The Beach Boys

Almost 40 years after Brian Wilson and Mike Love penned "Surfin'," the Beach Boys' stock is still on the rise. Wilson in particular has been enjoying a media lovefest for most of the past decade while the rest of the band only occasionally gets its due. All the recent accolades, including the lifetime achievement Grammy, are belated. The group's irresistible pop hooks, intricate arrangements and thunderous productions changed the face of pop music decades ago.

As part of Capitol's Beach Boys catalog makeover, which included last year's rerelease of the group's long out-of-print '70s albums, comes Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy. The 57-track, two-disc collection of odds and sods -- previously unreleased mixes, studio sessions, rehearsal tapes, banter, radio promos, interview clips and lost songs -- fulfills a dream for rock historians and fanatics, if not for lesser initiates, of the Beach Boy faith.

The interview clips provide insight into the band's studio magic, and the promos are nostalgic. But the real gems are the sessions. The rehearsal take of "Barbara Ann," which includes someone telling Dean Torrence (who sang lead on the song) to sing on key, is hysterical. An alternate mix of the song, minus all the party overdubs on the hit single, opens the vocal arrangement to closer inspection.

The remixes cast Brian Wilson's productions into sharper relief. The stereo remix of "Salt Lake City" and the alternate remix of "The Little Girl I Once Knew" bring out new textures, but the most amazing feats are the stereo remixes of "Cotton Fields" and "Heroes and Villains," which prove exponentially more dynamic than the original mono singles. Everything feels fuller on "Cotton Fields," and the separation adds more power to both the vocals and instruments. On "Heroes" the bass simply swells out of the speakers, and the vocals have immensely more harmonic punch.

One of the two truly "lost" songs is "A Time to Live in Dreams," by the group's late drummer, Dennis Wilson. The tender song was soon forgotten after its 1968 recording, which is unfortunate, as it's deeper than some of Dennis's released material. It's also a precursor to the '70s rock ballad trend that was to follow. Dennis's arranging talents were highly underrated. (Hey, it happens when you're Brian Wilson's brother.) Two examples immediately leap to mind. The vocal-less version of "Be with Me" is amazingly dramatic, and the a cappella mix of "Forever" shows his blueprint for a cathedral of soaring voices.

For the Beach Boys buff, listening to Hawthorne, CA is like opening 57 presents on Christmas morning, each a treasure in its own right.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul J. MacArthur