Thursday , October 1 2020
The Beach Boys release their first box set with some rarities included.

Music Review: Beach Boys – The Capitol Years

The Capitol Years was a Beach Boys box set released in England in 1980. This box set was available as an import only in the United States and carried a price tag of $99.99. Not many people were dumb enough to plunk down $100 for this set, except, of course, for me. While this purchase did not land me in divorce court, I do remember some couch time was involved.

This was advertised as a six-LP set containing 106 songs. The Capitol Years was released on the World label which was a subsidiary of EMI, the parent company of Capitol. The 109 songs include every 1960s hit by the Beach Boys plus most of their other, better songs. Each disc is centered on a theme and the songs are presented in chronological order.

The production is crystal clear even by today’s standards. I am guessing that virgin vinyl was used as opposed to United States releases that use recycled vinyl. Each LP is contained in its own sleeve and a booklet gives a history of all the songs.

In many ways this LP box set, even though among the rarest of Beach Boys releases, is obsolete today. A huge CD box set and any number of greatest hits releases have relegated this set to the collector’s bin.

So why have I included it in my Beach Boys retrospective?

There was a seventh unadvertised disc included in the set. This disc contained the 17 non-Beach Boys songs that Brian Wilson produced for the Capitol label. It included both sides of eight single releases plus one more song. While this material has been issued in various forms and places over the years it is difficult to find them all gathered together.

There are eight sides by the all-girl surf group the Honeys. The Honeys were comprised of Brian Wilson’s wife Marilyn Rovell, her sister Diane Rovell, and their cousin Ginger Blake. Six of the songs were released in 1963. The best are “Shoot The Curl” with good girl harmonies and the superb “Pray For Surf" with a sax line running throughout and stunning Beach Boy-like harmonies.

There is a real oddity that is so bad that you just have to listen. “Surfin’ Down The Swanee River” must have made Stephen Foster turn over in his grave. I could have written the lyrics to this old melody.

The real rarities were two songs by the Honeys from 1969. “Goodnight My Love” was a fairly straightforward presentation of this old standard. “Tonight You Belong To Me” was a departure from the Honeys' surf songs of the early 1960s. It reminded me of the old girl group, the Caravelles, who had a big hit with the song “You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry.” High, almost falsetto, harmonies set against simple lyrics and melody makes this cut a stand-out.

Brian Wilson cut two singles for Sharon Marie. She remains a mystery woman. Mike Love says she was a friend. Other people in the know say she was Ginger Blake recording under a different name so as not to conflict with her work for the Honeys. “Runaround Lover” contains some excellent and textured backing vocals and another creative use of a saxophone sound as the foundational instrument of the song. “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You Baby” uses the melody from the Beach Boys' future hit “Darlin.’ This song can be classified as a torch song and was a rarity for Brain Wilson in 1964.

Gary Usher checks in with two songs. “Sacramento” and “That’s Just The Way I Feel” are both disappointments. They feature standard vocals and little in the way of harmonies. Gary Usher was an early writing partner of Brian Wilson who would go on to produce such brilliant studio groups as the Hondells, Super Stocks, and the Knights.

The real gems were the releases of “Pamela Jean” and “After The Game” by the Survivors. The Survivors were actually the Beach Boys recording under another name. The intent was to see if they could create a hit record if no one knew them. The single tanked, which was a shame. “Pamela Jean” used the melody to “Car Crazy Cutie” and received the full Beach Boys treatment. I find the harmonies and production clearer and more sophisticated than most of their releases in January of 1964. “After The Game” was a Brian Wilson instrumental that used some odd percussion effects and looked forward to his creations later in the decade.

The final song was “Guess I’m Dumb” released by Glen Campbell in May of 1964. When Brian Wilson stopped touring with the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell joined their stage act for a short time. Glen sings this song in a Brian-like falsetto with Brian Wilson and the Honeys providing backing.

Brian Wilson was one of the most creative producers and creators of songs in the history of modern music. These 17 tracks were recorded while he was at the height of his powers. It is interesting that not one of the releases was a hit. Still they are historically important in that they give a glimpse of Brian Wilson’s genius outside of its original and usual context.

The Capitol Years is one of the rarest of the Beach Boys' releases. Amazon does not have even one in their catalogue at this time. If you can find this box set at a reasonable price I would recommend picking it up. Just don’t pay $99.99 for it.

About David Bowling

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