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The Beach Boys’ ‘1967’: the beginning of the long sunset

The Beach Boys have overseen the creative process for a new 2CD and digital collection, 1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow.
The Beach Boys have overseen the creative process for a new 2CD and digital collection, 1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow. UMe

The year 1967 was truly the end of innocence for the Beach Boys. Having redefined pop music a year earlier with the release of their undeniably greatest work, “Pet Sounds,” Brian Wilson and his mates retreated to a series of far lower-fi recordings.

Around them, a generation of artists issued works that would have largely been inconceivable in terms of composition, performance and especially production in the pre-“Pet Sounds” era. For the Beach Boys, though, surf was definitely not up. Their hits evaporated, triggering a downward trek that, while still including a handful of remarkable albums, ended in creative burnout by the mid-1970s.

A new two-disc set of unreleased mixes and material, “1967 — Sunshine Tomorrow,” takes us back to the immediate aftermath of “Pet Sounds.” In some way, the collection further surveys the wreckage of the band’s aborted “Smile,” which was intended as Brian Wilson’s grand opus follow-up to “Pet Sounds.” That translates, on “1967 — Sunshine Tomorrow,” to songs and session outtakes from two studio albums, “Wild Honey” and “Smiley Smile,” that were released in September and December 1967, as well as another scrapped work from that year, a live album cut in Hawaii. The latter is included here in its entirety.

All 11 songs from “Wild Honey” also find a home on “1967 — Sunshine Tomorrow,” but are presented with their first ever stereo mix. While the original mono recordings remain personally preferable, the stereo version of “Darlin’” nicely reaffirms Carl Wilson’s growing vocal presence in the group and the subsequent journey away from the Beach Boys’ trademark surf sound and sunny harmonies to a more organic delivery of soul-inspired pop. Additionally, a pastiche of fly-on-the-wall takes of “Aren’t You Glad” provide the kind of insight to the construction of “Wild Honey” usually reserved for more detailed boxed sets.

Music from “Smiley Smile” is presented in a more detached form, mostly through alternate takes. The album’s most famous track, “Good Vibrations” (originally released as a stand-alone single at the height of the “Pet Sounds” reign in 1966), is only included as part of the unreleased Hawaii concert tracks and sports a curiously sad sense of ragged grace. Of particular interest is a different mix of the instrumental “Fall Breaks and Back to Winter” that sounds more than ever like a nightmare revision of the brilliantly melancholy “Pet Sounds” interlude, “Let’s Go Away for Awhile.”

“1967 — Sunshine Tomorrow” ends with two doses of pure brilliance that place Brian Wilson front and center — a fractured demo version of “Surf’s Up” (which wouldn’t surface in finished form until 1971) and an a capella revisit to “Surfer Girl” imbued with a sense of sunshine that, for the Beach Boys in 1967, was quickly setting.

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