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The Beach Boys, ‘Made in California’ – Album Review

Capitol Records

The Beach Boys‘ 2012 reunion album was released during the group’s 50th-anniversary celebration. But more than just marking a milestone, ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio’ strapped itself into a time capsule and did its best to rocket itself back to 1962 or at least to 1967 (or maybe 1972).

It didn’t quite get there, but by whetting the appetite, of both old and new fans, for the band’s summer tour, the album served as a new-millennium launching point for the Beach Boys’ sun-soaked nostalgia, which shines brighter and more distinctly on the six-CD box set ‘Made in California,’ which spans their entire career.

From all the ups (most of the ’60s) and downs (the dreadful ’80s), and through the band’s various twists and turns over the years (who’s the dude singing the 1973 hit ‘Sail on Sailor’ again?), ‘Made in California’ — which is arranged chronologically until the final disc, which is packed with decades-scattered rarities — paints a portrait of a group that never seemed to exist without conflict, even during those deceivingly simple days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun.’

From the Beach Boys’ first hit (1962’s ‘Surfin’) through their first No. 1 (1964’s ‘I Get Around’), last No. 1 (1988’s ‘Kokomo’) and cuts from the 2012 reunion, this collection includes pretty much everything you’ll ever need from the group, including essential parts of 1967’s ‘Smile,’ which was finally (sorta) completed and released in 2011.

Their career can almost be neatly divided among eras: the hits period, the creative period, the come-down period, the sucky period and whatever you want to label the past 20 years. The band and the box reach their peak with 1966’s ‘Pet Sounds,’ still one of the most gorgeous and influential albums ever made. But the years following leader Brian Wilson‘s breakdown and occasional resurfacing are filled with plenty of gems (‘Wild Honey,’ ‘Darlin”) too.

But ‘Made in California”s main bait for collectors is 60 previously unreleased songs, which include demos, alternate takes, live cuts and TV performances. None of them is particularly noteworthy, but they serve as side-glanced reminders that the band wasn’t just another made-in-the-studio ’60s creation that became an oldies-circuit fixture once the hits dried up. (The box also includes a ton of photos, memorabilia and recollections by the group, including a 1959 essay penned by Wilson.)

‘Made in California’ also confirms that, contrary to popular belief, there wasn’t a huge drop off in good music once the ’60s were over. There’s no denying the Beach Boys were at their peak then — there are dozens of hit singles, ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ to prove it — but as youthful pleasures gave way to adult uncertainties, the music becomes more complex and intricate. But the pleasures remain.

Next: Top 10 Beach Boys Songs

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