THE BEACH BOYS: STACK-O-TRACKS (1968)
1) Darlin'; 2) Salt Lake City; 3) Sloop John B; 4) In My Room; 5) Catch A Wave; 6) Wild Honey; 7) Little Saint Nick; 8) Do It Again; 9) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 10) God Only Knows; 11) Surfer Girl; 12) Little Honda; 13) Here Today; 14) You're So Good To Me; 15) Let Him Run Wild; 16*) Help Me, Rhonda; 17*) California Girls; 18*) Our Car Club.
It's almost hard to believe that as late as 1968, with the «album» well established as a pop art form and all, Capitol Records would still be willing to fuck with its (formerly) favorite pets' LP releases — but there you have it. Things looked pretty back, and the record people decided to make them better by making them worse: reminding the world that, no matter how perturbed, stressed, and worn out this band was on itself, this was utterly nothing next to the ridiculous decisions that their promoters were still entitled to taking.
There is, however, an entire different side to it. You sing the words and play with the original instrumental backgrounds to 15 of their biggest hits, Capitol writes on the front sleeve — at least three years before the invention of the karaoke machine, and quite a few years more before the machine started actively drawing blood in revenge for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Come to think of it, it was a problem: these pesky Beach Boys used to mix their vocals way high in the mix, so even if you did want to sing along to 'Catch A Wave' or 'Sloop John B', you simply couldn't hear your own angel tone next to the lackluster hum of these arrogant Californian teens. Now Capitol's engineers, working overtime, and at a significant risk to their mental health, took on the task of wiping these annoying vocals, and you can catch your own wave — and listen, without any obstacles, to the fabulous virtuoso work of underrated guitar genius David Marks in the process.
A fabulous idea, but, for some reason, one that failed to ignite a lot of interest. Apparently, people were not out there falling over each other in line to get vocal-less versions of songs by one of the world's greatest vocal bands. Silly of them, perhaps, but at least it saved us from other record companies latching on to the idea (e. g. Layla And Other Assorted Guitarless Songs: You play all the guitar parts of Eric Clapton to 14 of the finest blues-rock songs ever recorded! Double fun guaranteed with extra friend invited! Includes booklet with printed tabs and a mini-model of Duane Allman's motorcycle etc.). Anyway, Stack-o-Tracks deservedly failed to chart and, if that was at all possible, sunk the band's reputation even further.
It is good for one listen, though, provided you reprogram the tracks in chronological order: since they are more or less evenly distributed from 1963 to 1967 (and even include the backing track for 'Do It Again', the band's latest summer-of-'68 single that had yet to see album release), it serves as a nice reminder of how great the musical progression had been from those early days — from the bare simplicity of 'Surfer Girl' and 'Catch A Wave', which are really nothing special without the vocals, to the complexity, inventiveness, and multiple layers of the Pet Sounds tracks. 'Here Today', in particular, is a major standout here — one of the few numbers that does acquire a separate flair without the vocals: listen to what Carol Kaye is doing on that bass, clearly outperforming Mr. McCartney without going all flashy and virtuoso on our ears. Bet you never really heard that with the vocals on, certainly not on your first listen, at least.
Perhaps it would have been a better idea if Capitol simply decided to put out the backing tracks for Pet Sounds (which they eventually did), maybe mixing them with a couple instrumental leftovers from Smile. But that would have required the presence of somebody willing to market the band as artists rather than has-been teen audience attractors, and that would have required the presence of somebody to convince somebody to be willing to market the band as artists, and that... never mind. The stupidest thing of all is that, on some of the early mixes, they actually had to wipe out the vocals, and they didn't do a very good job on it. So you'll have a nasty feeling when singing along — like they're eavesdropping on you from a faraway corner. Thumbs down.