Think of a classic album. Go on! Just one! In fact, name two! Two universally accepted classic albums! Don’t tell me yet! You could probably name three, eh? Go on then! In fact, make it ten! Still easy isn’t it? I bet you were thinking about Rubber Soul? Revolver? Blonde On Blonde? The Dark side of the Moon? Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars? London Calling? Pet Sounds? Born to Run? Nevermind The Bollocks? The Velvet Underground & Nico? Yeah, yeah, yeah and yeah! I knew it. Take the standard Mojo/Word/Uncut/Guardian/Times list of da greats with you down to your local record shop (remember them?) splash the cash and hey presto! Instant cred in your record collection. But outta that list, you’ve got them all anyway, eh? Or at least the ones you like. Maybe even also the ones you know you should like but never actually play. I know, I know, I’m guilty of that too.
Bet you didn’t think of Sunflower though. Sunflower. Nope, not Paul Weller’s rockin’ and rollin’ clarion call from ’93 (I’m back! I’m back! Check out me Patrick Cox’s while you listen!) I’m talking about The Beach Boys Sunflower, released one week short of 40 years ago today on August 31st 1970. You’re all people of good taste. I expect you’ll have heard of it. No doubt some of you will have actually heard it. If so, sorry for the condescending tone. If not, sorry for the condescending tone, but what exactly have you been using those ears of yours for all this time? Sunflower is the best Beach Boys album In The World….Ever. Forget any one of those cars ‘n girls ‘n surf compilations that turn up every time the sun pokes it’s stupid head from out behind a big fat rain cloud. Forget (gulp!) Pet Sounds. Honestly! Forget it! It’s good. OK, it’s great. But it’s not even up there with Surfs Up. As a proper bona fide studio album, Sunflower knocks spots off of all of them.
Demoed mainly in the summer of ’69 (howdy Bryan Adams) the songs that make up the final, released version (like gazillions of albums before and since, it went through a series of tracklist changes) really benefit from the shared songwriting talents of Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Bruce Johnston. Brian’s songs make up the lion’s share of the album, but for me, it’s the Dennis songs that sparkle just that bit more.
Listen to Forever. Here’s a guy who’s a major player, a bit of a shagger as they say round here, and he’s writing love songs as tender and romantic as anything Paul McCartney’s ever came up with, with the added bonus of none of the sickly sweet gloop that McCartney can sometimes be guilty of plopping all over his best tunes. We all know guys like Dennis and if any of them wrote a line as brilliant as
If every word I said could make you laugh I’d talk forever…
if the song I sing to you could fill your heart with joy I’d sing forever
they’d get a kicking. Dennis, surf dude and man’s man must’ve had some nerve to bring those words out his brain, onto paper and ultimately onto vinyl. What a guy. What an absolute guy. (That’s a quote from the best film ever made). The words, the music, the arrangement, the na na na na na coda make Forever my favourite Beach Boys song bar none. Easy. Even Mike Love gets in on the act. Granted, not the Beach Boy most BB fans warm to the most, his vocals on All I Wanna Do are superb. On top of one of thee classic Brian Wilson chord progressions, they’re slightly far away sounding and as sunkissed as I can only imagine Malibu Beach to be. They help make this track one of the standouts on Sunflower. By proxy, this makes it one of the best Beach Boys tracks you’ve quite possibly never heard. Do yourself a favour, eh?
Elsewhere on the album you’ll hear snatches of melodies from the abandoned Smile album (Cool, Cool Water), top notch production and the best Californian session musicianship that Reprise Records’ money could buy. Belle and Sebastian would wet their beds if they could come up with an album approaching this amount of class. Misguided twonks like Richard Ashcroft think they’re making albums as good as this today (he really does hahahaha!). Most people consider the Beach Boys to be a singles band (see also Madness and Blur) but truly, Sunflower stands head and shoulders above everything the Beach Boys ever put their name too. Buy it at your usual vendor of choice. Now!
Everyone knows that Charles Manson became bezzy mates with Dennis Wilson for a wee while at the tail end of the 60s. He thought Dennis could get him a record deal. Instead, Dennis pissed him off by knicking one of his songs, changing some of the lyrics and sticking it on the Beach Boys 20/20 album. Silly move! Contrast and compare…
Charles Manson Cease To Exist
Beach Boys Never Learn Not To Love