The Beach Boys

The Best of the Beach Boys, Vol. 1

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The Best of the Beach Boys had the distinction of being the first-ever compilation of Beach Boys songs, issued in the summer of 1966, It made number eight on the charts, no mean feat, considering that most of the album -- apart from "You're So Good to Me" and "Kiss Me, Baby" (off of Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) and Today!, respectively), neither of which was a hit single -- consisted of songs two years old or more. It is a strong collection for a 38-minute body of music, representing the different sides of the Beach Boys' sound as it was defined between 1963 and 1965: surf and car songs, straight-ahead rock & roll, vocal pop, and some of Brian Wilson's more sophisticated songs within those contexts, hits and album tracks chosen based on their being as listener-friendly as possible to a teenage audience. Record buyers loved it and not just in 1966 -- The Best of the Beach Boys achieved double-platinum status across the ensuing two decades. But behind the scenes, the album's release pointed to a serious schism between composer/producer Brian Wilson and the label, and also paralleled a division between Wilson and the rest of the Beach Boys. The group's new album, Pet Sounds, largely authored and entirely produced by Wilson over the previous ten months, had been the group's official new release in May of 1966, reflecting a distinctly more serious and sophisticated sound for the band. But that new sound wasn't fully appreciated by fellow bandmembers Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and Al Jardine, who would have preferred an album of relatively carefree, rocking car and surf music. Nor was Capitol Records happy with the new sound, its executives believing that the group's audience wouldn't take to Pet Sounds as they had to their earlier surf and car songs. And while it did yield four successful singles and made number ten on the charts, the new record didn't sell as well as the label (or Wilson) had hoped. And so, 60 days after the release of Pet Sounds, Capitol issued The Best of the Beach Boys as a stop-gap measure, to give the fans something that they could embrace, Wilson was deeply hurt by the sudden appearance of this collection, which was very heavily promoted, he believed, at the expense of Pet Sounds. He believed that the label had, in effect, abandoned the record that he'd devoted ten months of his life to making and, in effect, declared its preference for surf and car songs. On some level, he must've felt like a child actor or teenage star whose management and producers didn't want him to mature -- and was forced to compete, in effect, with a younger version of himself. This album was only the first in a string of reissues that always managed to cast the label as embracing the group's old sounds at the expense of their newest, most personal music, initially to Wilson's consternation and, later, that of the entire group, once they accepted the new music. The Best of the Beach Boys has long since been supplanted by other, more wide-ranging compilations of the group's work, but taken on its own terms, it is a fine, quick overview of their early work -- the surf and rock & roll numbers, "Surfin' USA," "Catch a Wave," "Little Deuce Coup," and "Little Honda," and the familiar harmony ballads "In My Room" and "Surfer Girl" share space with lesser known but equally worthwhile and enjoyable album tracks, including "Kiss Me, Baby" and "You're So Good to Me"; and even while aiming for the widest possible audience, Capitol couldn't avoid Wilson's more ambitious musical inclinations -- also present were "Warmth of the Sun," which had been written on the night of President Kennedy's assassination, and the exquisite "Wendy," resplendent in glowing harmonies and an organ break, whose lush timbres pointed toward Pet Sounds.

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