The Beach Boys

Capitol, 1969


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Attempting to sum up the career of The Beach Boys in a word requires one to encapsulate 40 years of success, trials and tribulations. But when pressed, the term “inconsistent” comes readily to mind. Even during the early 1960’s when the group became one of the few legitimate challengers to The Beatles’ dominance, The Beach Boys suffered through half-baked odes to surfing and other minor dalliances.

Only through the sheer force of the personality of Brian Wilson did the group attempt to move beyond the expectations laid out for them. The onset of Wilson’s mental problems meant the group had lost its most dynamic and creative member, resulting in a lengthy pattern of poor releases, punctuated by the occasional glimmer of glories past.

It is ironic then that a collection of assorted singles, new studio recordings and scraps from the legendary SMiLE my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 recordings came together to give the group their best post-Pet Sounds record of the ‘60s. 20/20 existed mainly as the last record in a contract with Capitol Records and remains incredibly underrated by fans and critics alike. Whereas the “scattershot” approach failed on previous albums (and would with future works), The Beach Boys defied predictions here.

The “sounds of the ‘60s” are present on 20/20 in a manner that had not been previously explored by The Beach Boys. Coming at the end of the decade, it is apparent the group had been listening to what had been going on around them. “I Can Hear Music” comes as close to Crosby Stills & Nash as the group could possibly come, putting the focus squarely on the acoustic talents and vocal harmonies of the band. The close relationship The Beach Boys had with Three Dog Night is cultivated with “Bluebirds Over The Mountain,” a dead ringer for Danny Hutton And Co.

The psychedelic aspect of the ‘60s is not ignored, presented primarily with the three final tracks of the records. The final two, “Our Prayer” and “Cabinessence,” are tantalizing snippets from the aborted SMiLE sessions; one cannot help but wonder what the impact of the release of that record would have been. “Never Learn Not To Love” is compelling, but for an entirely different reason. The song is credited to Dennis Wilson, but in actuality, the song was given to him by Charles Manson. Given Manson’s actions within months, the experience of listening to the song has a degree of sordidness to it.

More traditional behaviors for the band are far from absent on 20/20. The lead single and opener “Do It Again” purposefully recalls the glory days, conjuring up the well-known imagery of California and surfing. The group’s penchant for covering old standards appears as well; “Cotton Fields” marks an energetic take on the song, which when reworked months later would be a minor hit in Europe.

Few would have guessed, but 20/20 marked beginning of a strong period for The Beach Boys; their next two albums would continue the level of quality set forth on this album. The time for the group to show its strength with a more democratic representation was now. Unfortunately, the time was relatively short-lived.

Rating: B+

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© 2009 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol, and is used for informational purposes only.