The Beach Boys have a perfectly good box set called Good Vibrations: 30 Years Of The Beach Boys that came out in 1993. It's so good in fact, that no less than Tom Petty declared it his all-time desert island disc, the music he couldn't live without. It's not like the band has made a lot of music since then to update the set, and the core music, the surf hits, Pet Sounds, the nifty artistic years of the late 60's - early 70's, it's all repeated. So, why another set?
First off, it's bigger and better, thanks to the size. This one is six CD's, almost eight hours of music. While the basics remain the same over the first four discs, there's pretty much two whole CD's of previously unreleased material here. Considering that the vaults have been mined several times, for the first box, for the Pet Sounds box, the Smile Sessions box, the bonus cuts on reissue CD's, and the many compilations over the years, it just goes to show how much quality work the group did. And the compilers aren't even stretching things out, there are plenty of songs missing from this new set, failed singles or favoured album tracks, that easily could have made the cut.
Another reason for the new box is for the improved sound. Over the past twenty years, a ton of sonic work has been done on the Beach Boys catalogue, upgrading it with superior technology, remixing lots of original mono takes into stereo, and even discovering long-lost master tapes. And of course, there's the monumental release of the Smile Sessions two years ago, with all those tracks now available. Although there were several Smile songs on the old box set, now they are all available to choose from, with the new upgrade mixes.
Lastly, it's 50 freakin' years were celebrating here, why not do it up right? And they have for the most part. Visually, it's fun fun fun, as the collection is housed in a big book designed to look like a high school yearbook, right done to the faux-leather cover and the replica "student" signatures from the band on the inside. There are little phony ads from The City Of Hawthorne, Ca., and the Fosters Freeze restaurant, where the guys hung out back in the school days. It's a wonderful concept for the quintessential 60's band, and it holds up the whole way through the lengthy book. In fact, if this was a book, you'd be paying $35 bucks for it alone. It's full of previously-unpublished photos, and as a long-time fan, they have done a tremendous job showing us images we've never seen before. The only problem is the info itself, there's not much new in it, but I guess it's just such a familiar story that all they can do is tell it again.
The previously-unreleased material is always the most exciting, and its in great supply here. Much of disc 5 is devoted to live material, going as far back as 1965, for a version of Del Shannon's Runaway, a concert favourite sung by Al Jardine. Instead of trotting out rote versions of the hits, these are rarer live performances through the years, including Brian Wilson singing The Box Top's The Letter, the lovely Friends from 1968, a totally rearranged, R'n'B version of Help Me, Rhonda, sung by Dennis Wilson instead of Jardine, and a rare live trip into the Smile sessions, Vegetables and Wonderful.
Disc 6 is almost all completely new, or at least versions that are new. Some of it is made from technology tricks; stripping the music off of existing tracks, we here the tremendous Beach Boys vocals on their own, a cappella, for Dennis's 1970 cut Slip On Through, and Brian and Carl singing the fascinating This Whole World. There's the original backing track Brian recorded for the song Guess I'm Dumb, which he ended up giving to touring Beach Boy Glen Campbell for a single. It's gorgeous on its own, sans vocal. There are several works-in-progress by Brian, and some by Dennis, that were never completed, all interesting. Then there's the recent discovery of a trio of BBC Radio recordings from 1964, live in the studio, during the group's first visit to England. All these add up to over two hours of exciting, new-to-us music, something fans never tire of.
The usual complaint about constant repackaging of the same music is that record companies are getting us to pay over and over for the same songs. And yes, any big fan will have roughly two-thirds of these tracks already. But you know what? It's damn fun to get these collections, and they are made even sweeter with so much more to discover, to look at, to own. It may cost over a hundred bucks, but I'll bet any fan will easily get at least, what, 20 or 30 hours of pleasure out of this. That's a great bargain. This is a wonderful collection.