The Beach Boys
U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2008, Volume 15, #7
Written by John Metzger
Mon July 7, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
It wouldn’t be summertime without the release of a new compilation of material from The Beach Boys. This year’s installment is U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962–1965), a beautifully packaged, limited edition set that reproduces all of the original 45s that the group made for Capitol during the early-to-mid 1960s. Considering the abundance of alternate mixes that augment the selections on the 16-disc endeavor, including stereo and mono versions of many of its tracks, there likely is too much redundancy among its contents for U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962–1965) to appeal to casual fans. For them, Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys combined with last year’s retrospective The Warmth of the Sun will be sufficiently satisfying. Taken together, these outings not only provide a sterling overview of The Beach Boys’ canon, but they also trace the creeping darkness that began to consume America’s cultural landscape after a President was assassinated and a war began to rage uncontrollably in a distant, foreign land.
The narrower focus of U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962–1965) allows it to tell a different kind of story from its predecessors. Presented in chronological order, the set beautifully portrays The Beach Boys’ evolution at the hands of its visionary leader Brian Wilson. In doing so, it also makes the case that Pet Sounds wasn’t really a departure for the outfit, but rather it was the culmination of Wilson’s longstanding creative vision. Still, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who heard Surfin’ Safari in August 1962 truly expected the band to make the progress that it did.
Most of the songs on U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962–1965) are, of course, about cars, girls, and the idyllic, sun-kissed beaches of southern California. Beneath the surface, however, Wilson’s restless need to keep pushing against the boundaries that surrounded him is quite apparent. On the one hand, he did have a tendency to recycle ideas and themes. He famously wrote new lyrics for Chuck Berry songs (Surfin’ USA) as well as children’s nursery rhymes (Ten Little Indians). Yet, there also was a method to his madness: Wilson was responding to the market, while simultaneously learning how to arrange material that took advantage of The Beach Boys’ tightly knit harmonies. He applied Phil Spector’s "Wall of Sound" production to the band’s cover of Frankie Lymon’s Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, and he dabbled in British Invasion pop on She Knows Me too Well.
It is equally easy to hear the connections and similarities among The Beach Boys’ singles. Although they weren’t exactly formulaic, each of them was a mutational iteration on a familiar concept. Consequently, there is a clear progression that plays out in tracks like 409, Fun Fun Fun, I Get Around, and Little Honda. Oddly enough, Mike Love — who co-penned all four cuts and frequently has complained that he never received the credit that he deserved — likely helped Wilson by providing him with balance and perspective. The result is that the tunes cleverly satisfied expectations while drawing fans along for the ride. In a sense, Love gave Wilson the freedom to experiment.
With this in mind, it is quite remarkable how early Wilson’s genius began to infiltrate his compositional style. He began to script increasingly complex arrangements and pen personal lyrics that reflected his troubled soul. The b-side County Fair and the single Be True to Your School may have been gimmicky and dreadful, but they also highlighted the playful spirit that later fed into Smile. Of course, tunes, such as In My Room and Kiss Me, Baby, served as precursors to Pet Sounds, and the melancholy tone that lurked behind the yearning in Surfer Girl became the full-blown heartache of Wendy.
The holiday novelty single Little Saint Nick and its companion The Lord’s Prayer, however, provide the best examples of how The Beach Boys deftly straddled the line between remaining a fixture of popular culture and pursuing an artistic vision. The former tune, which was penned by Wilson and Love, is a sophisticated enhancement of Little Deuce Coupe, and the intricate details of its construction are outlined wonderfully by the new stereo mix that is included on U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962–1965). Its b-side likely was viewed by Capitol as a throwaway selection. Rather than waste space, though, Wilson used it to further his agenda. His arrangement of Albert Hay Malotte’s The Lord’s Prayer was the first real indication of where he later would head. Couched in the spirit of the Christmas season, it is doubtful that anyone realized how far along he already had come.
Given that it concludes in August 1965 — just as Wilson was beginning to construct the material for Pet Sounds — U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962–1965) doesn’t quite paint a complete portrait. It does, however, come close, and as it progresses, it presents a fascinating examination of how Wilson was able to guide The Beach Boys along its path, shuffling pieces in and out of his sonic jigsaw puzzle in plain view. U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962–1965) may be the umpteenth retrospective of the group’s career, but they way in which it illuminates the arc that connects many of the group’s best-known songs provides plenty of justification for its existence.
Of Further Interest...
U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962-1965) is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box