Sunshine Dream: A Review of The Newest Beach Boys Archival Release

If you haven’t been here for a while, here’s the skinny… I am a bonafide super-fan of the Brothers’ Wilson and friends… Known as The Beach Boys, of course. I’ll spare the introduction, because this is a review of an archive release exploring a year where The Beach Boys ceased being popular on American soil, but a year that saw their creative period enter a second wing of sorts…

Today, I’ll be looking at the recently-released and quite aptly-titled 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow. It is a collection of material from both the Smiley Smile sessions and mainly the Wild Honey period, a sort-of sequel to the comprehensive SMiLE Sessions

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Mid-1967… The Beach Boys shelve the long-awaited SMiLE, the album that was going to be the revolutionary follow-up to the game-changing Pet Sounds and the all-around smash ‘Good Vibrations’ single. Brian’s rising mental health and drug issues play a key role in this, along with turmoil within the band, pressure from Capitol Records, and several other misfortunes. The band decided to take material from SMiLE and re-invent it, turning once complex series of fragments into homemade-sounding demo-like tunes… which resulted in the polarizing September release of Smiley Smile. The album became the band’s least-successful long-player to date, and a no-show at the Monterey Pop Festival earlier that summer proved to be disastrous. Overnight, Americans deemed The Beach Boys “the squarest of squares,” in the words of Mark Linett. Regardless of their innovations and newfound quirkiness, they did not belong on the playing field.

Nevertheless, the band pressed on and did their own thing. Their rising popularity in Europe – and especially the UK – kept them afloat, as did touring. After three months, they released yet another album, the similarly stripped-down Wild Honey. While Smiley Smile is psychedelic, goofy, and unabashedly druggy, Wild Honey is unlike anything The Beach Boys made before and unlike anything that was released in the diverse year that was 1967. It is no surprise that both albums, and 1968’s Friends, have held up a lot better than many of their contemporaries and have delighted to this day.

Wild Honey is not my pick for greatest Beach Boys album, but if I were to say what my favorite one is on a personal level, this would probably be in the top spot. Something about Wild Honey always sounded just right to me, and I can’t put it into words. Lo-fi it may be, Wild Honey is this low-key hybrid of a straightforward pop sound not dissimilar to the band’s early work, soul influences, and a pinch of weirdo-psychedelia. Not so summery to these ears, this work oddly conjures up a homemade setting in the autumn or something, whether it’s the gusty ‘Let the Wind Blow,’ the intimate legs-crossed-on-the-floor sexiness of ‘I’d Love Just Once to See You,’ or the rural aura of ‘Country Air,’ I can’t put my finger on it. Infused into that more at-ease mood is a rather sexual flavor, and at times the album is a bit on the naughty side. Not just for The Beach Boys, but for anything released in 1967. They truly were ahead of the game and no one cared to notice. As such, it is certainly not for everyone. However, it immediately clicked with me the minute I heard it many years ago…

What’s often not talked about is what went on during that roughly three-month stretch between the completion of Smiley Smile and the completion of Wild Honey. At one point, the band planned on having a live album be Smiley Smile‘s successor. Titled Lei’d in Hawaii, the August concerts held in Honolulu, which Brian was a part of due to Bruce Johnston’s refusal to come along, turned out to be something of a bust. The plan was to then re-record the whole concert, live in the studio, at the San Francisco-based Wally Heider Studios. The plans to do the live album this way were swiftly shelved. Shortly afterwards, a new studio album started to come together.

On this set, we finally hear what was – at one point in time – set to come in the late autumn of 1967…

 

Various Wild Honey outtakes and rarities have shown up before on compilations. Other recordings remained lost, not even on bootlegs, curiosities such as a cover of the 1965 hit song ‘The Game of Love’ (which Wayne Fontana scored with his Mindbenders) and a track called ‘Honey Get Home.’ Both of which were on a work-in-progress tracklisting for the LP, they show up on here for the very first time, and it’s revealed that the former was a Lei’d in Hawaii recording.

Now before we get to the short Hawaii chapter, let’s start from the beginning…

Wild Honey is presented in an all-new, purportedly complete stereo mix. While Wild Honey is a personal favorite of mine, it was never a properly-mixed album, in both its original “stereo” form and its mono form. Something about it sounded kind of subdued, kind of murky. The new mix alleviates a lot of those problems, while also revealing hidden little details in the music. More harmonies, more instruments, the songs sound like full-on productions compared to the previously-released versions. Wild Honey was meant to have something on an under-produced sound, not dissimilar to its predecessor and its successor. While the original Wild Honey sounds much more homemade, this sounds like it’s punchier and more “1967,” if that makes sense.

The stereo mix is not better by any means, I feel both mixes complement each other, but I feel some subtleties aren’t in this new iteration. That all being said, Wild Honey in full stereo is a pleasant listen with some surprises along the way, and I’m glad I have both to choose from…

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The real meat comes afterwards… The rest of Disc 1 is Wild Honey session outtakes and various live performances of the material, some of which was previously released in different forms. ‘Lonely Days’ is longer on here, adding a minute of the instrumental backing. ‘Cool Cool Water’ is merely a meshing of ‘Love to Say Dada’ and the actual ‘Cool Cool Water’ that was attempted in fall 1967. ‘Time To Get Alone’ sounds a little different from the one on the 2001 set Hawthorne, CA. Missing from it is the sublime a cappella ending. Either way, it’s nice to have the original 1967 Brian vocals version of that song, before it was sweetened up and shortened for 20/20 a year later.

We also get a different version of ‘Can’t Wait Too Long,’ a recording that was worked on from late 1967 all the way up to the summer of 1968. Preserving some session chatter, this version is definitely not the very produced 5-minute pieced-together recording on the old 1990 twofer of Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, nor is it the scant one on the 1993 Good Vibrations box. An amusing piece that surprisingly wasn’t fleshed out in time, would’ve made for a nice addition on the finished album, but not the best outtake for sure. An alternate mix of ‘I’d Love Just Once to See You’ has nothing on the album version, and while it’s cool to hear what goes on after the fade-out, you can see why they cut it short. It also makes you appreciate how they mixed the harmonies that end that piece, making it sound more ethereal.

The extended version of ‘I Was Made to Love Her,’ which for the longest time was only on the ironically rare Rarities album from 1983, is here too in all its glory. Now that’s an ending that should NOT have been shortened for the finished album, for it does utilize a section of the Stevie Wonder original that wasn’t in any other part of the song. ‘Honey Get Home’ is a basic instrumental, and I assume they didn’t get as far as doing the vocals, even though the song was slated for inclusion on the album prior to the final run of sessions in November. A cover of Burt Bacharach’s ‘My Little Red Book’ is surprisingly absent, but did they ever actually record it? Various sessions for the released songs are an absolute delight, showing that even the relatively minimalist recordings here required a lot of care and craftsmanship. Even the throwaway “poof!” at the end of ‘Mama Says’ was given a lot of thought, as evidenced on the 3 minutes of sessions included here. Additionally, we have an instrumental quickie called ‘Hide Go Seek,’ there is little of note here – just some honky-tonk piano pounding and some backing.

Closing out the disc are live performances from 1967 and a lone one from 1970. All of them are pretty solid and do their studio counterparts justice. On this live version of ‘Darlin’,’ you can hear sheds of how they played it in late 1968, a recording from that period is used on the 1970 live release Live in London.

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Disc two goes backwards, taking us to Smiley Smile, which makes me wonder why the content here wasn’t the first disc… Perhaps the set was sequenced this way to plug the stereo mix of Wild Honey… Anyhoo, the disc starts with the backing track of the single version of ‘Heroes and Villains,’ and some alternate versions/mixes of Smiley Smile material. Admittedly not the most thrilling material for me, it does give one more appreciation for the single mix of ‘Heroes’ because it’s always been regarded as inferior to whatever mix may have appeared on SMiLE, or the great version contained on The SMiLE Sessions.

I respect the rather divisive Smiley Smile, but I get most of my enjoyment out of the album’s more original material. Meaning, I’m not as big on the straight-up recreations of the actual SMiLE recordings: ‘Vegetables,’ ‘Wonderful,’ and ‘Wind Chimes.’ Pieces like ‘She’s Goin’ Bald’ and ‘Fall Breaks and Back to Winter’ were more based on recordings from the period, rather than being flat-out recreations. As such, the extended ‘Vegetables’ isn’t entirely to my liking: Chewing and isolated whistling! Misophonia alert! Fans of the whole of Smiley Smile should enjoy it, though. The alternate, vocal-free mix of ‘Fall Breaks and Back to Winter’ on here is more menacing than its already-unnerving album counterpart. An alternate tag section of ‘Wind Chimes’ is actually quite pretty, should’ve been used on the album, honestly…

Again, the material that interests me here is the decidedly “more Smiley Smile” stuff, the stuff that is really its own stuff and not “SMiLE: Stripped.” We get two early versions of the closing track ‘Whistle In,’ a backing track of the trippy Hawaiian crawl of ‘Little Pad,’ an alternate and ultimately inferior version of ‘With Me Tonight,’ and an untitled 30-second instrumental (which sounds like it was played on rubber bands) that was apparently intended for Redwood. Of course, any historian knows that Redwood would later become Three Dog Night in 1968, and that in 1967, Brian was writing material for them. ‘Time To Get Alone’ was one of those songs, ‘Darlin” was another… That was, until the band told him not to pour all that effort into songs for other people. ‘Darlin” and ‘Time to Get Alone’ were later turned into Beach Boys songs, the latter – as said earlier – not seeing a release until 20/20 came out. Three Dog Night later achieved big stardom with their cover of Harry Nilsson’s ‘One,’ which lead to a string of super-hits that ended some time around 1973.

Missing is a session reel of the utterly wacky ‘She’s Goin’ Bald,’ which I heard on YouTube a long, long time ago. I’m sure there’s other hidden gems that didn’t make it to this set.

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After all of that ends, we now ease into a master tape of the aborted Lei’d in Hawaii, which begins with a humorous and rather telling introduction from collaborator Fred Vail. ‘The Letter’ – a cover of the then-recent Box Tops hit song – is something we’ve all heard before, and it’s a solid cover, as is a run-through of ‘With a Little Help from My Friends.’ The former is presented in two versions, the first of which sounds a lot like the one on Rarities. ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ also appeared on that LP, and is presented in both stereo and mono – a nice treat. ‘The Game of Love’ does not have the energy of the famous Wayne Fontana version, but is pleasant enough. The rest? Very stripped, laid-back, strangely contemporary and retrograde at the same time, and sometimes amusing near-recreations of the classics. The only thing of note I could point out is the unexpectedly slow climax of ‘California Girls,’ going against the original’s fast and energetic final 30-or-so seconds. If they were trying to get a mellow, conked out in Hawaii mood, well good job then! A little too snoozy for my liking. I think if this “live” album were released, it probably would’ve put a nail in the coffin more than anything. They aren’t bad by any means, but definitely not so releasable. The boys certainly did recreate a limited live feel in the studio…

Now the actual live in Hawaii material… You can see why it immediately got the axe… Unusually lethargic and without verve, questionable banter between performances, if I were some normie who was big on the contemporary acts (Hendrix, Cream, the like) wasn’t in the know back in 1967 and stumbled upon this concert, I’d wonder what the heck had happened to the band. The Thanksgiving 1967 concert material that follows fares much better, perennial favorite ‘Graduation Day’ has a particularly soft, almost jazzy vibe to it. ‘California Girls’ is straight-up a live take on the song, nothing amazing, nothing bad. The beginning of an ‘I Get Around’ performance from Boston is also telling, as the band asks the audience whether they want that or ‘Sloop John B,’ the audience roars for the former. What follows is a groovy rendition of the all-time classic.

While many of the non-Hawaii live performances on here do the job, I feel that the Beach Boys really began to shine as a live unit the year after. I think that’s especially evident on Live in London and the 1972-73 document In Concert.

A home performance of ‘Surf’s Up’ indicates that even by the time Wild Honey was well into the works, Brian hadn’t left all of SMiLE behind, and was even willing to play some of it on some occasion. Even in this stripped-down form, it’s as beautiful as ever. The SMiLE Sessions already contained this, but it’s presented here in longer form with some studio chatter. Finally rounding out the second disc, an a cappella take on ‘Surfer Girl’ is lovely on the ears and shows that it can more than exist on its own without the musical backing.

Comprehensive? Yes, very much so. A little exhausting in spaces? Indeed. A thoroughly pleasant listen, and a pretty tip-top historical document, 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow is pretty much the archive release fans of this period – myself included – have been waiting for. Not without some holes and some omissions, Wild Honey sounds quite good in stereo, and the outtake selection is excellent. Some live material scores, too. The Lei’d in Hawaii belly of the second disc functions better as a collection than a fine listen, and you can see why the band decided to scrap that project altogether. Imagine getting THAT in late 1967 instead of Wild Honey… I don’t think I want to imagine such a world. There’s something here for every late 1967-era fan, though, so I can’t fault it for that.

While I feel the first disc is much stronger than disc two, the second spinner’s content and history is a lovely bonus, especially since this is a 65-track set that costs a very fair $29.99. For any Beach Boys fan or historian, it’s definitely worth the price…

I now hope that we get some kind of archival release next year for all the 1968 sessions, and certainly a set chronicling the lengthy making of what would become Sunflower

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