Wednesday , September 30 2020
The Beach Boys' Sunflower reconsidered

“You’re Sitting In Your Dentist’s Chair/And They’ve Got Music For You There”

Still in the midst of Spring-like Midwestern weather (’til the weather sprites decide to turn around and give us some April snow.) So I’m driven to considering a second Open-Yer-Windows-And-Let-It-Blast entry from my personal pantheon. My first album (Revolver) debuted during my high school years; the second was released while I was a college student. Like my previous entry, it’s the work of a Tier One pop group, though the disc in question was all-but-ignored by anyone other than its fans: The Beach Boys’ Sunflower (Brother).
Released in 1970, the disc was the first to come out under the band’s new label, Brother Records. Spurred by a Christgau “Consumer Guide” blurb, I bought this album the year of its release. It was an act of faith on my part because at the time, the group was not at its commercial apex; in fact, if you’d talked to most of the era’s rock fans, they would’ve sneered at the idea of buying a new Beach Boys record. The band’s sound – those doo-wop and choirboy falsettos, in particular – was considered white-bread conservative (tell that to James Watt) and about as far from Real Rock as possible. Jimi Hendrix had imagined a world where you’d never have to hear surf music again; Frank Zappa’d skipped a record needle through the opening of a surf instrumental.
In the whirl of this mass cultural skepticism, the Boys dogged on and released one of their best albums ever. I never regretted buying and overplaying this disc, even if my cooler friends did give me a ton of grief over it. Sunflower has everything fans love and tolerate about the group: divine harmonies and hum-along hooks; goofball lyrics and moments of accidental transcendence; updated Chuck Berry guitarwork plus a solid rhythm section – and a family of talented vocalists (abetted by Bruce Johnston, whose kitsch tendencies are generally kept subdued this time, though they’d grow more pronounced in later releases).

The disc kicks open with a cut both rocking and airy, “Slip On Through.” But for me the album really takes off in its second track, “This Whole World,” which captures everything thats so much funfunfun about the group. A late-night rumination on love ‘n’ life, “World” reflects the band’s flirtation with transcendental meditation through one of the most infectiously silly doo-wop choruses ever taped: “Ommmm Bop Diddy!” The disc dips slightly with a well-intentioned paean to music (over the years the Boys’d do way too many of these babies.) But it immediately picks up via “Got to Know the Woman,” one of Dennis Wilson’s periodic patio soul songs. Listening to Dennis chortle over a tinkling pianie, “You’ve got so much soul it ba-lows my mind!” you’re reminded that this is the guy who once tackled Li’l Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her” on Wild Honey.

Sparkly love song, “Deidre,” a collaboration between Bruce Johnson and Brian Wilson, conjures up barbershop strolling without sounding dated; rocker “It’s About Time” contains one of the most raucous guitarwork to ever come out of the band – plus more of the strongly propulsive drumming that we heard on the album’s opener. Screw all the hipster fuddy-duddies – these guys could definitely Rock.
By Side Two of the long-player version, we’re fully immersed in the world created by this band of Southern Cal Peter Pans. The album’s biggest misstep, Johnston’s soppy but well-played post-divorce song, “Tears In The Morning,” is followed by one of its most effervescent tracks, “All I Wanna Do,” with its shimmering chorus and directly effective lyrics. The disc ends on the type of whimsical note that only the Boys could pull off so consistently: an accordion-flavored rumination about watchin’ a bird outside your window, plus a finger-snapping Smile-styled ditty about “Cool Water,” with a pop psychedelic middle section followed by the sound of running water over these inspirational words, “In an ocean/Or in a glass/Cool water is such a gas!”
Words to live by.
Say what you will – this disc still makes me feel good: which makes it an indisputable Spring disc.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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