This week's Retro Roundup is unique as I'm not reminiscing about one album, but several.
My affinity for the Beach Boys began, similar to that of the Who, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley and others, with my repeated reading of the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. After I finished exclusively listening to the Beatles throughout 1981 and burned out on them for a while, I broadened my 1960s and 1970s musical horizons.
By the time I got to the Beach Boys, their catalogue was somewhat of a mess. Many of their albums from the 1960s were reissued in the 1970s, and again in the 1980s, but with a few important differences from the original Capitol LPs.
In the 1970s, the reissues of albums like All Summer Long, Today!, Summer Days (and Summer Nights!), and Shut Down Vol. 2 took the form of double LPs with covers that featured contemporary (late 1960s) photos of the band —without Brian Wilson, and with member-from-1965-on Bruce Johnston.
Also, the album titles were changed. Shut Down Vol. 2 became Fun, Fun, Fun, Today became Dance, Dance, Dance, and Summer Days (and Summer Nights) became California Girls, but All Summer Long didn't become the LP's big hit I Get Around.
Most importantly, each of these albums had two (usually lesser) tracks lopped off. The albums were really short in their original form, and this made them even shorter.
Why all this happened, I don't know, at least in the case of the 2-LP sets, which themselves were later split up (sloppily) and issued as single LPs. But the method to the madness becomes a bit clearer in the 1980s. More on that to come...
By the time I got into the Beach Boys, these abridged albums were reissued again, but this time as single LPs with a green Capitol label, as were the abridged LPs Surfin' USA, Surfer Girl and All Summer Long, with no title change. And other Beach Boys LPs were reissued that way, with no songs abridged. This is what I bought, at bargain prices. And they had the original covers, at least.
Unbeknownst to me, some 20 years later, some of these albums would be judged, on remasterer Steve Hoffman's recommendation, to be the best reflection of the sound of the original master tapes, and thus better sounding than even the 1960s pressings. The leadout groove had to say "Mastered by Capitol" to be the good sounding ones.
But that was not my impression at the time. The reissues of late 1960s albums like Smiley Smile and Wild Honey sounded very murky to me, and were in the original mono, which to me was — at the time — distressing. Leader Brian Wilson, who is deaf in one ear, submitted mono masters to Capitol, even at the late date of 1967 in the case of the above albums. And the murkiness was because of primitive studio conditions in the studio — Brian Wilson's home.
Even later albums like Friends (1968) and 20/20 (1969) were issued on the green label, and those were (with the exception of a fake stereo Do It Again, as on the original LP) all true stereo and very bassy.
Flash forward to the 2000s, and these albums are now among the most sought out by collectors, because of the way they sound. And they were issued just about straight soundwise onto CD that way, not in North America but on a Japanese series called Past Masters.Those are also sought after.
The Americans did more of an audio cleanup and reissued the albums three times, on CDs that contained two albums each (in 1990 and 2001) and in 2012, CDs that contained mono and in many instances, first-time stereo mixes.
But for all the accolades the original green label Capitols got, there was two flies in the ointment and more confusion. The reissues Dance, Dance, Dance (originally Today) and California Girls (Summer Days and Summer Nights) were pressed in fake stereo, in which one channel emphasized bass and the other emphasized treble. The sound was even murkier than the late 1960s monos, and I pined for true stereo, which emerged some 30 years later.
The confusion stems from the fact that the original Today and Summer Days albums were issued in mono and fake stereo, but a different type than that used for the 1980s (and I suspect early 1970s) LPs. The originals were in Duophonic, Capitol's process that used a delay effect to create the illusion of stereo.
All of this was extremely baffling to serious collectors. Thankfully, in the CD era, we have more straightforward reissues. And I like the CDs better than any of those green label LPs, authentic to the original sound or not.
Oh, yes, and the method to the madness of deleting two songs from each of the albums became clear in the 1980s. It enabled Capitol to put out an (all-mono) LP called Be True to Your School, which boasted the then-rare single (and still mono-only) version of the title track, and the cast-offs from other albums. I had to wait years to hear some of those songs in true stereo.
One of the constant complaints of the Rolling Stone Record Guide was that many great albums were out of print and thus hard to find in 1979. But in the case of the Beach Boys and Capitol, chaos was the rule.