Someone once wrote that Brian Wilson’s legend was largely based on music almost no one had heard. You could see their point for a long time, but since the release of ‘The Smile Sessions’ box this no longer holds true. In spite of the multitude of abandoned projects and, even now, entire unreleased albums, in 2013 his music is almost universally loved.
A side effect of his elevation to international treasure is that The Beach Boys‘ Story has become the Brian Wilson Story for the last decade, which is maybe not surprising given the continued antics of the saga’s Dick Dastardly, Mike Love – his latest dirty deed was to sack Brian and the rest of the original line-up after last year's 50th anniversary shows.
Still, they are a group: Mike Love’s chief role was as on-stage showman, Dennis Wilson’s as their wild man with a tender heart, and Carl Wilson’s as a white soul singer without equal.
Two decades on from 1993’s ‘Good Vibrations’ box, the six-disc ‘Made In California’, covering 1962 to 2012, is neatly balanced between the various Boys and their different eras.
The real meat of the set, though, is in the main catalogue – this is a proper overview. Just as it has become fashionable to overlook the other Beach Boys, it’s also become easy to underrate the majesty of the pre-‘Pet Sounds’ era, which to the American public is basically their entire catalogue.
Songs as harmonically rich and gorgeous as ‘The Lonely Sea’ (1962), ‘Wendy’ (1964) and ‘In The Back Of My Mind’ (1965, presented here in a clearer, better mix than ever before) are evidence of how this band blossomed after The Beatles arrived in the States, while almost all of their contemporaries withered.
To remind you that their catalogue is far from flawless, ‘Made In California’ includes some clunkers (ecological fingerwag ‘Don't Go Near The Water’, lame-ass kids song ‘Solar System’) at the expense of solid 10-out-of-10s like Carl Wilson’s ‘Long Promised Road’, or Brian’s ‘Still I Dream Of It’, worthy of Rodgers and Hart.
Unreleased tracks for the hardcore? Well, there's still no place for Dennis Wilson’s ‘Carry Me Home’ (covered by Primal Scream on their 1992 ‘Dixie Narco’ EP) or Brian’s lovelorn tribute to Stevie Nicks, the terrific ‘Stevie’.
But there are tracks here that next to nobody has ever heard of, let alone heard – Dennis has a pair of five-star rarities: ‘Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again’ and ‘My Love Lives On’, both incredibly sad and quite beautiful, and a match for anything on his sole solo LP, 1977’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’. A Brian-written ‘Sunflower’ outtake, ‘Where Is She’, is incomplete but another heart-stopper.
They may have behaved like animals, sometimes resembling a pop equivalent of Lord Of The Flies, and yet The Beach Boys still stir more emotions in me than any other group. This box covers all bases while still leaving enough unfinished business for a 60th anniversary set.
Words: Bob Stanley
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Bob Stanley’s new book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop, is published by Faber & Faber on October 3rd. Find his band, Saint Etienne, online here.
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