The Beach Boys, unique amongst many of their contemporaries, had so many unreleased or alternate versions of albums…
Of course, the big one will always be the greatest lost-but-now-found album in rock history: Front man Brian Wilson’s magnum opus, SMiLE. Beyond that legendary masterpiece is a slew of other unrealized and cancelled Beach Boys albums…
There was a long-running hoax that there was an album set to come out between Beach Boys Party! (late 1965) and the game-changing Pet Sounds (spring 1966), titled Remember the Zoo. This of course was disputed.
The really juicy story – for me – starts after SMiLE‘s infamous shelving in the middle of 1967. Projected for release after Smiley Smile (which eventually came out in September 1967) was a live album called Lei’d in Hawaii, a show that took place in September. By this point, The Beach Boys had already suffered the blows that singlehandedly destroyed their reputation in the United States. Smiley Smile polarized critics, and was their worst-selling album in the US at the time. In the UK, however, it was a Top 10 smash and it did better internationally.
Anyways, the plans for Lei’d in Hawaii had fallen through. It would’ve been their second live album, but like the once-planned live album of a Michigan show in 1965, it went the way of the dodo. Tracks have showed up on bootlegs, particularly recordings from the Heider studio sessions, one of which saw an official release on 2013’s Made in California (1962-2012). Perhaps a solid live album could’ve boosted some sales and help the band recoup, maybe not.
With that falling through, it was time to get back to work. The sessions for what is quite possibly my favorite (not the greatest, but my personal favorite) album of theirs, Wild Honey, were in full swing by October. The looser, straightforward, R&B-tinged mood of the album was perfectly made possible by the quick pace of the sessions in Brian’s home studio. It feels rougher and minimalist like Smiley Smile, but this time with a coat of polish. Smiley Smile feels like home demos by comparison. Wild Honey‘s more conventional yet quirky-in-its-own-unique-way vibe translated to strong sales in the UK and abroad, but in the US? It hit #24 but slipped off the charts swiftly. A shame, but the Beach Boys’ history is full of this…
Wild Honey once sported a much different tracklisting. The more soulful-sounding songs were mostly kept on side one, sans a Lei’d in Hawaii Heider recording of ‘The Letter’ which is a competent new take on the Box Tops’ hit. Side two had the likes of ‘Lonely Days’, which can you hear in abridged form on Hawthorne, CA, a more melancholy piece that kind of breaks the mood of the recordings a bit. A reworking of the water section of SMiLE‘s water suite, ‘Cool, Cool Water’, is present here though it’s a country mile from the buffed up version we’d get on 1970’s Sunflower. The cover of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders’ ‘The Game of Love’ and another track titled ‘Honey Get Home’, unfortunately, have never surfaced anywhere, but supposedly the latter is little more than a basic track.
While this track listing is interesting, I feel the released album – despite being 2-3 tracks short – is stronger, and far more cohesive. Perhaps what should’ve been done was strengthen up the ending of the LP a bit, as I feel Wild Honey kind of ends too quickly and with not much of a bang either. After the ethereal ‘Let The Wind Blow’, we get the mood-breaking party song ‘How She Boogalooed It’ and then a tiny snippet of SMiLE‘s version of ‘Vega-Tables, the “eat a lot, sleep a lot” chant but in accapella only. (It’s titled ‘Mama Says’ on the album.) I don’t dislike ‘How She Boogalooed It’, in fact I quite enjoy it, but its placement on the album kind of bugs me. Perhaps ‘Lonely Days’ and ‘Cool, Cool Water’ should’ve come next, then the ‘Vega-Tables’ chant.
Also recorded during this period was ‘Time To Get Alone’. It and ‘Darlin” (one of the main attractions on the finished LP) were two songs Brian was intending to give to a budding band called Redwood. Given what Redwood would go on to become – Three Dog Night, I have something of a hard time seeing them working with a song like ‘Time To Get Alone’, a very precise and delicate waltz about the joys of vacationing in a mountainside cabin. In its 1967 form, it’s breathtaking, and perhaps should’ve been put on the LP. Maybe it could’ve been an epic closing track! ‘Time To Get Alone’ was later enhanced in late 1968, and was included on 20/20, which made sense given that 20/20 was a collection more so than a studio album done in one set of sessions.
More than anything, The Beach Boys were very good at saving leftovers for future studio albums. Pieces of SMiLE peaked through on most of the post-1967 albums in several forms. 20/20 has two full SMiLE tracks, the lush ‘Our Prayer’ and the Mike Love-bothering, American West pocket symphony ‘Cabin Essence’. Work on the next two albums was mostly solid anyways. Friends and 20/20 don’t have nearly-released alternate versions, the former’s short and concise while the latter is composed of material from various different periods.
Things get a little muddy and convoluted after 20/20, which was released in January 1969.
One more album was apparently owed to Capitol Records, a label that was already not doing the band many favors, still selling them as an innocuous surfing-and-hot rods group that the American public didn’t want to hear. Sessions for this next album occurred in the first quarter of the year, with the album due out in the summer. Titles like Reverberation and The Fading Rock Group Revival circulated, and some strong tracks were recorded.
The sessions were held up by legal issues, mainly the band suing Capitol for unpaid royalties. Their relationship with the company came to an end, and the new album was pushed back, but a new single was owed, so they got on that. The result was summer 1969’s ‘Break Away’, a wonderful tune that mixed the older sound with forward-thinking lyrics, but it failed in the US while going over like gangbusters in the UK and elsewhere. The usual. Capitol stopped pressing Beach Boys albums, as the band failed to deliver them the tapes of the final album.
Finally submitting a tape weeks later, Capitol intended the release that last album in the spring of 1970. On the tape is mid-1969 material and songs that would later show up on Sunflower a full year later. There is no definite track listing, either. For starters, on this set is the single version of ‘Cottonfields’, a punchier and more country-rocking version of the Leadbelly cover. The previous Beach Boys cover of this one appears on 20/20, a more baroque pop-esque arrangement that Al Jardine wasn’t too pleased with. Al also gets some spotlight with his and Brian’s gleefully silly and equally out-in-the-country romp ‘Loop de Loop’. Of course, old-timey tracks like these probably would’ve probably scared off American buyers.
Then there’s Dennis Wilson’s ‘San Miguel’. Dennis had shown his chops on Friends with the lovely ‘Be Still’ and the very strong ‘Little Bird’, he then really impressed with his bevy of tracks on 20/20. ‘San Miguel’ continued his building brilliance, with a light and breezy Mexican flavor. The other Dennis epic on here is ‘Forever’, perhaps one of the greatest love songs ever written. Dennis gets one more slot here with the gospel-influenced rocker ‘Got To Know the Woman’, often knocked for its lyrics, but it’s fine for what it is.
Single ‘Break Away’ was on the tape, and would’ve been a fine addition because it is a knock-out single anyway. Its B-side, ‘Celebrate the News’, is another Dennis and Gregg Jakobson collaboration. Pleasant as it is, it’s no ‘Forever’, but still welcome here. ‘All I Wanna Do’ is an absolutely stunning piece of work, in terms of production and vocal harmonies, sounding years ahead of its time. Bruce Johnston and Brian Wilson’s ‘Dierdre’, a sunny happily roll-down-the-hill pop song, would show Bruce upping his songwriting game.
Rounding out the rather scant collection is a newly-made stereo mix of the then 6-year-old B-side ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, and a backing track of ‘When Girls Get Together’, whose lyrics and vocals did little to elevate what was a rather basic vaudeville-sounding snoozer.
Suffice to say, despite some real gems here, this collection is overall kind of weak as a potential album. Capitol ended up scrapping this album altogether, due to Murry Wilson – the infamously abusive father of the Wilson brothers/former manager of the band – selling the rights to the band’s entire catalogue for a paltry $700,000, and later the band’s unprecedented signing with Warner Bros. Records. They would be under their premiere Reprise moniker, the band would also revive their “Brother Records” to go alongside the new badge of honor.
Work on the next album began in early 1970, with everything seemingly looking up. Warner Bros. was no laughing matter, home to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, all the “cool” musicians. WB Records’ President Mo Ostin wanted Brian, whose involvement was slipping by mid-1969, to have more of a presence on the album, and he also wanted the band to deliver their best. To bring their A-game, as a band. Not Brian’s show anymore, The Beach Boys now had to really, truly function as a band. 20/20 showed they could, so it was time to go one step beyond.
This is why the first version of the debut Warner album was rejected by Mo.
Before getting into this, WB issued a single of two newly-recorded songs in February 1970 to little success: ‘Add Some Music to Your Day’, with ‘Susie Cincinnati’ on the flip side. It only hit #64 in the US, and wasn’t – oddly enough – released in the UK at all.
The album, Add Some Music, was regarded as a weak collection. Mo essentially said “try harder because you can”. Was he right? Let’s take a look…
Add Some Music starts with ‘Susie Cincinnati’, a pretty rocking B-side that has a bit of the band’s old sound but very quirky lyrics that didn’t sound very, erm, 1964. This is followed by the solid, appropriately-titled ‘Good Time’. The Pet Sounds-like ‘Our Sweet Love’ was the third, one that showed the full scope of the recording technology the band was using for this project. After this triple-punch, the collection then sags with Bruce Johnston’s ‘Tears in the Morning’, a divorce song with good intentions but is mostly cheesy and exaggerated. Next is another sag-fest, a completed ‘When Girls Get Together’. Like ‘Tears’, it’s four minutes too long, and is not the band’s finest hour. Perhaps it was this particular one that Mo was turned off by.
Redemption begins with Dennis’ newly-penned ‘Slip On Through’, production-wise this one’s a wowser, but lyrically it’s brilliant and perhaps an indicator of the sunnier times of mid-1970. Following is ‘Add Some Music to Your Day’, which is one I’ve always been mixed on. It’s absolutely beautiful-sounding and has ace melodies and harmonies, but the lyrics (mostly written by Mike Love, no shock!) are also super-cornball and one-the-nose. I can forgive them though, because again… That production! Why Warner Bros. chose to release this as the A-side single is beyond me. If they really wanted the public to accept The Beach Boys again, they should’ve picked something punchier, something that suggested that… Yes! The Beach Boys aren’t the outdated “surfing Doris Days!” you think they are! Sadly, a following single release of ‘Slip On Through’ in June didn’t chart at all.
After this comes the tongue-in-cheek, mostly Al-penned ‘Take a Load Off Your Feet, Pete’, a send-up of Hair with some health babble. This one, I feel, gets a bad rap. The song was eventually released without the “Pete” on 1971’s Surf’s Up, and doesn’t fit with most of the darker, moodier songs on that LP. Here, it’s a little more at home, but still a little too trivial and silly.
Then comes one of Brian Wilson’s greatest compositions, and a short-and-sweet one at that, the heavenly ‘This Whole World’. It combines some of his pocket symphony techniques, doo-wop, a worldly and classical sound, and a straight rock sound. It’s a masterpiece.
More silly fun follows with the minimalist ‘I Just Got My Pay’, followed by the soothing, mellow, and oddball ‘At My Window’, a sort of storybook-cutesy slice of innocence not dissimilar to some of SMiLE‘s peppier moments. Closing Add Some Music was Dennis’ pretty-sounding ‘Fallin’ in Love’, a solid piece but it was certainly not ‘Forever’.
Now this line-up is far better than the “Last Capitol Album” one, by a long-shot, but it’s bogged down by the mediocre ‘When Girls Get Together’, and also has one too many jokey songs. There’s nothing wrong with a sense of humor, but The Beach Boys really needed to bring their A-game for this new LP, Warner Bros. certainly wanted their best, they believed in them.
The rejection seemed like a real blow, but then something unlikely happened… Capitol, after months of sitting on what they had, released the mid-1969 country recording of ‘Cotton Fields’, which was a Top 5 smash in the UK and several other territories. A flop in the US, yes, but huge elsewhere. This occurred in April. Following that… The band went to Capitol, negotiated, got the permission to take a few songs from the “Last Capitol Album” sessions, and then gave them a contract-fulfilling LP: Live in London. Capitol quietly released it – a platter of recordings from a December 1968 concert – in May 1970 in Europe only, to little success. On the plus side, the band got a huge gain from this… The rights to all their post-1965 LPs.
The songs they picked from the early 1969 sessions? ‘All I Wanna Do’, ‘Got To Know The Woman’, ‘Deirdre’, and ‘Forever’.
Three of these are absolutely stellar, and would indeed punch up an already-promising collection. The band thankfully excised ‘When Girls Get Together’, and also exed out ‘I Just Got My Pay’ and ‘Take a Load of Your Feet, Pete’. ‘Susie Cincinnati’ also got the boot, as did ‘Good Time’, which I think was kind of a big loss. ‘When Girls Get Together’ would appear on Keepin’ the Summer Alive nearly ten years later, fitting quite nicely on that low-quality album. (The true start of the band’s decline, in my opinion!) ‘Susie Cincinnati’ appeared on 1976’s 15 Big Ones, and is better than most of the songs on that one. ‘Good Time’, untouched, ended up on Love You in 1977. While not quite gelling with the synth-heavy Brian originals that comprise the whole album, it’s still a welcome inclusion. ‘Fallin’ in Love’ was supplanted by the stronger Wilson composition ‘Forever’. It would later be released as ‘Lady’ on a single credited to just Dennis, and “Rumbo”. (Pseudonym of collaborator Daryl Dragon, later the Captain of Captain and Tennille.)
The result was Sunflower, released in August 1970. It’s arguably the best of their post-Pet Sounds LPs, a very consistent offering with such a wonderful mood, ace production, knock-out vocals and performances, and just so much more. Sadly, the American public avoided it like the plague, the album hit a then new low for the band… #151 on the charts. In the UK it performed way better, hitting #29 while doing fine elsewhere. A shame, though nowadays, it’s rightfully considered one of the greatest albums of all-time. Perhaps it was ahead of its time, or like most Beach Boys LPs of the era, seemingly existed in an alternate timeline where the turbulence of the late 60s never happened.
As much as I love the album, I’d actually make some changes to the released line-up myself. It’s still a little too short, I’d put ‘Good Time’ back on it, and would also maybe either trim ‘Tears in the Morning’ or save it for a single-only release. (Oddly enough, ‘Tears in the Morning’ was released as a single in some territories, and was a huge hit in… The Netherlands! Of all places!) I’m a bit conflicted because I actually kind of like ‘Tears’ in a guilty pleasure sense, but its four-minute length could to maybe two better songs. Again, like ‘Good Time’.
I’d also swap Dennis’ ‘Got To Know the Woman’ for a much better early 1969 recording of his, ‘San Miguel’. I’d work ‘Susie Cincinnati’ into the line-up too, and the very appropriately-titled ‘Soulful Old Man Sunshine’, along with the more rocking ‘Back Home’. Nothing else from the Warner sessions though, things like ‘Lookin’ at Tomorrow’ and ‘H.E.L.P. is on the Way’.
As is, Sunflower pretty much combines the best of the WB sessions and the early 1969/Last Capitol Album sessions. ‘Cool, Cool Water’ was finished at the request of WB top man Lenny Waronker, and the results are absolutely breathtaking and very watery sounding. It’s a nice little remnant of SMiLE reimagined into a beast of its own. Dennis’ ‘It’s About Time’ rocks.
My version would probably look like this…
- ‘Slip on Through’
- ‘This Whole World’
- ‘Good Time’
- ‘Back Home’
- ‘San Miguel’
- ‘It’s About Time’
- ‘Add Some Music to Your Day’
- ‘Susie Cincinnati’
- ‘All I Wanna Do’
- ‘Our Sweet Love’
- ‘Soulful Old Man Sunshine’
- ‘Cool, Cool Water’
Lastly, let’s take a look at the much talked-about Landlocked…
As proven years and years ago, Landlocked was a working title for what would be the band’s next Warner Bros. LP. The name is often associated with the late 1970 period, though. There was also a collection of songs that were potential candidates for the next LP compiled around this time…
Among those were many Sunflower leftovers: ‘Susie Cincinnati’, ‘H.E.L.P. is on the Way’, ‘Take a Load Off Your Feet’, ‘Carnival, ‘I Just Got My Pay’, ‘Good Time’, ‘Big Sur’ (pretty much an early version of the Holland track), ‘Fallin’ in Love’/’Lady’, ‘When Girls Get Together’, and ‘Lookin’ at Tomorrow’. Also present here is a recording of a 1969 composition from Brian called ”Til I Die’, and also long-lasting leftover ‘Loop de Loop’. (Like ‘When Girls Get Together’, they really seemed to get A LOT of mileage out of this one.)
Rather than feeling like a new album, this collection tape really feels like nothing more than “Sunflower, Part II”.
The title Landlocked was actually one thought up by one Jack Rieley. Rieley, a DJ, thought he knew how to handle the band. He eventually became their manager and was determined to have the sales match the critical success of their newest works. Among the many things he did, he successfully got the band to play at concerts with the hip and “serious” bands, the likes of The Grateful Dead. The ship began to turn, boosting their image in the United States. Little by little, The Beach Boys were no longer that unhip band of “surfing Doris Days”, those square hot rod-and-beach-loving bums.
Jack Rieley was determined to make the new LP a progressive one, one that would eschew the paradise of Sunflower and be a little more serious, a little darker. He pushed for the band to write songs with socially conscious lyrics, what he essentially did was ask them to put a square peg in a round hole. ”Til I Die’, something supposedly Mike Love – unsurprisingly – objected to, would make the cut, Rieley had also wanted the legendary SMiLE mini-masterpiece ‘Surf’s Up’ completed.
The album itself would be named after the composition, a title that was pretty ironic. The album cover would be a gloomy-looking ‘End of the Trail’ painting. The album itself, while good and rich in the sonic excitement that bolstered Sunflower, was more of a mixed bag. The attempts at socially conscious lyrics from Mike and Al are mostly painful, evident in ‘Don’t Go Near the Water’ and ‘Student Demonstration Time’, though partially saved by their sound and production. ‘Lookin’ at Tomorrow’, from the Sunflower sessions, fares better and has a cooler sound. ‘Take a Load Off Your Feet’ is often lumped in with the silly “topical” corkers on here, but since it was clearly meant to be fun and silly, it’s not a blemish.
The winners here are the Wilson brothers. Carl Wilson has his time to shine, which unfortunately drove most of all the Dennis material off of the album. Gone were his very good ‘4th of July’ and ‘(Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again’. Carl’s ‘Long Promised Road’ is murky, but not as exciting as his acid jazz ‘Feel Flows’. ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’ uses environmentalism to its advantage, though I’m not quite sure about Jack Rieley himself singing the song. ”Til I Die’ may be depressing in terms of the lyrics, but production-wise it’s so good. Bruce Johnston even gets a high point here, with his nostalgic ‘Disney Girls (1957)’, such a wonderful slice of mellow and harmonious pop that – in its middle – briefly launches itself above the stratosphere and into the heavens… High points like those define the 1967-1973 period Beach Boys output, and HOW!
Surf’s Up would’ve been, to me, a great follow-up to Sunflower if they put the two Dennis songs on there, and also dialed down the Mike Love crap. My changes aren’t too, too major. I’d rid the album of ‘Student Demonstration Time’, the fart in church that it is, and relegate it to a B-side or something. I’d keep ‘Don’t Go Near the Water’, though, because that at least has very cool production and a nice sound. The new opening track, I think, that works is Sunflower outtake ‘Big Sur’. I don’t want to use too many leftovers here, so…
- ‘Big Sur’
- ‘Don’t Go Near the Water’
- ‘Long Promised Road’
- ‘Take a Load Off Your Feet’
- ‘4th of July’
- ‘Disney Girls (1957)’
- ‘Feel Flows’
- ‘(Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again’
- ‘Lookin’ at Tomorrow’
- ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’
- ”Til I Die’
- ‘Surf’s Up’
From here on out, there are more unreleased albums and early iterations of various releases (i.e. the Caribou sessions, M.I.U. Album‘s early iterations), outtakes, and such. I’ll cap it off here, but The Beach Boys – much like other favorites of mine – tend to have relatively unknown parts of their respective sagas that I feel are super-compelling…