Ok, I’ll make the confession early.
I have been a fan of the Beach Boys for a long, long, long, time.
Writer Dave Barry talks about “brain sludge.” Mr. Barry defines “brain sludge” as useless information that accumulates in the brains of men.
For many, many, many years, I have stored lots of “brain sludge” in my old noggin about the Beach Boys. That is why my Beach Boys’ “brain sludge” was excited to learn that Capitol Records on August 27, 2021 released the box set of recordings: The Beach Boys Feel Flows The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971.
In 1961, the Beach Boys started their fire. Their early sound was unmistakeable—harmonies influenced by the Four Freshmen and guitar licks like Chuck Berry. Plus, they had a secret weapon—Brian Wilson. Brian was the chief crafter of their songs, their sound, their production.
People in the know have called Brian a genius, but I have always loved his insight about that label: “I’m not a genius, I’m just a hardworking guy.”
From 1961-1967, Brian was a hard worker. He could not be stopped. The Beach Boys records landed in the top ten on record charts, and they filled concert halls around the world.
But, by 1967, that success on the record charts came to an end. Surfer girls, woodies, and surfboards from sunny California and the Pacific coastline were dead in the water, lost to the undertow in a shift of the pop music paradigm.
Yes, the Beach Boys continued to meet their recording obligations for Capitol Records, but there were no huge hits. The group survived by touring in England and Europe where they were still held in high esteem.
From 1967-1969, Brian’s involvement with the band in recording sessions dropped a bit.
Interestingly during this time for the other members of the Beach Boys, hanging around Brian all those years in recording sessions had rubbed off. Brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson, Alan Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and the Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love started to show their songwriting and production capabilities.
By 1969, their recording obligations with Capitol records were over. The band signed a new contract with Reprise Records part of Warner Brothers. This deal would allow the band to carry the group’s own Brother Records logo. With this new agreement, the band started to work on their first album for Reprise.
That album was titled Sunflower, and this recording captured a band in harmony working as brothers and friends. Sunflower features song contributions from every member including drummer Dennis Wilson who delivers four compelling songs.
On Sunflower, the range of diversity in the compositions is staggering. The pure lead vocals, the stunning harmonies are intact, but a song like “It’s About Time” might leave a listener thinking—wow I had no idea that the Beach Boys could write and play a song like this.
Sunflower was critically acclaimed, but it flopped on the charts. I would think in some ways the group might have been crushed. But, they kept pushing, and despite this set back, an unknown catalyst, a visionary, Jack Rieley entered their world.
From late 1970 until 1973, Jack Rieley managed the Beach Boys. He changed their image, their direction. Jack Rieley was a risk taker, and this makeover worked. Gone were the late 60s matching stage attire suits, their hair was longer, and beards covered their once boyish faces.
Jack Rieley most likely had some P.T. Barnum in his blood booking the group to play at unheard of places like the Big Sur Folk Festival, Carnegie Hall, peace rallies, Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, and college campuses. Rieley and representatives from Reprise Records found an audience for the band’s evolving new sound on progressive FM radio stations.
This Jack Rieley energy created traction. People started to take notice again, and the band readied their second album for Reprise— Surf’s Up. If hopeful fans believed the title signaled a return to the group’s early foundation, they were to be disappointed.
Surf’s Up had themes of ecology, health, love, social injustice, and more. If Sunflower quietly showcased Dennis Wilson, then Surf’s Up unveiled the the skills of the youngest Wilson brother, Carl.
On the sales charts, Surf’s Up had momentum reaching #29 at the peak of its activity. In comparison, the slighted Sunflower charted no higher than #151.
While Jack Rieley worked to thrust the band back into the public eye, there was another critical person working in the background with the Beach Boys— recording engineer, Stephen Desper.
Mr. Desper must have had the patience of Job working with band members. Along with that patience, I sense Mr. Desper was blessed with keen hearing. Additionally, in combination with his skills sets as an engineer, he used the technology of the day to capture these recording sessions with an unsurpassed quality and richness.
It is a credit to Mr. Desper that he was able to mix down Sunflower and Surf’s Up into their final editions. Because as the Feel Flows box set reveals, the Beach Boys worked through many different versions and takes of these songs.
This box set might not be for the average fan. It is built upon five cds worth of music. The project was painstakingly compiled by the superb work of recording engineer Mark Linett and archivist Alan Boyd.
They had the responsibility of going back into the Beach Boys’ vaults and listening to miles and miles of tape. Mr. Linett and Mr. Boyd are a good team as they capture with this set of recordings a very special time in the history of the Beach Boys.
At the very least, if you love music, you owe it to your ears to listen to the original Sunflower and Surf’s Up albums. I believe your ears will be touched for lots of different reasons. But, I also hope that your ears might just think—whoa, these Beach Boys were really good at their craft.
And for me in that good, I always fall back to one Beach Boy, Carl Wilson. I’m sure you had your favorite Beatle, by comparison Carl Wilson was my favorite Beach Boy.
The box set is named after his stunning song, “Feel Flows” from the Surf’s Up album. Not only did Jack Rieley help to steer the band back to survival, he also was a lyric writer. He provided the lyrics for an assortment of songs during this era including “Feel Flows.”
But, if you look at the history of the Beach Boys from Brian’s first breakdown and everything good and bad that the band lived through there was always the youngest band member, Carl holding them together.
Carl’s voice was a gift from God. Many times in my life his angelic voice has made my eyes tear up.
A masterful guitarist, Carl lead the band with their concert performances, and he often was the final decision maker in the mix downs and inclusion of songs for each album. Both Sunflower and Surf’s Up are blessed by his work with his bandmates and Stephen Desper.
To cite a favorite recording or moment from this boxed set is impossible for me. But, for one minute and fifty eight seconds, I have never heard a song like Sunflower’s “This Whole World” with its “ah oom dop didits” and lead vocals shared by Carl and Brian.
And here is another fact worth considering, during this time frame, the Beach Boys were very good in concert. Numerous live recordings are contained here, but a 1973 performance of the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks’ song “Surf’s Up” is remarkable.
By now, you know me to be a low pressure writer. But, I’ll make one more gentle plea, a good-natured nudge on behalf of your your soul—go listen to Sunflower and Surf’s Up, or even the entire box set.
Here’s why you should consider a listen—despite my biased Beach Boys’ “brain sludge,” my old soul believes your soul will feel the love in these songs.
And right now in this old world, we all need to feel some love.
“ah oom dop didit”