When the Beach Boys released Sunflower on August 31, 1970 as their first album on their own Brother label via Reprise, their 16th studio set in just eight years highlighted a dichotomy. The reviews for it were generally extremely positive, and the record’s reputation among fans and media has only grown in later years. Indeed, the album and its sessions are part of the lavish 2021 box set Feel Flows — The Sunflower and Surf”s Up Sessions. But at the time, it became their least successful LP to date.
True to its title, Sunflower featured a generally upbeat and sunny selections by various writing combinations within the group. As had been the case on the group’s late 1960s albums Friends and 20/20, Dennis Wilson had a fairly prominent songwriting role alongside his brother Brian, contributing “Slip On Through” on his own and co-writing three others tracks.
Brian had one solo credit on the album, “This Old World,” elsewhere co-writing with Mike Love, Al Jardine, brother Carl, and others. But perhaps the two most memorable selections on Sunflower were Bruce Johnston’s songs “Deirdre,” written with Brian, and the solo offering “Tears In The Morning.” Even if he went on to express reservations about the suitability of the two songs to the group, Bruce later described Sunflower as his favourite Beach Boys album.
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The record was released at the end of August, by which time Dennis was much involved with filming the Easy Rider-inspired road movie for Universal with James Taylor, Two-Lane Blacktop. The new album made its US chart debut at No.162 on September 26, 1970 and peaked at No.151 in a mere four-week run. Neither “Add Some Music To Your Day” nor the double-sided “Slip On Through” and “This Whole World,” released as advance singles, made the charts, and nor did two 45s released after the album.
Sunflower met a somewhat better fate in the UK, but only after a delay. The group had had a belated Top 5 single there in June with “Cotton Fields,” which had appeared some 16 months earlier on 20/20. That prompted Capitol to go with a new Greatest Hits collection, which justified their decision with a 20-week chart run and a No. 5 peak.
The group’s new home of Reprise/Warner thus delayed the UK release of Sunflower until November. It entered and peaked there at No.29, sharing space in the Top 40 with the continuingly popular Greatest Hits set that would outlast it in commercial terms. But the 1970 LP’s standing grew and grew, to the point that a 1997 critics’ top 100 list of the all-time greatest albums rated Sunflower at No.66, second only in their inventory to Pet Sounds at No.6.