song! It gives me goosebumps or has me bawling like a child lost in the supermarket. Sometimes both. All in under 3 minutes. What a masterpiece. But, remarkably, only one of many masterpieces on these discs. Had I owned this set around the turn of the century, I would have burned a helluva two disc set of my favorite cuts of these 5 CDs and played them loudly in my truck for all to hear. Heck, I still might just for shits and giggles.

I'm not wild that the accompanying 60 page booklet is in a hard-to-handle 6-by-12 inch format, but whacha gonna do? It contains a brief intro from Brian Wilson and an extensive historical essay from Rolling Stone writer David Leaf. The essay is good, if not predictable, but it's the many photos that make the booklet worth the effort.

Press of the time:
  • Rolling Stone (★★★★★): "a collection of essential and enduring music"
  • Stereo Review: "For sheer gorgeousness, there's precious little in pop or rock that can touch this stuff"
  • Billboard: "the perfect package for neophytes and fans alike"

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

35 tracks, 77 minutes

This discs sputters a bit at the beginning, but by the time you get to track 5, cancel any plans for the remainder of the hour. Of the 35 tracks on this disc, 8 are listed as "previously unreleased" - demos, radio station jingles/promos, rehearsals and the like. But most of the remaining 27 tracks are bona fide winners. Except for a sweet a capella version of Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring, those previously unreleased tracks are not of much interest to me, but what is of interest to me are these great Top 40 tunes:

SongYearHot 100
Surfin' Safari196214
Surfin' U.S.A.19633
Shut Down196323
Surfer Girl19637
Little Deuce Coupe196315
Be True To Your School19636
In My Room196323
Fun, Fun, Fun19645
I Get Around19641
Don't Worry Baby196424
When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)19649
Dance, Dance, Dance19638
Do You Wanna Dance?196512

Plus, there's just as fun but less successful singles and album cuts/b-sides like 409 (#76, 1962), Wendy (#44, 1964), Little Honda (#65, 1964), Please Let Me Wonder (#52, 1965), Catch A Wave, The Surfer Moon, The Warmth Of The Sun, All Summer Long, Little Honda, plus the 45 version of Little Saint Nick. There's also a "hidden track" at the end of the disc, a young Brian Wilson singing "Happy Birthday Four Freshmen" to his favorite vocal group into his tape recorder in 1960.

It's hard to pick favorites, but today I'll go with Surfer Girl, In My Room, Don't Worry Baby, and I Get Around.

29 tracks, 76 minutes

A full 12 of 29 cuts are previously unreleased as Brian Wilson's writing and production style continued become more and more sophisticated (and drug-influenced) moving into Pet Sounds. Here's the top 40 cuts on this disc:

SongYearHot 100
Help Me, Rhonda19651
California Girls19653
The Little Girl I Once Knew196520
Barbara Ann19662
Sloop John B19663
Caroline, No196632
Wouldn't It Be Nice19668
God Only Knows196639
Good Vibrations19661

Also included are the gorgeous And Your Dream Comes True, You Still Believe In Me, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, Pet Sounds, Our Prayer, and With Me Tonight. Tracks 18-39 come from the aforementioned Smile sessions, a few those tracks subsequently released on the Smiley Smile, 20/20, and Surf's Up albums.

My favorite is God Only Knows, but my other top picks include Wouldn't It Be Nice and the always wondrous Good Vibrations. I think I could listen to that thing 100 times in a row and never fully hear everything going on in the arrangement.

29 tracks, 77 minutes

Now things really slow up as the group tries its hand at R&B/soul music with a lo-fi feel and less involvement from Brian Wilson. I don't think I'm the first the call this late 1960's era a 'slump.' There are "only" five top 40 hits on this disc:

SongYearHot 100
Heroes And Villains196712
Wild Honey196731
Do It Again196820
I Can Hear Music196924

Also included are a few less successful singles that cracked Billboard's Hot 100 without making the top 40: Friends (#47, 1968), Break Away (#63, 1969), Long Promised Road (#89, 1971), and Add Some Music To Your Day (#54, 1970). Missing from the compilation is Bluebirds Over The Mountain (#61, 1968) . Of the previously unreleased tracks, I Just Got My Pay is a nice throwback to the group's earlier sound.

This CD also includes tracks from the the band's first album on the Reprise label, 1970's Sunflower, regarded by some as the group's best post-Pet Sounds album. As noted in Rolling Stone, the Sunflower album contains "their most optimistic and uplifting music ever, in mellow-gold soft-rock mode. It’s their Abbey Road." Also included are tracks from Sunflower's popular follow-up album, Surf's Up, making the end of the disc better than the beginning.

Nothing bad, but not much memorable until we get near the end. My top cuts on this disc are This Whole World, Forever, Long Promised Road, Disney Girls, and Surf's Up.

25 tracks, 76 minutes

This final disc of the set covers the years 1973-86, a period when the band went through a number of troubles that won't be discussed in this space. However, it became a time when the band embraced its past and evolved into a nostalgia act that continues to this day. Three quick memories: 1) falling in love with the return to form that was Good Timin' and being disappointed at its lack of chart success, 2) the band appearing in ballparks after major league games - it seemed they played at least once a month at Arlington Ballpark when I was in college, and 3) wondering why Kokomo not only became popular but developed the staying power that it has. Puzzling to this guy.

The band's final top 40 hits:

SongYearHot 100
Rock And Roll Music19765
It's OK197629
Good Timin'197940
Come Go With Me198118
Getcha Back198526

Also included are minor hits Sail On Sailor (#79, 1973; #49, 1975), California (#84, 1973), and Goin' On (#83, 80). There's also some odd tracks taken from The Beach Boys Love You synth-pop album and the scrapped Adult/Child album.

I've read that Brian Wilson doesn't care much for Sail On Sailor, but I dig the thing. Other favorites here are It's OK, Good Timin', and Getcha Back.

24 tracks, 77 minutes

This disc was a CD-only bonus disc, not included in the 4 cassette version of this box set; it comes in a cardboard sleeve whereas the other four discs are each stored in jewel cases. Demos, live versions, radio station promos, etc. Not much for me here other than tracks 7 & 13-18, which are amazing.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: During a summer break (maybe 1979-ish?), I would ride my blue Sears 10 speed bike to the nearby house of some family friends. Long before we moved to town, this family had converted their two car garage into a rec room, complete with pool table and stereo. I don't remember if there was shag carpet, but I would give pretty good odds that there was. The family had 4 daughters, but they were all in college or married by this time, so when I visited, I was by myself and would spend hours playing pool and listening to the stereo. The only music I remember playing is a Beach Boys 8 track. It was fantastic: solitude, air conditioning, games of 8 ball against myself, timeless tunes, and the occasional bowl of Blue Bell ice cream. Talk about your carefree days. The only reason that family put up with me and that juvenile, invasive nonsense is because they loved my parents.

Previously revisited for the blog:
The SMiLE Sessions (1967/2011)
That's Why God Made The Radio (2012)
20 Good Vibrations: The Greatest Hits (1995)
Pet Sounds (1966)

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