The follow-up to 1974's incredibly popular Endless Summer -- which gave the Beach Boys their highest chart placement for an album (at number one, no less) in a dog's age -- Spirit of America was a similar attempt to mine the group's classic Capitol Records catalog, with odder and somewhat less satisfying results. But some of the less than wholly satisfying moments were more a reflection of the woeful state of Capitol's A&R department than they were any black mark against the Beach Boys' music. And the album did have its unexpected joys, as well as a few lessons to teach a lot of bands from the 1970s. Endless Summer had, indeed, mined the lion's share of big hits associated with the band, but Spirit of America, which was more hooked around the band's car song repertory than its surf music output, had its familiar moments -- "409," "Dance, Dance, Dance," "Little Honda," "Do You Wanna Dance," and "Barbara Ann" were great selections (and perfect to reach out to a teenage/early-twenties listenership attuned to -- if not always fully enamored of -- oldies and early-'60s nostalgia), and most of what surrounded them was a good match. And there was a serious, unexpected twist in the range of the content going right into the second song on side one, the repertory making a sudden leap across five years to the end of the 1960s and the group's then all-but-forgotten late-era single "Break Away." The latter song, which probably came up too early on the album to generate its maximum impact, did fit with the rest of what's here and helped direct a few otherwise unsuspecting low-level fans toward the group's then-overlooked late-'60s psychedelic-era output. On the minus side, however, the overall sound was rather indifferent on the original double-LP edition, which contained only 23 songs. And as this wasn't intended as a serious retrospective, there were, of course, no notes whatsoever (which no one minded at the time). There was also a highly instructive lesson to be gleaned from listening to this collection, however, and realizing that the four-sided double LP ran less than 50 minutes, without leaving anyone feeling cheated -- at a time when most bands this side of the Ramones and maybe the Flamin' Groovies seemed incapable of recording songs that ran less than five or six minutes, Spirit of America was downright refreshing in its succinct, bracing brevity, singles and album tracks alike. The 1975-vintage Beach Boys themselves could have taken a lesson from that aspect of this collection and its predecessor.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder