Sunday, July 1, 2012

Endless Summaries: One Man's Quest For The Perfect Beach Boys Compilation.

OK, this should not be so difficult.

The Beach Boys have officially been around for 50 years, & yet, a decent one-disc compilation seems to elude their catalogue.  At least in my opinion.

There was the old vinyl Best Of The Beach Boys, Volumes 1 & 2 that have been out of print longer than I've been alive.  Just as well since, despite Greil Marcus's claim about the second volume, they both seem to skimp on length (as many LPs did back then) & add some needless junk amongst the hits (namely, the Beach Boys trying to beat the Kinks in the contest for the worst "Louie, Louie" cover on Vol. 1 & something called "Long Tall Texan" on Vol. 2).  Sometimes there's a reason things are outta print.  Or, as my friend Sarah would say, meh.

The compilation that broke the mold, then, was 1974's surprise blockbuster Endless Summer, which to many people, is THE Beach Boys collection, if not statement.  It was only the second Beach Boys' LP to hit #1 — the first was their obligatory mid-'60s live album (& no, Pet Sounds never came close as it stalled at #10, although it did make #2 in the UK, but I digress) — & introduced an entire generation to the group, the very same people who ushered in their "America's Greatest Band" phase by the time they were rocking out for the Reagan White House on the 4th of July, which is about as American as a show can get, I'd say.

For this reason, people get pretty misty-eyed about Endless Summer, but upon closer examination nearly 40 years after the fact, the album reveals itself to be the slapdash afterthought it truly was.  Basically, by 1974, the Beach Boys had left Capitol to start their own Brothers label (& unknowingly enter their bizarre "cult" years between hit-makers & oldies-circuiters), & Capitol was looking to make a cheap buck off the band.  As you read everywhere, Endless Summer was made with the help of Mike Love (which, depending on if yer Team Brian, means that it was soiled by the hand of satan, or if yer Team Mike, it was graced by the great unsung hero of American popular music), which means he chose to focus on the Beach Boys' vintage years (1962-1965) to the exclusion of anything later — i.e., Pet Sounds & the #1 "Good Vibrations" (although we will soon see the latter oversight rectified).

It was this emphasis that made it so irresistible to the kids, as the post-'60s purple haze of glass onions & jewels & binoculars hanging from the head of the mule had overtaken the (often great) music that had come just before it.  Enter Endless Summer, which, say what you will about the music (& I will), came in a shiny double-set with lovely artwork — evocative line drawings of the boys among the green trees & yellow sand of the beach, which were a perfect match for the mood of the music inside, while oddly also being a perfect mismatch for the time in which the music was made (despite the fact that all of the recordings were around a decade old & made in their classic preppy matching-striped shirt days, the band was drawn with the long hair & flowing beards that was contemporary to 1974) — & perfect title.  Endless Summer.  Yes.  If there's a more perfect comp title, I've yet to see it.  OK, maybe the Flaming Lips' Finally The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid, but that's more of an intellectual perfection where as Endless Summer works completely on mood.  Which is what this album is all about.

For everything that is on the album, it's interesting to note what isn't.  Big hits — "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)" (#9), "Dance, Dance, Dance" (#8), "Do You Wanna Dance?" (#12), & "Barbara Ann" (#2) — are all MIA, despite the fact that they were all released during the 1962-1965 time period.  Also, minor hits & classics like "409" (#76), "Please Let Me Wonder" (#52), "The Little Girl I Once Knew" (#20), & "Little Honda" (the lead song on an EP that hit #44) are also missing.  & then, most sacrilege of all, on three tracks the less-familiar & inferior LP versions were substituted for the famous hit versions: "Be True to Your School" (#6), "Fun, Fun, Fun" (#5), & "Help Me, Rhonda" (one of the Beach Boys' few #1 hits).  This has always struck me as very fishy.  & with everyone agreeing on how thrown-together this compilation was, it's always just felt like some engineer somewhere wasn't really paying attention when they sent the masters to be pressed, & then it wasn't worth fixing once they had been sent, if anyone even noticed in the first place.  & then when it becomes a #1 smash, why fix something that's not broken?

So that's already five Top 40 hits from the period that was left off, plus an additional three Top 10 hits that weren't included in their hit versions.  Really, who was in charge here?  But what did make it on, wrong versions & all, play majestically.  In this regard, Endless Summer plays the ultimate trick of them all: Feeling like the perfect summation of the Beach Boys, even if reality proved otherwise.  For everything that the album wasn't, it was assembled shrewdly.  It balances between rockers & ballads, with the opening side of "Surfin' Safari" (#14) "Surfer Girl" (#7), "Catch A Wave," "The Warmth Of The Sun," & "Surfin' USA" (#3) especially perfect.  The big hits — "Little Deuce Coupe" (#15) "I Get Around" (#1) "California Girls" (#3) — are pretty evenly divided among the smaller ones — "In My Room" (#23), "Shut Down"(#23), & "Don't Worry Baby" (#24) — & the non-charting classics (at least in the relative world of the Beach Boys) like "Wendy," "You're So Good To Me," & "All Summer Long."  The few other filler tracks — "The Girls On The Beach," "Girl Don't Tell Me" & "Let Him Run Wild" — can be excused as filler, given the fact that you are getting a 20-song, double album.

But wait just a minute there — only one song breaks the three-minute barrier (the inferior version of "Rhonda"), while two don't even break the two-minute barrier, resulting in a breezy album that runs a little over 45 minutes.  That's shorter than the Beatles' Abbey Road, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, & the Rolling Stones' original UK version of Aftermath, all of which sit comfortably on a single disc.  Indeed, while the average LP side can hold around 20-23 minutes, Endless Summer opts for around 12 on each of its side.  Thus, it could've been issued on a single LP — which, incidentally, is exactly how it was issued in the always-thrifty UK.  But Americans are all about space & a double-album feels fuller than a single, & this is an album all about feel.  Also, as any business undergrad can tell you, a double-album can be sold at a higher price.

& then I almost forgot.  When it was reissued on CD in 1981 (a double-album set on a single CD, ha ha!), they added what may have been the first bonus track ever: "Good Vibrations," a #1 single that even the most armchairy of armchair Beach Boy quarterbacks must've noticed was absent.  When you think Beach Boys (not to mention the phrase "Endless Summer"), I bet "Good Vibrations" is the first thing most people would think of.  Yes, it broke Mike Love's "early years" rule (it came out in 1966), but from the Reagan era, it all looked the same.  Beach/surf/hippie music.  Maybe it wasn't all so bad after all...

But with no other songs in between the original running-order & "Good Vibrations," the now 21-track, 51-minute CD Endless Summer, the album simply bypassed the Pet Sounds material altogether.  Perhaps this was allowed Mike Love to go with it, if he was even consulted when the transfer to CD was made.  Love had famously referred to Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds-era stuff as "Brian's Ego music," so in this version of the story, the ego music could still be out while the closer of all closers, "Good Vibrations," ends things with a gorgeousness that can't be denied by either Team Mike or Team Brian.  Or anyone with ears for that matter.

With the CD Endless Summer now neatly skipping Pet Sounds, it remained the optimal recommendation for many critics, just as the two albums appear in Rolling Stone's 200 Essential Albums list in 1997.  Unlike so many other artists, these albums seemed to fit together perfectly, with Endless Summer leading just up to Pet Sounds, Pet Sounds filling its own void, then the bonus track of "Good Vibrations" (released after Pet Sounds) to finish the story with seemingly everything you need to know.

But there are still the missing hits, & still the three inferior non-hit versions.  Now, I've read that when they put out the special remastered gold CD edition (Remember those things? Pay twice as much for an album that you've already bought on vinyl, cassette tape, and normal CD!), they corrected the inferior versions, making it the first time that you could actually hear all of the hits in the hit versions that the album's sleeve always claimed to have.  At any rate, my copy of the non-gold CD (an old Columbia House mail-order one I found used in a record store) has the stupid versions of the three songs.  (I mean, there's a reason why the single of "Help Me, Rhonda" doesn't playfully fade in & out for a few extra choruses.)

Now, assuming we can call the three "wrong tracks" issued resolved given that they were (finally) corrected, I still don't understand how some of those songs made it on the album.  Maybe I'm quibbling here (OK, I'm definitely quibbling here), but I can't believe that legitimate top ten hits like "Dance, Dance, Dance," "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)," & "Barbara Ann" were MIA while second-rate, derivative fodder like "Girls On The Beach," "Girl Don't Tell Me," & "You're So Good To Me" made the cut.

It is probably for these very reasons (plus I don't think the sound was ever remastered for the non-gold CD edition) that Endless Summer has remained out of print for at least a decade now.  But what kills me most is that nothing good was put in its place.

The two-record 1986 set Made In The U.S.A. came the closest for me, chronologically taking the story up through Pet Sounds (adding "Caroline No," a minor hit (#34) that was issued as a "Brian Wilson" single) & "Good Vibrations," & then closing it with the one-two punch of "Heroes & Villains" (#12) & their made-in-1968-but-already-was-feeling-nostalgic "Do It Again" (#20), before then adding five needless newer oldies covers tacked on at the end.  Plus, when I look at it now, I see that, despite my very clear memories of the album, it apparently doesn't have "Little Deuce Coupe" on it.  Although I coulda sworn that my copy did.  At any rate, another Beach Boys aficionado could just as easily point to the absence of "In My Room" or "Catch A Wave" & make just as strong as an argument.  (For those keeping score, all three of those songs are on Endless Summer.)

The early 1990s saw a major remastering & reissuing of the Beach Boys catalogue for their 30th anniversary as a band, culminating in a boxed set, Good Vibrations: 30 Years of the Beach Boys, which is in its own category (& has already been masterly/obsessively deconstructed by David Leaf in his short revival of Crawdaddy! from that time).  By this point, they had been discovered by a third generation of fans, as highlighted by a surprise #1 single, "Kokomo," which I always hated, from the Cocktail soundtrack (Tom Cruise used to be famous for being an actor!), & seemingly omnipresent guest spots on Full House (in truth they only appeared a few times, usually with just one or two of the members).

Hot off the hit (in the box set world, anyway) box set, it was time to make a new, definitive CD of the Beach Boys hits, especially since they now had their fourth #1 hit!  But instead, they made The Greatest Hits — Volume 1: 20 Good Vibrations.  Issued in 1995, the album was the exact opposite of Endless Summer: With a corporate title & an ugly cover, it looked like the perfect summation of the Beach Boys' career, but had none of the feel.  At only 20 songs, it still only ran for about 50 minutes, meaning that another half hour of hits could've been added.  & also — clearly some misty-eyed Endless Summer-ers were at the helm here — they substituted the stupid versions of "School" & "Rhonda" for the hit versions.  Now they had no excuse.

Which is probably why only four years later, they weirdly reissued the album with the same name & title, but with a different (now chronological) running order & the actual hit versions of "School" & "Rhonda."  But still at only 20 tracks, it feels a bit skimpy, not to mention MIAs like "Don't Worry Baby" & "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)" (does everybody really hate that song THAT much?), plus the awkward fact that there's a good 22 year gap between the 19th & the 20th songs ("Good Vibrations" & "Kokomo," respectively, natch).  The Greatest Hits — Volume 2: 20 More Good Vibrations filled in the cracks, but it definitely felt like leftovers, with the sputtering ballad start of "In My Room," "The Warmth Of The Sun," & "Don't Worry Baby," all excellent songs, but not the best way to start an album.  By the time they put out the third volume, of their cultish "Brothers" years, I'm not sure if anyone was paying attention anymore.  Except me, apparently.

Then two years The Beatles single-handedly changed the entire reissue playing field with 1, collecting 27 number one songs (well, 26 #1 songs technically, plus "Something," but I digress) between the US & UK charts on a single disc.  Not to be outdone, the Elvis people put out the weirdly titled ELV1S, which had 31 of his US, UK, & Cash Box #1s (well, I could quibble, but I'll refrain).  Before long, everybody from James Brown to Marvin Gaye to Elton John to the Bee Gees had to release THEIR albums of number one songs (although many would be quite liberal in their definition), with further acts like Three Dog Night, The Steve Miller Band, & Joe Cocker putting out as-many-songs-as-can-fit-on-a-disc compilations nobody asked for that tried to make up in breadth what it could make up for in chart positions.

It was only a matter of time before The Beach Boys jumped in the fray.  & so, in 2003 (to mark their 41st anniversary?), The Beach Boys released Sounds of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys, a single-disc, 30-track CD that sought to be the end-all, be-all Beach Boys compilation.

Only it wasn't.

To begin with, the songs were not in chronological order, something that I personally feel is essential for a grand retrospective (see: 1, ELV1S, etc.).  Instead, they were done as a sort of stream-of-consciousness flow that some praised but I thought failed miserably.  Hearing "Surfin' Safari" & "Surfin' USA" back-to-back does nothing to make either one better, while the "Surfer Girl" & "Don't Worry Baby" back-to-back is like, OK, it's now ballad time.  Also, this being a career-long sweep in the model of the other definitive single-disc compilations, they included their '70s & '80s hits that are at once less familiar & not as good, both in terms of songwriting strength & production values.  When "Wouldn't It Be Nice" gives way to "Getcha Back," it sounds as though someone has ripped off the record & replaced it with a #26 hit from 1985.  Which is exactly what it is.  (Here's an example of where chronology could solve the problem.)

Don't get me wrong, the Beach Boys did have some surprisingly respectable hits since "Do It Again," with 1969's "I Can Hear Music" (#24), 1976's "Rock and Roll Music" (#5, not sure how, but it was), & the aforementioned "Kokomo"; not to mention the minor hits between "Heroes & Villains" & "Do It Again" — namely, 1968's "Wild Honey" (#31) & "Darlin'" (#19).  But basically, anything more than these songs feels a bit over-inflated, which is exactly how tracks like 1978's "Come Go With Me" (#18) & 1979's "Good Timin'" (#40) are left in the mix, while other songs — most disgracefully, for me anyway, "409" & "Catch A Wave" — are left for the obligatory "leftovers" album Warmth Of The Sun (interesting for its own purposes, but will always feel like a weird detour as opposed to another complete version).

My guess is that the whole "no chronology" thing was done for Sounds Of Summer for one reason only: So that it could end with "Good Vibrations," just like how Endless Summer did (the way everyone remembers it, anyway).  But alas, the programming is too obvious, too thematic to work.

& so we are back where we started: Endless Summer.  Again I will take it out & again I will listen to it, but again I will hear just as much of what it could've been as I will what it is.

Seriously, it just shouldn't be this hard!

* * *

For all of you out there like me (& I know there are thousands of you!), I made up my own little "extended" Endless Summer, which I feel like captures the spirit (& tracklist) of the original, while then adding 10 extra bonus cuts that take the story up to "Do It Again," which (influence of Made In The USA admitted) seemed to take the story as far as it needed to go & in a way ended it the way it began.

I left the original running order alone, but substituted the hit versions for the stupid versions.  I then tacked on my extra 10 tracks, putting them chronologically (I wasn't gonna try mimicking the initial album's running order), but they still have a good flow.  & all tracks are in their mono mixes, as they should always be for everything ever.  (The mono/stereo can of worms is one I've deliberately avoided thus far & I intended to continue doing — or not doing — so.)

So here it is, yer 32-track compilation of The Beach Boys that they should make but somehow have not (& likely never will).  It's got the hit versions, it's got the golden years, it's got all of Endless Summer (even the filler cuts) & every Top 10 hit of the '60s.

I made me one & now you can too!

I call it—

Endless Summer [Reconstructed] [Bonus Tracks]

1.  Surfin' USA
2.  Surfer Girl
3.  Catch A Wave
4.  The Warmth Of The Sun
5.  Surfin' USA
6.  Be True To Your School (Single Version)
7.  Little Deuce Coupe
8.  In My Room
9.  Shut Down
10.  Fun, Fun, Fun (Single Version)
11.  I Get Around
12.  Girls On The Beach
13.  Wendy
14.  Let Him Run Wild
15.  Don't Worry Baby
16.  California Girls
17.  Girl Don't Tell Me
18.  Help Me, Rhonda (Single Version)
19.  You're So Good To Me
20.  All Summer Long
21.  Good Vibrations

[Bonus Tracks]

22.  409
23.  When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)
24.  Little Honda
25.  Dance, Dance, Dance
26.  Please Let Me Wonder
27.  Barbara Ann
28.  Sloop John B
29.  Wouldn't It Be Nice
30.  God Only Knows
31.  Heroes & Villains
32.  Do It Again

Oh, & if anyone at Capitol is reading this, feel free to give me a heads up.  I can't believe that a 50th anniversary is gonna go by with no new comp on deck...

1 comment:

  1. Reading this, I couldn't stop thinking about the film The Endless Summer (1966), which I turned on randomly one evening when I didn't want anything too cognitively challenging, and which immediately became my go-to movie for spacing out and feeling mindlessly blissful. Glad it's on Netflix Instant. Easy access FTW.