The Beach Boys
Remaster Series (including Surfin’ USA, Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down, Volume 2, All Summer Long, The Beach Boys Today!, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), Beach Boys Party!, Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile, Sunflower, Surf’s Up, Greatest Hits, 50 Big Ones)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
2012 marks the 50 year anniversary for the Beach Boys, and Capitol Records is doing a large reissue campaign to mark the occasion. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the weekly circulars for new releases as they’re nowhere to be found in them, however. That’s rather strange for a group who still holds the record for the American band with the most top 40 hits on the Billboard charts, not to mention a top 20 act of all-time (#19) according to a points system calculated in Billboard chart success in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles and an early inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (1988). Even more odd is that these same releases got a Japanese release several months in advance of the US street date.
Casual fans may be wondering what else is special about these releases. After all, their catalog has been covered with a career-spanning 5-CD box set to mark their 30th anniversary, and Pet Sounds alone has had its own 4-CD box set to cover that album’s sessions for the album’s 30th anniversary and still got a smaller scale release which included a DVD for its 40th anniversary. The primary release of theirs that had been in the vaults and had held mythical lore was the SMiLE “album” (which were really more sessions oriented since the project was never completed) that got a 5-CD box set of its own last year and released to wide critical acclaim. Even the individual releases from this campaign have seen the light of day as twofer bundles back in 2001 that included bonus tracks from those albums’ particular time periods.
Still, there is another angle that Capitol has to celebrate Hawthorne, California’s most memorable band.
For decades, discerning music listeners have debated mono versus stereo mixes. While the fanfare was quite loud when The Beatles’ catalog finally saw CD releases of their mono catalog, it’s actually the stereo mixes for several of these releases that is garnering pre-release attention. Even though Brian Wilson famously favors mono mixes, there are a few titles seeing their first stereo mix release ever: Smiley Smile and Beach Boys Party!. Two other titles, The Beach Boys Today! and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), are getting stereo releases for the entire contents of their respective albums in their history. In contrast to the release plan for The Beatles mono and stereo albums, each mix of the album is contained all together (save for Sunflower and Surf’s Up which are getting stereo-only release) on its respective album. Aside from all of that, fresh digital remasters have been completed by longtime Beach Boys collaborator Mark Linett on several releases.
The sound throughout the series is wonderful. HDCD encoding has been utilized, so those with high-end CD players will enjoy the extra dynamic range inherent to that technology. Aside from great songwriting, the Beach Boys intricate harmonies, certainly influenced by doo-wop, really shine. The mixes do a nice job of keeping a balance between the backing instrumentation and the vocal harmonies. For example, 1963′s “In My Room” has a backing instrumentation whose most audible feature is the snare’s rim tap while the rest remains fairly buried. However, that leaves the listener’s focus on how beautifully the group sings together with Brian Wilson’s falsetto hovering somewhere between this world and heaven, with his fellow band members taking the counterbalancing low end of the vocal arrangement. Where the mono mix sounds more unified, the stereo version sounds fuller with the slight bit of separation.
A few albums were not reissued this time around including their debut album, Surfin’ Safari, The Beach Boys Christmas Album (the album proper, at least… a separate release called Christmas Harmonies featuring stereo remasters is being released), their first concert album, and later albums such as Wild Honey, Stack-O-Tracks, Friends, and 20/20, the last four of which fall chronologically between Smiley Smile and Sunflower.
The packaging mimics what was done for The Beatles reissue initiative with a Capitol logo and the band’s name in the upper left corner to give a unified look and feel. The gatefold digipak covers look nice with their glossy covering but are rather flimsy making it easy to ding, crease, and bend them. Perhaps the biggest problem with this set of reissues is that there were virtually no liner notes being written. With the individual albums, the booklet contained within replicates the original front and back album covers. Other than that, though, only basic title, author, publishing, and mastering information is included making for a large missed opportunity to further define what was so great about the group and how they evolved from one release to the next. Even on 50 Big Ones only a scant one-and-a-half pages written by noted critic David Wild commemorate the band’s journey from a niche surf song group to artists of the highest caliber. With all that being said, however, Linett and company got the most important part right: the sound.
Where the greatest attention to detail has been paid from a packaging standpoint is the CD labels themselves: rainbow Capitol labels adorn the discs up through Pet Sounds, the appropriate Brother Records label does the same for the final three individual albums, and the swirl Capitol label for 50 Big Ones. Only the most discerning music fans may pick that up, but it’s still a nice touch. Also, an assortment of photos of the group throughout the years accompanies the booklet for 50 Big Onesgiving us a visual way to relive our memories of the band alongside the sweet sounds of their music blasting through our stereo speakers.
For those who don’t want to dive in head first to their catalog (and keep in mind, this series is only a fraction of it), two different hits packages have been assembled. The first, a single disc greatest hits compiles 20 songs, about 80% of which are available on the individual albums, and one song (“Be True To Your School”) which isn’t on the double disc hits compilation. A more expansive look is with the aptly-titled 50 Big Ones where over one-third of the material included is NOT on the 12 other singular albums. Of those are two tracks (“Wild Honey” and “Darlin’”) from 1967′s Wild Honey,which is rumored to be getting the stereo mix treatment itself, offering us a glimpse into that future project. The double disc also comes in a lift-top box with embossed lettering, similar to the two-disc version of last year’s issue of SMiLE with 7 black-and-white postcards of band members throughout the years.
A small two week delay kept these releases from getting into US consumers hands earlier, which, had they kept that date would have only coincided with an ugly PR nightmare for Capitol. The 50th reunion tour ended badly with Mike Love and Bruce Johnston kicking David Marks, Al Jardine, and Brian Wilson to the curb for future touring plans. The primary cause stated in a press release? Financial reasons. Surely, a group that sang about fun, fun, fun should be above all that, but for those who have followed them throughout the years, we should have known it wasn’t meant to be forever.
For those who have any of the twofers released in 2001 covering the same material: keep them. Assorted bonus tracks are available on those that aren’t on these releases. That may change in the near future as Capitol has announced yet another box set to be released by year’s end, although the material to be included is still unknown. But even if you do own the twofers, these releases – especially if you are a fan – should become the definitive versions in your library. While cosmetic things mentioned above could have been improved, the sound is superior. This campaign will hopefully be added to with more albums in the future. The Beach Boys’ importance has already been made with their enshrinement in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and a plethora of awards and accolades, but with releases like these, their case has been further bolstered as to why they’re one of rock and roll’s most beloved and enduring groups.