20/20 was the Beach Boys last album released on the Capitol label. It was also an album they owed their long time label in order to fulfill their contract. So the Beach Boys gathered together a few single releases, mixed in a couple of unused tracks from the abandoned Smile project, and finally created a few new songs, stirred them all together and created 20/20. While this may have been a disjointed way to create an album, it actually worked, as 20/20 is an above average release and still listenable almost forty years later.
The musical foundation for 20/20 centers around four Beach Boys songs that were released as singles. “Do It Again” was a top twenty hit for the Beach Boys and would be a concert staple for years. It is a mid-tempo rocker with an odd stop and start beat and varying emphasis on the vocals. “I Can Hear Music” was another top thirty hit that featured Carl Wilson’s clear voice floating above the harmonies. I consider this one of Carl Wilson’s best lead vocals.
“Bluebirds Over The Mountain” was a failed single. Every once in awhile a song resists the Beach Boys style and this is one of those. I will always associate this old rockabilly standard with Ersel Hickey and not the Beach Boys. “Cotton Fields” was a top five hit in just about every country it was released except for the United States. There are a number of versions of this Al Jardine sung song. The best version is the European as it contains more layered harmonies than the one contained on 20/20.
“Be With Me,” “Never Learn Not To Love,” and “All I Want To Do” were all written by Dennis Wilson. They clearly show his continuing development as an artist and vocalist. “Be With Me” is very creative with a complicated song structure as Dennis Wilson weaved his vocals counterpoint to the harmonies.
“The Nearest Faraway Place” was a Bruce Johnston creation. Bruce Johnston had a long career as a surf artist and created a number of surf instrumentals during that period. He puts that experience to good use with this simplistic yet beautiful pop creation. His use of a simple piano line set against an array of varied instruments shows that he had been paying attention to Brian Wilson.
“Our Prayer” and “Cabinessence” were from the aborted Smile album. “Our Prayer” has a simple song structure but is wonderfully creative as the Beach Boys voices provide the instruments for the song. “Cabinessence” is a typical Brian Wilson song that builds upon itself and contains many surprises as it extends in many musical directions. These two songs, even when presented out of their original context, are spectacular due to their textures yet create sadness that Smile was never completed.
The later CD releases of 20/20 would contain as a bonus track, the single release “Break Away.” It seems that the Beach Boys, after the release of 20/20 still owed Capitol one more single. “Break Away” was a return to the Beach Boys sound of the mid 1960’s. It was a feel good song with layered harmonies and a good way to close out the sixties.
20/20 remains an excellent Beach Boys album, which is all the more remarkable given the way it was pieced together. 20/20 was a fitting way for the Beach Boys to end the decade.