Music Review: The Beach Boys’ ‘Made in California’

If you don’t already own a pile of Beach Boys CDs, by all means, pick up Made in California and damn the cost (currently about $120 on Amazon). Supplanting 1993’s Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys, the new collection offers the best one-stop shop for the group’s incredible catalog. On six discs, it delivers 173 tracks—more than seven and a half hours of music—and hits all the important bases.

The collection opens with 1961–’62 home recordings and a mono version of the inimitable “Surfin’,” the group’s first single, which peaked at number 75 on the Billboard chart. After that, in mostly chronological order, we hear every major high point (and a few of the occasional low points) of the next half-century, up to and including 2012’s “That’s Why God Made the Radio.” Most, though not all, of the tracks on the Good Vibrations box are here, as are 60 previously unreleased concert recordings, alternate versions, and songs that have until now been available only on bootlegs. There’s also a well-put-together booklet, with reminiscences from the group’s members and detailed information about every song.

Coproducer Alan Boyd goes slightly overboard in his notes, claiming that the band’s “incredible diversity and versatility” render its catalog “simply unmatched in popular recorded music.” (Umm, ever hear of Dylan or the Beatles?). Still, there’s no denying that the Beach Boys rank with just a handful of other groups at the pinnacle of pop. “Heroes and Villains,” “Don’t Worry, Baby,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “In My Room” and many of their other songs—including virtually all of Pet Sounds—are classics. If you don’t own them, buy this now.

If there’s a problem here, though, it’s that many fans already do. In fact, some of us own them many times over. Take “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” for example. Before Made in California came along, I already had eight versions from The Pet Sounds Sessions box; two live versions, on Beach Boys in Concert and Concert/Live in London; two versions on the Good Vibrations box; and another on Party/Stack-o-Tracks. Made in California adds a 2001 stereo version. In case you’ve lost count, that’s 14 recordings.

If your Beach Boys collection is even half as large as mine, then, you may already have much of this material, in which case the question becomes: is this package worth buying just for what’s new? True, the producers mastered the whole thing from the original analog tapes using technology that wasn’t available when the Good Vibrations box appeared, and some tracks feature new mixes. But to most ears, the sonic improvements are likely to appear slight. Also minimal are the differences in some of the alternate versions here, though it is interesting to listen to, say, the original mono single recording of “Help Me, Rhonda,” just as it came through my car radio in 1965.

There are some fresh treasures, such as a lovable outtake of “Don’t Worry, Baby”; noticeably improved mixes of “Heroes and Villains” and “Do It Again”; a cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”; a sweet, completely reinvented “California Girls”; and “Help You, Rhonda,” a previously unreleased variation on you-know-what. But if all you need are these few dozen newly unveiled recordings, you’d be better off buying them individually on iTunes.

Everyone else, line up, pay up and listen up. One of the greatest groups in the history of rock and roll has never sounded finer.

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