January 18, 2002

The Beach Boys "Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy

There comes a time when even the most ardent of fans will say, "wait, isn't this enough?" Rarities collections, sadly, tend to become repetitive after a while, and the nature of "variations on a theme" would satisfy only the most stalker-like of fans. Rock and Roll, for all of its genres, divergent styles, and occasional experimentation, isn't conducive to producing variants of alternate takes. Unlike jazz and classical, (or, for that matter, electronica) Rock is somewhat constricted to the limiting nature of lyrics and chords. The Beach Boys, "America's Band," have created a cottage industry simply based on their unreleased material, and Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace Of A Musical Legacy is a new collection dedicated to showing a different side of the Beach Boys.

But, really, isn't this overkill? They have had two boxed sets (one of which was almost exclusively unreleased material); a reissue series that contained tons more unreleased and rare tracks, as well as two or three "rarities" disks. What more is this collection going to add to their legacy? Is this collection going to add to the misguided notion that Brian Wilson is a "genius?"

The answer, plain and simple, is a resounding no. Wilson's talents are to be commended; he certainly possessed a gift that very few artists, before or after, could claim. Please make note of my use of the past tense in describing his talents; undoubtedly, his "genius," while debatable, is certainly no longer with him. It's to be said that he had a good ten-year run, and those ten years of utter genius are to be loved and appreciated and respected and admired. The compilers of this set have an obvious love and respect for Brian, but isn't that missing the point?

Hawthorne, CA is clearly divided between pre-and-post Pet Sounds Beach Boys. The first disk, though containing 30 tracks, is filled up with multiple takes and commentary taken from recent times and a program from Radio Luxembourg from 1969. It's this division that clearly marks the distinction between talented pop producer Brian Wilson, and bloated, eccentric, indulged by his sycophants Brian Wilson. Though, to be fair, only four songs on the first disk are from their early days. "Surfin' USA," a rather idiosyncratic live version of "Shut Down," a demo of "Little Deuce Coupe" and a backing track for "Fun, Fun, Fun." The story really picks up with Beach Boys Today!, which I firmly believe is the first tell-tale sign that not all was well in Brian's head. Closing this first set are two non-party "party" songs from their last album as the fun-loving Beach Boys record, The Beach Boys Party!.

What makes this first disc really, really troublesome is the fact that many of the "remixed" versions on here weren't done at the time, and are more recent mixes. Hardly what I would call vintage! Another annoyance arises from the fact that several of the "songs" on here are cobbled together 35 years after the fact, and not by Brian. Minor issues, those; the best part of this first disk are the unreleased sessions at the beginning of the disk, which find the boys at their first studio rehearsal for "Surfin," and an unreleased song that Brian recorded by himself called "Happy Birthday Four Freshmen."

Wisely, and not to be repetitive, Disc Two starts with the ill-fated and overrated Smile sessions. Really, do we need any more sessions for "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains?" I don't think so. The other three songs from those sessions, "Can't Wait Too Long," "Vegetables" and "With Me Tonight" are quite lovely, beautiful songs that are well worth the price of admission. The sessions for "Vegetables" are quite hilarious as well. My favorite part of this is the innocent comment telling the boys to "sing it with a smile" and--clearly, you can hear them smiling on the take.

For all of my complaints about the first disc of Hawthorne, CA, the set really, really makes up for its flaws in the last 2/3rds of disc two. Focusing on post-Smile sessions and outtakes, these tracks show a band having to adjust to the fact that absolutely nobody seemed to care about them anymore--including their leader Brian Wilson, defeated, dejected, and descending into a self-induced drug hell. Of course, with the sudden loss of leader, you hear a band struggling for control, with each member having an idea as to how things should sound. Though they didn't know it at the time, the music they made in the late 60s, unappreciated then, would prove much more beautiful than most all of their music from the early part of the decade. Pretty, pastoral, orchestral, their attempts to recreate Brian's style created a hybrid of Spector meets Bacharach stylings that have yet to be heard since, and make it even sadder that these records were virtually ignored. Perhaps, though, that was for the best, as their output from the 1970s to today was, in no uncertain terms horrid.

Of all these later recordings, the three Dennis Wilson songs are the most potent and moving. "Be With Me," "A Time To Live In Dreams," and "Forever" are the best of the bunch, and really resonate something that nobody ever took into consideration--that Dennis, merely a "drummer" and a party animal, was as talented as older brother Brian. He learned well from brothers Carl and Brian, but was sadly pushed back because of his personality. All three are beautiful, haunting love songs that seem to have a shadowing sadness to them, and are, in my own opinion, the one saving grace for Hawthorne, CA.

Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of A Musical Legacy isn't the record for people who are new to the Beach Boys. It's an interesting, though flawed collection. It doesn't add anything new to the Brian Wilson cult; there's nothing particularly revelatory about most of these tracks Hell, it almost seems as if this was done without Brian's consent; he's not on any of the recordings between songs, save for one about him talking about Dennis. This collection seems to focus mainly on his work from 1965 and beyond. It's just a bit puzzling, really. Not the most interesting Beach Boys rarites collection. In fact, the notes make reference to Stack-O-Tracks, the odd, weird all-instrumental album that the band issued in 1968. In a weird, roundabout way, this album is the same thing, as many of these tracks are instrumental or vocal only tracks. Not the most interesting listening. However, the few rare jewels on Hawthorne, CA's second clearly make up for its shortcomings.

--Joseph Kyle

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