As the 1970s dawned, beach kids they were in crisis.
The quintessential American rock band of the ’60s, whose sun-kissed harmonies and string of girls-cars-and-surf hits created the myth that California legend was heaven, had lost its lock on the charts. Its leader, Brian Wilson, was withdrawn and unstable after a super ambitious album attempt. “Smile,” It collapsed in 1967. Faced with disinterest, the group even considered changing the name to just Beach.
“When you release a record and it’s not as successful as it used to be, you start questioning yourself,” vocalist Mike Love said recently. “Are you doing things right? What do we need to change?”
What the Beach Boys did next became the focus of the new boxed set: “Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions, 1969-1971.” In purely commercial terms, the band’s first two albums of the ’70s were dumb. “Sunflower” (1970) hit a new low at number 151 on the Billboard chart. “Surf’s Up” (1971) outperformed at #29 thanks to its content. semi legendary title song. None of them contained hits.
Yet, in 135 tracks, most of which have never been released, “Feel Flows” provides a compelling example of this as a crucial but understudied period in Beach Boys history, a time of experimentation and reinvention that highlights the talents of the entire group. Along with their 1973 album, “Holland,” this may be the Beach Boys’ last truly advanced stage of the decade before turning to nostalgic conservatism in the mid-decade.
For over 50 years, the Beach Boys’ story has been told primarily through Brian Wilson: his vision, his victories, his struggles. “Feel Flows” proposes a different path with input from the wider band, particularly Wilson’s two younger brothers Carl and Dennis, who are making great strides as a songwriter and in the studio.
This was a necessity as Brian Wilson gradually disappeared. The band recorded most of “Sunflower” and “Surf’s Up” in a studio built in Wilson’s home in Los Angeles—just below the bedroom, where Wilson spends most of his time, going down occasionally when inspiration strikes.
“Brian really was the Beach Boys – he was, was, will be,” said Al Jardine, rhythm guitarist still touring with Wilson. “She started to pull back from the Beach Boy experience and the rest of us were still catching up.”
In an interview, Brian Wilson said that his withdrawal had a positive impact. “It made the group want to play better and harder,” he said.
Some songs like “Add Some Music to Your Day” on “Sunflower” have a little bit of old Beach Boys magic with live harmonies and “dum-dum-bee-doo” backing tracks, but they didn’t catch on. Jardine recalled that after recording this track, the band was revived, but were crushed when the radio stations ignored it.
When the Beach Boys began working on what became “Sunflower,” the group was nearing the end of a deal with their long-running label Capitol, and they haven’t had a major hit since. “Good vibes” Rock was developing rapidly, but the Beach Boys, now working with the Reprise label, now part of Warner Bros., were perceived as a thing of the past.
“We were probably seen as surfer Doris Days, surfer Kingston Trio,” said bassist and vocal Bruce Johnston, who took Brian’s place on tour and began writing songs for their album. “This Wasn’t”nice bro‘ to play the Beach Boys for a while,” he added.
It didn’t help the Beach Boys’ reputation Dennis Wilson’s relationship with Charles Manson and his murder spree and subsequent trial was his cult that made headlines at the time.
There are fuzzy currents of guitars and electronics that seem to herald chillwave indie-rock, with striking accents such as “Sunflower”, “All I Wanna Do,” though detached from the context of early ’70s radio. Brian Wilson said “Forever,” Written by Dennis and Gregg Jakobson – a simple, soft ballad with a mournful undercurrent – it’s another member’s favorite Beach Boys song.
“It’s just a beautiful melody,” Brian added sadly. Dennis drowned in the ocean in 1983 at the age of 39, and Carl died of lung cancer in 1998 at the age of 51.
If “Feel Flows” has a central character, it’s Carl Wilson. The lead guitarist and youngest brother was only 15 when the band released their first album in 1962. And despite being the band’s de facto leader on tour—Brian had left the road to concentrate on recording in early 1965—Carl always seemed to be the quietest, most humble Beach Boy, known primarily for his angelic lead vocalist. “Only God knows,” From the album “Pet Sounds”. (Drummer Dennis was the gruff and only true surfer of the group.)
With “Sunflower,” Carl took a stronger role in the studio and contributed to two of the strongest tracks on “Surf’s Up”: “The Long Promised Road” A biblical hymn to perseverance and a pulsating, mysterious “Feel the Flows”.
The lyrics for these songs were by Jack Rieley, who was the band’s manager at the time, and this sought to bring the band into contemporary relevance by discouraging the members from old tricks like wearing matching outfits on stage. It also encouraged the group’s socially conscious lyrics, which, although it caused some howls, were heartfelt. (From the “Don’t Go Near Water” environmental alert: “Toothpaste and soap will bubble bath our oceans/So let’s avoid an ecological consequence.”)
The song “Feel Flows”, despite the purple lyrics (“Unlocking the enveloping missiles of the soul/Unfortunately recalling the senses”), has a strong emotional pull and a flute solo there by the jazz fixture. Charles Lloyd — which made him a favorite among Beach Boys connoisseurs. Director Cameron Crowe used it in his movie. closing credit For “Almost Famous,” both as a period nugget and for how the song reflects the movie’s ending theme of frank reconciliation.
“It’s a sense of peaceful acceptance of human adventure,” said Crowe. “The feeling that great music gives you, which is beyond anything, to see everything in its full form and to be at peace with everything.”
Produced by Mark Linett and Alan Boyd, who won a Grammy for their work on “The Smile Sessions” in 2011, the boxed set features great extras like the first version of Love’s “Big Sur.” later appeared in “The Netherlands”. There are also quirks like “My solution,” A monster movie novelty recorded by Brian on Halloween 1970, and a 40-second excerpt from the Beatles’ “You Never Give Your Money” performed on electric piano – but by whom? The producers think it’s Johnston who says he has no idea.
Johnston, who started to come into her own as a songwriter with songs like “Disney Girls (1957)” during this period, fondly remembers the “Sunflower” sessions as proof that “friends can do great things together”. (Shortly after that album, he left the Beach Boys for a while and won Grammy song of the year for 1977’s #1 hit “I Write the Songs” for Barry Manilow.)
Still, the highlights on “Feel Flows” remain the two Brian Wilson songs that closed the “Surf’s Up” album: “‘Til I Die” A haunting meditation on mortality and the title piece that, upon its release, achieved legendary status as Wilson’s ultimate lost masterpiece. The song was co-written with songwriter Van Dyke Parks during the “Smile” sessions in 1966, and Wilson played a version of the song on piano in the 1967 television documentary “Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution” hosted by Leonard Bernstein. After that, the song disappeared, although many other “Smile” era tracks were repurposed for later albums.
Publishing the piece in 1971 was also a calculated branding move, and the band turned surfing lingo on its head to telegraph that it was going on. The song’s completion in the studio was a technical feat, with Carl voicing the lead of the song’s first part, which was produced by Brian and recorded with a full team of studio musicians; The second half was pulled from Brian’s recording of solo piano and vocals, and the band added broad vocals to the code.
“Surf’s Up” is perhaps the most analyzed song in Brian Wilson’s work; “Too complicated to get it all at once,” Bernstein said on “Inside Pop.” Its melody is like a mountain scaling forcefully toward a majestic peak, and Parks’ lyrics suggest an allegory about the challenge pop music — and the entire 1960s generation — faces in being taken seriously.
“At this point the discovery represented a desire to go outside of the box,” Parks said in an interview. “It was rebellion, salvation, and approval wrapped in a melodic miracle.”
By 1971, a polemic about rock being high art – the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” and “Abbey Road” after Who’s “Tommy” – may seem controversial. Speaking now, Wilson said it came out “just in time” and still feels like a philosophical maze.
Last year, the Beach Boys signed a report nine figure deal With the Iconic Artists Group, founded by industry powerful broker Irving Azoff, and the group that sells most of their intellectual property, including their trademarks and rights to most of their music. It’s one of the high-profile catalog opportunities lately — Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, and members of Fleetwood Mac have also made deals that changed the financial game for former artists. Executives at Iconic say they see their job as dealing with the legacy of artists, not managing their current careers.
It’s unclear what that will mean for the Beach Boys. The band members—now in their late ’70s and early ’80s—and others surrounding them speak of loose ambitions for television specials, themed restaurants, and perhaps a tour tied to the 60th anniversary of their debut album. And “Feel Flows” is a reminder of how much Beach Boys history can still be pulled out to attract viewers who only know the band from “Surfin’ USA” and “California Girls.”
Yet despite many testimonies over the years that old axes were buried—the in-tape lawsuit file goes back decades—the Beach Boys aren’t exactly united. There are still two separate touring units: Love performs with Johnston as the Beach Boys, while Brian Wilson plays with Jardine; they’re both going on tour this fall. Just a year ago, Wilson and Jardine had a boycott After the Love’s Beach Boys were booked to perform for a band that supports trophy hunting.
Neither Wilson nor Love sees any conflict. “For whatever reason,” Love said, “people will focus on the negative things. But they’re going to miss the point where the Beach Boys are overwhelmingly positive.”
“To be able to do ‘California Girls’, ‘I Get Around’, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, ‘Help Me, Rhonda’, ‘Surfin’ USA,'” he added, “all these great tunes, 50, 60 years later, quite miraculous.”