Joel Goldenberg: Free Feel Flows!

The Beach Boys circa 1970

We interrupt our weekly look at the top-10 hits of the 1970s so that I can contribute to bringing attention to an urgent situation to help reverse what could be an utter travesty, the potential non-release of what could possibly be one of the best box set collections in years.

The history of the Beach Boys has been a mix of the utterly creative and the emotionally fraught. The group, as led by Brian Wilson and especially after he largely quit touring in early 1965, was on an artistic roll with such elaborately produced and exquisitely performed albums as The Beach Boys Today, Summer Days (and Summer Nights!), Pet Sounds and the sessions for what was supposed to become the Smile album.

Even after that latter album fell apart due to numerous factors, especially the difficulty of putting its many, many parts together for a cohesive whole, the group under Brian's lower-key leadership came out with artistically satisfying (but commercially much less successful) albums like Smiley Smile, Wild Honey and Friends.

The rest of the group stepped up with their own bursts of creativity as Brian withdrew further due to his mental health and drug issues, starting with 1969's 20/20.

The height of group creativity came with the next two album, 1970's Sunflower and 1971's Surf's Up. On the former album, Dennis Wilson hit a peak with his timeless ballad Forever and the funkier Slip On Through and Got to Know the Woman, Al Jardine wrote the charming At My Window, Bruce Johnston contributed Deirdre and Tears in the Morning and Brian himself came up with the soaring This Whole World and the epic Cool, Cool Water. Mike Love wrote and beautifully sang the wonderful All I Wanna Do. Engineer Steve Desper, who the group considers a genius of sound, created a wonderful soundscape. The album tanked, but it was hailed by the critics. It has since grown in stature amongst fans.

Also, the recording sessions produced the stand-alone single Break Away, produced by Brian and his father Murry Wilson, and my personal favourite of all Beach Boys songs.

Surf's Up was more quirky, and trendy in that it touched on environmental concerns and student protests. Brian had withdrawn again, but he still came up with emotional powerhouses like 'Til I Die and The Day in the Life of a Tree (the latter sung by then-manager Jack Rieley). Carl Wilson hit his own artistic peak with the elaborately produced songs Feel Flows (used effectively in the closing credits of the movie Almost Famous) and Long Promised Road, Al Jardine emerged with the unique Lookin' at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song) and Take A Load Off Your Feet; Mike Love contributed Student Demonstration Time, a hard rock track that is not well loved amongst Beach Boys fans and Bruce Johnston contributed his best song, the nostalgic Disney Girls. The album concludes with the staggeringly good Smile track Surf's Up. Desper engineered again. Dennis Wilson had also contributed songs, but he pulled them because of a dispute over track order.

And this brings us to this column's appeal to those in charge of releasing Beach Boys albums. A box set of the 1969-71 sessions called Feel Flows is reportedly complete — the choosing of the tracks, the mixing, the mastering, the artwork — everything. As Beach Boys insider Howie Edelson, who worked on the set, told the Smiley Smile Internet forum, the set is sublime and could change the public's perceptions of the Beach Boys.

I'm guessing that, like previous physical and digital-only copyright extension sets that have been released of the group's 1967 and 1968 sessions, the box set contains interestingly different versions of released songs, unreleased songs and vocal-only and instrumental-only tracks.

And yet, it has been announced that despite the completion of this labour of love, there is no release date for at least the physical product. The last two Beach Boys releases (also put out to extend the copyright on 50-year-old songs) were only released digitally, on streaming sites. To preserve the copyright for 1970 songs, that might be the fate of this latest release as well.

That would be an injustice — reportedly, the set's researchers conducted very extensive interviews with, at least, Johnston (considered the MVP in terms of providing exact details and interesting anecdotes) and Brian Wilson, who is usually not expansive in interviews. I'm sure Al Jardine and Mike Love provided details as well. I want to read this material.

And, yet, the set is being held up. There's a lot of speculation as to why — most fingers have been pointed at Love, who has been litigious over the years and in a recent interview downplayed the prospect of vault releases. Some are wondering if Capitol Records has concerns, but insiders say the record company wants the set out as well.

Whatever is happening, this set should come out as a physical product — I would certainly buy it, and I have tweeted the Twitter accounts of Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine appealing to them to ensure its release.

For those interested, there are petitions at change.org (which, full disclosure, I have signed) calling for the prompt release of the Feel Flows box set. Please sign one of them.

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