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‘Wild Honey’: Behind The Beach Boys’ Sweet Soul Masterpiece

One of the most important archival releases in Beach Boys history, ‘1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow’ captures a creative peak around the ‘Wild Honey’ album.

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The Beach Boys reached their creative peak in the fall, winter and spring of 1966 and ’67, when Brian Wilson produced the legendary Smile sessions, right at the same time The Beatles were preparing Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As Smile became waylaid, delayed – and eventually released over 40 years later, earning the group their first Grammy Award – The Beach Boys’ creativity was shattering into beautiful individual pinnacles that are brought to light on 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow, an archival collection that reveals just how albums such as Smiley Smile and Wild Honey came together.

At first, it was thought that Smile would be simply delayed, as a 25 July 1967 memo from Capitol Records’ A&R director Karl Engermann pointed out: “I agreed with Brian that the best course of action would be to not include [the Smile] booklet with the Smiley Smile package,” Karl noted, “but rather to hold it for the next album which will include the aforementioned 10 selections.”

That tantalising bit of 60s record company paraphernalia suggests that the creative direction for Smile itself was not considered a lost cause by the label or Brian Wilson, but, in fact, encouraged a true “finish” to happen in the very near future. On 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow, you can hear attempts by Brian Wilson to continue in the Smile mode of recording (‘Cool, Cool Water’, ‘Can’t Wait Too Long’, ‘Surf’s Up’), while also moving ahead with the band, now working in a lighter, breezier fashion on what became Smiley Smile (released on 18 September 1967), Wild Honey (released exactly three months later, on 18 December 1967) and the previously unreleased Lei’d In Hawaii live album tracks.

Listen to 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow right now.

In the wake of the Monterey Pop Festival, The Beach Boys found themselves seeking to make up for their non-appearance by doing something on their own. The proposed film and album, Lei’d In Hawaii, was never assembled, but footage from the August ’67 concerts first appeared in the 1985 documentary The Beach Boys: An American Band, by Malcolm Leo. 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow captures not only the essence of the shows in Honolulu, but recordings made the following month at Wally Heider’s studio on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.

These attempted to emulate the arrangements done for the concert, and in fact are very interesting on their own as recordings, especially cover versions of The Box Tops’ hit ‘The Letter’, Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders’ ‘The Game Of Love’ and The Beatles’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. The concert tape also has The Beach Boys opening the show with a tribute to East LA’s Thee Midniters (‘Whittier Blvd’), and playing something that touched on their own South Bay neighborhood, ‘Hawthorne Boulevard’.

Truly moving away from the dense productions of Pet Sounds and Smile, The Beach Boys’ work during the second half of 1967 delved into a realm of music later to be dubbed by alt.rock fans in the 90s as “Sunshine pop”. This type of music was also being created during the second half of the 60s by The Mamas & The Papas, The Association and The Turtles (local Beach Boys contemporaries in their hit-making days). The Beach Boys’ last single of 1967, ‘Darlin’’, in fact, was a breath of fresh air, rushing in at the beginning of Beach Boys concerts for over 30 years. (The band would open with the grandiose ‘California Girls’, but then Carl Wilson immediately busted into ‘Darlin’’ to bring concert-goers, already on their feet for the opening masterpiece, directly into dance mode.) The song was immortalised by popular catch phrases of the era, including the line “more soul than I ever had” and “dog-gone outtasight”. Because of its longevity as a concert staple, ‘Darlin’’ far outlived its somewhat modest No.19 placing on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.11 showing in the UK.

Those who may have longed for the more recent melodies of Pet Sounds had more to bargain for with ‘Let The Wind Blow’ and ‘Country Air’, the latter toning down the complexity and trippiness, giving the song the space it needed; rooster sound effects were included in case listeners missed the point.

Far be it for The Beach Boys not to have known something was in the air during 1967. A commonly noted aspect of Wild Honey is the surprise moment at the end of ‘I’d Love Just Once To See You’, finishing with the lyrics “in the nude” and a light-hearted “doo doo doo” vocal round (which, like many of the Wild Honey backing vocals, benefits greatly from the new mix featured on 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow). At a time when the sexual revolution was reaching its peak, Brian Wilson takes off on this acoustic-guitar run of melodious simplicity… and nudity is what it all leads to.

Later on, Carl Wilson shakes it real good on the Mike Love/Al Jardine/Bruce Johnston/Brian Wilson original ‘How She Boogaloo’d It’, howling “Sock-it, sock-it to me” less like Aretha Franklin on ‘Respect’, and more something that Goldie Hawn could go-go dance to on Laugh-In (an absurdist, variety-show take on the “Love-In”, and the No.1 television show in America at the time). Bruce pounds out his best garage-rock keyboard line as Carl trips out, singing, “The walls are movin’, the ceilin’s a reelin’.”

Beach-Boys-Sunshine-Tomorrow-1967The Beach Boys were down with 1967 alright, but in that one-of-the-guys, unpretentious and ultimately fun manner that gave their early 60s hits such a wide appeal. ‘A Thing Or Two’ (on which Al shares vocals with Carl and Brian), in fact, sounds like a rehearsal session for their 1968 session ‘Do It Again’, with a few clever chords.

All of this might have seemed goofy in lesser hands, but with a slight return to the Brian Wilson/Mike Love songwriting teamwork of old (‘Aren’t You Glad’), something weighty managed to happen amid of all this light-heartedness. “Wild Honey is one of last year’s finest albums,” wrote Crawdaddy! editor Paul Williams, “a lovely record full of exuberant singing and beautiful, evocative music.”

Praise such as this from the first underground rock magazine showed that bands didn’t have to join in with the penchant for extended jam sessions in 1967 to receive appreciation from the counterculture cognoscenti. The Beach Boys’ return to minimalism was beginning to pay off: studio players would return for follow-ups Friends and Sunflower, both of which had Wild Honey’s spaciousness and simplicity, but expanded it to re-introduce the more buoyant production sound that Brian Wilson now began to teach, and would share progressively with his brothers Dennis and Carl.

One example of the band riding high post-Smile is the extremely impressive quality of the songs left in the can during the Wild Honey sessions, collected with stunning audio clarity on 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow. ‘Lonely Days’, never fully completed, still begins as the type of song we would hear more in the freewheeling early 70s, akin to British singer Albert Hammond’s ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’, but marked by that magic Brian Wilson falsetto. You can also hear the unadorned beauty of ‘Time To Get Alone’, featuring Wild Honey’s minimalist tone, without the bulkier “finishes” that appear on the 1969 version from their 20/20 album.

‘Honey Get Home’, without lyrics or vocals, is more joyous in style, and the definitive Wild Honey sound. There’s also a quick attempt at a Beach Boys version of The Honeys’ ‘Hide Go Seek’, displaying how Wilson would often pulled melodies from earlier times to create new material (as he did with ‘Darlin’’, a re-write of another one of his productions, ‘Thinkin’ ’Bout You Baby’ by Sharon Marie).

The 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow release becomes, along with the Pet Sounds and Smile Sessions box sets, one of the most important archival releases in Beach Boys history. Just listening to how they broke things down during the Smiley Smile sessions, there are some sublime moments, including ‘Little Pad’ and ‘Wind Chimes’, that reveal how the band began to re-approach their live shows. Brian Wilson doing what he could to put finishing touches to the Smile nuggets later that same year displays a band winding down from some of the most dizzying heights achieved in music history, no matter who you’re talking about.

The Beach Boys’ 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow 2CD and digital collection is available to order here. Wild Honey is also available on vinyl.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. MSLandon

    July 11, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Like to get the whole Sunshine Tomorrow on vinyl.

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