Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys
Capital Records, 1993
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/14/2005
There have been few groups in the history of rock that have come close to challenging the Beatles for dominance of the musical industry. Many came, and many failed. The Beach Boys came closer than anyone save perhaps the Rolling Stones.
Good Vibrations highlights the span of the Beach Boys' career, from their first demo of "Surfin'," to their last big hit to date, "Kokomo." In between, the listener is presented with some of the most brilliant music the 20th century has seen, and some of the most inane as well. This dip in quality makes Good Vibrations a fascinating listening experience, but also a maddening one.
Discs One and Two of Good Vibrations show just why the Beach Boys were so popular. Hooks and gorgeous harmonies -- the two most notable characteristics of the band -- abound. If you can find me better harmonies than the ones featured on songs such as "I Get Around," "Warmth of the Sun," and "Don't Worry Baby," drop me an e-mail. The Beach Boys were one of the most talented vocal groups in rock history, and this set merely reaffirms that. On a side note, all thirty of the tracks featured on the bands latest hits package Sounds Of Summer are presented on this set, so essentially any Beach Boy song one might hear on the radio is here.
As I mentioned earlier, the first two discs of Good Vibrations offer the best material from the band; there isn't a dull moment to be found. Discs Three and Four however, are a bit more tedious to get through, especially the latter. At this point in time, the band became a bit more democratic in the writing, and unfortunately, it shows. There are some incredibly lackluster and clichéd songs. ("Disney Girls" and "Airplane" are among the worst offenders.)
That is not to say after 1970 it was all downhill for the band. The gorgeous "Til I Die," the uplifting "Add Some Music To Your Day," and "Surf's Up" are tracks that equal some of the better Beach Boy songs from their golden era. However, they are relatively few and far between.
When this set first came out, its big selling point was the 30 minutes of music from the SMiLE sessions (represented on the second half of Disc Two), the first time any of the sessions had been officially released. These tracks have been rendered somewhat meaningless now that Brian Wilson has released SMiLE on his own terms, but they provide a fascinating glimpse into how Wilson recorded music back in the '60s. Tracks such as "Heroes and Villains (Sections), and "Cabin Essence" showcase Wilson's modular recording style, which was thought by many to be a feat of genius.
The SMiLE sessions make up the bulk of the rarities, but not all of them. We're presented with a fifth disc that solely includes rare tracks, live performances, or different versions of old standards. For the most part these songs are interesting, but don't warrant a repeat listen. For example, the aforementioned "Good Vibrations (Sessions)" provides a fly-on-the-wall perspective, but if it came up on shuffle on your CD player, are you going to sit though 15 minutes of it? The "Track Only" numbers show off the musicianship of the Beach Boys, something that gets dismissed too much and unfairly. There are also a few songs the give listeners a chance to either listen to the vocals of songs like "Wouldn't It Be Nice," or "When I Grow Up To Be A Man," or their backing tracks depending on what channel one chooses.
One does not have to be a diehard Beach Boys to enjoy Good Vibrations. This is some tremendous music, and given the fact that many of the bands albums from the '70s and '80s are of poor quality, this gives fans and novices alike the chance to be presented with best material of the band's career, without having to suffer through the worst moments of the Beach Boys' long recording history.