Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

The Beach Boys Remastered – 12-album Mono-Stereo Reissue Set + The Beach Boys “Fifty Big Ones” Greatest Hits (2 CDs) – Capitol Records/EMI

A celebrated American Band is revisited with a dazzling re-mastered box set and a 2-CD Greatest Hits.

Published on November 5, 2012

The Beach Boys Remastered – 12-album Mono-Stereo Reissue Set + The Beach Boys “Fifty Big Ones” Greatest Hits (2 CDs) – Capitol Records/EMI

The Beach Boys Remastered – 12-album Mono-Stereo Reissue Set + The Beach Boys “Fifty Big Ones” Greatest Hits (2 Discs) – Capitol Records/EMI (14 CDs total) *****:

Surfin’U.S.A. (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404436-21 

Surfer Girl (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404435-22 

Little Deuce Coupe (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404424-26 

 Shut Down Volume 2 (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404427-23

All Summer Long (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404423-27

The Beach Boys Today! (Stereo + Mono) 50999 404437-20

Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) 50999 404433-24

Beach Boys Party! (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404425-25

Pet Sounds (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404426-24

Smiley Smile (Mono + Stereo) 50999 404432-25

Sunflower (Stereo mix only) 50999 404438-29

Surf’s Up (Stereo mix only) 50999404439-28

As the Beach Boys celebrate their 50th anniversary with a tour and new album, EMI has re-mastered 12 Capitol studio albums and a 2-disc, 50-track greatest hits package. From Hawthorne California, the group which consisted of Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and neighbor Dave Marks, (who was replaced by Al Jardine), brought the wild surf music scene into pop mainstream. Multi-instrumentalist Brian Wilson was the primary force behind the band. His instrumental and arrangement expertise translated well in a studio setting. A devotee of the “Wall Of Sound”, this style of music celebrated high-end production and use of veteran session players.

Most of the re-mastered CDs are in both mono and stereo. On the earlier albums it is interesting to contrast the density of the mono recording to the fluid separation found on the stereo tracks. The listener gets to hear the evolution of the band, and Brian Wilson’s role as creative director. Surfin’ U.S.A. is full of surprises. In addition to the tightly-arranged title song (and painfully obvious note-for-note similarity to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”), there are five instrumentals, including surf classic Misirlou and a catchy original, “Stoked”. Graceful vocal harmonies permeate the songs, with Mike Love and Wilson sharing lead. Each release reflects an evolved musical arrangements and songwriting. Surfer Girl continues with commercial singles (“Little Deuce Coupe”), but Wilson’s musicality is becoming more ruminative and lyrical. “In My Room” is hauntingly beautiful and features elegant harmonies. Shut Down Volume 2 features the most accessible single to date “Fun, Fun, Fun” with more coordinated singing parts. But the Brian Wilson songbook takes a leap forward with two heartfelt, silky cuts, “Don’t Worry Baby” and “In The Warmth Of The Sun”. Despite a simple narrative, the lush harmonics created an air of timelessness. Not a strong overall album, it set the table for an ongoing rivalry with The Beatles. Most of the early projects contain 12-13 tracks with at least one hit single. But releases like All Summer Long (including the #1 hit, “I Get Around”) signaled the beginning of over-dubbing vocals to session players.

As Brian Wilson accepted the challenge of outdoing The Beatles, the direction of the group changed. He retreated from touring with the band, opting to focus on composing. A variety of substitutes (including Glen Campbell) hit the road, keeping the brand viable. As Wilson distanced himself from The Beach Boys, mental illness and drug abuse infiltrated his psyche. Despite this predicament, the highlight of this set is the mono-stereo reissue of Pet Sounds. Although the album did not garner initial, commercial success, it is regarded as a major innovation. {And is also available as a DVD-Audio…Ed.] Wilson adopted a baroque psychedelic vibe that incorporated unintended ‘mistakes” of contemporary eight-track technology, and exotic instrumental touches (bicycle bells, Hawaiian string instruments and barking dogs). The final mix was done in mono (like Phil Spector, he wanted absolute control of the final product). The songwriting glowed on tunes like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “God Only Knows” “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” and “Caroline No”. The complexity and harmonic range of the music is mesmerizing, unlike anything heard to date. Also, Carl Wilson established himself as the new lead singer. His performance on “God Only Knows” is nothing short of spine-tingling. Regardless of commercial viability, nearly every prominent rock musician raved about Pet Sounds. Rolling Stone Magazine proclaimed it as the Number 2 rock album of all time. The question was, how would Brian Wilson follow up his masterpiece?

In 1966, “Good Vibrations” was released as a single and electrified the world. Featuring the legendary Wrecking Crew players, this “pocket symphony” impacted the rock and roll world, including The Beatles. Utilizing a variety of layered instrumentals and hi-tech electronics (for the time), the aural quality of the song is mesmerizing. Originally conceived for the Smile album, the “replacement” project “Smiley Smile” resurrected this hallmark of rock and roll. Powerful in mono, the stereo re-mastering is more impressive. There is a palpable richness of tones and the flow of vocals and instrumentation surpasses any other attempt in popular music. Another nugget is “Heroes And Villians”, composed in the infamous “sandbox” at Wilson’s living room. It represented another departure for the band, fueled by the quirky lyrics of Van Dyke Parks. However, the interruption to Smile had a momentum-halting effect on Smiley Smile.

The re-mastered originals conclude with Sunflower and Surf’s Up. With most Beach Boys albums, there are joyful moments, but they wilt under the inevitable comparisons to Pet Sounds. For an overview of this band, there is a two-disc fifty-cut compilation, The Beach BoysFifty Big Ones Greatest Hits. All in stereo, the collection adds lesser known titles like “Wild Honey”, “Darlin’”, and the recent “That’s Why God Made The Radio” (from the 2012 album of the same name). [The Beach Boys were one of the few rock groups to record their vocals in true stereo instead of with a single mono mic, which gives them a unique sound on the stereo albums...Ed.]

This box set is a must for any rock and roll fan. It is a unique blend of good songwriting and audio technology. The original liner notes were included, but don’t provide adequate back story to the whole Beach Boys phenomenon.

—Robbie Gerson




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