Grammy Award-winning producers Mark Linett, Alan Boyd and Dennis Wolfe have overseen a wide range of widely acclaimed Beach Boys reissue projects and box sets, most notably The Smile Sessions, Hawthorne, California, The Pet Sound Sessions and Endless Harmony.
Their sterling work on the meticulously assembled and researched new Made in California box set helps shine a further light on the enduring artistry of The Beach Boys.
Rock Cellar Magazine caught up with Linett, Boyd and Wolfe and asked them to provide the lowdown behind this career-spanning collection.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The Beach Boys’ catalog has been mined for years with reissues and box sets. As co-producers of this career retrospective, what was your game plan?
Mark Linett: To some degree this is a rethinking of the Beach Boys Good Vibrations box set from 1993 with a little more latitude in terms of what we could select from the unreleased material. The ’93 box had the first SMiLE tracks, which was pretty unique. But this time around we’ve really been able to get into more of the post-Capitol Records material. Besides being a career-spanning box with what we hope are most, if not all the important records that they produced, the box includes about 60 previously unreleased tracks–some tracks are completely unreleased, others are demos, alternate versions, new remixes, acapella mixes, live cuts, things like that.
Out of all the surviving band members, Mike Love was especially helpful and involved in putting together the box set.
Dennis Wolfe: At the core of it, the Beach Boys were an incredibly important band as a group that hailed from the United States and on a global stage.
There was that minute in time when they were actually bigger than the Beatles.
I think being able to tell the story of these brothers, their cousin and their friend that came from Hawthorne and wrote these incredible songs that not only defined their own sound but defined the soundtrack for a generation and how that evolved and morphed and went into the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and right up until 2012 with That’s Why God Made the Radio, a brand new studio album from all the surviving members.
That is an incredible story to tell. They’re the first American band to hit their 50th anniversary and make a new record and I think that’s an incredible story. Certainly those decades were wrought with all manner of turmoil and discord – but the music survived. Most people don’t know all that stuff and don’t necessarily need to know that stuff.
They can put on certain songs and suddenly everything in their day is okay and that’s pretty much what we wanted to get across.
RCM: What was the criteria behind the inclusion of unreleased material?
Mark Linett: Well, in terms of the live tracks, the goal was to present things that were a little bit more unique. We have a version of Help Me Rhonda but it features Dennis (Wilson) singing lead instead of Al (Jardine). We have a live version of Wild Honey with Blondie Chaplin singing lead. There are some recordings from the ’68 tour with the band doing Friends and Dennis performing Little Bird. We tried to include deeper tracks with the live material and also deeper tracks all around.
The other thing worth saying about the box is we feature a lot from Dennis and Carl, especially Dennis. (Wouldn’t It Be Nice to) Live Again, an unreleased studio cut, being the most anticipated of those. But in terms of Dennis we have the Be with Me demo; we have an unreleased demo for a song called My Love Lives On, another one called Barnyard Blues. This was something that the surviving members of the group were all pushing for.
They wanted a lot of Dennis representation on the box.
Alan Boyd: In terms of the live stuff we wanted to put the focus on some things you wouldn’t expect to hear. There are two tracks from the highly acclaimed 1993 Beach Boys “Unplugged” tour—two SMiLE tracks, Wonderful and Vegetables, which they started doing on a brief tour at the end of 1993. We also wanted to put a spotlight on the amazing early ‘70s band that incorporated Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. We’ve got some of those wonderful tracks from Carnegie Hall ’72 and tracks from a gig a few days earlier in Passaic, New Jersey. These tracks show that The Beach Boys were one of the best live bands in the business in the early ‘70s.
Dennis Wolfe: We wanted to include a good mix of unreleased instrumental and vocal tracks. Where the quality was good enough, we wanted to include songs that were in the demo stage where you could just hear the creative process, the unrehearsed, the unrefined version of the song without compromising the integrity of the band by showing it in too raw a form.
Some demos are just not fit for public consumption. We made some determinations that the demos that we did include did the song and the band justice and hopefully will give the listener that additional peek behind the curtain.
RCM: Back in the early ‘70s, short minded critics and fans may have viewed the band as an anachronistic throwback but had they attended a Beach Boys concert during that time, they’d find they were the farthest thing from a nostalgia act.
Alan Boyd: Yeah. That was certainly Carl Wilson’s influence because he was essentially the musical director and the producer of most of the group’s records at the time. He really wanted to take them into a more progressive, harder-rocking format at the time. Also, partially that reflects the fact that the group had become more democratic by that point because Brian (Wilson) wasn’t taking an active lead in things and they really wanted to show that they could be a current and contemporary band.
RCM: The songs also took on a more extended and improvisational nature.
Alan Boyd: In some cases they did take on extended form. The live version of Wild Honey is a good example. It’s very different as a live version. It’s much funkier, it’s much harder-rocking and it’s almost frenetic in terms of the energy. Blondie is taking the vocals to a completely different place than it had been on the original record. It’s just kind of a massively fun, extended version.
RCM: Another coup was the discovery of previously unreleased Beach Boys BBC tracks circa November 1964.
Mark Linett: Like a lot of other groups they did live in studio recordings for BBC radio (“Saturday Club”) while they were touring in England. There were seven songs broadcast in ’64 and it was later re-broadcast once in ’67. Unfortunately, the BBC erased all of these tapes pretty soon after all of these broadcasts.
A lot of the Beatles’ BBC sessions have resurfaced because a lot of folks taped them off the radio at home. But up until now nobody had ever found air checks of the Beach Boys’ BBC recordings. Somebody turned up, a guy named Ian Gane, who had this tape. He didn’t really think much of it and had loaned it to a DJ who played one song on the air. With EMI’s help we were able to broker a deal to buy the tape with all seven BBC songs. We included three of them on the box set. Performing the songs is the classic Beach Boys lineup of Brian, Mike (Love), Carl, Dennis and Al (Jardine).
Alan Boyd: The three songs that we chose for the box set were ones that you really don’t often hear the band live from back then—Hushabye, Wendy and (When I Grow Up) To Be A Man—and they really sound good. They were at the top of their game at that point, especially the way they were able to pull off a more complex song like (When I Grow Up) To Be a Man.
RCM: Being a 6-CD set, how did you choose to organize the flow of the material?
Mark Linett: The discs are organized chronologically up until the first half of disc five. The rest of disc five is unreleased live tracks. Disc six is entirely made up of unreleased tracks, acapella tracks, demos, backing tracks etcetera. It was Mike Love’s request that we do it that way and I think he was right. Rather than sticking the rarities in where they would have been organized in a chronological fashion, I think it makes more sense this way and it plays better as well. That said, there is some unreleased material sprinkled throughout the set but they’re more or less finished versions of songs.
RCM: What were the big finds/discoveries/revelations for you?
Mark Linett: For the hard core fans most of what’s unreleased that is coming out is known, most of the stuff but not all of it. Some of the material has been bootlegged but in very poor, bad rough mix form. We worked very hard to mix them properly and bring these things up to modern standards.
This kind of stuff has been leaking out for years but a lot of it’s been one pass, rough mixes with wrong vocals.
Alan Boyd: I know there are a couple cases of things where we knew there was tape but we didn’t realize how far The Beach Boys had gotten on the song. The unreleased song Going to the Beach is a good example because tapes of the backing track have been floating around the collector’s world for 25 years. Going to the Beach is a very upbeat, classic Beach Boys tune recorded in the late ‘70s. It was written by Mike and recorded as part of the Keepin’ the Summer Alive sessions.
Some of the vocal sessions for that song had been filmed and were part of a TV special that aired back in 1980 called Goin’ Platinum. It’s funny, people on the Beach Boys message boards have made mash ups of the backing track that has been floating around for so many years and pulling vocal parts off of the TV soundtrack trying to combine it into a song. We were surprised when we pulled the tape that the band completely finished it.
We were really surprised that Going to the Beach was left off the album because it’s so damn catchy!
We couldn’t imagine that they hadn’t wanted to use it. I think it might have been taken off that album to be possibly used for a film soundtrack that the Beach Boys were ostensibly going to be involved with at the time and then they forgot about it.
Dennis Wolfe: The live material was a real revelation for me. While they released a lot of live material, we found other live tracks that are equally as good and possibly even more exciting. There was a fire to some of this stuff that we found that I hadn’t heard on previously released records. I really like the passion you hear in the mid to late ‘60s live tracks we uncovered for the box. There’s also killer stuff from the ‘70s too. It paints a nice picture of what a solid band they wee live and what a great front man Mike Love as. We’ve got a lot of audience banter in there.
Finally, these guys are all hitting their part, they’re hitting these five part harmonies and this is before the days of in-ear monitors and in a lot of cases this was in the day before you even had onstage monitors. These guys are just lining up behind a microphone and nailing five part harmonies and that’s just amazing. That stuff was super exciting for me.
RCM: What songs have fans been petitioning to be included that didn’t make the final cut on the box set?
Alan Boyd: There are a few specific tracks that keep getting discussed by the fans. One is Carry Me Home, a Dennis Wilson song. We had put so much Dennis material on the box plus the fact that the song has been circulating for 25 years factored into our decision to leave it off. We also felt a little uncomfortable with the idea of at this point in time of Dennis singing (recites lyrics), “Please God don’t let me die“.
RCM: Another one that gets bandied about by the fans is the unreleased track My Solution.
Alan Boyd: You’re right, My Solution is getting mentioned a lot by the fans along with another song called Thank Him, which was a Brian Wilson demo from ‘63 . There’s also a song called Stevie which was supposedly written by Brian about Stevie Nicks, which a lot of people wanted on the box.
Mark Linett: It’s interesting because most of what’s being requested by the fans are songs that have circulated on bootlegs for years. I won’t say the songs they’re asking for are throwaways, but some are things the group is not comfortable releasing.