It’s the most wonderful time of the year… the time when the Beach Boys’ vaults open, and we get digital copyright-extension releases!
For those who are unaware, a few years ago the EU changed its copyright rules surrounding audio recordings. Where up until the end of 2012 recordings went out of copyright after fifty years, from 2013 on (entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ first LP) that was extended to seventy years — but with a “lose it or use it” provision. Any recordings which don’t get publicly released by the end of the fiftieth calendar year after they were recorded get released into the public domain.
Now, I’m utterly against this extension of copyright, but one fortunate side-effect has been that every year since then the Beach Boys have put out at least one, usually multiple, digital-only releases of archive material in December, as well as physical media releases (usually during the summer) like 2015’s The Beach Boys Party! Live and Unplugged, last year’s revamped Pet Sounds box set, and this year’s 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow.
This year we have an absolute cornucopia. Following on 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow, which I reviewed at the time, we have 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow 2 — The Studio Sessions and the massive 1967: Live Sunshine. And in Britain, we also finally have the release of last year’s set, Graduation Day: Live in Michigan, which accidentally didn’t get a UK release when it was released elsewhere.
To start with the least interesting of these, Graduation Day is a nice release of two widely-booted shows from 1966, both of them half an hour long. The band, without Brian (except on the last song, a cover of “Johnny B Goode” — he’d flown in to coach the band through their rehearsals of new song “Good Vibrations”) perform a set consisting almost entirely of their 1965 and 66 hits — the surf and car material is dealt with in a rather perfunctory medley — with very nice versions of “You’re So Good To Me” and “God Only Knows”. Surprisingly, though, the highlight of the shows is Dennis’ solo turn, covering the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”. It’s a nice set, and the most enjoyable of the many early-60s Beach Boys shows now available thanks to these releases, but nothing massively eye-opening. If you’re looking for fun live versions of “California Girls”, “Good Vibrations”, “God Only Knows” and the rest it’s a perfectly decent option, though.
Sunshine Tomorrow volume two is much more interesting, though likely much less appealing to the casual listener. Sunshine Tomorrow itself was a double-CD collection of outtakes and alternate mixes from the Beach Boys’ 1967 albums Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, along with their live-in-the-studio album Lei’d In Hawaii. Sunshine Tomorrow volume two is more of the same, which makes it absolutely fascinating for those who, like me, think Smiley Smile is the peak of the Beach Boys’ creativity and arguably of recorded sound itself. This is a minority view, even among Beach Boys fans, and largely one that cuts along generational lines — those who were buying the Beach Boys’ music as it came out mostly think Smiley Smile is worthless crap, while many of us who grew up after punk see it as a masterpiece of minimalist psychedelia and outsider music.
Frankly, for anyone who doesn’t already deeply, obsessively, love the Beach Boys’ 1967 output, Sunshine Tomorrow volume 2 is going to sound like a confusing mess. “Vegetables (track and backing vocals)”, for example, is two minutes of a bass throbbing, with occasional sounds of someone blowing a jug or crunching on carrots — if you don’t actually already know and love the original, it would be hard to describe it even as music (at least until the joyous last few seconds, when there’s an astonishing cascade of backing vocals out of nowhere). And there’s lots more like that — “Good News” (which for a while was a legendary unreleased track that fans built up in their heads into something special) is Al Jardine strumming the chords of a Kingston Trio song on an acoustic guitar for a minute. This is, after all, a collection of the stuff that wasn’t considered good enough to release on a double-CD of outtakes which themselves were from albums that were generally considered disappointing and confusing. If you quite liked “Kokomo” but don’t really know anything else about the Beach Boys, this is absolutely not, in any way, shape, or form, the place to start with the Beach Boys.
But if you do love that strange, ethereal, music that the Beach Boys made in 1967, there’s a lot of stuff here that is absolutely, without reservation, worth getting hold of. The a capella mix of “Heroes and Villains”, while it frustratingly misses parts of the lead vocal that no longer exist on the multitrack master, is possibly the most astonishing vocal performance you’ll ever hear — until you hear this without any of the instruments (other than an organ that leaks in at one point, presumably recorded onto one of the vocal tracks during an overdubbing session, and a small amount of harpsichord that sounds like bleed from their headphones) it’s hard to really comprehend just how much of that track is vocal rather than instrumental, and how much is going on in those vocal parts.
There’s tons of this stuff, from the beautiful backing track to “Time to Get Alone”, to an a capella version of “Little Pad”, or the instrumental and backing vocals of “Wind Chimes”. There’s also Dennis’ hard-rocking garage instrumental “Tune L”, which sounds very inspired by the title track to “Sgt Pepper”, and which reminds me very much of the Monkees’ music of the time in its weird balance between LA pop slickness and garage-punk sloppiness. There are also studio backing tracks from the Lei’d in Hawaii sessions, for which vocals weren’t recorded — these versions of “Surfin'” and “Barbara Ann” are all fuzz organ and distorted guitar, and are ridiculously exciting compared to the versions we know. This version of “Barbara Ann”, indeed, without any vocals, makes for a far better surf-rock instrumental than any of the Beach Boys’ actual attempts at that style ever did.
And finally, we have Live Sunshine, which is an absolutely massive release. Unlike the others, this is not yet available to buy as a download in the UK, except on iTunes, where you have to buy every song separately, but it should soon be available — *all 109 tracks of it*. It is, however, available on Spotify right now
This starts with more Lei’d in Hawaii material. For those who don’t know, Lei’d in Hawaii was an attempt to record a live album, playing the band’s hits in the style of Smiley Smile, all minimalist arrangements concentrating on vocals and Baldwin organ. The band, minus Bruce but with Brian, played two shows in that style in Hawaii. When those shows weren’t as successful as they hoped, they recorded (with Bruce) a live-in-the-studio set, which was abandoned. That set was often bootlegged as being the “rehearsals” for the shows, but it was intended as the live album, and it eventually saw release this year on Sunshine Tomorrow.
Live Sunshine contains the actual rehearsals, only parts of which have ever been bootlegged, and while they’re obviously rehearsals with all that that entails, some of the performances are absolutely lovely, with gorgeous minimalist versions of things like “Heroes and Villains” or “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring” — there are twenty-four rehearsal tracks in total, and most of them are at least interesting.
It also contains the two Hawaii shows themselves. These are, frankly, sloppy, but enjoyably so — and also, they’re the last ever recordings of the five original Beach Boys performing as a band, without additional members. The setlists are *weird* — a mixture of then-recent stuff like “Gettin’ Hungry” and “Heroes & Villains” and throwbacks to their very early years (in the performances of “Surfin'”, which the band hadn’t performed live in years even then, Brian sings the melody to another surfing song from that time, “Underwater” by the Frogmen — the next year he’d reuse that melody for “Do It Again”). The sets are only short — twelve songs the first night and thirteen the second — but there’s a strange beauty to the performances, which sound like a stoned collision between a garage-rock band like the Kingsmen and a heavenly choir, performing in front of a crowd of confused teenyboppers.
(A note there, I say they sound stoned, but I don’t mean that in the bad critic, “they sound like U2… but on drugs!” way as a marker for anything even slightly weird. I mean it in the sense that these performances sound like people who have smoked entirely too much marijuana before going on stage).
After these Hawaii performances, there are five (!) further shows, this time featuring the band’s then-normal touring lineup (with Bruce Johnston, but without Brian Wilson) performing their normal live set. These sets are all much more professional sounding, and have similar setlists to each other, all being recorded in a one-week period — they’re all very similar to Graduation Day, except with “Wild Honey”, and “Darlin'” added in place of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and the surf medley (and sometimes with other changes — there’s one performance each of “Country Air” and “How She Boogalooed It”).
Unless you are actually me, or have a similar level of Beach Boys obsession, you don’t actually *need* these new recordings. But if, like me, you love the Beach Boys’ late-60s recordings, you’ll find a hell of a lot here to bring you a lot of pleasure.
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I don’t understand how the Beatles keep beating this copyright deal. I know there was a 1963 release, but I haven’t seen any since then. Any ideas?
Well, there have been three big releases since then that probably count in the same way — the Hollywood Bowl recordings, live at the BBC vol 2, and the Sgt Pepper set. I imagine that the live recordings heard on the “touring years” documentary
I *believe*, though I may be wrong, that the record companies’ legal advice has been that alternate takes of a track, recorded at the same session, are protected if the final take is released (which sounds like nonsense to me, but…) and the Beatles have relatively few unreleased songs, as opposed to outtakes.
I *am* surprised that we haven’t seen a Carnival of Light release yet, though (maybe it’ll get a one-hour-only download release in Sweden only one hour before midnight on Dec 31 or something though, which is essentially how the first Beatles extension set was released, though they later did a proper release). And I’d bet we’d get a White Album Demos set next year, and a Get Back one in 2019…