The Beach Boys|
The U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962-1965)
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
It’ sum..sum…Summertime, which means its time for yet another Beach Boys compilation. This year’s model is “The U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962-1965),” a boxed set containing 14 singles, an EP, and a bonus disc of material released during the group’s earliest years. Break out the surf boards, Coppertone and yer little deuce coupes.
The limited edition box set has a wood inlay, and includes a hardbound 48-page book of candid period photos of the group. (Check out Brian playing guitar in a fur collar, or the boys wearing identical Fall ensembles on the beach.) Each of the 16 CDs is packaged in a sleeve that that faithfully replicates the single’s original artwork. So what’s the attraction for those of us who are unimpressed by a pretty package? The sound, and I’m not talking about the echo of the surf pounding against the sand. The A and B sides are presented in both mono and stereo versions, with many of the mixes such as those for “When I Grow Up To Be A Man,” “Little Saint Nick,” “Do You Wanna Dance” and “She Knows Me” previously unreleased. Three previously unreleased mono mixes are included as well for “I’m So Young,” “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” and “All Dressed Up For School.” That’s enough to make a devout Beach Boy fan do wheelies for a week. There’s also one final treat for all you Moondogies – a live performance of “409” recorded in Chicago in 1965. You may not always hear the Boys for the screaming and their execution is a bit wobbly, but you still have the novelty of ancient history come to life; Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon are teenagers again and all is right with the world.
The singles are in chronological order, beginning with their earliest hits, “409” and “Surfin’ Safari.” The boys show some musical progression by disc 15, ending with their quintessential summer song, “California Girls” and the B-side, “Let Him Run Wild.” In between are the hits “Surfin' U.S.A.,” “Surfer Girl, “ “In My Room," “I Get Around," “When I Grow Up To Be A Man,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Help Me Rhonda.” “Surfin’ U.S.A.” now sports a writing credit for both Mike Love and Chuck Berry. Berry had fumed for years that the intro to “Surfin’ U.S.A” was a direct lift from his song “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and he’s right. And somehow, after years of litigation and ill feelings toward his cousin, Brian Wilson, Mike Love convinced a judge that he deserved a writing credit for virtually every song Wilson had written. The monotoned Love also happens to be the lead singer for most of the songs in the set, which proves you can indeed get too much Love. With the cleaner mixes, the listener will reap the benefits of being able to hear the snap of the cymbals and fine snare work by session drummers such as Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon, and you’ll be bowled over by the ensemble harmonies, but Love’s nasal nuances are more offensive than ever. Alan Jardine’s vocal for “Help Me Rhonda” will make you wish he’d been given a few more leads. Brian Wilson’s higher-pitched, leads (he sings “In My Room” and “Don’t Worry Baby”) benefit from the new mixes, taking on an extra layer of fragility a scratchy old single can’t convey.
Back in the days of 45 rpm singles (and L.P.s!) artists would put their blockbuster numbers on the A side and put some group penned flotsam on the B-side. (That way artists got paid for the sales of the song on the A side, which were often penned by non-group members.) Many of the singles included the box set were two sided hits, (for example, Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe, I Get Around/Don’t Worry Baby and Dance, Dance, Dance/The Warmth of the Sun). The Beach Boys wrote most of their A side material, but there are a few B-side numbers that are at best fillers. Their cover of “Blue Christmas” is a bland lump of coal, “Punchline” is a punch less, throwaway instrumental with amateurish hooting and hollering, and since I’m likely going to hell anyway, the genius who suggested they record a version of “The Lord’s Prayer” should have been crucified. This is not to say that all of the A-sides are first rate; there’s the obsolete, Donna Reed sentiment of “Be True To Your School,” (ra ra sis boom bah); “Ten Little Indians,” with some very non-P.C. lyrics that won’t be appreciated by Native Americans; the blasé “Wendy” (not to be confused with the optimistic “Wendy” recorded by the Association), and the holiday jeer of “Little Saint Nick” (which was the A-side of “The Lord’s Prayer,” so you can skip that CD altogether). Disc 16 offers nothing particularly revelatory in the Beach Boy bonus department with two unreleased tunes, “All Dressed Up For School” and “I’m So Young,” plus a mono mix of “Help Me Rhonda” and a stereo mix of “Graduation Day,” both of which could have stayed in the vaults.
But there are several songs that immediately register as classics right out f the box, including the aforementioned sunny “California Girls,” the hummable “Help Me Rhonda,” and the clap-along, pop Doo Wop of “I Get Around.” Arguably, two of the best songs aren’t pop songs, they’re ballads. “In My Room” offers a peek into the sensitive, already damaged soul of Brian Wilson, who sought refuge from his abusive father and his demanding life in his room, where he was the king of his own soul: “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to. In my room, in my room. In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears. In my room, in my room.” And Wilson’s wounded falsetto makes the band’s nine millionth reference to drag racing in “Don’t Worry Baby” sound fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fans fascination with the Boys surf sounds. Visions of sand, waves, hot cars and bikinis may have spoken to the American Graffiti crowd, but the Boys material never had the breadth of their rivals, The Beatles, or even the bad boy posing of The Rolling Stones. Few bands had better harmonies than the Beach Boys – the best, in my opinion, were Three Dog Night, Crosby, Stills and Nash (definitely not Young), The Beatles, the post-Graham Nash Hollies, The Rascals, and The Band. With the exception of the Fab Four, the rest of these aggregations weren’t recording yet, so non-fans will get a chance to hear some deceptively tight pop harmonies. I’ll sing along to “I Get Around,” but I’ll always remember the Beach Boys for songs like “Good Vibrations,” “Darlin’,” and “Do It Again,” and the albums “Surf’s Up” and “Holland.” There was more going on in their late 60s and early 70s recordings than pipelines, Woodies and wipe-outs. The Beach Boys subject matter was more mature and they were singing like the beach men. If you consider the songs in the box set a work in progress (or don’t fret over the glee club lyrics in the first place), you’ll enjoy the Capital years.
I might have been more impressed if I’d actually received the box set. (I’m describing it based on what I’ve seen and heard about this modern marvel of visual appeal.) Without the impressive woodwork and 48-page book all that’s left is the music, which for me is too juvenile and arcane to enjoy. Devout Beach Boy historians will have fun, fun, fun with this. I’ll be the first to hang ten with the group when they cover the ‘66-‘74 period, but for me the ’62-‘65 Beach Boys are a wipeout.