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Spins: The Beach Boys • Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971

| January 9, 2022

The Beach Boys

Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971


Sunflower and Surf’s Up were the Beach Boys’ 16th and 17th studio albums, released on August 30 of 1970 and 1971, respectively. Sunflower was the Beach Boys’ first album for Reprise Records after the band left Capitol Records ensconced as the most commercially successful group from America. The album didn’t perform well on the charts, but has since grown to be considered the band’s finest effort following 1966’s beloved Pet Sounds.

All of the band members are credited as songwriters and producers, with Brian Wilson writing or co-writing seven of Sunflowers’ 12 songs. The album’s best-known track is “Add Some Music to Your Day,” with lead vocal shared among six bandmembers and writing contributions from Wilson and Mike Love. The pair also co-write and share vocal duties on repurposed Smile outtake “Cool, Cool Water.” “All I Wanna Do,” with Love’s lead vocal and accompaniment swathed in reverb, is also fondly remembered as a forerunner of dreampop. The album’s peak vocal performances, however, belong as usual to Carl Wilson. These include the psychedelic pop of “This Whole World” with lush doo-wop-inspired backing vocals by the entire band. Written with Al Jardine, the sentimental “Our Sweet Love” shares some structural similarities to the verses of “Good Vibrations” and is augmented by lush classical orchestration.

Surf’s Up fared better in the charts while exhibiting fundamental changes that haven’t held up as well in the decades since. Brian Wilson’s songwriting and heralded role as producer and arranger were diminished, although his Smile outtake “Surf’s Up” (with Van Dyke Parks’ lyrics of awakening and enlightenment to childlike simplicity) became the album’s beautifully twinkling title track and best-known song. At the behest of new manager Jack Rieley, the remaining bandmembers added more socially conscious lyrics in an effort to give the Beach Boys more appeal in the era’s counterculture alongside bands like the Grateful Dead.

Love and Jardine turned away from fun in the surf and sun with the heavy-handed message of “Don’t Go Near the Water.” “Toothpaste and soap will make our oceans a bubble bath, so let’s avoid an ecological aftermath,” sings Al Jardine. In a dubious move, Rieley himself replaces any Wilson brother to sing the anti-pollution missive and cathedral hymn “A Day in the Life of a Tree.” Love wrote “Student Demonstration Time” and presents it as a start-and-stop blues with the heavy fuzzed-out swing of the Beatles “Revolution 1.” The song was based upon the Coasters’ “Riot in Cell Block #9,” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Live cuts include a 1970 performance of the Coasters cut replete with a brass section and police siren sound effects.

Carl Wilson’s defiant solo cut “Long Promised Road” includes a terrific, soulful vocal and heavy pop production performed by Wilson himself – and represents Wilson’s first-ever composition. His blissful “Feel Flows” is another highlight, with spirited soloing by jazz flutist Charles Lloyd, fuzzed-out guitar leads by Wilson, and trippy reverse reverb on the vocal. Al Jardine’s “Take a Load Off Your Feet,” however, is an oddity about the importance of podiatric care. The melancholy and existential “’Til I Die” is a revealing and intimate glimpse into Brian Wilson’s troubled state at the time, but the song’s beautiful arrangement makes it a highlight of the album.

Feel Flows includes five CDs housed in a hardback book. Of the 133 tracks included, 108 are previously unreleased. Songs are broken into sets including the main albums, associated live tracks, bonus tracks and outtakes, advertisements, and a capella tracks laying the band’s heralded harmonies bare. Never-before heard Surf’s Up-era outtakes include the Fats Domino-styled stroll “Baby Baby.” Carl Wilson sings Terry Jacks’ starcrossed “Seasons in the Sun.” Wilson’s vocal is reliably strong, but the song’s maudlin mood is undercut by upbeat Beach Boys production. Dennis Wilson cracks up laughing during the take. Brian Wilson sings Floyd Tucker’s “Awake.” Dennis Wilson’s uplifting “It’s a New Day” is co-written with Daryl Dragon, later of Captain & Tenielle. The book contains candid, studio, and concert photos, and a new essay featuring quotes by surviving band members and vintage quotes from the dearly departed. Feel Flows is a deep dive into an important period in Beach Boys’ history when the band was regaining their footing and looking beyond ephemeral pop stardom to establish an ongoing legacy.

– Jeff Elbel

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Category: Featured, Spins, Weekly

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