Beach Boys' Earliest Recordings Come to Light on 'Becoming the Beach Boys'
Beach Boys fans will finally hear all of the famed surf pop group's pre-Capitol Records recordings in a new two-CD set, Becoming the Beach Boys (Omnivore Records), out on Friday (Aug. 26). The recordings have had a bumpy history, with prior budget label releases featuring inferior sound quality. One of the earliest was The Beach Boys Biggest Beach Hits on Era Records in 1969. The most recent, the single disc Lost & Found 1961-62, released by DCC Compact Classics in 1991, was the rare exception that used master tapes, but it only contained a fraction of the sessions.
This new set, made in full cooperation with the band, contains all of the available tapes plus studio chatter. The group on these recordings was comprised of brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, as well as friend Al Jardine and cousin Mike Love. The CD also contains songs by Kenny and the Cadets, which included Brian and Carl Wilson, their mother Audree Wilson, Al Jardine and Val Poliuto.
Omnivore's Brad Rosenberger, producer of the new album, said the label worked on the project with Mark Linett, an audio producer who has also done many Beach Boys reissues in the past. “It was his job to make sure they sounded the best they could sound with the technology we have,” he said. “And I have to say that although they are crude recordings made in 1961 and 1962, I think they sound great.”
Jim Murphy, author of the 2015 book Becoming the Beach Boys -- an extensive look at the pre-Capitol Beach Boys history -- penned the liner notes for the new CD. He says there's a lot of confusion about the recording dates of the early Beach Boys tracks. Some peg Sept. 15, 1961, as the date of their first demo and Oct. 3, 1961, as the day of their first recording session. But those days didn't fit correctly into their timeline.
“Sept. 15, 1961, was put forward in the liner notes of Lost and Found in 1991 as the date the Beach Boys recorded 'Surfin,' 'Luau,' and 'Lavender' as demos at 2511 Mayberry Street, in Los Angeles, which is Hite and Dorinda Morgan's home,” he said. “And then the second date that became sort of gospel in the Beach Boy world, was Oct. 3, 1961, a little less that three weeks later. And again the same three songs were recorded, but at a more professional studio.”
Murphy believes the tracks were actually recorded later. “I started questioning these dates because it's impossible to make the narrative work as far as when Al Jardine meets Brian Wilson on the campus of El Camino Community College," Murphy noted. "The chance meeting came at a time when Brian and Mike were looking for a voice to sing between theirs."
He said there's "absolutely no documentation" for these dates and in decades of litigation dating back to 1964 the Morgan family never mentioned any specific dates, opting instead for Fall 1961. "The legends on all of the tape boxes are undated.”
Murphy believes those dates were assigned. “The best that my research could conclude at this point is to say late September/October 1961 for the demo session at the Morgan home (and) November 1961 for the recording session at either World Pacific or Stereo Masters studios," he said. "And there is growing anecdotal evidence the tracks were recorded at the Stereo Masters studio, which the Morgans owned and would have likely used to control costs on a new and unproven group.”
Listening to the tapes makes a couple of things apparent, according to Murphy. “How good they were right out of the gate, both vocally, lyrically, and how professional they conduct themselves in the studio when you consider that Mike is the oldest at 20, Brian and Al are 19, Dennis is 17 and Carl is 15," he said. "So they sounded really good and (were) very very professional, like they really knew what they were doing and where they were going.” After the Beach Boys and the Morgans split, the group made a series of recordings in April 1962 at Western Recorders that helped land them a seven-year contract with Capitol Records, which they signed on May 24, 1962.
Murphy said the most important track from the Morgan sessions is "Surfin.'" “Because as the song progresses from demo to master take you hear them begin to improve as a band. Also, Mike's imaginative lyrics are quite good for his freshman effort.” The most revealing track, however, is "Lavender." “Because even this early on Brian's gift for vocal harmony is already evident.” His favorite is "Surfer Girl," which he calls “a tender, fragile first attempt, but knowing its importance to Brian and how he protected it until he could produce his own version sixteen months later on June 12, 1963 at Western Recorders.”
Rosenberger feels “Surfer Girl” is the most revealing and also the most important. “It’s the first song Brian wrote and it’s subject matter soon informed an entire genre," he said. "I think Jim makes an excellent point about how he protected the song. I've always wondered why the Beach Boys waited until their third album to release their 'new and improved' version and I think Jim’s reason is as sound as any I’ve ever heard.”
He also noted how intimate the Morgan sessions sounded. “They were all working on rudimentary instruments. And it wasn't a world-class, Capitol Records studio, or Western Studio.” And there's another important point. “When you listen to the tapes they weren't the Beach Boys yet. They were just five young guys.”