THE BEACH BOYS: ENDLESS HARMONY SOUNDTRACK (1998)
1) Soulful Old Man Sunshine (writing session excerpt); 2) Soulful Old Man Sunshine; 3) Radio Concert Promo; 4) Medley: Surfin' Safari / Fun, Fun, Fun / Shut Down / Little Deuce Coupe / Surfin' U.S.A. (live 1966); 5) Surfer Girl (binaural mix); 6) Help Me, Rhonda (alternate single version); 7) Kiss Me, Baby (stereo remix); 8) California Girls (stereo remix); 9) Good Vibrations (live 1968); 10) Heroes And Villains (demo); 11) Heroes And Villains (live 1972); 12) God Only Knows (live 1967); 13) Radio Concert Promo; 14) Darlin' (live 1980); 15) Wonderful / Don't Worry Bill (live 1972); 16) Do It Again (early version); 17) Break Away (demo); 18) Sail Plane Song; 19) Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' In An Aeroplane); 20) Barbara; 21) 'Til I Die (alternate mix); 22) Long Promised Road (live 1972); 23) All Alone; 24) Brian's Back; 25) Endless Harmony.
It must have been quite risqué to select ʽEndless Harmonyʼ, out of everything there was, as the Beach Boy song title to serve as the title for a documentary on the band's history — in 1998, as Carl finally succumbed to cancer and the rest of the band drifted apart, with only Mike and Bruce going on as «The Beach Boys», selling out barrooms and spas either to people too old to remember whoever was in the band anyway, or to people who didn't give much of a damn about whether they were being entertained by «The Beach Boys» or «The Backstreet Boys». Maybe ʽYou Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Aloneʼ would have been a better title.
In any case, the documentary provided Capitol with a respectable opportunity to unload some more of those archival dustbins, and the fans genuinely got over seventy minutes of new Beach Boy material. Granted, the word «new» can have lots of nuances, and in this particular case, way too often «new» simply means:
— new stereo remixes of well-known songs, e. g. ʽSurfer Girlʼ, ʽKiss Me, Babyʼ, and ʽCalifornia Girlsʼ (a thing that should have been done on a far more thorough level, e. g. have all the early albums remastered in two modes, the way they eventually did with the Beatles);
— underarranged demo versions that can only have historical interest (ʽDo It Againʼ, ʽBreak Awayʼ, etc.); everything listenable and in fine quality, but no unexpected twists. Well, you do get to hear Mike sing "let's get together and surf again", which was eventually deleted, for fear that somebody might actually start harassing the band into fulfilling that exhortation;
— «radio concert promo» bits written for the band by people who probably thought that such a dumb band deserved the dumbest of writing ("Hi! This is Al Jardine, and I am a Beach Boy"; "Hi, this is the greatest drummer on Earth, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys").
Fortunately, that is only about a third of the album. The other third features an assortment of live rarities that range from the curiously fun (a five-hit medley from 1966 crammed into three and a half minutes) to the brilliant (ʽHeroes And Villainsʼ from 1967) to the unexpected (two highlights from the 1972 Carnegie Hall Concert: an inspired take on ʽLong Promised Roadʼ from Carl, and a ʽWonderfulʼ that is, for some reason, merged with a Chaplin/Fataar blues-rocker called ʽDon't Worry Billʼ — see, back in the old days this band did include surprising its audiences among its top priorities) to the so-so (ʽDarlinʼ should probably have been taken from some show prior to 1980's Knebworth concert).
Finally, there are six new songs that had only been previously available through bootlegs, although only one of them may count up there with the classics — consequently, it is also the one that opens the album: ʽSoulful Old Man Sunshineʼ, an outtake from the 1969 sessions, is a prime time Brian Wilson classic with all the works — multi-layered harmonies, varied instrumentation, catchy verse/chorus, and a lush, optimistic, anthemic atmosphere that was hardly a cherished guest on Brian's post-breakdown compositions. Why they ended up leaving it in the can is anybody's guess — maybe they thought it was too Motown-ish in sound (it does bounce around the room in the same way that a light, fast-tempo Supremes number can), although this never stopped them from covering Stevie Wonder on Wild Honey.
Five minutes are given to two different incarnations of the same song — ʽSail Plane Song' from 1968 began as a dark swirling piano number, then gradually mutated into 1969's 'Loop De Loop', a carouselambra-extravaganza of brass, chimes, harmonies, and circus spirit, before finally getting to be killed off by Jack Rieley, who thought the Beach Boys should not waste their precious time working on such mindless fluff, and dedicate their efforts to things far more serious in nature and scope — such as ʽStudent Demonstration Timeʼ. Actually, though, ʽLoop De Loopʼ in its semi-finished shape is still a nice piece of Cali-psychedelia... but it certainly used to be creepier when it used to be ʽSail Plane Songʼ.
There is also a previously unreleased Dennis ballad (ʽBarbaraʼ), and at least one misguided inclusion — ʽBrian's Backʼ, a song written in 1976 to celebrate the prodigal brother's artificial «comeback», sewn together from a miriad nostalgic leaves and, fortunately, shelved for the time being. Now that Brian had finally severed his ties with the remaining «Beach Boys» for good, the song's resurfacing on this anthology might have seemed even more comic.
It would have been better if they had let the album run its course on the «full» version of 'Til I Die' — the only song on here that has it in itself to compete with the original, lengthened by two completely instrumental minutes that allow the melody to be explored in all of its potential; if you ever wondered how all these late Sixties / early Seventies Beach Boy classics would sound with proper build-ups and fade-outs, well, here is your answer: this alternate mix, created by engineer Steve Desper, makes the song twice the epic that it is. (In fact, Brian himself liked it so much that he eventually started working around the extended version in live performances).
The end result is, naturally, a thumbs up, and a big overall improvement compared to Rarities: longer, cleaner, better sequenced, and with three or four genuinely awesome discoveries. Unfortunately, it also confirmed that, even in the CD age, as well as an age in which interest in the Beach Boys as «forefathers of cool» was perking up, the archives would not yield Holy Grails. However, the fact that it was still possible to brush the dust off an occasional ʽSoulful Old Man Sunshineʼ still left ground for suspicions that the people at Capitol were playing out their time-honoured strategy — never let go of everything at the same time, or you might make people way too happy for them to remember to make you way too rich.
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