A Beach Boys album not featuring their world-famous vocals? Perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that Stack o’ Tracks, released on August 19, 1968, became their first LP to miss the US charts. Keith Badman’s book The Beach Boys describes it as “one of the oddest albums ever by a major rock group in the 1960s.” Mojo later called it a “karaoke precursor.” But it provided a golden opportunity for their devotees to sing lead vocals on their golden treasury of hits and key album tracks up to that point.
The 15 songs that made the selection in their instrumental forms went all the way back to 1963’s “In My Room,” “Catch A Wave,” “Surfer Girl” and, from their Christmas album that holiday season, “Little Saint Nick.” At the other end of their evolving story, Stack o’ Tracks also had the backing track for the single they had released just six weeks earlier, “Do It Again.” As the LP came out, that was two weeks from completing its climb to the top of the UK chart.
Beach Boys fans were fully encouraged not only to admire the superior instrumentation, arrangements and production of these newly wordless gems, but to become part of them. The record featured a booklet detailing the bass and lead lines as well as chord symbols and lyrics to sing along to. Take a listen, for example, to the spectacular backing of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and see if you can resist the urge to become a Beach Boy yourself.
Speaking about the album to Creem in 1971, Carl Wilson said: “You’d probably be surprised at what was under the vocals. It was what was really behind them, too. Just the music tracks from our records – I like that.”
Stack o’ Tracks dropped out of view quite quickly, especially at a time when the group’s commercial stock in America was quite low, and was soon deleted. Within six months, they were releasing their next new album, 20/20. The instrumental set didn’t appear in the UK, in a new sleeve, until December 1976, to capitalise on a new wave (pun intended) of Beach Boys nostalgia. That scorching summer, “Good Vibrations” returned to the top 20 and the 20 Golden Greats compilation spent a spectacular ten weeks at No.1.
“A collector’s dream”
Sadly, that edition lacked the musical information contained in the original, as did Capitol’s 1990 and 2001 reissues of the album on CD. But the 1976 UK version did have some entertaining liner notes, written in a Q&A format to explain its release. Here’s an excerpt: “Q: It certainly seems like a collector’s dream – but why release it now?
“A: For a Stack o’ reasons. Copies of the deleted American release are selling for ridiculous amounts, and we keep getting mailbags of letters demanding its release, but more than that it is one of the most fascinating instrumental albums ever issued. Q: OK, it fascinating, it’s curious, it’s a must for parties and discos, but how does it rate musically? A: Have you ever heard ‘Sloop John B’ without the vocals??”
Stack o’ Tracks can be bought here.