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Boxed set brings back the fun, fun, fun

BACKTRACKING

Beach Boys fans can once again hear Side A and Side B of classic hits from 1962 to '65.

June 17, 2008|Robert Hilburn | Special to The Times

There have been so many Beach Boys greatest-hits packages that you wouldn't think Capitol Records had the nerve to release "California Girls" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" all over again.

But those hits and others are showcased in a pricey new limited-edition boxed set -- and the kicker is that it's a delight because it lets us hear the hits in a fresh and inviting context.

Rather than just listening to the songs the way we would in a single-disc package, the new set features both sides of the Beach Boys' first 15 singles on separate discs, each with one or more bonus tracks. In addition, each disc is housed in an individual jacket with original artwork. A 16th disc offers additional bonus material.

The package, "The Beach Boys: U.S. Singles Collection -- The Capitol Years (1962-1965)," is especially revealing for anyone who thinks of the group's music only in terms of the upbeat summer singles. "In My Room" and "Don't Worry Baby," for instance, are two of the most gorgeous and intimate recordings from the '60s.

Back in the days when two-sided singles were the main configuration of the pop world, record companies tended to put what they felt was the most commercial song on the A side and then put all their radio promotion muscle behind it. A second track would be put on the B side as a sort of fan bonus. But some acts were so hot that DJs played both the A and B sides so much that sometimes they both because hits. The most celebrated example was Elvis Presley's combination of "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" in 1956.

The Beach Boys also came up with so many engaging songs that they too frequently had two-sided hits on Capitol. Part of the fun of the new set, which is being sold for about $125 by Internet retailers, is how it lets you listen to Beach Boys singles in chronological order to find your favorite two-sided singles.

Besides two Christmas singles, including an orchestrated version of the Elvis Presley hit "Blue Christmas," the set also includes eight previously released mono or stereo mixes of the tunes and the chart history of each.

The Beach Boys

"The Beach Boys: U.S. Singles Collection -- The Capitol Years (1962-1965)"

Capitol

The back story: The Beach Boys are high on virtually every list of great L.A. rock bands, and the main reason is Brian Wilson's ability to capture both the energy/optimism and insecurities/yearnings of adolescence in remarkable sonic portraits.

Though he also sang some of the lead vocals and co-wrote most of the tunes, Wilson's genius was in surrounding his teen fantasies and fears with marvelous vocal harmonies and dazzling musical arrangements that left even the Beatles in awe.

Of American music figures of the 1960s, only Phil Spector, a major influence on Wilson, demonstrated such a grand yet singular vision in the studio.

Besides Wilson, cousin Mike Love shared lead vocals and co-wrote several of the hits. The rest of the band's most celebrated 1960s lineup included Brian's brothers, Carl and Dennis Wilson, and Al Jardine.

The Capitol set only runs through only “California Girls,” which reached No. 3 on the charts in summer 1965, meaning such master works as "Good Vibrations" and "Caroline, No" will have to be in a Volume 2.

The music: After weighing both sides of every single, here are my three favorites listed in chronological order.

* "Be True to Your School" / "In My Room" (1963). You get an early touch of Wilson's fondness for Spector's Wall of Sound production elegance in "School," but it's "In My Room" that makes this entry so remarkable. Far from the joyful images of surf and girls, Wilson sits alone in his room at home and tries to find strength in the solitude. It's hard to listen to parts of John Lennon's brilliant "Plastic Ono Band" without thinking back to this landmark track.

* "I Get Around" / "Don't Worry Baby" (1964). "I Get Around" is as catchy as the Beach Boys got in their early days, but again it's the fragile beauty of "Don't Worry Baby" -- including Wilson's magnificent lead vocal -- that will stay with you forever.

* "Dance, Dance, Dance" / "The Warmth of the Sun" (1964). The upbeat side sounds like a blend of four or five other Beach Boy energizers, but it's still hard to resist. The nugget is the B side, a captivating ballad that was recorded in the wake of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and captures the heartbreak and confusion of the moment.

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Backtracking is a biweekly feature devoted to CD reissues and other historical pop items.

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