Made In California

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In recent years The Beach Boys have, perhaps unwittingly, made a name for themselves as the kings of the tacky compilation. Wikipedia reckons that they had 3 out last year: there was the 50th Anniversary Collection 'Zinepak (a Walmart "exclusive"...rock n' roll), then there was 50 Big Ones: Greatest Hits, and finally they put out the eagerly anticipated Greatest Hits. This is just what we've come to expect, you'll regularly come across other collections in bargain bins across the globe. With Made In California though, there seems to be an air of credibility about the whole thing. There's the superior hardback book style packaging, the liner notes which include essays and "personal recollections from the band’s members", but the real prize here is the 60 previously unreleased tracks that popup throughout the 6 CD set. Granted many of these are alternative cuts or mixes but they position this box set a cut above the usual guff. Oh, and its sounds great too. As a fan of the Beach Boys' middle, commercially un-viable period (67-71), there's quite a bit on disc 1 which I wasn't massively familiar with, but I'd place "Lonely Sea" (originally on the Surfin' USA album, and presented here in its original mono mix) right up there with the best of them. Later on the same CD there's a double whammy of "The Warmth Of The Sun" and "I Get Around", the latter of which is preceded by a session intro and rough run through which gives you a tiny but fascinating glimpse of the recording process. There are many of these session intros scattered throughout the discs, along with some 1990s/2000s mixes which only a real audio nerd would be able to differentiate. They do add a certain clarity to the sound though, and each instrument is picked out in crystal clear stereo sound. Its interesting to hear these versions but you could argue that some of the original charm of the mono recordings is sacrificed. Disc 2 finds the band moving from their commercial peak into their more experimental period. So we get classics like "Help Me, Rhonda", "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations", but there's the odd strange selection creeping in ("Salt Lake City" but no room for "Then I Kissed Her"). The highlight of the previously unheard tracks here is an unplugged version of "There's No Other (Like My Baby)", which is one of the most unique on whole set, its not often you'll get to hear the band sounding so at-ease in this acoustic setting. From there we move into Pet Sounds/Smile territory, its been done better and in more depth on other releases so there's nothing much to add except it sounds very good indeed. As I mentioned earlier, the late 60s/early 70s is my particular favourite Beach Boys period, so it's no surprise to me that disc 3 is absolutely perfect, taking in the classic albums Wild Honey, Friends, 20/20, Sunflower and Surf's Up. "Darlin", "Friends", "I Can Hear Music", all stone cold (or stoned) classics. There's not a great deal of new material here but we do get an alternative version of "Meant For You" and a beautiful stereo mix of "Do It Again". Its also where Dennis Wilson comes out from the shadows and proves he can write sweeping sun drenched classics which can compete with Brian's best (see "Be With Me", "Forever" and "Slip On Through" for definitive evidence). Disc 4 covers 1971 to 1979 to there are some classic ("Disney Girls") and ridiculous ("Don't Go Near The Water") tracks from Surf's Up to begin with. Post Surf's Up, and the band found themselves enjoying a renaissance on the live circuit, with a new generation of fans starting to appreciate their immense back catalogue. This didn't however, translate into a new batch of classic albums with Brian finding himself in and out of the band at random intervals. From a recording perspective the Beach Boys were on a critical and commercial downward slide, and as this CD hurtles towards the 1980s the tracks become overindulgent and over produced. This is nothing, however, compared to Disc 5, the first half of which covers the band's output between 1980 and 2012. As is the norm when a band moves into the 80s, it means that they were forced to deploy some saxophones and ultra-polished production techniques. Fortunately only ten songs make the cut, covering the pointless (covers of "California Dreamin" and "Da Doo Ron Ron"), the embarrassing ("Getcha Back"), the forgettable ("Goin' On") and the bearable ("Kokomo", "That's Why God Made The Radio"). The rest of the CD is taken up by some excellent live recordings which showcase the band in the 60s right through to the 90s. Nearly all of these have never been released before so it really is a treasure trove. There's some energetic cover versions from the early days ("Runaway" & "The Letter"), along with a cool rendition of Dennis' "Little Bird" and a storming "It's About Time". It's a pleasure to hear these song's being performed around the time of their release by a live band in full swing. Disc 6 is the one which is intended to have fans bursting with anticipation. It includes 31 tracks "from the vaults", almost all of which are unheard until now. There's plenty of the band's trademark vocal takes and acapella sessions along with demos, alternate takes and instrumentals. Of the demos, "Be With Me" is the cream of the crop, just Dennis and a piano, it's raw and heartbreaking and just a little bit ramshackle. There's a ridiculous over the top version of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and a bizarre instrumental called "Transcendental Meditation" which feels like the soundtrack to a bad 1970s cop show. Other interesting nuggets include early recordings of "Back Home" (made in 1970, which went on to appear on the 1976 album 15 Big Ones) and "Surf's Up" (made in 1967 with a Brian solo lead vocal, a world away from the version that appeared on the album in '71). There's lounge-style versions of "California Girls" and "Help Me, Rhonda" from the Lei'd In Hawaii studio sessions and some very early "lost" BBC sessions which are quite amazing, in that they are so technically assured for a band who were so inexperienced at the time. The set wraps up with a nice coda from the unsung and greatly missed Beach Boy Carl Wilson. And that's it... a mere seven (plus) hours later. Back in the present day, and following last year's successful reunion, Mike Love has discarded his fellow surviving Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks) to tour with his own band under The Beach Boys' good name. Its a sad state of affairs, the nadir of which saw them rather pathetically supporting a bed-wetting boyband (JLS) at a recent show in London's Hyde Park. Thankfully this box set, brimming with quality, energy and some rare gems goes someway to erasing recent aberrations from the memory. Its hard to say who the collection is aimed at, it might be a little too fleeting for the most anally obsessed fan (who'd presumably prefer a disc for each album), and a little too long for a casual listener but for someone in between its a cool summer treat.