THE BEACH BOYS Shut Down Volume 2 (Capitol)

Awwww, cute! Pre "Pet Sounds" Beach Boys from 1964, when their entire modus operandi could be summed up by the words ‘cars’ and ‘girls’ a good decade before Bruce Springsteen copped the idea wholesale. "Shut Down" demonstrates conclusively what made The Beach Boys a legendary band, even at this early stage in their musical development: any album that opens with the 136-second harmony and adrenaline overdrive of "Fun, Fun, Fun" is already on nodding terms with greatness. Consider that it also contains sublime pointers to Brian Wilson’s burgeoning maturity as a songwriter in the form of the wondrous "The Warmth Of The Sun" and "Don’t Worry Baby" and definitive takes on beat group standards like "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "Louie, Louie" and you may begin to wonder why "Shut Down Volume 2" hasn’t been more acclaimed over the years.

A few possible reasons. The Beach Boys didn’t treat their albums with the same degree of artistic respect as The Beatles did - you only have to look at the systematic butchering of the Fab Four’s pre-Pepper output by their American record company to understand the difference in attitudes across the Atlantic. As a consequence "Shut Down" also contains ""Cassius" Love Vs. "Sonny" Wilson", which wastes three-and-a-half of the album’s 27 minutes on a skit that purports to be a scene from a ‘typical Beach Boys rehearsal’. Oh, and "Denny’s Drums" is, as its name threateningly suggests, a Dennis Wilson drum solo. You will not want to hear these tracks twice. These blemishes aside, "Shut Down Volume 2" is a top pop experience, its value enhanced by the hypetastic contemporary sleeve notes and lots of twee early 60s nonsense about "Full Dimensional Stereo".

THE BEACH BOYS Surf’s Up (Capitol)

EMI’s second batch of twenty Centenary limited edition black plastic reissues (heavy 180gm virgin vinyl pressings, original packaging, analogue cutting from analogue tapes etc. etc.) offers you the opportunity to purchase, along with much that is not exactly difficult to get hold of anyway (e.g. "The Band", "Hounds Of Love"), this neglected offering, generally believed to be one of the best Beach Boys albums that isn’t "Pet Sounds".

Originally released in 1971, and big neither on hit singles nor Brian involvement (he contributes to just three of the album’s ten tracks), "Surf’s Up" nevertheless has something, a kind of fragile, twee charm that’s difficult to pin down. The subject matter seems to belatedly hanker after some kind of pre-Altamont/"Big Pink" hippie dream that even the psychedelia-infused likes of "Smiley Smile" never really got to grips with defining, with a heavily ecological vibe to songs like "Don’t Go Near The Water" (not even to surf, ‘cos it’s full of shampoo and bad things, man) and "A Day In The Life Of A Tree", and slightly incongruous attempts at protest - not entirely unlike a less sophisticated take on Jefferson Airplane’s "Volunteers" album - on "Student Demonstration Time" (seemingly Lieber and Stoller’s "Riot In Cell Block Number Nine" with different lyrics) and "Lookin’ At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)". Elsewhere they invent Spiritualized on "Feel Flows", rehabilitate the album’s title track, a Brian/Van Dyke Parks collaboration, from the aborted "Smile" project and create something of unashamed loveliness on "Disney Girls (1957)", an ode to getting older that is half "Wouldn’t It Be Nice" five years on and half Crosby, Stills and Nash bereft of even the slightest hint of ego.

Perhaps the conventional history of pop has tried to bury "Surf’s Up", and much of the Beach Boys’ post-"Pet Sounds" output, because it has a diffuse, uncoordinated atmosphere, as if they’re dabbling with different kinds of music because, well, they’re the Beach Boys and they can. Compare it with, well, I won’t mention it again but you know which album I mean, when they more than dabbled with different kinds of music because Brian was going through his doomed mad genius period. But as a footnote to such greatness, "Surf’s Up" is more than worth hearing.

Regarding the effects of EMI’s much trumpeted Centenary reissue process, for once the sticker on the front does not lie; the expected chunky pressing, combined with the promise of analogue cutting from analogue tapes (something the previous, slightly disappointing, batch of Centenary reissues didn’t boast) certainly gives a potential for fine sound quality, somewhat diminished by unusually high levels of distortion, which presumably found themselves onto the master tape by way of too much studio trickery.

THE BEACH BOYS Endless Harmony Soundtrack (Capitol)

Being the soundtrack from the scandalously unpromoted Beach Boys two-part rockumentary screened on ITV in September, "Endless Harmony" is a well-packed 26-track CD (boo, hiss etc.), all selections previously unreleased bar the closing title track, which originally surfaced on their 1980 album "Keepin’ The Summer Alive", which, being realistic, you probably haven’t already got.

Although some of the selections here are some distance from being essential - the two radio concert promos and a couple of frankly unnecessary stereo and binaural remixes that seem to be here for no other reason than to sneak versions of "Kiss Me, Baby", "Surfer Girl" and "California Girls" onto the soundtrack -"Endless Harmony" manages to paint a far more diverse picture of the many places The Beach Boys have been at than you’d get from any of their more traditional compilations, with two-thirds of the tracks coming from the "Good Vibrations" and later period, when they mixed up the cars ‘n’ girls ‘n’ surfing up with a more experimental schtick.

What really impresses are the tracks from the "Surf’s Up"-era. Although I bought that album a year ago I never really appreciated its greatness - the maturity that, in songs like "Long Promised Road" (here represented in a version taken from a late 1972 Carnegie Hall concert) connects the band to a greater tradition of American songwriting that might extend back to the likes of Cole Porter (and, debatably, forward to Mercury Rev), is scarily obvious here. Listen to the alternate mix of "Til I Die", for example, which features the backing track playing right through instrumentally before the vocals come in (the kind of studio looping trickery that Phil Spector slapped all over "Let It Be"), and agree entirely with the booklet’s description of it as Brian Wilson’s early seventies tour de force.

Elsewhere you’ll find a rocket-powered live version of "Darlin’" that. amazingly, dates from 1980, by which time conventional rock history might lead you to believe they’d given up being any good, mad psychedelic nursery-rhyme nonsense on a demo version of "Heroes And Villains", "Sail Plane Song" and its later development "Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin’ In An Aeroplane)" and an expert live negotiation of the studio-bound multi-part trickery of "Heroes And Villains". (And remember that The Beatles never attempted anything more elaborate than "Paperback Writer" in their prematurely curtailed performing career).

I seem to be using the phrase ‘alternative career history’ a lot recently, but in the case of "Endless Harmony" I feel justified in wheeling it out one more time: as a first-time Beach Boys purchase you’ll find a healthy smattering of familiar tunes (albeit not in their original forms) and enough lesser-known gems to prevent it from becoming redundant when you’ve bought great swathes of their other albums. Which, with a band as genuinely important as The Beach Boys, is something you should strongly consider doing.

THE BEACH BOYS The Warmth Of The Sun (Capitol/EMI)

“The Warmth Of The Sun” is a mostly charming compilation of The Beach Boys’ less celebrated moments, which means nothing from “Pet Sounds” and an acceptable five track overlap with the 1990 collection “Summer Dreams”, still the best single disc anthology of the band’s work.

The goofy guilelessness of “All Summer Long” makes “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” sound like Prince in full-on mid-80s PMRC-baiting mode. Though the relentless cheerfulness of the earliest selections gets a bit wearying, “Little Honda”, which nowadays would smack unpleasantly of blatant product placement, is a work of the utmost sincerity and innocence. The non-chronological sequencing means there’s an uncomfortable jolt when the glassy, vapid “It’s OK”, from 1976’s “15 Big Ones”, interrupts a stream of 60s classics, but order is restored to the sound of the band, and Brian especially, speeding through the first giddy flush of love – “You’re So Good To Me”, “Then I Kissed Her”, “Kiss Me, Baby” – only to find it curdled with doubt and suspicion on the magnificent “Please Let Me Wonder” and “Let Him Run Wild”. “The Little Girl I Once Knew” has long been one of my favourite Beach Boys (relative) obscurities, perhaps stymied at the time by an arrangement that was unconventional even by Brian Wilson’s rapidly-developing standards.

The second half of the disc finds the band attempting a conscious maturation of their early surf and sand pocket symphonies, with more critical than commercial success. The likes of “Forever”, “Friends” and “Break Away” have all the casual craftsmanship of their antecedents, but their gently introspective messages of companionship had little to do with the prevailing mood of the times. Deservedly, half of “Surf’s Up” makes the cut, including its title track’s breathtaking baroque post-psychedelia, made yet more memorable by Van Dyke Park’s richly evocative free-associating imagery. Listen to “Feel Flows” and you’ve practically got the whole of the first Spiritualized album in five minutes and, undimmed by its primitive rhythm box programming, “’Til I Die” still sounds celestial. “Sail On, Sailor” demonstrates that they hadn’t completely mislaid their ability to create catchy, concise pop singles during the 1970s, and the early ecological stirrings of “Don’t Go Near The Water” are as prescient as they are gauche. The somewhat gawky travelogue “California Saga (On My Way To Sunny Californ-I-A)” scores hipster points for namechecking Country Joe, but their plastic cover of “California Dreamin’” is farther beyond redemption. The album closes on its heavenly title track, adolescent angst in paradise.

Some booklet notes detailing the history and rationale behind the selections would’ve been nice, but otherwise “The Warmth Of The Sun” succeeds by bringing together a whole hunk of lovely, undeservedly neglected material. If all you know about The Beach Boys is “Pet Sounds” and the big hits, prepare to be gently, pleasantly surprised.

Brian Wilson

Dennis Wilson