Feel Flows, The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions • 1969 – 1971 box set review
By David Beard
One of the greatest challenges in writing a review for the upcoming five-disc collection, The Beach Boys – Feel Flows, The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions • 1969 – 1971 (set to be released on Friday, Aug. 27), is the reality that The Beach Boys’ most widely recognized recordings span 1962-1966. There are exceptions, but the main pocket of familiar chestnuts – like most classic oldies – make for great ‘party music,’ and (more oftentimes than not) a memorable live performance experience. So, in a party or concert setting the well-known hit songs are a part of the atmosphere and not something we view as an isolated event.
With Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson recommended listening to the album in the dark, with headphones. Once you follow Brian’s lead, it’s apparent why he suggested experiencing Pet Sounds that way; it’s evocative. And while it’s true that “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” and “God Only Knows” have taken their rightful place in the pantheon of The Beach Boys’ hit records, the rest of the material on Pet Sounds, like that of the material on Feel Flows, is best enjoyed in a quiet atmosphere so you can let all the purity of the beauty and expression wash over you.
As it is, Sunflower and Surf’s Up are quintessential albums for anyone interested in The Beach Boys … and, although I found myself drawn to the bonus material on this new collection, it felt equally important to communicate to the uninitiated the value of the Sunflower and Surf’s Up albums. So, ESQ staff writers David ‘Ghosty’ Wills, and Alan Smith have provided reviews of those albums. [You can find David’s review of Sunflower HERE, and Alan’s review of Surf’s Up HERE.]
The brilliant songwriting on this collection is a pure example of a group – a true band of musical brothers – coming together collectively to make beautiful music. The results are rich in texture and beautiful in their array of experimentation, with Brian, Mike, Alan, Carl, Dennis, and Bruce at their emotive best. The band’s creative juices are flowing.
Having now listened to this Feel Flows material for nearly two months, it’s still settling in. On one hand, it’s somewhat familiar. On the other, it’s as though I’m visiting a sonic museum of fine art. This five-CD boxset comes in a 48-page hardcover book, features remastered versions of the original albums, and has 135 tracks including 108 previously unreleased tracks, alternate versions, mixes and, vocals. All of it is masterfully collected, mixed, and produced by Alan Boyd and Mark Linett.
That, coupled with Howie Edelson’s liner notes, which include archival content from Carl and Dennis Wilson, provides the perfect setting for the listening experience.
Over the years, different iterations of some of this material have been released; however, having it gathered here as an ‘era’ in the group’s history crystallizes the importance and relevance of this music. So, let’s get started.
Disc One: Sunflower album, plus bonus tracks
Click HERE to read Dave Wills’ review of the Sunflower album – tracks 1 through 12 – and continue reading to glean highlights of the other material on Disc One.
The six live recordings are terrific, but the real ‘grabbers’ are the 1976 performances of Al Jardine on “Susie Cincinnati” and Brian Wilson (with Al) on “Back Home.” I am not a fan of live-recorded events … I prefer to be there, but these songs leaped out of my speakers and didn’t disappoint. In fact, they elevated my expectation that perhaps – one day – the group at Iconic (and those at Universal) will see fit to release a legitimate 1976 live performance collection because these songs left me wanting and anticipating more.
Tracks 20 through 27 collectively represent singles and previously unused material beginning with the group’s last Capitol Records single “Break Away” – a song written by Brian and his father Murry (under the guise of Reggie Dunbar) and the B-side, “Celebrate The News,” a composition by the late Dennis Wilson.
The ‘whimsical’ quality of this music – and there’s plenty of it – harkens back to recordings in the spirit of “I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man,” “‘Cassius’ Love Vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson,” and “Bull Session With The ‘Big Daddy’.” But the material gathered here, whether it’s based on humor or sentiment, communicates imagery. This is first illustrated on the wonderful, airplane engine intro-led 1969 mix of “Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin’ In An Aeroplane)”; it’s a gloriously visual recording with flourishes of whimsicality – written by Brian, Al, and the late Carl Wilson.
“San Miguel,” written by Dennis and Gregg Jakobson, should have been an opening album cut … Carl is in prime vocal form, the arrangement is stellar, and Mike Love’s ‘lookin’ for, lookin’ for, lookin’ for a lady’ bass delivery is sublime.
Al’s “Susie Cincinnati” is a gem, Brian and Al’s “Good Time” shows how much fun they were having, Brian’s “Two Can Play” is great Beach Boys singalong material, and the newly unearthed (baby) Matt Jardine’s counting off ‘1, 2, 3’ intro for “Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)” provides a nice bookend to Disc One.
Disc Two: Surf’s Up album, plus bonus tracks
Read Alan Smith’s review of the Surf’s Up album – tracks 1 through 10 – HERE.
Like Disc One, the five live recordings on Disc Two spark great interest. Performances of “Take A Load Off Your Feet” (1993), “Long Promised Road” (1972), “Disney Girls” (1982), “Surf’s Up” (1973), and “Student Demonstration Time” (1971) show the group’s diversity, as well as the sustainability of the material itself.
The first bonus studio recording is “Big Sur,” which made its debut on Thursday, June 3, and immediately received praise. Mike’s ¾ tempo version gives the song a softer and gentler shift, allowing the lyrics to breathe more prominently, and as of Aug. 3, it had over 1 MILLION listens on The Beach Boys Spotify channel.
Not surprisingly, the bonus material collected here fits well with the bonus recordings from Disc One. “H.E.L.P. Is On The Way” and “My Solution” revisit the whimsy and weird, and “Sweet And Bitter” – written by Brian and Don Goldberg – sounds like it would have been perfectly suited for Carl And The Passions – So Tough.
Dennis’ “4th Of July,” “Sound Of Free,” and “Lady (Fallin’ In Love)” demonstrate the inherent inertia of brilliant songwriting he created and developed with Daryl Dragon. Groundbreaking.
Disc Two closes with “Seasons In The Sun” (an English-language adaptation of the 1961 song “Le Moribond” by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel). For this 2021 mix, Al was the mixdown producer, and Jeff Peters did the mix. This is quite a bit different than the bootleg version that has been in circulation. The backing vocals aren’t present at times, but Carl’s ambient vocal delivery penetrates like a beacon. Although the backing voices are notably different, I do appreciate that this new mix comes from Al, and represents his ‘2021 vibe.’ That, in and of itself, is cool.
Disc Three: Sunflower sessions
If I had a dime for every time I was surprised and amazed by a nuanced vocal from The Beach Boys, I’d be a millionaire. That’s not a joke. Absorbing these sessions is a very intimate experience. It’s like The Beatles’ Let It Be … Naked and equally gratifying.
Everything on this disc and Disc Four – the Surf’s Up sessions – are welcome additions to The Beach Boys’ pantheon of recording sessions. If you’re a music nerd like I am, you still devour the Pet Sounds and SMiLE sessions, and these sessions (while not as extensive) are also invaluable resources of the ‘behind the curtain’ recording process. Think of these recordings as ‘layers.’
Standout moments from the Sunflower sessions are the long version track & backing vocals of “This Whole World,” the layered bliss of “Add Some Music To Your Day,” the dizzying harmonies on “Tears In The Morning,” the exotic and intoxicating “All I Wanna Do,” and the subtle nuances of “Forever”; it all shines through.
And with that we’re exposed to the track & backing vocals of “San Miguel” … it’s all here. Everything you thought you heard, and more. This recording is GREAT! These a cappella backing vocals (excerpts and sections) tracks are what fans dream of hearing … It’s ear candy for the soul.
There’s so much here that every moment needs revisiting.
Disc Four: Surf’s Up sessions
These tracks and backing vocals are so immersive.
Going from track 1, “Don’t Go Near The Water,” to track 10, “Surf’s Up,” is like walking into a sonic dreamscape. “Long Promised Road” is a kaleidoscope of sound … a rush. “Disney Girls” and “Student Demonstration Time” are like the ‘odd couple’ next to one another on the album and on this disc, but hearing the recordings presented this way helps us dive deeper into their musical canvasses. It’s sonic glory!
“Feel Flows” – for which the set is named – will envelop you. Enjoy this one.
“A Day In The Life Of A Tree” provides a non-Jack Rieley lead vocal, so you get to hear Brian’s creative energy blossom. Brian captures the purity of his world vision and appreciation for life. It’s like listening to a church organ in an atmospheric movement. It’s yet another Brian Wilson ‘pocket symphony.’ Majestic.
“’Til I Die” is a Surf’s Up album staple, and the long version with alternate lyrics – attempted by Brian to make the song more accessible at Mike’s request – provides a view of the type of sensitivities that went into this oasis. Ultimately, the band (including Mike) agreed the original lyrics better suited the ambiance and mood of the recording. They were right.
Dennis Wilson’s “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again” is a career-defining recording, and that’s saying something when you listen to anything else he has ever written. This song, recording … whatever you want to call it, is six minutes and fifty seconds of emotive bliss. See my notes on Disc Five regarding this song appearing on the makeshift Rumbo (Dennis Wilson and Daryl Dragon) album.
The a cappella section of this CD will blow your mind! You won’t find these harmonies anywhere else. They are unmistakable, and they soar!
We’re treated to most of the Surf’s Up album and it’s like walking out into an open field in the middle of the country surrounded by all Mother Nature has to offer (wildlife, trees, flowers, etc.), and then get transported to the beach … not to surf. To Listen. “Don’t Go Near The Water,” “Long Promised Road,” “Feel Flows” are stunning!
The other recordings offered here: “I Just Got My Pay,” “Walkin’,” and “When Girls Get Together” fit well together, and Dennis’ playfully hyper “Baby Baby” will be a welcome surprise.
The new Mark Linett mixes let the warmth of the music and vocals rise to the surface. For this music, that’s vital. You hear that quality on Brian’s “Awake.”
Dennis’ composition “It’s A New Day” (featuring Blondie Chaplin on lead vocal) ends this disc with musical muscle. Panache.
Disc Five: Bonus Disc
Disc Five is as invaluable to the collection as the other four. It’s all so revealing. For example, track #4, “Surf’s Up (Part 1)” offers a 1971 ‘remake track’ with Brian Wilson’s 1966 lead vocal layered on top of the first section of the song. At 1:41 (in length) it’s breathtaking.
The 2019 mixes of “Soulful Old Man Sunshine” and “Where Is She” are great additions to the set, but it’s the not so subtle “Carnival (Over The Waves/Sobra Las Olas)” that might come across as a throwaway. Although the recording is light-hearted, it offers plenty of nuanced fun for the ears.
The incomplete David Sandler-penned “It’s Natural” (with Mike on lead vocal) certainly has potential … I would kind of like to see this finished with the reunited construct of Brian, Mike, Alan, and Bruce.
Tracks 10-16 comprise most of the material written by Dennis and Daryl Dragon for what Dennis once noted would be for an album called, Poops or Hubba-Hubba, but it was shelved due to Dennis’ unpredictable behavior, and Daryl’s pursuit of a career with Toni Tennille … They went on to become Captain & Tennille.
Nonetheless, the music reminds me of Dennis’ vitality as a songwriter, and – along with the other material in the collection – there’s enough material for a complete Rumbo (Dennis/Daryl) album. That, in and of itself, adds value. Think about that: a Dennis Wilson solo album released in 1971/1972. Not just that, but it’s so GREAT! You won’t be ready for this, but once you complete your listening experience you’ll never think of Dennis Wilson the same way again. This entire box set represents some of Daryl Dragon’s very best work as a musician, arranger, and collaborator. He’s everywhere. This is his résumé.
Here are the seven Dennis Wilson/Daryl Dragon Poops/Hubba-Hubba era recordings: “Medley: All Of My Love/Ecology,” “Before,” “Behold The Night,” “Old Movie/Cuddle Up (instrumental),” “Hawaiian Dream (instrumental),” “Settle Down/Sound Of Free (Basic Session Outtake),” and “I’ve Got A Friend” – an instrumental that hints at inklings of “Barnyard Blues” (beginning at the 1:39 mark). It’s all so mystifying and beautiful. At times, achingly so. Dennis had a way of making every note emote. He was a musical force, and this simply cements that fact in case anyone has ever had any doubts or wasn’t the wiser. [See my notes below on creating a Dennis Wilson/Daryl Dragon album.]
The “’Til I Die” piano demo is interesting; it sounds like something from the SMiLE sessions! It hints at samplings of “Wonderful” and “Child Is Father Of The Man.” At least, I think so. Really cool!
I have always liked “Back Home” – written by Brian, Al, and Bob Norberg – and this demo has a great fly-on-the-wall vibe. The alternate version is just plain fun and fits in perfectly with the other whimsical offerings throughout the collection.
Some things never change and listening to the Murry Wilson/Brian Wilson-penned “Won’t You Tell Me” sessions (demo and 2019 Mix) with Murry and Brian is a reminder of the dynamic the father and son shared. As it is, I’m surprised they worked together at all, considering this was after the 1969 sale of Sea Of Tunes publishing. It’s interesting and kinda’ good.
Every time I hear “Barbara” I’m floored. It’s so emotionally grounding. And if you have ever met Barbara Wilson, it will really knock you over because Dennis captures her essence.
The “Medley Happy Birthday, Brian, God Only Knows” has the same playful ‘vibe’ as the Pet Sounds promos when Bruce played piano. Jaunty, silly, and just plain fun, Bruce does it again, but this time he’s singing almost ‘surreal’ lyrics. Have a listen. It’s tongue-in-cheek, or is it?
The last two songs, “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone (Track & Backing Vocals),” and “Marcella (a cappella)” close the set and left me wanting more. If the team that put this release together can do it again with a 1972-1975 collection, then sign me up. These recordings sound great!
I think to completely appreciate this music it’s important to acknowledge and thank engineer Steve Desper for his incredible work with The Beach Boys from 1969 – 1971. This is as much a reflection of his work as it is theirs.
This five-disc ‘wide lens’ collection is a personal invitation from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Alan Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and the late Dennis and Carl Wilson to step inside, turn off the lights, put on the headphones, and listen. Listen. Listen with The Beach Boys.
The material presented on this five-disc collection provides us with nearly three albums worth of additional music, so I put together a musical idea that you might enjoy.
Double album concept (create your own).
THE BEACH BOYS – GOOD TIME
San Miguel, Loop De Loop, Break Away, Good Time, Susie Cincinnati
I Just Got My Pay, Where Is She, Big Sur, Carnival, H.E.L.P. Is On The Way
Two Can Play, Celebrate The News, Back Home, Soulful Old Man Sunshine, Seasons In The Sun
Walkin’, When Girls Get Together, My Solution, Sweet And Bitter
Rumbo album concept (create your own).
RUMBO – POOPS/HUBBA-HUBBA (Dennis Wilson & Daryl Dragon)
Sound Of Free, I’m Goin’ Your Way, (Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again, Lady (Fallin’ In Love), Barbara, Hawaiian Dream, Medley: All Of My Love/Ecology, 4th Of July, Before, Behold The Night, Barnyard Blues (I’ve Got A Friend) [*NOTE: The finished version “Barnyard Blues” appears on 2013’s Made In California box set (Disc Six, Track #16)], and It’s A New Day
©2021 David M. Beard/All Rights Reserved