The Beach Boys On CD: Songs From Here and Back

In 2006 a rather odd, limited edition, release came out, which would (according to Mike Love’s on-stage announcements around that time, anyway) be one of the band’s best selling albums of the last few decades.

Songs From Here And Back is a compilation that was on sale only through Hallmark stores in the US, for a two-month period leading up to Father’s Day 2006, with a discount when purchased with a sufficient number of greetings cards. It consisted of seven previously-unreleased live tracks from two different shows at the same venue (five from a 1989 show featuring Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston, two from a 1974 show featuring Dennis Wilson and Ricky Fataar, and all featuring Mike, Carl, and Al), and one solo track each from Brian, Mike, and Al.

The live tracks are fairly clunky run-throughs of “Dance, Dance, Dance”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Surfer Girl”, “Kokomo”, “Little Deuce Coupe”, “I Get Around”, and “Good Vibrations”, showing more than anything else just how joyless the 1980s version of the band could be – they’re all perfectly competent, although Mike Kowalski’s cymbal work can be a little unsteady, but they’re mostly taken at too slow a pace, with any interesting arrangement ideas stripped away and replaced with cheap-sounding synths. Only Alan Jardine and Jeffrey Foskett show any sign of life at all in the vocals (except on “Good Vibrations”, one of the two 1974 recordings, which is a genuinely good version of the track, but not so good as to make the CD a worthwhile purchase absent anything else).

These tracks are clearly intended for much the same audience as the NASCAR CD – people impulse-buying a rough approximation of music they heard on the radio in their youth, who don’t really care about the quality – and on those terms the CD is certainly a better purchase – but it’s the three solo tracks that got Beach Boys fans interested.

The Spirit Of Rock & Roll
Songwriter: Brian Wilson, Gary Usher, and Tom Kelly
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

Of all the solo tracks, this one had the longest gestation. It was originally recorded in 1986 as a track for the Beach Boys, during Wilson’s sessions with Gary Usher, and was a collaboration between Usher (who came up with the original idea), Wilson, and Tom Kelly, the co-writer of “Like a Virgin”, “True Colors”, and “Eternal Flame” among other songs, who Usher had brought in to the project to make Wilson’s songs more commercial for the 80s. That recording was used, briefly, in a TV special the Beach Boys did to mark their twenty-fifth anniversary, but otherwise remained unreleased.

Another version – with what sounds like much the same backing track – was recorded for Wilson’s unreleased solo album Sweet Insanity a few years later. That version – a duet with Bob Dylan, featuring Belinda Carlisle and Paula Abdul on backing vocals (no, I’m not joking) – also remains unreleased, though it’s widely bootlegged.

This version is a remake, featuring members of Wilson’s backing band (along with Joel Peskin on sax, who also appears on Love’s track), but is very close to those versions – slightly less synth-heavy, a less oppressive drum sound, and better guitar tone, but otherwise almost identical (although it has a nice a capella tag missing from the earlier recordings). In any version, it’s simply not very good, being as it is a dull piece of 80s Boomer nostalgia, and it sounds like the throwaway it is.

PT Cruiser
Songwriter: Al Jardine
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine with Matt Jardine

This track was the only one on the album to have been previously released, as it was released as a promotional single (along with an a capella version of the track) by Chrysler in 2002 to promote their then-new PT Cruiser range of convertibles.

As one might expect for what is essentially a song-length jingle, this isn’t the greatest recording ever made. On the other hand, it’s more fun than it needed to be. The song doesn’t even pretend to be original, being made up of stitched-together bits of “Little GTO”, “Hey Little Cobra” and “Shut Down”, but the band (mostly the better members of the 70s and 80s Beach Boys touring band, along with Jardine’s sons Matt (himself a touring Beach Boy for much of the 80s and 90s) and Adam) give it a surprising amount of life, and Jardine’s vocal is strong.

Cool Head, Warm Heart
Songwriter: Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Christian Love

And surprisingly, Mike Love’s solo track is the best thing on the album.

It’s relative, of course – this is by no means a great track – but it’s a very, very listenable mid-tempo ballad, sung in Love’s relaxed low baritone (the part of his range that has held up best, especially in the studio). This was originally recorded for a still-unreleased solo album that at various times was titled Unleash the Love and Mike Love, Not War, and Love, like Jardine, features one of his sons on the track.

Christian Love, who would later join the touring Beach Boys for several years, sounds here quite extraordinarily like Carl Wilson; Mike Love’s vocals are slightly over-processed at points but are some of his best studio vocals of the last few decades; and Adrian Baker, who I’ve criticised with good reason before, does a good job with the vocal arrangements.

The production (by Paul Fauerso) is uninspired but not unpleasant, and the same could largely go for the song itself. It’s based on a saying of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and like many of Love’s songs about transcendental meditation it relies too much on Love’s sincere belief in the song’s message and not enough on actual craft.

It would have made a perfectly serviceable album track for any post-1980 Beach Boys album, and while it wouldn’t have been the best song on any of those albums, it would have been closer to the best than the worst on all of them. As it is, the song remained an occasional appearance in Love’s touring Beach Boys’ shows for the next few years

Songs From Here and Back might be the least essential Beach Boys release of new or previously-unreleased recordings ever. It is not, however, anything like the worst. It’s a perfectly listenable collection. It’s just rather pointless.

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