The Beach Boys - U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years (1962-1965) Review
Posted by Mitch Michaels on 06.16.2008
Kick-off the summer with this impressive 16-CD box set…
I fell head over heels for the Beach Boys around the time I was in 3rd grade. I can’t remember if it was before or after the “Kokomo” phenomenon, but it wasn’t a passing fad. I still consider their music some of the most vital in the American songbook today. There are quite a few Beach Boys collections out there, but recent years have brought some of the best, including the double platinum 2003 release Sounds Of The Summer and its companion release, 2007’s Warmth Of The Sun. The latest Beach Boys reissue is aimed towards collectors – a collection of CD reiussues of the band’s earliest singles. At 66 songs on 16 CDs, will this be Beach Boys overkill or the perfect beginning to an endless summer?
The Beach Boys origins go back to Hawthorne, California, a suburb of Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast. It was there that the Wilson brothers – Carl, Brian and Dennis – were born. With a musically inclined father, the music bug soon bit the boys too (Brian hardest) and they spent a lot of time during their earliest years singing harmonies together, sometimes with cousin Mike Love. The foursome – along with high school friend Al Jardine – began to seriously think of getting a band together in the early 60’s, but, as Brian put it, they had to have an angle. Dennis was an avid surfer, so he suggested that the band could make a song about the sport, which was building in popularity at that time. And so, one fateful weekend while their parents were away, the boys bought instruments and wrote what would be their first single – “Surfin’”.
The Wilsons’ father Murray liked what he heard and began trying to help the guys get into the music business. “Surfin’” was released on Candix Records in 1961. The band had originally chosen the name “The Pendletones”, but when they received the first pressings of “Surfin’”, it was credited to “The Beach Boys”. A young promotional worker thought that the new name better reflected the band’s surfing tie-in. The Beach Boys moniker stuck and “Surfin’” became a surprising moderate hit throughout the nation. A deal with Capitol Records wasn’t far behind.
In early 1962, Al Jardine left the band to go to college and was replaced by David Marks. This line-up recorded the band’s debut album Surfin’ Safari, which was released in late 1962. The title track was the first Capitol single, and it managed to reach #14 on the Pop charts, thus truly launching the “surf rock” fad of the early 60’s. Surfin’ Safari became a Top 40 album and spawned another single, “Ten Little Indians”, which nearly reached the Top 40 as well.
Surfin’ USA appeared in 1963, The Beach Boys’ second LP. Another collection of similarly sunshine-themed songs, Surfin’ USA managed to make it all the way to #2 on the album charts, thanks to the title hit, which reached #3 in the US and became the band’s first Top 40 UK hit. Not long after this album broke, Al Jardine returned, initially replacing Brian Wilson for live shows but then taking over for David Marks. It was also at this time that Brian, already a chief songwriter in the band (along with Love and partner Gary Usher), began to take more control in the studio and attempt to move the Beach Boys past simple surfing songs.
Surfer Girl was released in late 1963, and the title track was another Top 10 hit (#7). DJs began playing the B-Side, a car tune called “Little Deuce Coupe”, and it reached #15. The band rushed out a THIRD album at the end of 1963, and Little Deuce Coupe spawned the hit single “Be True To Your School/In My Room”, which performed similarly. The A-side reached #6 and the B-side, the first real glimpse into Brian Wilson’s genius, hit #23. Little Deuce Coupe became a #4 hit – amazing considering it was released only one month after the Top 10 album Surfer Girl.
With three full albums released in 1963, the band didn’t take a moment to rest. 1964 would yield FOUR, the first of which was Shut Down, Vol. 2, an all-Beach Boys sequel of sorts to a Capitol Records hot-rod compilation that the band had appeared on earlier. That set is notable for the single “Fun, Fun, Fun”, which reached #5 on the charts. Shut Down was meant to solidify The Beach Boys as the biggest band in America. Unfortunately, America got a little more crowded in 1964 – “Beatlemania” and the British Invasion was in full effect. Thanks to this new sound and influx of talent, Shut Down was largely ignored, not even making the Top 10. A longstanding rumor is that Brian Wilson wanted to forget about Shut Down completely when he saw The Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Instead, Wilson used this perceived competition to fuel his creativity.
All Summer Long was released in the summer of 1964. The album would feature a much more lush arrangement than previous Beach Boys albums. It would also feature session musicians playing instead of the band – who focused solely on vocals and harmonies. The album would mark the band’s first #1 single when “I Get Around” topped the charts. All Summer Long would become the band’s first gold album seven months after its release.
Beach Boys Concert, a live album, followed later that year and also went gold. It also became the band’s first #1 album, remaining on top of the charts for four weeks. Closing out 1964, the band put out The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, which reached #4 on the charts and scored the #3 hit “The Man With All The Toys”.
Despite the British Invasion, the Beach Boys proved that American were still vital on their home soil as 1964 came to a close. With six Top 10 hits that year and three Top 10 albums, the Beach Boys had a strong hold on the moniker “America’s Band”. Unfortunately, there was a lot of pressure on the band to continue that success, particularly Brian Wilson. By the end of the year, Brian had stopped touring with the band to focus on studio work. He was replaced briefly by Glen Campbell, and then permanently by Bruce Johnston. The Beach Boys Today! was released in 1965, featuring the hit singles “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)”, “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Do You Wanna Dance?”. The album was another gold hit and reached #4 on the charts. It also featured some of Brian Wilson’s steps into experimentation, as its entire second side featured ballads all connected as one suite.
Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) came out in the summer of 1965, led by the band’s second #1 single “Help Me, Rhonda”. After the experimentation of Today!, Brian Wilson stepped back to the formula on Summer Days, possibly because the other Beach Boys just weren’t “getting” what he was doing with the music. The album would go gold and reach #2, proving that, in 1965, audiences were hungry for Beach Boys music no matter what Brian was trying. “California Girls” was also released from this album, and it reached #3 on the charts. Beach Boys Party! arrived at the end of 1965, a covers album which featured acoustic instruments and a loose party atmosphere. “Barbara Ann”, a Regents cover, was released from this album and became a #2 hit in the US and a #3 hit in the UK.
As 1965 ended, both Surfin’ USA and Surfer Girl were certified gold. Around this time, the Beach Boys would release the non-album track “The Little Girl I Once Knew”. Though it only reached #20, it is now seen as a precursor to Brian Wilson’s legendary album, Pet Sounds.
In 2008, Capitol Records decided to reproduce the Beach Boys’ first 15 singles and compile them for a CD box set. The album features faithful reproductions of the original single artwork as well as extensive liner notes and bonus tracks with each single. The time period covered includes many of the band’s best-known singles, cutting off at the point their work became very experimental with “Pet Sounds”. You can check out a “virtual box set” version on the Beach Boys’ official site.
On June 10, 2008, Capital Records released U.S. Singles Collection – The Capitol Years (1962-1965), a 16-CD box set which compiles The Beach Boys’ first 15 singles for Capitol Records. Several bonus tracks are included, some previously unreleased.